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Educational technology

The first exercise that indicated the potential for applying Empirical Modelling principles and tools to educational technology was jugsBeynon1988: a model of a program called JUGS that was first developed for the BBC microcomputer. (This model was one of the very first applications of the EDEN interpreter.) The first paper to explore this potential more fully was Empirical Modelling for Educational Technology (1997). A key idea in that paper was aligning the agenda of "building a computer model of a domain" with that of "gaining understanding of the domain". From an educational perspective, this is closely connected with the aspirations of constructionism, where model-building is perceived as linked to learning. From a software development perspective, the problems associated with first determining and subsequently changing the requirements can be seen as evidence that traditional programming is hard to relate directly to domain learning. Doctoral theses by Chris Roe (2003) and Antony Harfield (2008) have consolidated the association between Empirical Modellling and learning. Particular points to emerge from these studies concern:

  • (a) the role that dependency has played in educational software;
  • (b) the importance of taking learning activities that precede the use of language into account in technology-enhanced learning - and the difficulties this presents;
  • (c) the scope that Empirical Modeling affords for blending the roles of the teacher, learner and developer in relation to educational software.

In respect of (a), particularly relevant work includes: the Virtual Electrical Laboratory constructed collaboratively by Paul d'Ornellas and Chirag Sheth; Chris Roe's COG model which mimics features of the Cabri geometry software; the SQL-EDDI interpreter, developed by Beynon in collaboration with Chris Brown, Michael Evans and Ashley Ward; and Alison Cronick's fractions model, which anticipated many features of the Visual Fractions software later published by Logotron. Chris Roe's subsequent development of Imagine-d Logo, an extension of Imagine Logo that includes explicit support for dependency in the form of an interface for definition and automatic dependency maintenance highlights the distinction between Empirical Modelling and 'programming with dependency' (see Dependency by definition in Imagine-d Logo: applications and implications (2007)). This distinction is a central theme in Computing technology for learning - in need of a radical new conception (2007)).

In respect of (b), a common theme has been understanding within the conceptual framework of an "Experiential Framework for Learning" (first introduced as "An Empiricist Perspective on Learning" in Empirical Modelling for Educational Technology (1997)), within which Empirical Modelling has been linked with the notion of 'understanding forwards' to be found in William James's radical empiricism (see Towards technology for learning in a developing world (2006)).

In respect of (c), the association between Empirical Modelling and constructionism - and the broader setting of constructivism - has been the theme of several papers and models. (See Computer support for constructionism in context (2004), Enriching computer support for constructionism (2006) and Lifelong learning, Empirical Modelling and the promises of constructivism (2007), Constructionism through construal by computer (2010)). The idea that Empirical Modelling should properly be viewed as offering a new paradigm for developing educational technology is discussed in Computing technology for learning - in need of a radical new conception (2007); it is also the theme of Antony Harfield's doctoral thesis.

The web-enabling of the EDEN interpreter, as initiated by Richard Myers in his prize-winning third-year project 2007-8 and subsequently developed with the support from the University of Warwick Teaching Quality Enhancement Fund, holds particular promise for dissemination and effective exploitation of the merits of Empirical Modelling identified in (c). Myers's Web EDEN implementation provided the platform for an online activity ("the Sudoku Experience") offered by the University of Warwick under the auspices of its programme for gifted and talented schoolchildren in July 2008. Web EDEN was integrated into a Moodle environment by Antony Harfield and used to deliver an online database module as part of the international Virtual Studies in Computer Science (ViSCoS) programme at Joensuu University, Finland in 2008-9 (see Web EDEN and Moodle: an Empirical Modelling approach to web-based education). The prospects for a constructivist approach to computer science education - a theme suggested by Moti Ben-Ari's well-known 1998 SIGCSE paper "Constructivism in computer science education" - are discussed in Constructivist Computer Science Education Reconstructed (2009) and Web Eden: support for computing as construction? (2009). A further paper Constructionism through Construal by Computer was presented at the Constructionism 2010 conference.

The overall context for much of this research has been greatly enriched by interactions with Erkki Sutinen and the students of his research group at the University of Joensuu, Finland, and this is also represented in a number of papers (see Using Empirical Modelling to simulate robotics in Kids Club (2002)), Varieties of concretisation: an illustrative case study (2005), Contextualising information and communications technology in developing countries (2008), Understanding open learning processes in a robotics class (2009)) and An abductive environment enables teacher’s intervention in a robotics class (2011). There has also been useful interaction relating to the EU Kaleidoscope NoE (see kaleidoscopeBeynon2005) and from international postgraduate summer schools relating to the theme of Empirical Modelling for educational technology given in association with ICALT'05 (Kaohsiung, Taiwan) and at the University of Rostock (2006).

The associated subpages give useful links to pages relating to the application of Empirical Modelling to educational technology, and also discuss this in relation to applications to other areas.