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Implications of writing, reading, and tagging on the web for reflection support in informal learning

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Implications of writing, reading, and tagging on the web for reflection support in informal learning
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  Implications of writing, reading, and tagging on theweb for reflection support in informal learning Christian Glahn 1 , Marcus Specht 1 , Rob Koper  1 1 OTEC, Open University of the Netherlands, Valkenburger Weg 177, 6419AT Heerlen,The Netherlands{christian.glahn, marcus.specht, rob.koper}@ou.nl Abstract The use of tags as user generated meta-data as well as thevisualisation in tag clouds has recently received a lot of attention in researchand practice. This paper focuses on supporting reflection of learners by usingdifferent presentation approaches of user-generated meta-data for reflectionsupport. Previous research has shown that implicit interest expression can be avaluable source for reflection support. Visualising implicit or “tacit” interest intag clouds could help learners to understand the connections of their contentrelated activities to the tags that are assigned to the content. For grounding this potential in the social practice of using tags in teams and small communities,we conducted a three month experiment. This experiment focused on the social practices of using tags explicitly and implicitly. In this paper we analyse thedata of the experiment with regard to social navigation of teams and smallcommunities, relations of implicit and explicit interest in tags, and usages of tags on different participation levels. The findings on these dimensions of thesocial practice of using and sharing tags in groups help to develop a better viewon the requirements of providing reflection support. Keywords informal learning, learning communities, social software, web2.0,evaluation Introduction The use of tags as user generated meta-data has recently received a lot of attention inresearch and practice. A large number of scientific contributions focus on communitydriven creation of meta-data [10, 11], or on improved accessibility of contentsthrough this kind of meta-data [12, 18]. So far, only few publications have focussedon the relations between the explicit usage of tags and their implicit usage in searchqueries and while accessing information [7, 16]. Particularly, contributions onapplying tags in the educational domain basically address the value of tags for improving access to relevant content. From an educational perspective this coversonly a limited part of learning processes, because these processes include – amongothers – reflection activities. Reflection is a fundamental learning activity and isneeded to articulate, express, and apply knowledge appropriately [21].In this paper we address the need of supporting reflection of learners in openenvironments by applying different presentations of user generated meta-data. A  common example of such presentation is a “tag cloud”, in which the tags are not onlylisted, but the usage of a tag is shown in its display size. I.e. tags are larger size if theyare more frequently used than other tags (see Fig. 1). The frequency of a tag istherefore encoded  in its display size.We propose that different forms of information encoding in tag clouds canstimulate and support reflection on learning processes that are embedded in other activities. Previously, we outlined how this can be achieved [8, 9]. Furthermore, wededuced from insights in self-regulated learning [2] that reflection support might bedependent to the context in which learners are active. However, these approaches of reflection support are to this stage conceptual outlines, which require a better understanding of the social practice of the contexts in which tags are applied.This study analyzes the differences between the explicit use of tags for  bookmarking or blogging in comparison with their implicit use when reading taggedcontributions. In this paper we report on our findings from a three monthexperimental pilot and answer the question if explicit and implicit interest expressionhold different information that is potentially meaningful for learners. Background One aspect of supporting reflection through tag clouds is that the informationencoding helps to visualize relations between different information types. Given our goal to help users in recognising their tacit knowledge, the interest in tags must not berestricted to the explicit use of tags, but has to take the implicit tag usage into account.So far only limited research has reported on “implicit interest expressions” [3] and therelations of interest and social practices in online communities. Fig. 1 team.sPace tag cloud (detail view) We approach this gap and analyze implicit and explicit tag usage of a group of users who were using the team.sPace environment [8]. team.sPace is a web-basedcommunity portal that allows its users to share bookmarks and blog entries. Figure 2    shows a typical view of the team.sPace web-site from a user’s perspective. Theinformation presented in team.sPace portal is entirely based on peer contributions.The portal aims basically at information exchange and aggregation. Learning is not anexplicit goal for using this environment. Therefore, the underlying system is not basedon an explicit instructional or learning design. To this extend team.sPace sharesattributes with other social networking platforms and community portals, in whichusers learn incidentally, too. Fig. 2 user perspective of team.sPace Question for research For supporting reflection in informal learning scenarios, we are interested in learning processes related to knowledge creation and knowledge exchange in teams or smallcommunities. For this purpose we studied how the user’s interest can be deducedfrom different user activities. As noted already by Claypool et al. [3] explicit andimplicit references to a user’s interests have to be distinguished. Implicit and explicitreferences are related to different types of user actions. Claypool et al. [3] havefocused at understanding which user activities are relevant for deducing a user’sinterest. However, it has not been investigated how different user activities are relatedto interest expressions of a user.Explicit interest expressions are all actions that are directly related to a user’sinterest and provide evidence of interest, such as user ratings, bookmarked URLs,user applied tags, or if a user writes a web-log entry about a topic. Implicit interestexpressions typically do not provide direct evidence about a user’s interest. Examplesfor implicit interest expressions are: click-troughs to a resource, the time a user spends viewing a resource, or tag selections in a tag cloud.Understanding how tags are used is a prerequisite for raising the learners' attentionon their learning interests. Therefore, our research seeks to answer the question, if auser’s implicit expressions of interest in tags provide different information about alearner’s interests than explicit interest expressions.  Related Research Situated learning as introduced by Lave and Wenger [14] highlights the importance of competence development in a social context and the integration in a community of  practice. Lave [15] states that from the perspective of situated learning, learning processes can’t be seen as processes of knowledge acquisition that result in“possessing” knowledge. Instead, the concept of situated learning refers to learning asongoing social practice, which is not defined by planned structures of curricula, rather than by the social practices, tasks, situations. Hence, learning is not context free, but  situated  in social contexts and social practices. As a consequence, knowledge andcompetences cannot be considered independent from the contexts and processes, inwhich they are developed and applied. From this perspective, learner support has to be seen as empowerment of learners, rather than overcoming their deficits [15].This view is closely related to concepts of self-regulated learning processes, for which Butler & Winne [2] developed a model. In this model the actions of learnersare interlinked with the responses learners receive on these actions from their environment. However, for designing technical support for self-organized learnersthis model is limited, because it models the “environment” as a “black box”. In order to overcome this limitation from the perspective of technological development, wesuggested earlier [8, 9] to extend this model by including principles of context awaresystems [4, 5, 22, 23] on the environmental side of the model. This integration linksthe work on self-regulated learning with the achievements in the area of interactiveand ubiquitous systems. The resulting learning interaction cycle is a feed forwardsystem, in which the actions triggered by the cognitive system and the responses of the technical system affect each other. This means that both sides are not only respondthe based on the actual input, but also incorporate the interaction history into their responses on the input actions. The underlying implication of this model is thattechnological support for self-regulated learning has to be adaptive with respect tocontextual parameters of the learning activities.Based on this theoretical model, we proposed a four-level system architecture [8].At the lower levels this architecture is closely related to the works in the area of attention meta-data [19], whereas on the higher levels the architecture our work isrelated to user adaptive systems [1] and to social awareness [6, 13]. The purpose of the architecture is to provide an integrated approach for stimulating and supportingsituated learning, that does not only reflect the temporal needs of learners but alsoallows adapting to the changing context of the learners.Given this perspective on learning it is reasonable that reflection support shouldalso follow the principles of the learning interaction cycle. Therefore, we assume thatuser-generated meta-data helps to identify explicit and implicit interests of users,which can be used to stimulate reflection on their personal learning processes. Our research has similarities to utilizing information about explicit and implicit interest of users to support their interaction with online information systems [3]; and with link sharing and social navigation [16].Claypool et al. [3] compared implicit with explicit interest expressions in web- based content. The goal of their research was to identify if implicit expression of interest in content can be used as alternative to explicit rating of content. The authorsdistinguish between explicit expressions of interest, such as rating content, and  implicit expressions of interest like reading content or bookmarking content. In a pilotstudy different kinds of user interactions have been analysed regarding their relationto a user’s interest in contents. The authors identified that not all “promising” types of interactions can be used to infer the users’ interest about a resource. The findings of this study were largely confirmed by a study in the educational domain [7]. Althoughour research also focuses on user interest, it differs from this previous research in twoways. First, Claypool et al. [3] and Farzan and Brusilovsky [7] analysed the user interests relative to single resources, while we are addressing interests regarding tagsand concepts that are shared between resources. Second, the previous research wasaddressed only the users’ interests in resources, while we analyse the conceptualdifferences of implicit and explicit interest on topics that are represented by tags.Millen and Feinberg [16] have analysed the social dimension of sharing and browsing resources on the worldwide web in an organisational context. The authorswere interested, if providing social bookmarking within an organisation leads tosocial exchange across the organisation, or if it leads to accumulation of information,with little relevance for other users in the organisation. The related field experimentwas using the “dogear”-environment [17] showed that social bookmarking stimulatessocial exchange of information in a relatively large organisation [16]. In a way, our research takes up these findings and investigates if they can be extended to teams or smaller organisational structures as well. Additionally, we emphasize qualitativeaspects of the social exchange that has been observed by Millen and Feinberg, as wefocus on the developments of different kinds of interests that were developed throughthe general social practice regarding the content.The studies of Claypool et al. [3] and of Millen and Feinberg [16] do not provideany implications on context dependency of their findings, because in both cases theexperimental groups as well as their behaviour were treated as homogeneous. Bothstudies have not addressed contextual variables that might possibly affect the interestof the individual users. Hence, it is not reasonable to assume that the expression of interests is context dependent per sé.In short, in this section we identified three gaps in research: firstly, research onimplicit interest expressions has been focused on single resources, but not on tags thatare used with several resources; secondly, social navigation was analysed in large user communities regarding the potential of this general concept of social activity for stimulating social exchange, but not regarding its application in teams or smallcommunities and regarding its benefit for the individual participants; finally, user-generated metadata and social navigation have been only analysed from the perspective of homogeneous groups, but not as practices that are possibly connectedto context. Hypothesis Based on these gaps in research and our research question, we define four hypotheses,to which regard we analysed the data of our experiment. The initial hypothesis of our experiment was as follows.
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