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1 Definition

CeLS ( Collaborative e-Learning Structures ) is a web-based environment for creating and conducting structured asynchronous collaborative activities and incorporating them in the existing instructional setting for all subjects and levels. CeLS is a web-based system designed to create and reuse activity structures; runable formats reflecting various collaborative instructional strategies e.g., creating and analyzing a common database, reaching an agreement, peer-product evaluation, contest, creating a group product.

Note: Contents of this entry are excerpts from Miky Ronen, Dan Kohen-Vacs and Nohar Raz-Fogel (2006) and a PPT presentation, permission to reuse contents by Miky Ronen (Jan 2007).

2 Goals and main features of the CeLS project

Design goals
  • Encourage & support teachers to create and conduct structured collaborative activities in the actual educational setting
  • Support a wide range of situations, e.g. elementary school to Higher Education, dedicated to busy teachers, small to large groups
  • Focus on courses supported by web-based (asynchronous) components
  • Encourage sharable online pedagogies through reusable components (as such the system does address change management issues)
  • Modelling of groups (and roles), artefacts , dynamic features, work and control flow between activities, varied forms of social interaction
  • CeLS is an executable XML-based model for collaborative Activity Structures, consisting of stages that are interconnected and based on each other.

3 Architecture of the CeLS system

CeLS is a web-based system consisting of a server-side run-time engine and a client side Activity Editor. An additional server module is responsible for administrative aspects. An Activity Structure (AS) may include any number of stages of interaction between a learner and the system. Each stage comprises of any combination of distinct objects of four different types

  • Presentation objects are passive elements used to present information of any kind (text, hyperlink, media). This information can be provided by the teacher or consist of learners' products from previous stages. A product can be an organized collection of distinct items contributed by different participants (identified or anonymous) or a single item that results from the combined action of a group.
  • Input objects are interfaces that allow the participant to submit new data to the system (text, hyperlinks, media or any kind of attached electronic file or as voting on various scales).
  • Interaction objects are interfaces that allow participants to interact with products created in previous stages, in various ways: by grading, ranking, categorizing and editing or responding to these products via text or graphic manipulations.
  • Communication objects are interfaces that allow participants to freely communicate with each other or with the teacher.
The architecture of the CeLS activity structures

Each object has properties that can be adjusted by the author. Some properties are generic, for instance, if the completion of an object is mandatory or not, and others are particular to the object or to its type, for instance, maximum or minimum text length or the vocabulary used for Text Input object.

These basic building blocks are merely technological and do not carry any pedagogical meaning. It is only their combination as an Activity Stage and or Activity Structure that creates such meaning.

An activity stage can consist of any combination of objects of various types. The functionality is determined by attributing properties related to groups to the stage or to specific objects, so that different participants may encounter different information and perform actions on different data items during the same activity stage. As a result, the process represented by the whole activity is not actually linear, though it may seem linear to each of the participants. A stage may be assigned "start" and "end" times, advance upon completion or according to other conditions defined by the author of the activity.

The CeLS master group is a class. Groups can be merged to form 'communities' or divided to families of subgroups representing subjects assigned to the subgroups or roles played by the subgroups. A family of subgroups has specific properties such as max and min members in a subgroup, number of subgroups, their generic or particular names. An Activity Structure may use different families of subgroups in its stages.

4 Authoring with CeLS

The figure below gives a glance at the CeLS authoring capabilities. My Activities allows teachers to access their own activities (preview or participate), to manipulate them (edit or duplicate), or to view students' contributions and follow their actions without interfering. Groups and subgroups creation is handled by the my Groupsoptions. The definitions of an activity can be edited after the activity has started, enabling the teacher to introduce modifications and adjustments 'on the fly', by adding or changing objects in a stage or adding stages. Activity Structures present the teacher with a collection of pre-defined generic structures. These Structures are content-free skeletons and include recommendations for their customization to various needs and settings. The Sample Activities option provides a searchable domain of all the activities that were implemented with students by the system users, in all institutions, contents and levels. Teachers can view and explore these examples, adopt them for personal use by duplicating them, then adapt their structure and content to their specific needs. If none of the existing resources seems suitable, the teacher can create a New Structure using the basic building blocks.

The architecture of the CeLS activity structures

5 Sample activities

Here is a short list of sample activities that have been implemented with CeLS:

  • Creating a common database (simple/complex, open/p.b.v.)
  • Responding to peers’ items (grading, ranking, categorizing …)
  • Pros & Cons (open/p.b.v.)
  • Reaching an agreement
  • Creating a group product (parallel/ sequential)
  • Peer/self evaluation (rubrics)
  • Peer product assessment (online/offline, group/personal)
  • Competition
  • Group Inquiry / Problem solving (Jigsaw… )
  • E-Games, Role play …

6 Discussion

Daniel K. Schneider believes that CeLS is currently the most interesting system to implement activity-based pedagogical scenarios. The CeLS project follows a design-based research methodology and is open to various avenues.

6.1 Scenarization power

  • Compared to LAMS, the advantage of the CeLS design is its ability to use learners' products from previous stages and to conduct complex, multi-stage, structured activities. CeLS provides a sample of content-free Activity Structures and a searchable domain of all the activities that were implemented with students. Teachers can explore these examples, adopt them for personal use and adapt their structure and content to suit their specific needs. If none of the existing pre-designed resources seems to suit the needs, they can create new structures using basic building blocks.

6.2 Implementation

  • CeLS is implemented with MS .Net server-side technology and Flash / DHTML on the client side. For the moment CeLS runs on a single server and needs an IE6 webclient. The system is in Beta stage but has been tested by 30 teachers, 50 courses, 3000 students (2004-2006).

6.3 Suggestions for further development

(By Daniel K. Schneider 15:28, 30 January 2007 (MET))

  • Implement a replication architecture so that several distributed CeLS servers could be run. This is necessary because scenario sharing between teachers is integrated in the system.
  • Make it Firefox/Opera compatible (Since IE7 still doesn't implement CSS2 correctly, still doesn't provide XHTML/SVG/MathML support, Daniel K. Schneider doesn't endorse this software).
  • Make explicit a modeling language (while IMS Learning Design is currently the hot format, it will not necessarily be accepted by everyone and explicit alternatives would be welcome
  • Write a teacher's manual (this is under progress).

7 Links

8 References

Main article used as reference
  • Ronen, Miky; Dan Kohen-Vacs and Nohar Raz-Fogel (2006). Structuring, Sharing and Reusing Asynchronous Collaborative Pedagogy, Paper presented at the International Conference of the Learning Sciences, ICLS 2006, Indiana University, Bloomington IN.
  • Ronen, Miky; Dan Kohen-Vacs and Nohar Raz-Fogel (2006). Adopt and adapt: structuring, sharing and reusing asynchronous collaborative pedagogy, Proceedings of the 7th international conference on Learning sciences, Abstract/PDF (access restricted).
References used in the article
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  • Dalziel, J. (2003). Implementing Learning Design: The Learning Activity Management System (LAMS) In Crisp G., Thiele, D., Scholten, I., Barker, S., & Baron, J. (Eds.) Proceedings of the 20th Annual Conference of the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning (pp. 593-596).
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  • Dillenbourg, P. (2002). Over-scripting CSCL: The risks of blending collaborative learning with instructional design. In P. A. Kirschner (Ed.), Three worlds of CSCL: Can we support CSCL? (pp. 61-91). Heerlen: Open University of the Netherlands.
  • Dimitracopoulou, A. (2005). Designing Collaborative Learning Systems: Current Trends & Future Research, CSCL2005 Conference, May 30-June 4, Taipei, Taiwan.
  • Duffy, T. M., Dueber, B., Hawley, C. L. (1998). Critical Thinking in a Distributed Environment: A Pedagogical Base for the Design of Conferencing Systems, In: Bonk, C. J. and K. S. King (Eds.), Electronic Collaborators: Learner-centered Technologies for Literacy, Apprenticeship and Discourse (p. 73). Mahawah, NJ: LEA associates.
  • Guzdial, M., Rick, J., & Kehoe, C.(2001) Beyond Adoption to Invention: Teacher-Created Collaborative Activities in Higher Education, Journal of the Learning Sciences, 10 (3), 265-279.
  • Hoeksema, K. (2004). Examples of existing standards to describe CSCL scripts. Kaleidoscope: concepts and methods for exploring the future of learning with digital technologies, D23.2.1 (Final).
  • Hummel, H., Manderveld, J., Tattersall, C., & Koper, R. (2004). Educational modeling language and learning design: new opportunities for instructional reusability and personalized learning. International Journal on Learning Technology, 1 (1), 111-126.
  • Kali, Y., & Ronen, M. (2005). Design principles for online peer-evaluation: Fostering objectivity, CSCL2005 Conference, May 30-June 4, Taipei, Taiwan. Abstract/PDF (access restricted).
  • Peter, Y., & Vantroys, T. (2005). Platform Support for Pedagogical Scenarios. Educational Technology & Society, 8 (3), 122-137.
  • Schneider, D. (2004) Conception and implementation of rich pedagogical scenarios through collaborative portal sites. In Tokoro M. and Steels L., (Eds.), A Learning Zone of One's Own Sharing Representations and Flow in Collaborative Learning Environments. Amsterdam : Washington, DC: IOS Press. PDF