A PHILOSOPHY FOR MULTIWINDOWING ENVIRONMENTS By Edwin Agelink, Wim de Boer, Natascha Tebbe and Oscar Peters
Department of Education and Technology, University of Twente, The Netherlands
This article has been made as an assignment for the course 'Capita Selecta Instrumentation Technology' in association with Dr. Ir. F.B.M. Min
Enschede, November 1997
First the MacTHESIS philosophy will be described.
After that, the Parallel Instruction Theory itself will be described.
The experiences with computer simulation will be discussed here.
Constructivism is a knowledge acquisition theory and the PI-theory
can be used as a instrument that support constructivism. In the
last section the Randstad case is described. In this example
a spreadsheet program was redesigned according to parallelism.
These points are based on concepts of parallelism
and the PI-theory which stated that all these elements should
be (parallel) available to the student. Some elements must be
presented on-line (multimedia materials) others can be off-line
(paper instructions). In the research of Min the balance between
the simulation parts and the instruction parts is investigated.
The PI-theory tries to explain why certain learning environments do not result in good learning behaviour whereas others do. It is a theory about shaping instruction with simulation and it possibly explains why computers which do not work with a multi window environment are not really suited to the creation of good simulation environments with electronic instructions. The theory deals with a number of issues including (Min, 1992, 1993):
Being collaborative, interactive and interdisciplinary, multimedia technology promises more than just an improvement in educational practices. It can boost learning up to five times compared to traditional one-way teaching methods (Erzurumluoglu, 1995). In 1992 Min searched and found that a multi-tasking operating system was extremely useful for educational computer simulations programs in two respects. Firstly the multi-tasking system allows the simulation part to be made with simulation tools and the instructional part to be made with cheap authoring tools. This situation is very natural for the design of this type of software and is of interest for the 'second' designer - the teacher in the school. Both parts are designed by specialists but in entirely different ways and with different tools. Secondly it allows a certain measure of a-synchronic working, as with paper-based instruction materials, because the two parts have stand-alone characteristics. Parallelism is thus the way the designer and the user organise the learning environment on the monitor as well as in the surrounding of the computer screen.
Min distinguish three types of parallelism, in the real world but also in the electronic learning environments. In the first type designers often use one half of the screen for instruction and the other for the actual learning environment. These solutions, called viewports, indicate the awareness of the designer of the user's need to put information side by side in order to be able to compare things. It proves that users need to have things parallel (Min, 1996). This is defined as parallelism of the first order. The problem with this is that the designer needs a larger screen in the end than that provided on the standard PC. Designers have come up with all kinds of solutions, e.g. by cramming a screen with all kinds of information. This is 1st order parallelism, but it has all kinds of ergonomic disadvantages: text is too compact, syntax is poor due to statements that are really too brief, an excess of information, letters on the screen are too small and so on.
In the second type of parallelism with windows, the effective screen surface became larger than 100% due to the arrival of multi-windowing applications. This is a big advantage. Pull down menu's also became rapidly popular all over the world. Not lastly because there is a quite distinct form of parallelism in pull down menu's of the second order. The last type is 1st order parallelism combined with something else: usually a relative linear coaching element. This is defined as 3rd order parallelism.
How does the PI-theory work in a practical setting?
Most of the experiences of Min are in the field of simulation.
Most simulation programs consists of a software program and a
manual or other written instructional guidelines. In a simulation
program given in a parallel setting the learner has a complete
overview of the simulation and the instruction through the viewports.
These viewports can consist of multiple monitors or one big monitor.
The learner can make a decision in which way he wants to handle
a given problem. Therefore a learner creates his own strategy.
After the input, the output will immediately show in the output-window.
In that way the learner keeps his survey and can directly adjust
Parallelism and learning
Ever since cognitive science influences learning theory and research, learners are no longer seen as rather passive respondents to various environmental stimuli as was the case in the behavioural tradition. On the contrary, cognitive approaches to learning stress that learning is active, constructive, generative, goal oriented and depends upon the mental activities of the learner. Therefore, the currently accepted approach in learning and instruction, which is called constructivism, sees learners as actively constructing knowledge and strategies (Jonassen, 1991).
Computer simulations can offer a learning environment that is appropriate for active learning. A computer simulation is a program that incorporates a model of a process, phenomenon, system, etc. The learner is able to control input values of the simulation model and examine the resulting changes in the output. Computer simulations therefore invite the learner to activity, both in manipulating the domain, i.e. the variables and parameters of the model offered in the simulation (De Jong, 1991).
Learning with computers simulations is characterised as exploratory learning, which consists of active, constructive and goal oriented processes. The learner has to discover general rules, procedures, or higher order skills. The general idea is that this active attitude of the learner encourages meaningful incorporation of information into the learner's cognitive structure.
The main purpose of educational computer simulations is to help students to construct mental models of dynamic processes. We don't know the how such mental models in our head looks like, we do know how experts organise there knowledge of processes. We assume there is a relation between the knowledge and the external representations and that instruction that corresponds to the external format experts use, facilitate the construction of mental models by students. Elements in the knowledge representation of processes are:
The strength of traditional computer simulation is in the last element: the relations. Because of the active involvement of students and the required mental processing in building these relations computer simulations are superior to other forms of learning. A complete learning environment with computer simulation should provide parallel to the core simulation instructional possibilities on the other elements of the dynamic process. This instruction should include:
This instruction should always be accessible to users. Because of the nature of simulations we believe that compulsory instruction can cause cognitive dissonance and should be avoided. Open learning environments for simulation fail without instructions - or with poorly shaped instructions. Many experiments with over one thousand medical students using paper-based instruction materials have been carried out at Limburg University in co-operation with Struyker Boudier (1986). These simulations environments also used two parallel monitors and paper-based instruction materials. Miltenburg (1985) with his training course about dynamics of economics (1988) and Coleman with his simulation programs in university courses for medical students also showed that paper-based materials are absolutely essential to success (Min, 1993). The arrival of modern windowing computers such as Macintosh and SUN computers and MS-DOS computers today, meant a tremendous step forward. Together with Van Schaick Zillesen (1991) Min developed a designing system for simulation programs with many parallel windows, based on Macintosh desktop philosophy. A conceptual scheme or map of the mathematical physiological models was used in conjunction with the simulation output. In spite of all this researchers found that paper-based instruction materials remained a decisive factor. Recent research (Akkermans, Burg, Groenwoudt & Min,1996) found that students make less mistakes when they're using two screens with parallel windows, rather than one screen. They do not seem to work faster. The students preferred the two screen environment. The research confirms that students want to see all information (screens), in order to optimise their learning and that students want to have all information parts of the learning or working environments in view.
In the next paragraph the assumptions which the parallel
instruction theory is based upon, is been measured with the well
known theory of actively interpreting and constructing individual
knowledge representations, called constructivism.
Introducing a technology, as simulations in education often goes together with a different view in the acquisition of knowledge and visa versa. Did the introduction of the computers in education and training changed the view in the acquisition in knowledge, as constructivism or situationalism did. Or was it the other way around? This question is not important for a educational scientist. Important for them to know is under which existing and not-existing conditions a new technology could be successfully introduced in education, or visa versa. This, to achieve the highest acquisition in knowledge.
At a lower level it is interesting to know what impact the PI-theory has on the nowadays view on education and training. As mentioned above constructivism changed the view on education. Constructivism holds that knowing is a process of actively interpreting and constructing individual knowledge representations (Jonassen, D. 1991). The PI-theory can, with the right tools, therefore be used as a instrument that support constructivism.
In the learning psychology as mentioned by Van Parreren (1984) a learner will get better learning results when he knows how he learns. Meaning that the learner is conscious of the learning task and in what way it should be handled. Therefore the PI-theory can be used in education and training because it applies to the new learning theories.
How can PI help the learner discover general rules, procedures, or higher skills? PI can be used in an efficient way to make the student aware of his cognitive skills. Not only creating his own reality but a student is conscious of those skills. He can choose from structures that are based on experiences and interpretations, which strategy is the best to solve a given problem. The strength of PI lies in the survey of information. This information lies all in the field of vision. In that way the student can make meaningful relations between the different information sources. So, if this instruction is proper introduced, the learner will discover general rules, procedures, or higher skills which can be optimised.
A teacher always will use an educational setting or environment where his matter of tuition is most effective. Min (1996) emphasises that parallelism is not a substitute but a additional tool which can help by simulations in education. The PI-theory is primarily meant as a theoretical framework to arrange learning-environments for simulations. In the following learning-environments the PI-theory can be used:
As the new educational paradigms, the PI-theory stimulates education to the individual. Therefore it is suited for teaching at different levels concerning time and pace. The PI-theory therefore can be used in education and training because it can be imbedded into a new learning theory, constructivism.
In the next paragraph the development of an electronic
working environment, using the PI-theory, will be described.
Experiments and Practical Implementations: The "Randstad" case
In this next section a example of what can be done with the parallel instruction theory is been given. A design and a prototype for a working environment is described. The environment is thus not a learning environment, which doe not indicate that the assumptions of the PI theory can not be used. There are of course a lot similarities between learning and working environments, so that this example of experiences of bringing the PI theory in practice is also interesting for educational settings.
Randstad Holding NV supplies services to businesses
and institutions through 35 operating companies in nine countries.
The essence of all services is to provide personnel and skills
to organisations, allowing them to operate more flexibly. The
problem of this case can be stated as follows. The task of the
division Strategic Planning of Randstad Holding NV in Diemen (the
Netherlands) is to train all employees of Randstad in Europe and
the US, helping them to plan the organisation. For this purpose
a model is designed, developed and implemented in a spreadsheet
program, that depicts a complex model, consisting of approximately
1500 variables. The spreadsheet covers an imaginary space that
is 50 times the size of an actual computer-screen. The experiences
which Min had with earlier developments of programs where valuable
for the search for an answer for this problem. Computer simulations
have in common with this spreadsheet program that it is a program
that incorporates a model of a process, phenomenon, system, etc.
The user is able to control input values of the model and examine
the resulting changes in the output. Computer simulations and
spreadsheet programs therefore invite the user to activity, both
in manipulating the domain, i.e. the variables and parameters
of the model offered in the input data.
Figure 1. Visualisation of a flat spread-sheet
The problem is that working in this environment, navigation and comparing the input with the output (resulting elsewhere in the program), demands a lot of the user. This is illustrated in the above figure (1). When the user changes a variable that is visual on the actual screen (b), the output (depicted in figure 1 as c and d) isn't shown to the user so mistakes can occur due this inaccurate procedure. The whole spreadsheet program (a) is too big to be placed on the actual screen (b).
The user, therefore, needs a environment which is
based on parallelism, which means that every part of information,
feedback or instruction will be in view. The following steps from
the strategic planning process have been elaborated, such as the
input of start up data, the input of data regarding the current
year, starting points for a strategic planning and the summing
of results. Within the steps of entering data for the model in
most cases it concerns two windows. An input and a output window
are displayed parallel on the screen. These solutions, called
viewports, indicate the awareness of the designer of the user's
need to put information side by side in order to be able to compare
things. This is a example of parallelism of the first order. With
these two windows the relations between input and output are depicted
more clearly, so the user can make a better comparison (figure
2). The convenience of the user will increase even more due to
the visual representation of the data in the form of line-diagrams
Figure 2. Use of windows according to the Parallel Instruction Theory
The program has a different design than the original program (depicts the cards). The output in figure 2: c' and d' are visual on the screen by means of viewports. This approach leads to a better working environment for the user where everything that's important information for the user is in view, along with the paper materials which users need.
The elaboration of the ideas resulted in a pilot project that was finished at the beginning of 1995. This project has resulted in three prototypes that overlap each other. These prototypes have all been developed using the 'rapid prototyping' method (Tripp, D. & Bichelmeyer, B. 1990). Randstad went on with a new company (Kopal and Gritter Multimedia). They produced a second series of prototypes. At the end of august 1995 Kopal and Gritter had produced a working prototype in HyperCard. The final product is produced with Toolbook Multimedia 3.0 and fits in MS Windows. The final program has been completed January 1996.
Experiences with the prototype and the final product
showed that the parallel approach was preferred by the users,
rather then the linear approach which did take more attention,
and led to more mistakes. The use of the program, which is now
used throughout whole Europe, and which has been developed is
a example which explains that PI is not only a (hypotical) theory,
but also will work in practice. More tests, however, are needed
to indicate if inexperienced users can swiftly learn handling
a planning system.
Based on the experiences of Min can be stated that computer simulations have generally proved more successful when accompanied by paper workbooks. Computer based materials that did not take the parallel instruction theory in account, failed time and again until arrival of the multi-tasking operations systems. Total electronic learning needs a user environment in which things can be kept in view for an unlimited period of time.
Using the idea's of the parallel instruction in practice
showed that learning and working environments improve when the
information is parallel offered to the user. It seemed that the
design of the interface is of great importance for a comfortable
use of, in the case of Randstad, a database. In the future, more
research should point out the possibilities of designing a learning
(or working) environment according to the parallel instruction
ideas, and weather this approach can be seen as a successful way
of designing an environment.
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