R. Dobrican, D. Zampunieris

University of Luxembourg, Computer Science and Communication Research Unit (LUXEMBOURG)
This work focuses on a particular area of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) which looks at how to create, organize and develop Communities of Practice inside a Virtual Learning Management System (VLMS), i.e. Moodle™, with the help of Proactive Computing. The goal is to increase the on-line participation of students, stimulate the learning process and address common issues in higher education institutions, like transportation, housing, health concerns and students social activities. To achieve this goal, we propose different ways of organizing students into virtual communities with a clear purpose and we provide the tools for building and sharing the knowledge, while our system informs, guides and assists students through the whole process.

The current level of involvement of the students at our university’s local Moodle™ platform is quite low, despite the fact the students are obliged to use the platform for extracting, viewing and submitting assignments and other course-related materials. This is why we consider Moodle™ quite static and limited from the point of view of the interface and from the existing ways of creating learning communities. By employing Proactive Computing (Tennenhouse, 2000), the system becomes aware to the actions or lack of actions of its users, and, on the basis of predefined proactive scenarios, takes appropriate actions for steering users towards enhanced collaboration and social learning.

Using the structure of the proactive rule defined in (Zampunieris, 2006), we have developed a new set of proactive rules which aims to automatically initiate, maintain and expand social interactions inside communities of students. Each rule is part of one of the stages of the Proactive Cycle, the whole model of proactive scenarios meant to support collaborative techniques for sharing experience, news and practices. The Proactive Cycle is divided into three main categories: “Setting-up Social Groups”, “Enhancing Social Life” and “Adjusting the Social Groups”. Each community starts its life-cycle in the first category and then, after developing over a certain period of time, it will either become a significant community or the system will merge it with another group, or even ending its life-cycle if there are not so many members or the group is inactive.

The set of rules will run on the Proactive Engine, developed by Zampunieris (2007), and aside the local Moodle™ server at our university. A new Java Web Socket Server will ensure an encrypted real-time connection between the Proactive Engine and the Moodle™ blocks (parts of the user interface) developed specially for these experiments. These first series of experiments are taking into account around 1300 real students who currently use the Moodle™ platform over a full semester.

We believe our study will be significant in terms of understanding the evolution of virtual study communities, for providing a better learning experience to the users, and in terms of integrating new technologies into an existing learning management system (LMS). The results of this study, which is deployed over the summer semester, are expected to emphasize the importance of having a dynamic, proactive and intuitive learning environment. The Proactive Engine is capable to be integrated with other LMSs, which would help the whole learning community.