Modelling a case study in Astronomy with IMS Learning Design

Daniel Burgos1, Colin Tattersall 2

1 ATOS Origin. Research & Innovation
Avda. Diagonal, 200
08018 Barcelona, Spain

2 Educational Technology Expertise Centre
The Open University of the Netherlands
Valkenburgerweg 177
6419 AT Heerlen, The Netherlands

Abstract: IMS Learning Design provides a counter to the trend towards designing for lone-learners reading from screens. It guides staff and educational developers to start not with content, but with learning activities and the achievement of learning objectives. It recognises that learning can happen without learning objects, learning is different from content consumption and that learning comes from being active. It recognises, too, that learning happens when learners cooperate to solve problems in social and work situations. In all this, it stresses that focus should fall on the learning in eLearning. This paper examines how IMS Learning Design (IMS-LD) and the current generation of IMS-LD based tooling can be used to model an eLearning case study in Astronomy, hosted by a workshop at ICALT 2006.

Keywords: IMS Learning Design, authoring tools, instructional design

. Modelling the scenario

The approach adopted makes uses of the role of teacher, and a role for each of the teams, Team A and Team B. The teacher is assumed to assign the students to one or other of the teams (to one or other of the roles). Figure 1 shows a diagram with the learning flow amongst the different roles (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Diagram of the case study in Astronomy showing the different roles

The case study is divided into two Acts. The first act covers the team-based activity of cooperating to understand more about the naming and ordering of the planets, with the teacher offering assistance. This Act is completed when the teacher sees fit. The second Act has an individual activity for the students to make the associations, with the teacher monitoring the activity, declaring a winner and completing the unit of learning.

A learning activity entitled "Cooperate to name and order the planets" is defined, together with a learning activity entitled 'Complete the questionnaire'. Two support activities are defined, "Monitor the student collaboration" and "Supervise completion of the questionnaire".

Extensive use is made of Environments containing Learning Objects and Services. The expert interviews are seen as Learning Objects. The forum is an IMS-LD Conference of type 'asynchronous' and the chat rooms a Conference of type 'synchronous'. Both the role of Team A and Team B are participants in the forum, as is the Teacher role. In this way all participants in this learning process can make use of the forum. One chat room is associated with each of the teams so that only intra-team communication is possible. In the worked out scenario, the teacher has not been granted participant or observer rights so that the chat is essentially private to a team (this could be modified so that the teacher is afforded a window on the interaction).

Two Activity Structures are defined to reflect the different situations of Team A and Team B. Each contains a reference to the learning activity of "Cooperate to name and order the planets", and to the environment containing the shared forum service. In addition the Activity Structure for Team A has a link to an environment containing Team A's Expert Interview and Team A's chat room. Similarly, the Activity Structure for Team B has a link to an environment containing Team B's Expert Interview and Team B's chat room. In this way the cooperation and competition is facilitated.

In addition to participating in the forum, the teacher is given the opportunity to set a property indicating that the first Act should end. Once it is set, the flow of the process moves onto the second act where each user provides an answer (e.g, via an IMS-LD locpers-property, a type of private and internal variable) to the ordering and naming question. The teacher is provided with a view on these answers (via the monitor service) together with a mechanism to end the process and declare the winner (via a feedback-description shown on completion of the second act and containing the value of a property through global elements in so-called IMS-LD content).


Figure 2. Reload Editor as the authoring tool for this case study

Once a Unit of Learning has been exported as a Zip file, it can be uploaded into a CopperCore (Vogten & Martens, 2005) based environment and played using a player such as the default player which accompanies CopperCore, or the SLED player (OUUK, 2005). Using administrative facilities, a run of the Unit of Learning is created and individuals are manually associated with a role (Teacher, Team A or Team B). Currently, there are other resources to make this setting. For instance, the .LRN Learning Management System (DotLRN-Project, 2006) is pointed out to run the three levels of IMS-LD, as well as there are several services already integrated in it (i.e, forum). A similar framework can be set up with netUniversité (Pacurar, 2005), and others are coming (e.g, the SUMA Project, which develops an ontology based viewer of IMS-LD Units of Learning).

Once this role allocation has been carried out, individuals can assess a web-player, with the flow of activities being arranged by the underlying engine.

The setting of properties by the teacher is supported in the current version of CopperCore, with the user interface control being generated from the type of the property (e.g, Boolean leads to combobox).

The monitor service, through which the teacher is able to follow the students' attempts at the questionnaire, is implemented within the player which accompanies the CopperCore engine. Further service integration into CopperCore-based environments has been the topic of R&D (McAndrew et al, 2004) and a loose level of integration has been achieved with Moodle. Through this integration, Moodle's forum services are used to facilitate the inter-team cooperation, including the teacher participation.

At the time of writing, no chat service has been integrated with the CopperCore Service Integration layer. Some further development is being carried out by the TENCompetence project (

One final point to mention is that the questionnaire could be implemented as a QTI item (see for a drag&drop example in this domain). In this case the CCSI integration of the APIS QTI engine and the CopperCore LD engine leads to a multi open-technical specification scenario, in which the first steps to the harmonisation of specifications have been taken.

All these services (i.e, monitor, forum, chat) are used by different roles. While Team A and Team B can post in the forum and make use of the text chat, the Teacher role is the one who additionally makes use of the monitor service to track the users´ performance. (S)he is also the only one who can close the discussion part of the case study to move on (Fig. 3).

Figure 3. The Teacher decides when to close the discussion phase and move on

. Re-use/adaptation

The Unit of Learning can easily be turned into a template by modifying the resources to address a different topic (some changes to activity title and meta-data may also be necessary). In essence the Unit of Learning could be used for many different areas.

One interesting challenge with respect to the approach is to generalize to several teams depending on the cohort size. As the approach stands, the number of roles is fixed, but a solution which allowed any number of teams (perhaps incorporating a maximum number of team members) would clearly require a different approach.

. New IMS-LD-aware players will emerge, including micro-players allowing learning processes to be coordinated across mobile devices.

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