In collaboration with seven other international universities, the University of Amsterdam has recently initiated DynaLearn, a research project aimed at developing an interactive learning environment for sciences education. The DynaLearn software is designed to help pupils and students acquire conceptual knowledge. The popularity of science subjects has been declining for many years. DynaLearn aims to reverse this trend by applying recent technological developments in areas such as artificial intelligence to the day-to-day sciences education practice. DynaLearn software applies new interaction and feedback methods to stimulate the creativity of pupils and students.
Initially, the DynaLearn software will be developed for pupils in pre-university education and students in the first years of university. The software offers pupils and students a graphic interface to create models. This will help them to acquire the conceptual knowledge they need in order to understand the environment we live in. For example, what happens to ecosystems such as rivers when the natural balance is disrupted? The development of models can help us answer such questions. The DynaLearn method integrates aspects of biology/ecology, physics and chemistry as well as law and economics.
Semantic Web technologiesDynaLearn allows pupils and students to model situations and processes occurring in the realm of physics, biology and climatology. The system applies state-of-the-art Semantic Web technologies in order to share these models with other pupils and teachers. The end result is a global network of people and virtual characters working together to design models of complex processes.
Intelligent virtual characters
The pupils and students receive feedback from intelligent virtual characters (akin to avatars) integrated in the software. Interaction with these characters helps to expand and anchor their scientific knowledge. The characters are familiar with the learning material and many examples, and can determine how to respond to the students' work and requests for feedback. They can identify and discuss errors, provide referrals to other students who have conducted similar (or entirely different) projects and help draw comparisons. The software features various types of virtual characters, including ‘fellow student', ‘critical outsider', ‘teacher' and ‘quizmaster'.
DynaLearn's rich interactive model offers access to entirely new learning scenarios: a student from New York can compare his model of a combustion engine with a solar-powered engine model designed by group of students in Madrid. The virtual characters on screen can outline the differences and similarities between the two models and explain how these differences will affect the engine's performance.