In figure 1 a basic model for an 'educational' knowledge transfer system was introduced. This model illustrates (in a generic way) the different actors and processes involved in transferring knowledge between different generations. The model makes no reference to technology or knowledge representation. System builders and implementors must therefore choose those technologies and techniques that are most appropriate to the situation in hand. In this context, each of the developments - (l) through (4) listed above - will have its particular strengths and weaknesses. Obviously the communication and information storage technologies that are employed will significantly influence the mechanisms that are used in order to store, retrieve, disseminate and present information to users. Furthermore, the ways in which knowledge is presented to consumers will also depend critically upon the technologies that are used for its communication and display.
In the past (and, to a large extent even today) paper-based technologies have been the ones most extensively used for knowledge sharing applications. However, in the light of new developments in information technology it is important to consider whether or not paper is still the most efficient and effective way to record and disseminate information and knowledge. Within educational systems the issues of efficient and effective knowledge transfer are particularly important - especially, in an era of diminishing financial support. For example, in many universities, lecture courses (that are augmented by books, journal articles, hand-outs and other print-based resources) are very often presented to large groups of students. Frequently, these lectures are relayed electronically (and in a non- interactive way) to various other sites - either simultaneously or in a 'canned' format. Naturally, there are many limitations associated with these 'traditional' teaching methods. Bearing this in mind, we believe that electronic course delivery is a viable alternative delivery mechanism to facilitate the efficient and cost-effective presentation of learning and training resources within a university and/or college context.
Electronic course delivery (ECD), is concerned with the use of electronic materials and delivery platforms to support and enhance teaching and learning experiences - either on an individual or a group basis. In order to realise the goals of ECD there are a number of underlying areas which need to be addressed. These include the use of: electronic lectures; mechanisms to facilitate lectures-on- demand; the extensive use of teleteaching, teletutoring and collaborative learning at a distance; and support facilities such as electronic libraries. Obviously, the use of electronic libraries will be an important foundation for the successful use of ECD. It is through such facilities that users will gain access to electronic books, magazines, journals, newspapers, Internet resources and various other artefacts that are published electronically using 'digital paper'.
Of course, as well as ensuring that the necessary storage, communication and delivery technologies are in place to support electronic course delivery, it is also imperative that appropriate software and courseware resources are made available. Naturally, the courseware products that are used must fully implement three important pedagogic activities. First, they must provide methods and strategies which will ensure that students are adequately assessed; second, they must embed appropriate remediation facilities (for use in situations where their use is deemed to be necessary); and third, they must make available suitable performance support tools which will facilitate effective and efficient skill development. Some of the issues involved in making provisions for these requirements are discussed in the following section.
In other words, knowledge transfer implies processes that can be encouraged or facilitated and go beyond the simple viewing of information. There are several issues involved in the transfer from information into deep knowledge. First, it is important to develop mechanisms that can actually assist the conversion process. Second, it is important for users to be able to assess their progress. Third, any discrepancies that arise between information content and users interpretations must be remediated.
One of the most important techniques that can be used in this regard (and one that is used in many learning situations) is the use of assessment strategies. When people are engaged in learning they need to interact with the material. Unfortunately, for many people, information access can often be a relatively passive process unless targeted at solving specific tasks. Nevertheless, people often do access information to gain knowledge rather than to solve particular problems and it is under these circumstances that the provision of mechanisms for the application of information become crucial.
Assessment has a number of useful characteristics that can be utilised. These can be summarised by the following points: motivation; activity; completeness; and correctness. First, for many people, assessment is inherently motivating (Richards and Nott, 1995). People actually want to know how much they know. It also links into basic competitive drives which cause individuals to strive for high performance. Second, engaging learners in a practical activity allows them to apply what they have learnt. It takes students away from relatively passive information processing to an active style of interaction. Third, the corollary of individuals having an indication of what they know is that they can also become aware of what they do not know. This includes information that has been misinterpreted and/or misunderstood. Fourth, assessment provides the mechanism by which the need for remedial action can be identified. This can be action initiated by the student as a result of computer-based feedback. On the other hand it can originate from a learning facilitator who may be monitoring student progress electronically as might be seen in a computer-based distant learning programme.
Increasingly, computer technology is being used as a basis for the realisation of performance support systems. A system that is based upon some form of embedded computer facility is often referred to as an 'electronic performance support system' (EPSS). According to Banerji (1995) an EPSS can be defined as 'a human-activity system that is able to manipulate large amounts of task related information in order to provide both a problem solving capability as well as learning opportunities to augment human performance in a job task by providing information and concepts in either a linear or a non-linear way, as and when they are required by a user.' There are two important implications of this definition. First, the use of a 'just-in-time' (or 'on demand') instructional paradigm; and second, the use of an 'on-the job' learning/training situation.
Electronic performance support systems are now increasingly being used within educational settings. When used within this area an EPSS can help support staff and students in two important ways. First, by accelerating skill and knowledge acquisition. Second, by enhancing the ability levels of both staff and students. In order to accelerate skill acquisition, computer-based assessment tools can be used to provide assessment mechanisms that provide real-time monitoring and feedback. In addition, advanced knowledge-based tools (such as expert systems and intelligent tutoring facilities) can be used to deliver deep knowledge and remediation embedded within the context of original learning/training tasks. Through the use of EPSS techniques, students and staff can thus be provided with more complete, varied, valid and stimulating knowledge.
Numerous examples of the use of EPSS techniques within education are now starting to appear in the literature. Stephens and Stephens (1995), for example, describe the 'School Year 2000' initiative in Florida, USA. This is intended to provide students, teachers, administrators and others involved in the education of children with performance support tools in eleven different areas - including curriculum planning, instructional management, assessment, delivery of instruction, access to educational resource materials, and so on. Similarly, within a university context, Barker et al (1995a; 1995b) have described the application of EPSS techniques for the operation of an electronic 'open access student information service' (OASIS). The electronic OASIS is a basic mechanism to support electronic course delivery based upon the use of electronic lectures and various forms of automated (computer-based) assessment of students. This early prototype system that was developed within the University of Teesside now forms the basis for the work on distributed performance support that is described in the case study that is presented in the following section.
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