Ecolab: The Development and Evaluation of a Vygotskian Design Framework

In IJAIED 10 (2)

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The Zone of Proximal Development is an appealing and persuasive idea for those concerned with how best to help learners learn. In essence the ZPD requires collaboration or assistance for a learner from another more able partner. The need for this more able learning partner arises from the belief that the activities which form a part of the child's education must be beyond the range of her independent ability. The learning partner must provide appropriately challenging activities and the right quantity and quality of assistance. Teachers are able to fulfil the sort of collaborative partnership role required by the ZPD; the Vygotskian inspired design framework presented here explores the ways in which computers may be able to do likewise. The Ecolab is an implementation of the Vygotskian design framework. It is an interactive learning environment which helps children aged 10 and 11 years to learn about food webs and chains. The Ecolab provides a flexible environment which can be viewed from different perspectives and run in different modes and in increasingly complex phases. There are adjustable activities to be completed and assistance is available from the system. The elements of adjustable assistance available to the system comprise the Zone of Available Assistance (ZAA) applicable to that system. The elements of this ZAA which meet the needs of a particular learner at a particular moment in time comprise the Zone of Proximal Adjustment (ZPA) which the system needs to make for that learner. Three approaches to the construction of this ZPA have been implemented and evaluated within the Ecolab. This evaluation demonstrates the efficacy of the design framework and illustrates that different styles of interaction and collaboration can be supported within an interactive learning environment.