The virtual participant : story telling in a computer supported collaborative learning environment

Masterton, Simon J. (2001). The virtual participant : story telling in a computer supported collaborative learning environment. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis presents a study of a novel approach for supporting students in text based electronic conferencing. It describes the development of a concept known as the Virtual Participant. An initial prototype was developed which was tested on the Open University Business School MBA course on Creative Management. The Virtual Participant first presented itself to the users as Uncle Bulgaria. a metaphor for collecting and recycling important information.

The Virtual Participant approach is to store the discussions students have had in previous years that the course has run. and to retrieve those discussions at a time most appropriate to helping the students studying this year. It was never intended to provide 'the answer' but rather examples of similar discussions on similar topics. Uncle Bulgaria interacted with the students over a period of 16 weeks. during which time the students prepared two assignments and completed the first half of the course. The information gained from the students' interactions with the system and their feedback to a questionnaire survey was then fed back into a second prototype' which was again tested on the same course.

In the second study the system was known to the students as the Active Archive. an active component of an archive of past student discussions. Through cross year comparisons it was possible to evaluate the improvements made between the Active Archive and Uncle Bulgaria systems. The Active Archive interacted with the students on a much larger scale than Uncle Bulgaria had. but with no increased negative impact. The second study provided examples where the Active Archive stimulated discussion amongst the students and vicarious learning could be said to have taken place. Taking the lessons learned from these two studies a number of guidelines for the development of such systems have been produced and are described and discussed.

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