Recognising e-Content | digitalLEARNING Magazine
July 2006

Recognising e-Content

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The information society will remain an empty concept if one talks  solely about technology, network and access issues. Considering the general use or impact of the information is  meaningless, unless we carry the messages, which those can translate.  The World Summit Award (WSA), the global initiative to select and promote  the world’s best e-Content, looks into this aspect of technology for which, it  is a global hub for everyone today. As of today, 168 countries are actively  involved in WSA. By selecting, presenting and promoting the best products from all over the world in  that field, it makes a contribution to bridging the Digital Divide and  narrowing the Content Gap. The World Summit Award will hold  the Grand Jury for the selection of the World’s Best in e-Content in  Croatia in 2007.
Connecting this global platform to the fact that India is one of the   poor countries in exposing its content using digital media, and its information assets are still weekly represented, a  parallel process, Manthan award for best e-content practices in the framework of WSA started recognising the Indian ventures which speak less  of the technology and more of the usage for final delivery. The best  econtent practices in India for 2006 recognised by Manthan Awards   is  going to be announced this August. Such initiatives recognising the contents will open doors for global  recognition and support to the local initiatives, understanding the fact that  e-content will enable every citizen to become self-reliant on the   basis of information prowess  .

Designing Virtual Labs
Hilmi Quraishi [HILMI@ZMQ.IM], ZMQ Software Systems, India
The advancement in educational technology and tools have unleashed the opportunity to take e-learning and e-content to the next level by delivering complex concepts and scientific processes, which are often not easily rendered in words, into virtual laboratories and simulated systems. Theoretical and
scientific concepts are converted into dynamic, engaging and effective  content using simulations. Instructionally, simulation makes a  process easier to understand, increases retention of information,  and helps build skills and competencies by letting learners understand complex scientific  processes. The instructional design strategy to develop virtual laboratory  combines learning theories, e-learning experience, technological innovation,  and visualisation.

Instructional Strategies
Learning theories have significant  bearing on instructional design, as  there is a logical development from learning to instruction. Instructional  design optimises learning outcomes while learning theories are the  backbone of any instructional design. The three basic schools of learning  theories, namely Behaviourism  (changes in behaviour as the outcome of learning), Cognitivism (learning occurs when learners add new  concepts and ideas to the cognitive structure) and Constructivism (learners construct  knowledge for themselves) have their own implications for  instructional design.

Key Implications
Learning theories and models have  different implications for instructional design. While designing instructional  strategies, inspirations must be taken from variety of instructional theories  and models. For learners, some of the key implications of virtual laboratories and scientific based simulated  systems are:   Quicker and Easier Learning, Mastery of Content, Problem Solving Approach, Provide Feedback to  einforce Performance, Participation in Learning, Adaptive Learning Approach, Promote Scientific Thinking, Project based Learning, Situational Learning Environment,  Address Multiple Learning Styles
A Virtual Experience
With the spread of Internet access, it is now possible to offer students virtual laboratories through the World Wide Web. The idea of developing a  virtual laboratory is to train the students as many number of times as  possible. The students are exposed to the real laboratory, where they go  through the experiment once. Virtual laboratory is distinguished from a real  or a traditional laboratory. However, virtual laboratory is not viewed as a  replacement for a real laboratory.  nstead, virtual laboratories are  possible extensions to real laboratories and open new  opportunities not realisable entirely within a real laboratory at an  affordable cost.

A case study
Virtual laboratory Electrophoresis e- Lab was designed to train medical students and technical trainees in clinical laboratory on Electrophoresis  experiment. Electrophoresis is an analytical method frequently used in  molecular biology and medicine, and is applied for the separation and characterization of sub-cellular sized particles. The objective of the experiment is to observe different  band patterns and interpret results of various samples of normal and clinical conditions.  The main idea of the virtual lab is to  create a real lab environment using scripted model with controlled animations. It is not just demonstrating a process using  animations, but rather developing programmatically controlled scripted simulations using animated  components. Some of the labs  can be viewed at the link: http://www. zmqsoft.com/elearning/home.htm  An example of virtual lab is presented here. The simulator also tracks the  performance of a user. It monitors different steps taken during the course of experimentation, number of  attempts taken to complete it  successfully, and provide results of all experimental input values with feedback. The idea is to create an  environment for learner, where the learner practically experiments  the processes by changing different input values and parameters. 

Key Components
Besides developing a simulated learning environment, the e-Lab is also supported by other different learning components to give a  complete learning solution to the  learners. The key components are- Pre-Test: It prepares learner for the  next stage of learning by stimulating the recall of prerequisite  nowledge.  Pre-test is an essential for creating adaptive learning environment.
Theory: The content theory provides  with detailed description and explanation of concepts, rules and  principles for clearer understanding. It comprsies of different case studies, examples, non-examples and simulated  diagrams for quicker understanding.  Interactive Exercise: Various practice exercises like multiple choice  questions, single choice questions,. drag-and-drop, match-the-following,  filling-in-the-blanks etc; allow the learner to practice opportunities to aid  in retention of information and creation of knowledge. Feedback: The feedback encourages   the learner to improve thinking and understanding of the problem. The feedback for an incorrect response should provide the correct answer for the learner in an effort to improve future performance. Post Test: It is used to assess the  performance of learner and new knowledge that has been integrated  correctly. Often, educational technologists also use post-test values to make corrective measures in  their learning environment.  Other Components: Other important components of a complete virtual  learning environment are glossary, FAQs, help, know-more etc. to provide complete support during process of learning.  Virtual labs have opened up new opportunities at an affordable cost.  Experiment-oriented problems can be  offered without the overhead incurred to experimentation, problem solving and data gathering

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