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Letter to the Chief Editor of ABED Electronic Journal – Eduardo J. Stefanelli

Letter to the editor in chief of the electronic journal ABED

Dear Prof. Romiszowski,

As a member of the RBAAD’s Scientific Committee, I read carefully the article “New Technologies in E-learning: Challenges and Opportunities for Design”, finding it interesting and important to publish, but, I confess, I have a dichotomous feeling of exultation and fear.

In this article the author presents new tools, standards and concepts that aim to optimize the design and production of educational solutions. It also features some standards and methodologies for the development of materials aimed at training based computers. Another point discussed was the inclusion of learning objects, which, in summary, is  the planning of the contents so that their reuse is possible in other projects (similarly to ‘objects’ in object-oriented programming). He presents some examples of educational systems designed from this perspective and concludes his work by cautioning that companies producing e-learning should strive to keep pace with technology.

My goal, with the possible publication of this text is to initiate a discussion with select readers of this magazine of the positives and negatives of adopting this standard on the part of developers and IT educational programs users.

I am a teacher of Technical Drawing. However, recently, I was summoned to deliver classroom Basic Computer lessons. During the course of the planning process I did a search on the Internet aiming to provide students with choices of materials and online courses. To my surprise the search engine found several hundreds of materials that focused on this. The quality of them would go from excellence to a state that should be punished by law. I began to think. The sum of time invested by each author certainly was tremendous and, as a rule, all dealt with the same subject line. Taking into question only the material taken as good quality (those who reached the goal of teaching something useful at a time at least equal to the learner invest using other resources) the methodological differences or contents were small and a similar approach to object-oriented programming was printed in this context, of course, there would be availability of hours each author could devote to delve into a particular topic subject, branching.

To proceed with my comments I must discuss the methodological principles involved in object-oriented programming. Obviously this paragraph does not intend to exhaust the subject, so to be attached to the rigors of this methodology. Its purpose is to base the line of reasoning that I will adopt next. If the reader knows the idiosyncrasies of this programming I recommend that you move on to the next paragraph. Prior to the adoption of object-oriented programming the computer programs (sequence of codes that sets to operate these machines) were structured in sequential codes. A series of words (vocabulary) was applied following a set of rules (grammar). At the end a text (sometimes with hundreds of thousands of lines) teaches the computer how to process the data it receives in the form of input and how to present the results (output). This process looks like writing a book. It quickly became apparent that this form of work made no sense. Whenever it was necessary, for example, to organize a list of numbers in increasing form, the algorithm that performed this task was written. Every time a new system was needed, it started from scratch. It was a waste of effort. In contrast to this methodology came the object-oriented programming. In this model, a priori, if the programmer needs to organize a list of numbers he provides this list to another program, which may have been developed by another programmer, who returns the list organized. By analogy ‘the wheel is invented only once’. Object-oriented programming is more for ‘Evolution of Species by the Selection of the Fittest’ (Charles Darwin). For example, when comparing two mammals (dog and bear) we will see that there are more aspects in common between them than distinct. Absurdly, if a computer programmer using object-oriented programming to create a new species of mammal would take as a basis one that resembles the result he expects and would implement the differences. While the other would start from scratch.

In principle the implementation of these concepts for education may seem natural. When I developed the material to support my Basic Computer classes (the nth and one) had in mind it would be very productive if ‘caught’ the topic ‘History of Computers’ material ‘X’, the ‘Hardware Foundation’ of stuff “Y” and “Software” material “Z” and join all left, so time for some extra quirks to the final result. However, this transposition is not as natural as it seems.

I understand that the phenomenon of transfer of the programming methodology object-oriented to education we are incurring the same mistake that distresses a number of authors. On the website of ABED (www.abed.org.br)

It is a text where I show some problems generated by the transfer of materials from one media to another without careful to plan them for the idiosyncrasies of the new environment. I’ll give a rough example (which has not yet had the courage to write). Think of any book (War and Peace, for example). We can make contact with its contents through reading. It seems to me very nice, leafing through its pages within my own pace, I imagined the costumes and environments, perhaps in the shade of a tree. Another option would be to go to the cinema and watch the movie of this book. It also seems appropriate. Possibly would lock contact with history in a shorter time (since it would not need to read the description of costumes and environments), another difference is that you would in a passive way (the pace of acquisition of this knowledge would be dictated by the film). A never-ending differences could be listed here. If media is better than the other it depends on each one. Absurd would think of going to the movies and read the book content that ‘would roll’ the screen the same way that flow the credits at the end of the film. To a greater or lesser degree this phenomenon is repeated in the content transfer between media. (Arlindo Machado, Pfromm Netto, Alexander Romiszowski, Eduardo Stefanelli).

I fear I’m witnessing this phenomenon in the transfer of the object oriented programming methodology for education. As I alluded to a few paragraphs above the object-oriented programming requires the use of previously developed algorithms. However, in the example of figures ordered list, it is known that the algorithm “A” produces better results than the “B” for that specific order. And education? Will we have completed what is better? Who will evaluate the effectiveness of educational programs? Who will evaluate the evaluator? Will we overload educational materials that do not produce results of learning / teaching and multiply sometimes and sometimes their inefficiency? Another detail that worries me is that regardless of the list of items that I provide to be ordered the end result is always expected. Regardless of the items of the list or the methodology used by the algorithm. And in Education. Do we always obtain the same learning outcomes / learning regardless of the methodology of teaching and learning adopted or learners?

Another thing I want to focus on, which certainly did not go unnoticed by the author of the article in question (since the word ‘planning’ and its synonyms was used several times in his text) is the importance of planning courses at any through focused directly to the public that is her destiny. Will it be able to create educational materials so tight that we can, from their arrangement, designing courses for all ages. Or we would again succumb to the despotism of the organizations that produce solutions that solve any problem?

Efforts to create material reuse methodologies previously produced and not new. For example: in the 60s Robert Horn developed a technique, devoted, writing to map information. In this technique each paragraph expresses only an idea-which is only expressed in this paragraph-, the so-called ‘information pack’. Horn in his studies incorporated the best principles of communication, textual and graphic, so each block acts as a ‘link’ in a hypertext. However, as we know, education is not the mere exposure of the learner information. To have teaching / learning is necessary at least: 1) to expose the learner to content; 2) provide conditions for -envolver practice aprendente-; 3) initiate a process of evaluation. Completing this reasoning: the minimum condition for the existence of a learning object is the incorporation of these three factors. The application of the first one only, in my view, produce objects of information.

In conclusion. On this subject I have more doubts than certainties. The technology of object-oriented programming is free of ideology. By itself it is neither good nor bad. Good or bad are the results that its adoption can produce in certain contexts. It is up to us, educators, discuss these implications.

Eduardo J. Stefanelli
professor@stefanelli.eng.br
http://www.stefanelli.eng.br

Eduardo Stefanelli

Engenheiro por profissão, professor por vocação

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