Recent trends in the Web development have caused the immersion of borders between the real and virtual spaces, giving rise into the new potential learning environment. New kind of social software eg. blogs, wikis, social bookmarking services, social artifact repositories enable user integration into democratic content-development and publishing. Mashup technologies allow publishers to syndicate their data into machine-readable RSS feeds to which readers can selectively subscribe with free social software. Geotagging systems make it possible to create locative content by mobile devices, situated both in real and virtual environment (Tuters & Varnelis, 2006). Locative content is digital media applied to real places, any kind of link to additional information set up in space together with the information that a specific place supplies, which is triggering real social interactions with a place and with technology (Tuters & Varnelis, 2006; Hanzl, 2007, Kaipainen & Pata, 2007). Virtually, all locative media projects rely on programs for their execution and there is a trend of integrating social software programs with mobile software input/output and geotagging functionalities. Locative media are a relatively new area of cultural activities that bring together ideas about place and placedness, content and context, interactivity, and mobile and social software computing devices (Peacock, 2005).
This new learning environment – an augmented reality/virtuality – consists of distributed virtual spaces generated by social software tools, and of the real spaces and objects, in which locative content has been added with mobile devices. Augmented reality, the reality overlaid with virtual reality, and virtual reality, in which representations of the real world have been embedded and contextualised, is enabling interactions both in real and virtual spaces. Lonsing (2004) suggests that an augmented reality system generates a composite view in real time – a combination of a real scene viewed by a user and a virtual scene generated by a computer, where the real scene is submerged with additional information in order to enhance the perception of the user.
Using locative media and social software in the learning process, situated activity principles (Suchman, 1987) and situated learning framework (Lave & Wenger, 1990; McLellan, 1995) is applicable. Rich layers of embodied knowledge and practice in the real spaces, and authentic context triggering activities and knowledge-building in virtual spaces, makes augmented space into a potential learning environment with new challenges for the learners. This new learning medium is a distributed activity space (Engeström, 1987, Pata & Väljataga, 2007) in which learners meet other learners, knowledge artifacts and practices. This environment not only provides rich learning patterns and contents, but also helps to improve learners’ ability of analyzing problems and exploring new concepts. Integrated with immersive, interactive and imaginational advantages, it builds a sharable virtual learning space that can be accessed by all kinds of learners inhabited in the virtual community (Pan et al., 2006).
The information society presupposes competencies of coping with life in general (Rychen, 2003), and many challenging work contexts in particular (Erpenbeck & Heyse, 1999). Thus, the competencies expected from future and in-service teachers are self-directedness in their own life-long learning practices, and ability to create similar competences of their students. New augmented learning environment provides novel tools for self-directed learning and triggers new types of activity patterns in this distributed space.
Creating a framework for supporting self-directed learning in augmented learning environment is needed. This should entail the following components: i) general learning design principles in distributed augmented reality, ii) a set of specified tool-combinations with subsequent activity patterns for self-directed learning in augmented environments, and iii) information, how these activity patterns are transformed in different augmented learning landscapes and dissiminated within the community of teachers.
The theoretical considerations for this research could be adopted from the Activity Theory (eg. Leontjev, 1975; Engeström, 1987, Kuuti, 1995). The distributed activity system (see Pata & Väljataga, 2007), which forms when learners are realizing their goals in augmented reality, entails software and artifacts with different pedagogically usable functions, community members with specific distribution of labour and set of rules which regulate their activities. Mapping the pedagogical functions in case of different combinations of distributed tools and artifacts is necessary to understand the operationality and pedagogical potential of the augmented environment. However, mapping process must take place within the self-directed activities – the tools and artifacts, goals of the learners, and their regulation strategies influence the activity-patterns.
All these ideas can be potentially realised in the studies where we cease looking the virtual environment separatly. Possible learning patterns involve both actions in real and virtual spaces – thus we need to view this space as one whole. The more detailled studies are ahead in the future, which involve mobile technologies equally with social software tools.
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