IMEJ main Wake Forest University Homepage Search articles Archived volumes Table of Content of this issue

1. Introduction
2. Background
2.1 Pedagogy
2.2 Narrative: The Importance of Storying
2.3 Setting Goals & Learning Environments
3. The Study
3.1 Study Questions
3.2 Description
3.3 The Participants
4. Interaction with WebArt: Tetrasomia
5. Time & Reflection in WebArt: White and Black
6. DustHarp: Deepening the Exploration
7. Conclusion
8. References


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Exploring Interactive WebArt: Implications for the Design of Learner Centred Interactive Learning Environments
Lisa Gjedde, Danish University of Education

Interactive art on the Internet provides educators an opportunity to study experimental approaches to the experiential and communication potentials of the Internet. Because interactive art is predicated upon the learner's interpretive competences and active involvement, such studies may be of particular interest to those researchers who assume a constructivist learning perspective. Our experimental, laboratory case-study of three users' interactions with three different forms of WebArt offers insight into the users' implicit learning, their construction of meaning, and their construction of self-defined goals. Personal goal setting in the exploration and interaction with the material is of prime importance in self-directed learning environments. We provide the narratives of our learners, which reflect their experiences and the strategies they employed as they interacted with WebArt. Possible implications for learning and for the design of interactive learning environments are discussed.

1. Introduction
Interactive art on the Internet or WebArt (Gjedde & Ingemann 2001a) is still in its initial and experimental phases, just as the Internet based resources and virtual environments for learning are still being developed. WebArt is, by its very nature, experiential and experimental; Web artists allow us to venture into new territories, made accessible through communication and interaction. The interaction can be subtle or pronounced, and the learning that occurs is often informal and unintentional, but as an educational tool, interactive art may be important for the development of higher order thinking skills and the furthering of multiple intelligences (Gardner 1983). Multiple intelligences include not only the logical-rational or verbal mode of thinking measured in most formal learning settings, but also the spatial, musical and intrapersonal intelligences.

Examining WebArt and performing qualitative research into the user's experience may give an expanded view of some of the otherwise unexplored learning potentials that the new media offers through its interactivity and use of such a wide range of expressive elements as sound, visual images, animated objects, and hypertext.

2. Background
2.1 Pedagogy
The emerging learning paradigm focuses on different learning styles and strategies for learning and challenges the idea that there is a uniform way to learn or a simple transfer of knowledge from teacher to learner. We assume that learners are actively engaged in the construction of knowledge (Bruner 1986), that different learners have preferred learning styles (Kolb 1984) and preferred approaches (Gardner 1993). Thus, our learning paradigm accommodates a number of different approaches to suit individual learners and support their preferred cognitive modes. Such differentiated learning processes facilitate student involvement, which may, in turn, further deep process learning (Marton and Saljö 1976, 1997), which engages learners in an active dialogue, rather than surface process learning. Cognitive psychologist Roger Schank (1995) has described goal setting, question and answer dialogue, and reflexivity as fundamental to a natural learning process. He has also pointed to the need for creating environments for learning that are centred on the students' active participation and on authentic tasks rather than on rote learning.

2.2 Narrative: The Importance of Storying
Fundamental to these ideas is the concept of the personal construction of knowledge based on the learner's previous knowledge, which includes the stories the learner brings to the situation. A number of cognitive psychologists (Bruner 1986, Schank 1990, Sarbin 1986) have suggested that the learner's narratives or stories play an important part in this process by relating new experiences and information to the context and life-world of the learner. Through the "storying" of previous experiences, one has a base for understanding and constructing new knowledge, thereby making it an integral and usable part of the learner's repertoire of knowledge.

Narrative is both a way of sculpting and structuring information through expressions in different media (e.g.,sound, images and text) into readily understood forms that guide the learner's comprehension; and a cognitive mode that the learner uses to make sense out of information or experiences (Bruner 1986). By monitoring the meaning-making process through learners' narratives while observing their behaviour, we can discern some of the learning potentials, such as natural process learning and goal setting, which can occur through interaction with works of WebArt.

2.3 Setting Goals and Learning Environments
Schank (1995) suggests that the learner's personal goal setting is fundamental to a natural learning process that occurs in informal situations. He also describes the difficulties in getting learners involved in their own learning process in formal learning situations, and emphasizes the necessity for generating meaningful tasks to motivate learners. Together with colleagues at the ILS (Institute for Learning Sciences), Schank has devised a range of teaching architectures that address the need for constructing learning environments that support qualities like implicit learning, explorative learning, learning by reflection, and case-based learning. Although his teaching architectures are student centred, they have, as their point of departure, an explicit teaching perspective and are thus directed towards instructional goals. A work of WebArt, however, with no specific instructional goal, offers an environment for exploration that fully depends upon the user's interpretation, goals, and experiences. This environment and its design features are important because they can suggest what qualities might best support a constructivist approach to learning, learning being defined as "the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience" (Kolb 1984, p. 38).

Included in these qualities are the following:

  • Knowledge is seen as interpretative.
  • Knowledge is seen as developed in a social and cultural context.
  • Knowledge is brought about by active involvement and exploration.

3. The Study
3.1 Study Questions
In this project, learners interact with three works of WebArt, each constituting a different environment for exploration. Our study includes the following questions.

  • Does the context or design of the interactive works of art further the potential intrinsic motivation for exploration?
  • Does it further a reflexive, deep-level, and interpretive approach?
  • To what extent can any qualities be discerned that may have implications for the design of learning architectures and environments?

3.2 Description
The study of three users' experiences with three works of WebArt is an experimental reception-study (Gjedde & Ingemann (2001, a & b). We used a web page set up in a state-of-the-art usability lab, where we video-recorded both the activity on screen and the expressions and interactivity of the learner, using a scan-converter and video-mixer. Interviews of learners were held during and after their WebArt sessions by two researchers also acting as facilitators in the reflexive process of the learners as they recounted their experiences with the artworks. These user-experiences have been studied through the video-registrations of both their interaction with the material and their reflections upon viewing the video of the interaction with a facilitator after the session. The narratives told by the participants to the facilitators, both during and after the sessions with the interactive works of WebArt, were transcribed and analysed.

About the author...

The three works of WebArt were distinctly different in their expression and in the scope of interactivity they offered to users:
  • Tetrasomia is a work dealing with the four elements plus one, namely Earth, Water, Fire, and Air, with Ether as the fifth element. It has an interface in which the user can activate, through differently coloured squares, several minor pictorial squares that all had linked sounds which the user could manipulate to create a symphony.
  • White and black represents a very simple moving narrow black and white pattern, which responds to the cursor's movements and expands into a long rectangular shape with moving pattern. It becomes invisible without any movement of the cursor, and thus must be activated and played with in order to come to life.
  • DustHarp integrates moving bubbles and harp music. Even without interaction, it actively plays sounds and flows with bubbles. Interaction from the user influences the music.

3.3 The Participants
The three users, one male and two females, were all well educated and interested in art, but their knowledge about art was at different levels. None of them was already familiar with the works of WebArt we used.

Some of the responses of the users to the works of art were highly intuitive and elaborate, while others seemed to involve less imagination and personal construction of meaning or narrative. There seems to be a relationship among the level of involvement of the user, the willingness to enter into a deeper exploration of the artwork, and the meaning the user ascribes to the work of art. Levels of exploration can be seen on a continuum ranging from a surface level exploration to deep level explorations. Surface level explorations mainly focused on exploring navigational potentials that involve only spatially oriented exploration, fitting it to functionality and logic. Does the link work? What is the topography of this place? How do I get an overview of this place? At another end of the spectrum one finds the deep level exploration, which is directed towards construction of meaning. What does this space mean to me? What actions can I perform here? What identity can I assume in this environment?


An external link to Tetrasomia.


An external link to White and Black.


An external link to DustHarp.

4. Interaction with WebArt: Tetrasomia
One of the users (Anna) expresses her experience of interaction with Tetrasomia in this way:

  "I had to bring something into harmony and compose something, and yet it was not possible. And, on the other hand, this was interesting . . .I thought I had more influence and yet it was an illusion . . .I tried if I could move it in that direction. Get through chaos . . . it was like a voyage into the elements . . . from the depths . . . over the sea and over the surface and the plants and out in space . . .I tried to keep onto some elements of growth. Elements of song and growth. And I wanted very much to create a climax and an end . . .But I couldn't really get it in the direction I wanted. But it was there all the time in the story I experienced."

Figure 1. Anna interacting with Tetrasomia.

A video showing Anna interacting with Tetrasomia.
Requires Real player.

In this excerpt from a reflection on her activity, Anna expresses a goal, that of being a musical composer. She voices both an irritation with the limitations of the user's actual influence over the work, as well as a fascination with the process, which makes it possible for her to experience a story.

There is tension between the perception of being in control of the flow through the interactivity of the media and yet not being given complete control. The user (Anna) voices this tension: " I see this as the point of it, but I also feel irritated that it is not quite so."

Some of the interactions can be described as happening in a zone of tension between the user and the artwork in which the user goes to the limits of the artwork, explores its structure, and tries to discern the essence and point of the communication. Such interactions demonstrate the learner's reflective approach to the situation.
This approach is expressed through the narrative as Anna moves towards a holistic appreciation and comprehension of the piece, which is expressed both in her need to appropriate the interface potentials for interaction and discern the intention of the artist. "I would not accept only seeing a sculpture from one angle . . . I have to look into the intention . . . I cannot do that if I don't try to understand the whole."

This move towards a global understanding demonstrates the underlying meaning-making strategies of the learner and indicates her goal - to understand the work. Thus, Anna achieved a deep-level approach to the learning situation.

In reflecting on the replay of the video in which she considered her interactions with the artwork, when she was turning on and off some sound, Anna expressed the goal for her compositional activity: " … I wanted to reach a greater purity" [in the expression]. This was an aesthetic goal that she had set for herself, and obviously she was very involved and engaged in the process of making goals and questioning both her goals and the process. This was also obvious from the video recordings of the session.

The artwork Tetrasomia affords an environment which evokes a great deal of creative involvement from this user and a willingness to enter into an interpretive and constructive process. Another user (Bettina) constructed a similar experience in which she perceived herself as symphony conductor. This was the main metaphor for the interactivity imagined in this environment and the role the users' saw as an active possibility.

The sounds of the artwork were most readily manipulated and interaction was high; it was through sound that the user could gain some sense of control.

The third user (Carl) did not enter this process of construction of meaning. His approach was directed by exploration of the interactive and navigational possibilities of the work. His goal was to explore the different possibilities, but he did not perceive the environment in a way that led to the creation of meaningful connections through his interaction, and he did not get into a narrative or meaning-generating mode with it. He did not interact with it as an environment, but stayed on what could be seen as the surface mode of exploration.

Figure 2. Carl interacting with Tetrasomia.

A video showing Carl interacting with Tetrasomia.
Requires Real player.

5. Time and Reflection in WebArt: White and Black
White and Black was appealing to Bettina because of its simple design.

  "It is very good to look at now. It is sort of cleansing my mind. You only need to focus on the shape. You don't need to make up your mind about all sorts of things . . .You can make narratives about these non-figurative, geometrical shapes that are floating around. But really I find it more interesting just to sit still and watch how it is flowing about. And it looks like I have to keep this movement up myself…. I could imagine that it would be great to project it up on a big screen, and then sit with it in a dark room, totally quiet. Then I think I would have this meditative effect."

Bettina envisions how she could use this artwork in a different situation, where she would have more peace and quiet to explore its potential effects in a more intentional or aesthetic way. In order to make this suggestion, she has to make a meta-cognitive shift and imagine how she might react cognitively in a different situation.

  "The greatest provocation with this artwork is that you cannot control your own time . . . but that it takes quite a while before you start to settle into this universe…. I need to give it time. In the beginning you might say, well here is a strip with some movements and here is a strip with some movements and there is nothing more to it. And there isn't. But when you allow it a bit of time as now, . . . then I start to see the black and white fields in a different way."

Bettina expresses how important is time for perception and her experience of the work of WebArt. This raises some interesting considerations about the circumstances and attitudes needed to fully appreciate and make aesthetic reflections about this specific work of art.

Anna relates to White and Black in an exploratory and playful manner:

  "There is much tempo, pulse, and speed. But, on the other hand, I can create total peace and then . . . movement, and it is actually me who is doing it. But even in this I find associations to, for instance, a bamboo-stem, and organic phenomena like it. Some close-ups of a thread. It has a lot to do with light and darkness…. It unites something very peaceful with a fantastic pulsation and speed…. It becomes a play exploring what can be possible for me to do with it."

Figure 3. Anna interacting with White and Black.

A video showing Anna interacting with White and Black.
Requires Real player.

She fully explores the properties through a complex play with the cursor and the White and Black moving strip, a play that has playful connotations when she is discovering new movements and expressions with it.

While Bettina and Anna were spending 10-15 minutes exploring this artwork, Carl, when first presented with it, only spent around a brief minute of exploration. Later he returned to it twice, and explored it some more. In the first period when he tried it out, he discovered the relation between the movement of the cursor and the movements of the strip on screen.

  "Some squares that flicker a bit. I am wondering how long they will continue. Now it has become more stable. I will go back and look . . . White and Black it is called. Is it all it is called? I wonder if it is the same I have seen or if it can generate a new one?…. What can you say to something like this? It looks like it is depending on the ballistics in the mouse. If I am moving very quickly, it is moving a lot, if I am moving slowly…only a bit of noise on the surface. Yes, I'll go on to the next work of art now."

Obviously he was not entering into a deeper exploration of this work, one that would go beyond the surface level exploration of the fundamental relationship between the movement of the cursor and the images generated on the screen. He had not been prompted into an interaction; unlike Anna, he had not seen it as a play or a game.

6. DustHarp: Deepening the Exploration
DustHarp is designed to generate activity on screen, while it allows users to interact with and influence the harp music it plays. It has an ambience that users generally find attractive. Carl was trying out the interactive space it provided:

  "I'll just sit for little while and click a bit and see if these wonderful sounds and spots there are depending on the mouse. I don't think so. I rather think it is a sequence…. This is sort of nice to watch. And listen to. After coming home from a stressful day at work one could turn it on.… Oh, 'interactive with sound and movement. Use the mouse to play the harp.' This means, that I can … I can play the harp with this. It seems the clicks . . . well, sometimes it is delayed…. This makes my playing a bit difficult. It is approximately one beat on the harp every time I click on it, but sometimes it is a bit delayed…. Maybe it is when I touch these spots…. Okay. . .when I hit a spot then…sometimes it does it on its own because the spots are just coming on.. Okay…. Very entertaining. I think it is great."

Carl had become more engaged and explorative with this production than with the two preceding ones; this was registered in his facial expression and gestures, as well as in his actions and interactions with the program. He was being reflexive about his explorations: "I´m sitting wondering about the relationship between the tones and the sizes of the dots." And he is alluding to a goal: "If I should play some music, though I don't know how to do it." He then continues a process of exploration to make out the causal connections. He ends up making a relation to some inner sense of what he is experiencing. DustHarp represents to Carl a type of artwork that was partly unfolding itself, thereby creating a context, and partly inviting the user to participate in a constructive way, with aesthetically pleasing (to the participants) sounds and colours. It points in this instance to the possible interplay between the design and the users' motivation to explore the work of art, a cognitive consonance or attuning (Gjedde & Ingemann 2001a) that may be reflected in the design of interactive environments in order to gain or sustain a user's motivation and involvement, a design that could make allowances for and support users with different learning styles and preferred modes and approaches.

Figure 4. Carl interacting with DustHarp.

A video showing Carl interacting with DustHarp.
Requires Real player.

7. Conclusions
The works of WebArt that have been used in this study are constructed of environments and artefacts meant to be explored. They function according to their own rules and have no set instructional goal. As works of art, they prompt users to explore and interpret them, which allows users to make explicit their own goals. They also offer material for reflection. This reflection and articulation can be related to the users' strategies, goals, and previous stories; as such, they may offer learning potentials for the user within the domains represented. These domains of aesthetic experience offer opportunities for learning through the experience they afford the user and the active involvement and exploration they bring about. This can be seen as a process of interpretation and reflection and, in this way, a transformation of experience into knowledge; it is, thus, consistent with experiential learning as defined by Kolb (1984).

Our study of these environments has significant implications for the design of interactive learning materials. They allow us to consider the involvement of the user, and the way the user expresses reflexivity, deep level exploration, goal setting, and the extent to which users are able to create a context through which they relate their own experiences to the new experience in a meaningful way. Such learning activities can be found through the interplay or dialogue between the design of the works of art and the users, through the interactivity they entered into, and/or through the users' immersion in the work and/or the explorations it inspires.

WebArt affords us a complex learning field, which depends on the cognitive resonance between the user and materials for a full exploration and reflection. An important function of art is to stimulate reflection by working at conceptual levels; art is not dependent upon ready made, or solely logical-rational input; it seeks to stimulate interpretation and reflection and offers an experiential dimension that draws on several modes of communication, including affective as well as cognitive dimensions.

Questions for further research have emerged from this study and call for a larger scale study, including the issue of gender differences based on the different preferences and cognitive resonance for male and female participants. Can any consistent differences be found in the way women and men interact with and construct meaning relative to the different designs included in this study and other works of WebArt?

A larger scale study, with a focus on the interplay between user and design, will investigate how different elements and structures invite exploration. How may the design support the "storying" and goal-setting activity of the user? This follow-up study will include studies of users' interaction with more works of WebArt that represent different designs in order to more fully explore the cognitive resonance with different users, and possible patterns of preference in this. It will also include the design of prototypes to explore specific design issues, which have been raised by this study.

While the conclusions of this study are tentative, they do indicate learning potentials and qualities to be considered in the design of learner-centred interactive learning environments and architectures.

8. References
Bruner, J. (1986). Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Harvard University Press.

Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of Mind. New York: Basic Books, Inc.

Gardner, H. (1993). Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice. New York: Basic Books.

Gibson, J. J. (1979). The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.

Gjedde L.and Ingemann B. (2001 b). "In the Beginning was the Experience". Nordicom Review (2) and Nordicom Information (3). Göteborg University, Sweden.

Gjedde, L. and Ingemann, B. (2001 a). "WebArt - Design og metode til undersøgelse af interaktion, fordybelse og narrativitet som læringspotentiale." 15th Nordic Conference for Communication Research. University of Reykjavik, Iceland.

Kolb, D. (1984). Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.

Marton F. and Säljö (1976). "On Qualitative Differences in Learning - 1: Outcome and Process." Brit. J. Educ. Psych. 46, 4-11.

Marton F. and Säljö (1976). "On Qualitative Differences in Learning - 2: Outcome as a Function of the Learner's Conception of the Task." Brit. J. Educ. Psych. 46, 115-27.

Marton F., Hounsell D., and Entwistle N., eds. (1997). The Experience of Learning (2nd edition). Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press.

Sarbin, T. R., ed. (1986). Narrative Psychology: The Storied Nature of Human Conduct. New York: Praeger.

Schank, R and Cleary, C. (1995). Engines for Education. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

9. Acknowledgement
The research reported in this paper is based on the WebArt-project, which is a collaborative project with Dr. Bruno Ingemann, Dept. for Communication, Journalism and Computer Science. University of Roskilde. A more in depth description and discussion of the methods used can be found in (Gjedde & Ingemann 2001 b), and (Gjedde & Ingemann 2001 a), which also has references to a number of publications by Dr. Ingemann describing other reception research projects within this framework of experimental experience methodology.

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IMEJ multimedia team member assigned to this paper Yue-Ling Wong