Научная статья на тему 'Definitions of interactivity: creating interactive learning models'

Definitions of interactivity: creating interactive learning models Текст научной статьи по специальности «СМИ (медиа) и массовые коммуникации»

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ИНТЕРАКТИВНОСТЬ / КОМПЬЮТЕРИЗИРОВАННАЯ ОБУЧАЮЩАЯ СРЕДА / КОМПЬЮТЕРИЗИРОВАННОЕ ОБУЧЕНИЕ ИНОСТРАННОМУ ЯЗЫКУ / COMPUTER-ASSISTED LANGUAGE LEARNING (CALL) / ИНДИВИДУАЛЬНЫЙ ПОДХОД К ОБУЧЕНИЮ / МОДЕЛИ ИНТЕРАКТИВНОГО ОБУЧЕНИЯ / INTERACTIVITY / COMPUTERIZED INSTRUCTION / INDIVIDUALISED LEARNING / INTERACTIVE MODELS

Аннотация научной статьи по СМИ (медиа) и массовым коммуникациям, автор научной работы — Lebedeva I.S., Pavlova E.B.

The article focuses on interactivity which is viewed as an effective tool of enhancing the quality of educational materials to facilitate learning. Since the introduction of computers as educational tools, interactivity has been regarded as the feature of this technology that holds the strongest promise for educational use, expectations of interactivity and new interactive media have become very high. Different definitions of interactivity are provided to reveal its multi-dimensional character and various models of creating interactive environments are presented.

Похожие темы научных работ по СМИ (медиа) и массовым коммуникациям , автор научной работы — Lebedeva I.S., Pavlova E.B.

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Текст научной работы на тему «Definitions of interactivity: creating interactive learning models»

УДК 371.67:004

И. С. Лебедева, Е. Б. Павлова

Лебедева И. С., канд. филол. наук, доц. каф. грамматики и истории английского языка ф-та ГПН МГЛУ; e-mail: Lebedeva_Irina_68@yahoo.com

Павлова Е. Б., канд. филол. наук, доц. каф. грамматики и истории английского языка ф-та ГПН МГЛУ; e-mail: lena.pavlova@live.ru

ОПРЕДЕЛЕНИЕ ИНТЕРАКТИВНОСТИ: СОЗДАНИЕ ИНТЕРАКТИВНЫХ МОДЕЛЕЙ ОБУЧЕНИЯ

В статье рассматривается интерактивность как эффективное средство повышения качества учебных материалов, что способствует повышению качества образования. С момента появления компьютера как образовательного инструмента интерактивность стала основополагающим принципом создания моделей обучения. В статье предлагаются различные определения интерактивности, позволяющие раскрыть ее многосторонний характер, а также модели создания интерактивной образовательной среды.

Ключевые слова: интерактивность; компьютеризированная обучающая среда; компьютеризированное обучение иностранному языку; индивидуальный подход к обучению; модели интерактивного обучения.

Lebedeva I. S., Pavlova E. B.

Lebedeva I. S., Ph. D., Ass. Prof., Chair of Grammar and History of English Department of Humanities and Applied Sciences, MSLU; e-mail: Lebedeva_Irina_68@yahoo.com

Pavlova E. B., Ph. D., Ass. Prof., Chair of Grammar and History of English Department of Humanities and Applied Sciences, MSLU; e-mail: lena.pavlova@live.ru

DEFINITIONS OF INTERACTIVITY: CREATING INTERACTIVE LEARNING MODELS

The article focuses on interactivity which is viewed as an effective tool of enhancing the quality of educational materials to facilitate learning. Since the introduction of computers as educational tools, interactivity has been regarded as the feature of this technology that holds the strongest promise for educational use, expectations of interactivity and new interactive media have become very high. Different definitions of interactivity are provided to reveal its multi-dimensional character and various models of creating interactive environments are presented.

Key words: interactivity; computerized instruction; computer-assisted language learning (CALL); individualised learning; interactive models.

Many scholars [8; 11-13] agree that the concept 'interactivity' extends - not surprisingly - from the concept of 'interaction', a concept which generally means: 'exchange', 'interplay', 'mutual influence'. The concept of interactivity (as well as the concept of interaction) is complex and has a long list of very different, specific variations. The concept of 'interaction' in its original sociological sense refers to actions of two or more individuals observed to be mutually interdependent and the concept of 'interactivity' refers to media use and mediated communication [19].

In recent years, expectations of 'interactivity' and new 'interactive media have become very high in terms of services that can be offered, in terms of economic and social gain, in terms of educational advantages, etc. The concept seems loaded with positive connotations along the lines of high tech and technological advancement, along the lines of individual freedom of choice, personal development and independence. At the same time, it seems relatively unclear just what 'interactivity' and 'interactive media' mean.

All existing definitions of 'interactivity' spread throughout media studies and computer science seem to fall into three principle ways of defining the concept: 1) as prototypic examples; 2) as criteria, i.e. as a given feature or characteristic that must be fulfilled, or 3) as a continuum, i.e. as a quality which can be present to a greater or lesser degree [12].

1. Interactivity as Prototype

J. T. Durlak [5] defines interactivity by prototypic examples, the author says: "Interactive media systems include the telephone; 'two-way television'; audio conferencing systems; computers used for communication; electronic mail; videotext; and a variety of technologies that are used to exchange information in the form of still images, line drawings, and data" (p. 743). Among the examples of 'interactive media' listed above there are media (such as the telephone, e-mail, etc.) which are used for interpersonal communication, in other words, media using the conversation pattern. Such media are not considered interactive in certain academic traditions (and possibly national languages) [12]. J. T. Durlak [5] claims that interpersonal communication and especially face-to-face communication is the ideal type of interactive communication: "Face-to-face communication is held up as the model because the sender and receiver use all their senses, the reply is immediate, the communication is generally closed circuit, and the content is primarily informal..." (p. 744). According

to the author, media whose communication form comes closest to face-to-face communication are the most 'interactive', and conversational media, such as video conferencing are to be considered more interactive than consultative media such as computer-based online services.

2. Interactivity as Criteria

According to this approach interactivity is defined as criteria, that is as a certain trait or feature that must be fulfilled [6]. 'Interactivity' is defined as a reciprocal dialogue between the user and the system which involves the active participation of the user in directing the flow of the computer or video program; a system which exchanges information with the viewer, processing the viewer's input in order to generate the appropriate response within the context of the program. 'Interactive media' are media which involve the viewer as a source of input to determine the content of a message.

3. Interactivity as Continuum

The third possibility is to define interactivity as a continuum, where interactivity can be present in varying degrees. C. Heeter [11] defines interactivity related to communication technologies as a multidimensional concept. According to the number of dimensions it includes, interactivity can be 1-dimensional, 2-dimensional, 3-dimensional ... and «-dimensional. C. Heeter [11] provided a six-dimensional model based on: complexity of user choice, effort users must exert, responsiveness to the user, monitoring information use, ease of adding information, and facilitation of interpersonal communication. However, attempts to operationalise this coceptual definition have met with limited success [18]. E. M. Rogers [22] describes interactivity as a continuum, which operates from only one dimension. Interactivity is "the capability of new communication systems (usually containing a computer as one component) to 'talk back' to the user, almost like an individual participating in a conversation" (p. 34). Based on this definition, Rogers [22] created a scale, in which he lists 'degrees of interactivity' for a number of selected communication technologies on a continuum from 'low' to 'high'. The author refers to the concept of 'interactivity' within the scope of'human-machine interaction', understood in the context of interpersonal communication ('talking back'). S. Rafaeli [21] also constructed a concept of interactivity based on one continual dimension, but with quite a different accent. S. Rafaeli's definition is

based on the concept of 'responsiveness', as a measure of a media's ability to react in response to a given user, or as a measure of how much one message in an exchange is based on previous messages. 'Responsiveness' obviously requires that the media registers and stores information about a given user's input and actions and can then adjust to the user's wishes and distinctive characteristics.

J. Steuer [24] developed another matrix of interactivity where 'interactivity' refers to, "the degree to which users of a medium can influence the form or contents of the mediated environment" (p. 41). This definition focuses on the user's ability to input information.

B. O. Szuprowicz [25] presented a 2-dimensional concept of interactivity. According to Szuprowicz "interactivity" is "best defined by the type of multimedia information flows" (p. 14), and he divides these information flows into three main categories: 1) 'User-to-documents' interactivity defined as "traditional transactions between a user and specific documents" (p. 14) where there is little or no possibility of manipulating or changing existing content of information and selection of the time of access to the information; 2) 'User-to-computer' interactivity defined as "more exploratory interactions between a user and various delivery platforms" characterized by more advanced forms of interactivity which give the user a broader range of active choices, including access to tools that can manipulate existing material and 3) 'User-to-user' interactivity defined as "collaborative transactions between two or more users" (p. 14). The first dimension in the matrix is made up of these various information flows, the other is made up of other aspects, which these flows are dependent upon, divided into three categories: "access, distribution, and manipulation of multimedia content" (p. 15).

B. Laurel [17] argued that "interactivity exists on a continuum that could be characterized by three variables": 1) "frequency" in other words, "how often you could interact"; 2) "range", or "how many choices were available" and 3) "significance", or "how much the choices really affected matters" (p. 20). Judged by these criteria, a low degree of interactivity can be characterized by the fact that the user seldom can or must act, has only a few choices available, and choices that make only slight difference in the overall outcome of things. On the other hand, a high degree of interactivity is characterized by the user having the frequent ability to act, having many choices to choose from.

An example of a 4-dimensional concept of interactivity can be found in L. Goertz [8], who presents four dimensions, which are meaningful for 'interactivity': 1. "The degree of choices available", 2. "The degree of modifiability", 3. "The quantitative number of the selections and modifications available" and 4. "The degree of linearity or non-linearity". L. Goertz [8] places each of these four dimensions on a scale where each makes up its own continuum. The higher the scale value, the greater is the interactivity. 1. The "degree of choice available" concerns the choices offered by the media being used. 2. The "degree of modifiability" refers to the user's own ability to modify existing messages or add new content where these modifications and additions are saved and stored for other users. 3. The third component refers to the quantitative number of selections possible within each of the available dimensions. 4. Finally, the "degree of linearity/non-linearity" functions as a measure of the user's influence on the time, tempo and progression of the reception or communication. Both the 3rd and the 4th dimensions refer primarily to the possibility of choice. From this viewpoint classical broadcast media such as radio and television are said to have a relatively low degree of interactivity, while conversational media are considered to have the highest degree of interactivity.

There are concepts of interactivity which operate with more than four dimensions, for example, C. Heeter [11] points at "increased interactivity" as "a primary distinction of new technologies", and proposes to understand interactivity in relation to communication technologies as "a multidimensional concept", where six such "dimensions of interactivity" (p. 217) are defined.

According to J. Jensen [12; 13] there are different forms of interactivity, which cannot readily be compared or covered by the same formula. There appears to be a particular difference in interactivity which consists of a choice from a selection of available information content; interactivity which consists of producing information via input to a system, and interactivity which consists of the system's ability to adapt and respond to a user. Interactivity can be defined as "a measure of a media's potential ability to let the user exert an influence on the content and/or form of the mediated communication" (p. 201). This concept of interactivity can be divided up into four sub-concepts or dimensions which could be called mutually independent dimensions of the concept of interactivity.

1. Transmissional interactivity - a measure of a media's potential ability to let the user choose from a continuous stream of information in a one way media system without a return channel and therefore without a possibility for making requests (for example: teletext, near-video-on-demand, be-your-own-editor, multi-channel systems, data casting, multicasting).

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2. Consultational interactivity - a measure of a media's potential ability to let the user choose, by request, from an existing selection of pre-produced information in a two way media system with a return channel (video-on-demand, on-line information services, CD-ROM encyclopedias, FTP, WWW, Gopher etc.).

3. Conversational interactivity - a measure of a media's potential ability to let the user produce and input his / her own information in a two way media system, be it stored or in real time (video conferencing systems, news groups, e-mail, mailing lists etc.).

4. Registrational interactivity - a measure of a media's potential ability to register information from and thereby also adapt and / or respond to a given user's needs and actions, whether they be the user's explicit choice of communication method or the system's built-in ability to automatically 'sense' and adapt (surveillance systems, intelligent agents, intelligent guides or intelligent interfaces, etc.).

Since the introduction of computers as educational tools, interactivity has been regarded as the feature of this technology that holds the strongest promise for educational use. Hannafin and Peck [10], for example, argued that ''perhaps the greatest advantage of computerized instruction over. ... linear media is the potential for interaction during a lesson." (p. 17). Bransford, Brown, & Cocking [3] discussed the importance of interactivity in the context of video- and computer-based instruction, suggesting that ''interactivity makes it easy for students to revisit specific parts of the environments to explore them more fully, to test ideas, and to receive feedback." (p. 209). Bransford et al. [3] argue that ''Non-interactive environments, like linear videotapes, are much less effective for creating contexts that students can explore and reexamine, both individually and collaboratively (p. 209). Interactivity is presented as a tool of enhancing the quality of educational materials to facilitate learning.

Nowadays learning enhanced by information technology is gaining momentum. This is partially in response to the demand for reduction in time-to-competence in the knowledge-based economy, spurred by intensive competition and globalisation.

Without a doubt, computer technology has revolutionized the way we learn a language. With its capabilities of integrating graphics, sounds, animations, visuals, and machine intelligence, computers are used today very successfully in a wide variety of aspects of language learning. The advantages have been noticed by language teachers as well as learners: computer technology adds variety to language learning; it individualizes the learning; it provides immediate feedback for each exercise; it provides exposure to the target language and culture in various authentic forms: on-line newspapers, magazines, songs, novels, videos, movies, photographs etc.

In the past decade or so, computer-assisted language learning programs and one-line materials have flooded the field of language teaching and learning and bombarded the learners as well as educators with a variety of activities.

There are a lot of online programs specially designed to help with pronunciation, which demonstrate the way of pronouncing by showing mouth, teeth, and tongue positions through animated visual displays. Many programs also offer immediate feedback, mini quizzes and games like drills to boost interest in pronunciation practice. A large number of on-line and computer programs are designed to teach and practice grammar and vocabulary. Electronic dictionaries are also available in various languages. The most interactive tools provided by computer technology are e-mail and chat rooms that offer a real opportunity for communication in written form between a language learner and a native language speaker. They provide an authentic language environment in which several aspects of language learning are addressed, such as real life communication, grammar competence, learning strategies, reading and writing skills.

Computer-assisted language learning (CALL) is defined as the search for and study of applications of the computer in language teaching and learning. In this class of programs there is an attempt to integrate grammar, vocabulary and sometimes speech production by enabling students to interact with a simulated world [14].

CALL embraces a wide range of information and communications technology applications and approaches to teaching and learning foreign languages, from the "traditional" drill-and-practice programs that characterised CALL in the 1960s and 1970s to more recent manifestations of CALL, e.g. as used Web-based distance learning.

CALL is classified according to its underlying pedagogical and methodological approaches derived from different learning theories:

1. Behavioristic (Structural, Restricted) CALL: conceived in the 1950s and implemented in the 1960s-1980s.

2. Communicative CALL: 1980s to 1990s.

3. Integrative CALL: 2000 onwards [28; 29; 2].

Most Behavioristic CALL programs (1960s to 1970s), consisted of drill-and-practice materials in which the computer presented a stimulus and the learner provided a response. At first, both could be done only through text. The computer would analyse students' input and give feedback, and more sophisticated programs would react to students' mistakes by branching to help screens and remedial activities.

Lack of interaction was a major drawback of these language learning models, which essentially emulated the large lecture hall mode ofinstruction. The second phase, Communicative CALL, is based on the communicative approach that became prominent in the late 1970s and 1980s [26]. In the communicative approach the focus is on using the language rather than analysis of the language, and grammar is taught implicitly rather than explicitly. It also allows for originality and flexibility in student output of language. The communicative approach coincided with the arrival of the PC, which made computing much more widely available and resulted in a boom in the development of software for language learning. Starting in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a number of researchers began to add asynchronous computer communications and synchronous interaction via two-way cable television and audiographics to traditional language learning technologies. These studies indicated that interaction greatly enhanced education with improved attitudes, earlier completion of coursework, better performance on tests, and greater retention [1; 15; 16]. The first CALL software in this phase continued to provide skill practice, but not in a drill format, for example: paced reading, text reconstruction and language games. In this phase, computers provided context for students to use the language, such as asking for directions to a place; the programs applied were not especially designed for language learning.

Criticisms of the communicative approach include using the computer in an ad hoc and disconnected manner for more marginal aims rather than the central aims of language teaching. Communicative CALL software deployed few techniques from artificial intelligence and computational

linguistics, it was quite limited in its interactive potential, often being restricted to a limited repertoire of sentences [14; 9]. Such language learning programs were only capable of demonstrating and reinforcing the student's knowledge of the target language and culture. Most of them still played a passive role as they were mainly oriented to providing information, amplifying explanations and mechanical drills. Technically, what they lacked was the ability to react to unpredicted outcomes as these would occur in real life communication.

The third phase of CALL, Integrative CALL, starting from the 1990s, tried to address criticisms of the communicative approach by integrating the teaching of language skills into tasks or projects to provide direction and coherence. Putting a strong emphasis on student-centered materials, integrative CALL envisions models based on a foundation of interactive and individualised learning that provide an environment strongly simulating reality and arousing learners' creative ability. Such models enable students to advance communicative competence without the investment of foreign travel or other means of more plastic linguistic interaction.

The essential principles based on the interactive nature of language learning and teaching include the following:

1. the student is the language learner.

2. language learning and teaching are shaped by student needs and objectives in particular circumstances.

3. language learning and teaching are based on normal uses of language, with communication of meanings (in oral and written form) to all basic strategies and techniques.

4. classroom relations reflect mutual liking and respect, allowing for both teacher personality and student personality in a non-threatening atmosphere of cooperative learning.

5. basic to language use are knowledge of language and control of language.

6. development of language control proceeds through creativity, which is nurtured by interactive, participatory activities.

7. every possible medium and modality is used to aid learning.

8. testing is an aid to learning.

9. language learning is penetrating another culture: students learn to operate harmoniously within another culture or in contact with another culture.

10. the real world extends beyond the classroom walls, language learning takes place in and out of the classroom [30].

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Essentially, individualised learning involves discovering a student's initial understanding, testing it and helping the student to build a new understanding as required. The teacher determines each student's learning progress, helps them choose an individual learning path and supports learning. A technologically supported individualised learning approach enables students to progress through learning materials at their own speed and according to the learning gaps they need fill. Individualised teaching addresses the cognitive and emotive aspects of the learner, enhancing educational outcomes and providing personalised feedback on students' efforts.

Integrative CALL embraces interactive learning models using virtual environments which create simulations of real situations. Its rise coincided with the development of multimedia technology (providing text, graphics, sound and animation), as well as computer mediated communication.

Multimedia CALL is widely applied in virtual learning platforms, Web-based distance learning, as well as role-playing games. It started with interactive laser videodiscs such as Montevidisco [23] and A la rencontre de Philippe [7], both of which were simulations of situations where the learner played a key role. These programs later were transferred to CD-ROMs, and new role-playing games such as Who is Oscar Lake? made their appearance in a range of different languages.

Montevidisco is a computer-assisted interactive videodisc program that takes students on a simulated visit to a northern Mexican town exposing them to real-life situations, with natives speaking to them in Spanish. The program is also like an adventure game, because the student never knows what will happen as a consequence of his words - he may find himself in the local hospital or in jail, depending on the decisions he makes at critical points in the program.

From the student's eyes, the program basically functions in the following way: (1) The student sits down in front of a computer terminal equipped with a colour television monitor and, after entering his name and being introduced to the system by the computer, he finds himself wandering onto the plaza in the center of town, (2) As he does so, a native comes up to him and asks in Spanish, "You're an American tourist, aren't you?", (3) At this point the video disc freeze frames, the native waiting for a response, and

options appear on the computer screen which give the student an opportunity to respond in at least four different ways, including the option to have the person repeat what he has just said, (4) If the student chooses to hear the phrase again, he will press the appropriate number on the keyboard, and the computer will expect him to record his choice in Spanish, speaking into a microphone, (5) As the student speaks, his production is recorded on a cassette tape for future assessment. If the student does not take this step, the computer will keep prompting him to create that production before it permits him to continue, (6) Once the student has produced the phrase, he is given the option of hearing a surrogate pronounce or model that phrase for him by simply pressing "s" on the keyboard, (7) The student can then re-record his production, or continue. Continuing in this case means that the disc branches back to the beginning of that scene and repeats it. If the student selects other options, the native will act as a tour guide, explain to him how to get to the beach, or provide other alternatives. The process is repeated at the end of each scene.

Given the gender nature of Spanish, there are two versions of Montevidisco - for male and female students. The program functions very similarly for the two versions, but the options and scenes are different and, of course, the language changes to reflect the appropriate gender both in addressing the student and in the surrogate responses available. Montevidisco consists of 28 major sequences with several scenes, each scene having at least four options. All in all, there are over 1,100 options or branches in the program, making it possible for a student to visit Montevidisco several times, each time discovering new places and interacting with the natives in different ways.

Who is Oscar Lake is the first language learning program in the format of an adventure game, all the activities are in a foreign language (translations are easily available within the game). The program has drill and lesson-type activities, a basic dictionary, but its chief asset is conversation practice. The game is driven by conversations with different characters. Each conversation has multiple paths giving the player the opportunity to listen and respond in different ways. This interactive component gives the program a distinct advantage over static conversations in other CD ROMs or tape courses.

Recently attempts have been made to establish a theoretical and technical framework for developing comprehensive second and foreign language learning models. An example of this is an interactive learning

model called Face to Face [33]. The model is based on current language learning theories [4] and established techniques in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. It is intended to provide students with a near reality learning environment which can help them effectively practice the four major language skills: listening, speaking, reading, and writing (its current application is Mandarin Chinese). The system consists of seven components: (1) the natural language user interface; (2) Chinese character and sentence recognition; (3) Chinese speech recognition; (4) student face recognition; (5) the dynamic knowledge base; (6) the virtual teacher; (7) the self-improvement element.

The interactive language learning model in question provides a selection of virtual environments, such as "airport", "bookstore", or "hospital", in which students can practice a particular language. Such worry-free environments, in which students tend to feel more relaxed, boost their interest in the learning tasks and enhance performance. To achieve this effect, a natural language oriented user interface is designed. The communications between students and the virtual teachers are realized in writing with the help of the mouse or a pen pad and/or through conversations by computer speakers and microphones. Behind this interactive user interface lies a set of intelligent machine learning programs. These machine learning elements are: (1) Chinese sentence recognition (CSR), (2) Chinese speech recognition and generation (CRG), (3) student face recognition (SFR), (4) virtual teachers (VT), (5) dynamic knowledge base (DKB) and (6) performance evaluation (PE):

Virtual Environments

CR<

DKB

The natural language user interface consists of dynamic Web pages containing virtual environments classified by learning tasks, virtual teachers chosen by the students, and a dialog box to display the conversation in Chinese sentences. An initial input, either entered by a student or selected by a virtual teacher, will start the learning process. The virtual teachers, supervised machine learning programs, will play different roles in different environments. For example, in the airport environment, students can choose to talk to a front desk clerk, another passenger, or airport attendants. If the student makes a mistake, the virtual teacher, who plays as one of the above selected characters, will try to correct the student after they guess what the student meant. The commonly made mistakes and the learning progress of individual students will be recorded and analysed. Suggestions and advice will be given according to the profile of individual students.

Face to Face takes advantage of recent input / output technologies and will be trained to recognise Chinese sentences. Speech recognition and generation is a well-developed research area - a great number of world-class commercial products, free ware and research projects are available. A student face recognition component will be implemented to enable the virtual teacher to recognize students and provide specific supervision for individual students. Several research projects on face recognition have generated impressive results (for example, Faceit, an award-winning facial recognition software engine that allows computers to rapidly and accurately detect and recognize faces).

The Face to Face knowledge database will be organized so that the primary knowledge stored in the system can be updated and retrieved dynamically. It comprises a set of sub-knowledge bases corresponding to different virtual environments. Each virtual environment, such as Airport, Bookstore, and Supermarket, is associated with an index file that contains keys to different knowledge bases. The database should be flexible enough to handle non-predictable queries. It can be accessed by aggregation indexes, key words, multiple contents and criteria. Hash index tables will be used to achieve rapid knowledge acquisition, relational index tables will be applied to connect the target information directly. The flexible dynamic knowledge database will minimise the responding time of the system making the learning process continuous.

With a view to enhancing the interactive nature of the language learning model and providing highly active interactions between the

teacher and the student, the virtual teacher's tasks and roles should be specified for each student according to his or her progress. It can give advice and correct errors according to the history of a student's learning behaviour. The model maintains a history database and a neural (functioning similarly to the human brain and nervous system) database to recognize and remember the students whom the teacher had met previously. This maintenance is done by a knowledge accumulator. Each student's file has an aging variable to remember how long this student has been on the system. If the age of a particular student's history file exceeds the threshold, the agent will send a message to the control panel of the system. Then these files can be either deleted to save space and accelerate the search or saved in an indirectly connected database in case the student comes back after a long period of time.

The self-improvement element of the model (the ability to improve itself on its performance over time) is based on the concept of iterated version space algorithm (IVSA). IVSA has been designed and implemented to learn disjunctive concepts that have multiple classes. Unlike a traditional version space algorithm, IVSA first locates the critical attribute values using a statistical approach and then generates the base hypothesis set that

describes the most significant features of the target concept. With the base hypothesis, IVSA continues to learn less significant and more specific hypothesis sets until the system is satisfied with its own performance [32; 31]. The computer program behind the virtual teacher should have an automatic learning element so that it can learn from teaching. The learning element should have the ability to update its knowledge base according to the self-evaluation results. It will be able to record any problems encountered when answering the student's questions. These records can be used for future improvement of the learning system.

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