One of the good things about being at an HE institution is that you get the opportunity to find out first hand about some of the research that is going on.  Often that provides a fascinating glimpse of a range of new ideas and concepts.

This week I had the chance to see the current state of play with some research into methods of using images to support learning.  The research took a collection of photographs, loaded them into a learning system and then asked learners to categorise them against a set of criteria.  Interestingly the system used that data to visualise the results and feed back to the learner.  This process helps the learner by getting them to identify and explain patterns from the data. 

A couple of prototype systems were discussed that used Magic Studio software from Lexara and images from the Bridgeman Art Library.  The first system used 19th and 20th century images to investigate the role of women.  The system was tested in four schools with 12-14 year olds being asked to consider and categorise each of the images.  Although it seemed to have worked well as a learning activity it did flag up the need to provide more in the way of support in interpreting the images and identifying patterns.

A second prototype was developed covering aspects of sustainability.  In this example a set of images of buildings was used and learners had to tag them using a set of keywords and then answer a series of questions in a quiz about their attitudes to sustainability.

Magic Studio screenshot
Magic Studio screenshot

Learners were also asked to plan a town using the various buildings and were then able to look at factors such as the environmental and economic impact of the decisions they had made.  They could also compare with other people in class and collaborate.

Underlying the Magic Studio front end was a ‘reasoning engine’ that was designed to ‘build a model of the learner’ and ‘find out what is missing and guide then towards it’. 
Using ID3 decision tree algorithms the system was able to take the tagged data, run comparisons and identify patterns in the data.
The project is now looking at the potential for using the technology in other areas and with adult learners.    The system involves learners in a much more engaging activity with a set of images and it is fascinating how the background technology is able to analyse learners responses and provide them with support to help their learning.  Many libraries and archives have built up large collections of images and it was certainly interesting to see one area where they could be used to support learning.