WebArena

Web Based Responsive Positioning for a Modern Knowledge Work

In today’s knowledge work environments, knowledge workers (learners, scientists, teachers, …) are faced with many pieces of knowledge, such as texts, images, graphics, videos and animations. To cope with this huge amount of knowledge artefacts, they have to be compared, put into context, reviewed and annotated. Knowledge work may be done in a private environment, but in many cases, knowledge workers need to collaborate with other knowledge workers by exchanging material, evaluating and creating a common knowledge structure. Even though there are many software applications that support knowledge work, media breaches occur. Such a breach means, knowledge workers have to change their medium to fulfill the task they are currently working on. If a teacher, for example, gets a student’s homework in a format he cannot annotate, he is forced to use another application or even a piece of paper to make his remarks. This breach leads to a mental (and even motorical) detour.

Spatial Virtual Knowledge Spaces Integrate Cognition Space and Action Space

Some years ago, the “Contextual Informatics” group implemented a spatial approach for knowledge structuring. Knowledge artefacts such as texts, images or other kinds of resources are positioned using a Java-based graphical client in a virtual knowledge space that can be arranged the way the knowledge worker needs it to be. This allows for techniques which are common outside computer systems. On office desks for example, people arrange sheets of paper, books and magazines, and put them into piles and thus structure them, though this structure often cannot be described easily. In a collaborative scenario, knowledge workers can combine their objects and build common knowledge structures. An annotation, for example, can easily be done by creating a text object and putting it close to the object that requires annotation.

In their own lectures, the “Contextual Informatics” workgroup lets students build virutal knowledge spaces. They get a topic in the first lecture and build a virtual knowledge space during the course which they present in a final presentation. Their task is to find a suitable visual representation for their topic. Aspects, for example, can be visualized by creating set-structures, graphs, matrices, by simple overlays or with combinations. The Java-based graphical client supports basic objects such as texts, images, rectangles, circles, arrows etc.

Responsive Functions for E-Learning and E-Science

Till this point, the computer itself had a passive role. Positions of objects in relation to background structures or other objects were interpreted by the people using the system. A positioning has no other effect than the change of the position of the project itself. For a new client called WebArena, aside from the switch to a new HTML5 based client, evaluation functions are a main focus point of development. This means, changing an object’s position, size or any other kind of attribute, can be evaluated by the system and thus have further effects on the object itself or other objects on the same virtual knowledge space. A simple example would be a document which is propped on a square named “public” automatically changes it’s access rights in a way it is automatically published on a website.

The new approach is used on workspaces for knowledge workers in a number of projects. In addition to educational purposes in university and school, the approach is also used in the studiolo communis project. Scientists of the UNESCO competence center for tangible an intangible cultural heritage have to deal with great amounts of pictures and other media. Using the WebArena, they are able to arrange their materials and integrate annotations and discussions.

WebArena in action on an iPad and a virtual whiteboard