Termites in the schoolhouse: stigmergy and transactional distance in an e-learning environment
Dron, J. (2004) Termites in the schoolhouse: stigmergy and transactional distance in an e-learning environment In: Proceedings of World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications 2004, Lugano, Switzerland, 21-26 June, 2004.
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Transactional distance theory predicts an inverse relationship between dialogue and structure in an educational transaction. It is a powerful theory, but it may have exceptions. This paper discusses a class of computer-based educational environments that anomalously seem to combine both high dialogue and high structure. In such systems the behavior of users changes their environment, which in turn causes changes in the behavior of its users. Such processes are a form of stigmergy, a word originally used to describe this effect in termites, where it coordinates the formation of termite mounds. Stigmergy in an e-learning environment can enable a self-organized structure to arise out of dialogue, simultaneously providing both high and low transactional distance. Environments built this way may be very flexible learning spaces. A number of exemplars embodying the principle are described, followed by an exploration of unresolved issues and directions for future research.
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