Research Students

Cathy Campbell


Working Titles of Thesis
Geotemporal Uncertainty: Amarna a case study

Thesis due

Overview of Research Area
Expression of the Problem
The task of the historian and the archaeologist is to reconstruct narratives of events from evidence, physical, textual, visual. This evidential record is, by its very nature, imperfect. Material is missing and damaged. Textual materials have lacuna and the social context of texts, visual materials and physical and architectural remains is imperfectly understood.

These gaps in the evidential record lead to levels of uncertainty and doubt for the professional that make the reconstruction of history difficult. In popular history, historical information is presented as “fact”. Dates and locations are either presented as if they were undisputed, or they are omitted altogether. In more scholarly works the reader is plagued with the opposite problem: caveats, doubts and uncertainty abound. This dichotomy is problematic when trying to articulate theories of reconstruction, and even more problematic when trying to translate those narratives and theories into digital formats.

In recent decades Digital tools to assist the historian and the archaeologist have proliferated. Applications to store, analyse, display, dissect and rearrange data have proved invaluable; in particular the growth of GIS (Geographical Information Systems). A short coming of these systems however is the capability to deal with uncertainty in time and or place.

The problem this research project seeks to address is the digital rendering of geo-temporal uncertainty of historical data.

Why is this useful?
The rendering of history in digital formats, using traditional systems, is fraught with difficulties for the professional. By the very act of transforming historical evidence, and the interpretations made by the historian of that evidence, into digital data, the information takes on a different complexion and meaning. The information becomes “factualised”. Qualifiers, comments, narrative nuances and in many cases, the relationship between the interpretation and the original evidence is lost. Certainly it becomes difficult to maintain the relationships between the elements of history presented (events), and the assumptions made by the historian in reconstructing those events from the evidential record, using traditional database design approaches.

In addition to the short comings of traditional database design however, there is another and more fundamental problem with the digital rendering of geo-temporal uncertainty: a lack of a digital language in which to communicate and manage such information.

It is this lack of a formalised language for the management of this type of data, and its complex array of relationships, that this research attempts to address. In so doing, it is posited that activities of historical enquiry and reconstruction, hitherto confined largely to narrative methods, can be augmented by the use of a digital tool to aid storage, analysis and presentation. The activity of presentation has two potential purposes: teaching and as an aid to deductive analysis and understanding.

Focus of the research
The research project aims to develop a way of managing and displaying geographical and temporal data where there is a degree of uncertainty in the interpretation of that data for the reconstruction of historical narrative or a sequence of events.

The assumptions inherent in this are a) that it is possible to develop a system and language to do this and b) that doing so is useful to the professional historian/archaeologist and to teachers and students

The anticipated outcomes of the research are that the tool developed will:

  1. Enable more accurate storage and display of data that carries a degree of uncertainty, that is incomplete and open to different interpretations
  2. Allow for the storage and display of different reconstructions or interpretations of historical events based on the same evidence
  3. Be useful for historians in the documentation of one’s own theories of reconstruction
  4. Be useful for the deconstruction and analysis of other historians theories, by researchers, teachers and students
  5. Be useful for the comparison of different theories about the same events, by researchers, teachers and students.

In summary: the essential challenge of this research is to develop and test a robust data model and database system capable of being used by historians, teachers and students of historical periods, particularly where high levels of uncertainty exist in the historical record, for the visual display of geo-temporal data. The objective is to develop a tool that can be used to assist the processes of historical enquiry and teaching and learning of history.

Proposed approach
It is proposed to take the following approach to the development and testing of the system:

  1. Development of an ontology
  2. Development of a data model
  3. Implementation of that data model
  4. Testing of the data model by the use of test data
  5. Development of several small case studies to test the different applications of the system
  6. Documentation of the uses of the system
  7. Analysis of the case studies and findings from the research.

The cases studies will be drawn from a study of the material evidence extant for the Amarna Period c1350-1300BC of Egyptian history.

Shannon Kennedy-Clark

Room 237 Education Building A35
Centre for Computer Supported Learning and Cognition (CoCo)
Faculty of Education and Social Work


Working Titles of Thesis
Structure and Failure in Inquiry Learning in an Immersive Learning Environment
Design considerations in scenario-based multi-user environments: the role of structure and learner processes in developing science inquiry skills

Thesis due

Overview of Research Area
Shannon is focusing on the use of a scenario-based multi user environment (MUVE) to develop scientific inquiry skills. She is investigating the impact of structure on learning in virtual environment. She is working with post graduate students, undergraduate students, teachers and secondary school students.

The motivation for this study is due to a lack of strong pedagogical understanding of how people learning in virtual spaces. Many of the learning materials used in these spaces are adapted from face-to-face and teacher centred classrooms. At present, there have been no conclusive studies that show transfer from a virtual space to another domain. Consequently, what students are experiencing within the game is not being used in the classroom or other areas. This research study hopes to provide insights into how much structure is needed or not needed for students to learn from inquiry experiences in a virtual world.

Other Research Areas
Shannon is also interested in how science and history intersect in inquiry learning. She is investigating how students interact with and visualise historical data in a virtual space and she is interested in whether using a historical accurate virtual world deepens a student’s understanding of how scientific theory changes over time.

Shannon is also part of a team that is developing a virtual world for science education. In this virtual world the disappearance of mega fauna will be investigated and students will be able to interact with virtual characters and objects. Modelling tools such as NetLogo will be used to allow students to manipulate variables to see how populations shift over time.

Research Background - Productive Failure in MUVEs
The research undertaken by Shannon Kennedy-Clark as part of the Re-Thinking Timelines collaboration between the ACL, CoCo, Macmillan Publishers and the Maritime Museum provides a link between the Heurist website and an immersive learning environment.

The research initiative will trial the use of productive failure as a learning theory in a Multi-user Virtual Environment (MUVE) to assist students in developing complex problem solving skills. Productive failure is a learning theory that suggests that students activate of non-domain specific knowledge when presented will poorly defined or ill-structured problems without the assistance of scaffolds which constrain a learner to a single domain. A MUVE is a rich immersive online environment that draws on game technology that presents learners with opportunities to engage with and visualise complex situations. The defining characteristics of a MUVE include avatars, intelligent or semi-intelligent agents, a chat or communication function and a 3D online persistent environment.

The research will focus on learners’ approaches to complex problem solving including, but not exclusive to the development of research questions, engaging with a virtual environment, reflection and annotation of a learner’s approach to the problem and the outcome of the treatment in comparison to a more traditional approach to solving complex problems using scaffolded activities.

Relevance to Re-Thinking Timelines Project
As part of the research, learners will be required to reflect on their approach to the problem and the MUVE. Students will be able to access a link to the Heurist database wherein they can collectively add and annotate their reflections to a class wiki or blog using Heurist tools. It is hoped that students will have access to image capturing technologies such as iPhotos so that they can annotate images as well as text.

As critical reflection is considered to be an important aspect of solving complex problems and provides students with opportunities to question their problem solving processes students needs a receptacle for their thoughts that is easy to access and provides a high level of functionality. It is hoped that the integration of Web 2.0 technologies will allow students an avenue to express their collective thoughts. It is envisaged that students will be able to jump between the MUVE and Heurist interfaces rather that through a series of log-ins as this will detract from the spontaneity of the reflections.

The CoCo Lab will provide the MUVE interface and the ACL the links to Heurist and appropriate wiki or blog interface and will orchestrate the links between the two learning environments.

Possible Scenarios
Below are two possible scenarios for the virtual environment. The first is using Virtual Singapura, the MUVE that will form the platform for the PhD research. The second scenario uses Second Life.

Links between Heurist and Virtual Singapura
The immersive environment that will be trialled initially as part of this research project is Virtual Singapura, which was built on an Active Worlds platform Second Life cannot be used in this instance as the trials will involve students in years 7 – 9, who do not meet the age restrictions for Second Life. Virtual Singapura was designed as an educational MUVE that affords learners with an opportunity to participate in 19th century Singapore. The MUVE will focus on communicable disease such as the Cholera epidemic.

Students will need to be able to access a Heurist Web 2.0 tool such as a blog or a wiki in order to create a reflective log of their problem solving strategies and engagement with the virtual environment. As previously mentioned, it is hoped that students can move data such as images of the virtual world to the wiki or blog. The wiki or blog will require group login as it will be a collaborative (i.e. class based) assessment. The project will be trialled in term 4 of the NSW High School calendar – we are looking to run in November and December.

If a link between Heurist and Virtual Singapura is not possible by this time, then gaining access to Heurist to use the Web 2.0 tools will suffice. That is, we can arrange a time for reflective activities wherein students access the blog or wiki and contribute and annotate each other’s reflections and images. The main aim is that collaborative reflection and annotation will contribute to enhanced knowledge and the development of complex problem solving skills.

Links between Heurist and Second Life
Second Life provides an alternate platform for linking Heurist to a virtual environment. In this instance the research will focus on first year undergraduates undertaking a core history course at Sydney University. The students will be able to access Second Life as they will be over 18 and are not prohibited from accessing the site via firewalls.

For this initiative, students will explore and annotate aspects of the virtual environment relevant to their course in a similar manner as explained in the preceding scenario. There are historical islands in second life that have or are in the process of being designed specifically for history and archaeology students with a strong emphasis on pedagogical soundness (