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Major cash boost for “look and learn” project

* 25 June 2003 *

Major cash boost for “look and learn” project

A £700,000 grant has been awarded to a University of Sussex-led project to look at how we learn by watching others.

Dr Richard Cox, reader in computer science and artificial intelligence and project director, said "The aim is to study 'vicarious' learning - the notion that people can and do learn through being given access to the learning experiences of others. Students learn a great deal from observing and overhearing the learning experiences of others."

Traditional examples of vicarious learning include master classes in music, clinical teachers going through cases with students, and the radio show `Gardeners Question Time'. In these situations, one person or student is the focus of tutorial attention, but others present also benefit from observing the interaction. Although vicarious learning is known to be effective in broad terms, more research on "how" and "why" it works is needed.

The three-year project, which is being funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) under Phase III of the Council's Teaching and Learning Research Programme (TLRP), is in collaboration with the Universities of Edinburgh, Sheffield and Newcastle.

Researchers will use an existing web-based system, developed by Dr Cox and colleagues, called Patient Assessment Training System (PATSy).  PATSy helps students in clinical sciences, such as speech and language therapy, medicine and psychology, to practice their diagnostic skills through audio clips, video clips and interactive tests, which they can 'administer' to virtual patients.

Students of speech and language therapy at Newcastle and Sheffield Universities will be studied as they make diagnoses of cases on the PATSy system.  The issues that pose difficulty to the students will be identified. Next, dialogues between students and between students and tutors that address the difficult topics will be created in the form of video clips. A database of such clips will be added to PATSy. Future learners will then be able to select, retrieve and use the clips for vicarious learning support when they encounter similar difficulties.

Although the focus of this project will be on learning by students in the health professions, it is hoped that general principles for the production of effective vicarious learning material will be developed for application to other areas, such as teacher training.

For more information, contact Dr Cox on 0131 650 4436.

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