Presentation OSCAR


OSCAR is a framework based on the speech-acts theory. It allows defining theories composed of a set of speechacts
and precedence relations (a grammar) between these speech-acts and to achieve synchronous and asynchronous
discussions structured by these theories.

This research pursues different objectives. First, we want to study the impact of a speech-act structuration in
collective educational activities by accumulating different experiences from different ecological contexts3. In
particular, we want to study the impact of the theory (i.e., the speech-acts and the precedence relations) by
modifying the speech-acts and/or precedence relations.

Second, we want to help the tutors to perceive what happens in these discussions. As an example, analyzing
how the speech-acts are used by the students allows defining interesting features from a pedagogical point of
view such as the students’ social behaviour. OSCAR is therefore both an operational tool that can be (and is
already) used within distance-learning platforms and a research tool. It has been designed by a research team
mixing different competences (natural language theories, computer supported collective learning, tutoring of
distance-learning curricula) and developed in a professional way (i.e., by a software engineer) in order to
embed the functionalities that are required for the research aspects (easy modification of the theory, means to analyze
the discussions) and respect the robustness criteria that are required to achieve multiple full-scale ecological


OSCAR can be used both in a synchronous (Chat like) or asynchronous (Forum like) mode without any
modification or configuration. It is therefore possible to alternate synchronous and asynchronous phases within the
same discussion. This appeared spontaneously in some discussions that took place as Chats and continued
asynchronously. In the other way, students can decide to connect synchronously to a discussion opened as a forum
and continue live.

Such mixed modes are an interesting subject for further researches as it appears clearly that the nature of
the messages are different in synchronous and asynchronous modes. In synchronous mode students have
to manage the scientific discussion itself but also the intrinsic constraints of this mode: check if everybody is
connected, be sure that everybody can/has expressed his opinion, deal with other aspects of such interactions
(psychological aspects of synchronous discussions, “let’s take this opportunity to …”, etc. ). For this purpose, we
noticed that students create threads that are related to the organisation of the discussion itself, threads that remain
persistent at the end of the meeting. As a result, the discussion then mixes two different types of threads
(domain-related and organisation-related), whose proximity can appear confusing for students that will
continue the discussion asynchronously. As another point, synchronous and asynchronous discussions probably
require different theories (for trivial but important aspects such as allowing “Hello - Good Bye” acts in a
synchronous mode or, more fundamentally, because an asynchronous mode allows students to take time before
posting messages - and these messages are longer). At present, a discussion is associated with a single theory. It
is an open question to decide if the problems that this mixity creates must be addressed within the discussion or
at the level of the creation and organisation of the discussions, thus requiring the development of specific
meta-level additional tools.
We believe that a key interest of OSCAR is to be robust enough to be usable in ecological contexts and a
research tool that allows analyzing discussions (via the information stored in a structured way in the data-base)
and to vary different parameters (synchronous – asynchronous – mix modes, speech-acts, precedence
grammar). Analyzing its use in different contexts (scientific discussions in a distance-learning curriculum,
collective activities, etc.) will allow a better understanding of how students use such a tool and, in a dialectical way,
how tutors can make the best of it in order to (1) support collective activities and (2) collect information on the
discussions (a posteriori or while they take place) in order to support the students.

Oscar has been implemented with the support of the "contrat Etat-Région METEDI 2000-2007"

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