What is AD?

What is AD for?

What does the AD provide?

Intended users?

What is the Pedagogical Background?

What is the Technological Background?

What elements make up an AD scenario?

How are the AD's elements defined?

How does the AD Scenario relate to the Activity Theory?


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Active Document Manual

Active Document Description


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What is the Active Document?

The Active Document defines an integrated computer environment that facilitates collaborative learning activities in a distributed framework using a variety of tools and resources.


The Active Document provides a computational model and an underlying technological infrastructure that permits the design and development of collaborative learning activities that involve a variety of resources and devices.

What is it for?

Emphasis is placed on learning experimental sciences where there is a pressing need for students to improve their learning processes with a better understanding of theory and practice throughout the academic year, especially in the context of distance learning.


A way to improve the current situation is to engage the students in a variety of activities, including the performance of experiments either in real or virtual settings, supported by a distributed collaborative computer environment. The premise here is to offer a persistent, structured, dynamic, active and personal work space to sustain their knowledge constructs in a long term learning process.

What does the Active Document provide?

The Active Document (AD) Platform is a computational architecture for eLearning that enables collaborative learning activities involving a variety of resources.

The AD platform is composed of three parts:

  • A set of authoring tools for the creation and configuration of the different ADs required for the specification of the learning activities.
  • A repository of distributed learning objects that consists of a variety of tools and resources for the described activities.
  • An architecture that generates the user environment necessary to carry out the described activities together with the appropriate resources and tools.

Who is the intended user of the Active Document?

The purpose of the Active Document Platform is to:

  • Provide a set of authoring tools for the specification of learning activities.
  • Supply the authors (creators or definers) of learning activities with a repository of distributed learning objects that consists of a variety of tools and resources for the described activities.
  • Set up an architecture that generates the user environment necessary to carry out the described activities together with the appropriate resources and tools.

The AD can be seen from three perspectives:

  • Student view: a computer-supported environment that offers a structured scenario with functionality for carrying out individual and collaborative activities. A variety of mediation tools are available, some for the whole period such as structured glossaries, others specifically intended for a particular phase, for instance simulation models.
  • Teacher view: the teacher has the role of looking after the work of the different groups, guiding them in the development of the tasks, assessing their results and giving access to the following activities. The Active Documents offers an environment for carrying out these actions, offering different tools to comment upon, controlling and monitoring them
  • Designer's view: the Active Document Platform has an authoring environment that allows the edition of the AD documents. All this data is edited in XML files. The interface of this editor shows, on the left, a tree representing the different elements of an Active Document. A designer can click on any particular. This displays a form which allows to fill in the values for the element related to that node. Each element needs to be defined and added for the different XML files.

What is the Pedagogical Background?


  • Knowledge is created as a function of the individual's experiences and how the person gives meaning to them.
  • An individual mind's world is constructed after this person's interpretation of events.

Social Constructivism

  • Peer interaction is decisive for the cognitive development of a person.
  • Social-cognitive conflict and coordination are key elements for the intellectual development as they provoke communication between peers.

Activity Theory

  • It combines objective, ecological and socio-cultural perspectives of human activities.
  • The model is based on the activity, a collective event developed by its participants' actions, which exists within and transforms a material environment.
  • Elements of an activity: community, norms, division of work, objective, resources, subject, and outcome.


What is the Technological Background?

It has been developed using Java and XML technologies and has an underlying client/server architecture. The server runs on a SUN server with Tomcat, mSQL and Java. Any client can connect to the AD services using a standard web browser

What elements compound an Active Document scenario?

The concept of an AD includes three aspects of the learning process: a description of the activities, a description of the communities and the outcome of the work undertaken within the environment.


The ADs are:

  1. The description of the division of labour in the tasks and subtasks (referred to as the `Description AD')
  2. The actors and roles involved in the collaborative tasks (referred to as the `Community AD')
  3. The outcome of the activity (referred to as the `Outcome AD').

How are the Active Document's elements defined?

The ADs are specified in XML and are defined by three pairs of document type definitions (or DTDs) and their corresponding XML document.


The Description AD, along with the specification of the actors that perform the collaborative activities (given in the Community AD) are interpreted by the AD architecture that dynamically creates the appropriate user interface, according to the elements defined in the two XML structures.


As the learning activity proceeds, the outcome produced by each student is represented in XML in the Outcome AD which stores the results of the learning process and the task structure given in the Description AD.


How does the Active Document Scenario relate to the Activity Theory?

The `Description AD' specifies a collection of activities, each of which reflect the components of an activity as described by AT, modelling the division of labour and the mediating tools associated with each task.


Activities can be grouped within this AD, to provide (optional) sequencing and prerequisite dependences between groups of activities.


The definition of an activity includes:

  • The description of the object of the activity.
  • The specification of the tasks and subtasks and, for each one (if applicable), the different roles that the participants involved in the task can play.
  • The tools and resources available for each role related to a task.