IT: Charms and challenges
Keynote at Technology for Flexible Learning Conference,
Massey University, Palmerston North, 21 October 1996
In a world where data increases exponentially each year, a major challenge for schools is to prepare students to access and use information effectively. Learners frequently become lost in a morass of data from texts and from inquiry projects. Without higher-order thinking skills, they cannot synthesize large volumes of informatation... The same technologies that are swamping students in information can help learners master thinking skills for assimilating this data. This requires a refocussing of current uses of multimedia in the curriculum... to tools for structured inquiry-based higher-order thinking (Dede, 1992: 54).
This paper will explore some of the educational charms of technology, more particularly information technology, and some of the challenges we face as educators in using information technologies as the 'tools for structured inquiry-based higher-order thinking' depicted by Dede.
To set it in context it is useful to look at some of the claims made for the educational impact of technology from the 80s to the present.
In 1981 the computer was called 'an imagination machine', an almost anything machine' (Anderson, 1981). In 1986 it was claimed that CD Rom has the capability and technological potential for educators to create "a seamless carpet of knowledge and learning" (Ofiesh, 1986: 299).
Of more concern is the spokesperson for the massive Florida Schoolyear 2000 initiative who stated recently:
Technology should not be used (as it most often is, in today's schools) simply as an enhancement to the curriculum. Rather it should be fully exploited as a tool to compress student learning time and reduce non-productive time (Salisbury, 1992: 9).
He goes on to suggest that looking up 'information in a dictionary or encyclopaedia' and 'walking to and from classes' are examples of non-productive time that could be reduced dramatically through the use of technology!
Of similar concern is the evangelical tone of many of the papers in conference proceedings. For example, a paper given at the 1993 Australasian Computers in Schools Conference is entitled "Miracles in the classroom: the vision of music" (Wawrzyniak, 1993).
Claims made by technology suppliers and software developers (Apple is an exception - read Macworld) are rarely based on the researched impact of these programmes on quality of student learning. However, the same could be said for the many exciting and successful (but in what terms?) technology-based programmes described in journals like Classroom Computer Learning or Educational Computing and Technology. There is no doubting the genuine enthusiasm of these teachers and their students, but can the impact of technology on their learning realistically be described as miraculous?
...the catalytic impact of technology in these environments cannot be underestimated. We have watched technology profoundly disturb the inertia of traditional classrooms. For example technology:
- encourages fundamentally different forms of interactions among students and between students and teachers:
- engages students systematically in higher-order cognitive tasks: and
- prompts teachers to question old assumptions about instruction and learning (Dwyer, 1994).
Running parallel to these claims is a growing backlash against the 'hype' of educational computing (for example, Maddux, 1992). Maddux points out that a whole issue of Teachers College Record has been devoted to papers questioning the value of computers in education; and his comments on the extraordinary and unrealistic claims often made about the benefits of various computer applications in education'. The 'education pendulum syndrome' involves a cycle of "unrealistically optimistic expectations followed by disappointment, disillusionment, and massive curtailment or outright abandonment" (ibid: 11).
Norman Beswick was making these counter claims at the beginning of the pendulum cycle in the 1980's.
...the problems faced by slow learners, new learners and teachers, when faced with vast numbers of learning sequences, multi-megabyte capacity, and the contents of the world's libraries, are not simply daunting, they are horrific... Rather obviously, a learner who finds one book a problem will not find many millions of books any easier (Beswick, 1987: 5).
Alan Ray said more recently
In the near future, all the representations that human beings have invented will be instantly accessible anywhere in the world on intimate, notebook-size computers. But will we be able to get from the menu to the food? Instant access to the world's information will probably have an effect opposite to what is hoped: students will become numb instead of enlightened (Kay,1991: 100).
To me, technology's not the driving force for education. If we allow technology to be the engine, we're going to end up being quite disappointed. We make a mistake if we just bring a bunch of technology into a room and then think that an excellent educational program is going to materialize. We need to look at the child and base our decisions on how kids learn (cited in Betts, 1993: 22).
McCluskey sums up this thesis:
Many educators believe - erroneously - that technology alone can solve the problems of education. People who believe that "putting a computer on every student's desk" will heal all educational ills would do well to rethink that proposition. A monkey at a computer terminal has roughly the same chance of writing Hamlet as that same monkey at a typewriter.
All this is not to say that technology has no role in education; it most certainly has, and that role is a vital one. But technology may produce unanticipated and perhaps unpleasant consequences. If more and more advanced technology is introduced into the educational scheme without a concomitant emphasis on knowledge acquisition, it will allow some students to operate at increasingly lower levels of thought... Students who possess knowledge will use technology as a tool - those who do not possess knowledge will use it as a crutch (McCluskey, 1994).
If technology alone cannot solve the problems of education, and if we want students to use it as a tool, not a crutch, the teacher's role is critical.
What model could help teachers to focus on enhancing the quality of technology- based learning? There are many descriptions of an evolutionary model of technology, from programmed instruction through to virtual reality. Jonassen's continuum is an example:
[OHT: continuum from Programmed instruction to knowledge construction environments, intellectual toolkits and virtual worlds]:
Figure 1: Technology Continuum
Computer Assisted Instruction
Content Learning Environments
Generative Learning Support Environments
Knowledge Construction Environments
Intellectual Toolkit - Virtual Worlds (Jonassen 1993: 36)
There are also numerous models and metaphors for what computers can be used to do in education, from drill and practice to 'writer aids, author systems, idea processors [and] publishing systems' (Chandler, 1985: 109).
Barbara Means lists four ways in which technology can be used to teach and to support instruction:
• as tutor
• applied as tools
• to explore
• to communicate
(Means, 1994: 11).
Combining her list with Jonassen's provides a powerful filter for looking at what we are doing in NZ schools, ie
• explore information
• construct knowledge
• communicate knowledge
And combining this list with Jonassen's continuum provides a focus for my concern that technology is seldom being deployed in a way that truly enhances and extends student learning.
[OHT showing diagram adapted from Jonassen (1993) and Means (1994) illustrating that many of our activities support the use of technology rather than supporting learning, exploring information, constructing and communicating knowledge]
While there are some examples of computer-aided instruction (CAI) and computer-based learning (CBL) currently being implemented in New Zealand schools, New Zealand's traditional child-centred/ whole language approach has helped us to avoid the substitution of CAI and CBL programs for textbooks as appears to have happened extensively in some parts of the USA. Integrated Learning Systems (ILS) really have not, in the same way as CAI and CBL, become widespread in NZ, and contentious, as they have done in America. However, I have added 'games' to the chart because I see more and more evidence of computers being used for games, and I think Richard Ennals' comment is worth thinking about:
the habit of playing with' computers has often authenticated an undemanding and superficial approach [to learning]. (Ennals, 1993: 19).
While some outstanding work is being done using the 'tool' dimension in NZ schools - wordprocessing, spreadsheets, graphics, desktop publishing - my concern is that we are not doing enough to bridge the ditch (illustrated on the OHT) to create the learning environments which allow students to explore information, construct knowledge and communicate knowledge - to develop classrooms as knowledge construction environments.
My argument is that until schools set out quite consciously to use technology to create classrooms as knowledge construction environments we will continue to use technology to do what we already do, but quicker; and with, in the short term, more student participation and enjoyment.
Where we are is fine as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough.
The possible reasons for the ditch are well documented and may well include factors like:
• access to technology
• lack of technology
• physical barriers eg computer laboratories
• technological obsolescence
• teacher reluctance
• insufficient teacher training
• lack of time for practice
• demands of IT-based teaching/ lack of models for integrating technology into curriculum.
There is no doubt that more is necessary - more technology, more access points in the school, more training, more time for practice and curriculum planning - but will more be sufficient to help teachers bridge the ditch?
In asking whether the microcomputer is 'just another failed innovation' Hannafin and Savenye (1993: 29) analyse what they call 'teacher resistance' and suggest that it relates to unwillingness to exploit "the interactive nature of the computer and its tremendous capacity for enabling student-centred activities and exploration..." They talk about a 'fundamental shift' in the role of the teacher toward that of coach, facilitator, guide. They add:
The teacher's role does not change simply by using the computer in the classroom. The change occurs only to the extent to which a shift of responsibility to the learner occurs...
Teachers using computers to facilitate open-ended student-centred learning environments necessarily relinquish some control and consequently accept a different role and ideology (1993: 28).
It would be easy to suggest that NZ has always supported a student-centred ideology, that our classrooms are already knowledge construction environments, so what is new, and what is different?
We need to examine exactly what Hannafin and Savenye mean by student control of learning. For years we have been setting projects and getting students to go to the library to 'look it up'. 'Looking it up' has become a lot more fun with an automated catalogue and Encarta on CD Rom, but what else has changed? Are we really using information technology within knowledge construction environments? I see an awful lot of electronic copying and pasting of other people's information, but not a lot of learning. I see what Ennals talked about in terms of 'projects' authenticating an undemanding superficial approach to learning. If anything, computers have made it more so.
One of the areas that gives me most cause for concern is what I call the electronic pastiche phenomenon. Pivotal to this is the tendency of teachers (and consequently students) to see information and knowledge as synonymous.
Schools tend to overemphasisze the value of information and misunderstand the subtleties and complexities of learning. While information can be provided by humans and/or machines, it is what one accomplishes with the information that counts. By itself information is inert. While computers may sort, categorize and classify information, they do not create concepts. What people do with information is what matters...
An undue emphasis on information also raises ethical issues, such as the production of information collages from CD Rom. Recently one of the authors, as an exercise, wrote a 68 page paper on Burkina Faso, a newly emerged African nation.
The paper contained maps, charts, comparisons of economic indicators and information on culture, religions and political systems. The paper was reviewed by faculty members and judged to be an effective, comprehensive paper. Yet the author put it together electronically in 38 minutes and acknowledged that he knew little more about the country than when he had begun. Such abuses of the technology are emerging in the proliferation of academic publications which are mixes and matches of previous publications. This practice is already evident in schools where students have ready access to educational technologies (Melchior, Gawith, Edwards and Keany, 1995: in press).
With NZ schools moving to surfing the Net and embracing multimedia with fervour, it seems timely to return to Beswick's (1987) observation that learners who find one book a problem will not find many millions of books any easier. Electronic multimedia information pastiches are, surely, little different from the pretty border and snippets of pasted up photocopy syndrome?
The difference between being able to do a sophisticated electronic pastiche of information on Burkina Faso and building knowledge about Burkina Faso seems to relate to how we interpret the notion of student control of learning, and the explicit and active role of the teacher in ensuring that students have the skills and competencies, not just to use technology, but to succeed in this type of learning.
The following model is intended for discussion and debate.
The role the teacher would have to play to help students develop the skills to negotiate the control over the
CONTROL OVER THE LEARNING
- learning objectives
- assessment criteria
- method of learning
- method of monitoring the learning
- formative evaluation
- summative evaluation
CONTROL OVER THE TECHNOLOGY
Ultimately, the student's ability to control the learning, more so than her ability to control the technology, will determine the quality of the learning.
There is a vast difference between setting (or allowing students to choose) a topic and sending them off to the library to look it up, and the role of the teacher implicit in this model.
We, schools and colleges of education, should ask ourselves whether teachers have the skills and strategies not just to help students control the technology, but to help them control the learning by setting learning objectives, planning, monitoring and evaluating their own learning with guidance from the teacher.
This is not a rhetorical question. I have nine years of evidence that even the best New Zealand teachers do not necessarily have the skills to move students beyond information construction environments (Burkina Faso) into knowledge construction environments without further learning. And the ones who struggle the most are those with very sophisticated knowledge of the technology. Burkina Faso lookalikes are alive and well in New Zealand classrooms.
Given the vast numbers of computers and other information technologies in schools - 4 million, 1 to every 10/11 students in USA alone (Merrow, 1994?), there are surprisingly few thoroughly researched projects exploring the potential of the technology to enhance learning and focusing explicitly on this area of knowledge construction environments.
One such project is the Schools for Thought (SFT) project which is an umbrella title for three core programmes:
- The Jasper Woodbury problem solving series (Vanderbilt)
- The Fostering a Community of Learners (FCL) Program (Berkeley)
- The CSLLE (Computer Supported Instructional Learning Environments) project (Bereiter and Scardamalia, Toronto).
These programmes have all been developed with the explicit intention of giving students more control of their learning in technology-enhanced knowledge construction environments. They were developed and researched, separately, and are now being implemented together.
The following exerpts from a recent paper by Lamon (Lamon et al, 1995: in press), the international director of the SFT programme, and her SFT colleagues, provide a brief outline of the three projects:
1.. The Jasper Woodbury Problem Solving Series
Vanderbilt's Adventures of Jasper Woodbury program is a powerful approach to teaching mathematical problem solving. Through quality video dramas, students are presented with complex, realistic problems that call for the types of mathematical thinking required in real life. Links to science, history and social studies are evident as well...
Solving this multifaceted challenge requires that students formulate goals, devise strategy, find relevant data (all the data needed are embedded in the video along with additional distracter data), and construct mathematical arguments. Perhaps most significantly, the video challenges make mathematics an objector discussion...
Teachers use related activities to extend and reinforce mathematical knowledge and skills... The nine existing stories are organized as triplets around three thematic and mathematical content areas: complex trip planning involving relationships between distance, rate, and time; constructing business plans, involving the use of probability and statistics; and way-finding, relying on the use of geometry (Lamon et al, 1995: 2).
2. Fostering a Community of Learners
The conceptual basis of the Berkeley Fostering Communities of Learners (FCL) program stems from two sources. The first is based on research which has shown that learning is a matter of discovering and exploring fruitful ideas for oneself; so the program is designed to encourage students to be partially responsible for designing their own curriculum. The second comes from the well founded idea that disciplines develop from fundamental principles and so students are systematically guided into discovering these deep principles through the curriculum and through classroom structures...
Students first participate in a 'benchmark' lesson on a curriculum theme... From this lesson students will generate as many questions as they can think of (usually 100 or more are produced). The teacher and students categorize these questions into approximately five subtopics ... About six students form a research group; each group takes responsibility for one of the five or so subtopics.
Using texts, trade books, magazines, newspapers, video and electronic mail consultations with outside experts, students write up summaries of what they are learning. As well, students engage in small group discussions of articles and texts relevant to the overall theme. Discussions are structured along the lines of four key strategic activities: summarising, clarifying, questioning and predicting (Lamon et al, 1995: 4)
In this programme skills are explicitly taught focused on these four key strategic literacy activities; summarising, clarifying, questioning and predicting.
A modified jigsaw method and reciprocal teaching (Palinscar and Brown, 1984) are used to ensure maximum student sharing of knowledge.
3. The CSILE Project
The CSILE Project (Computer Supported Intentional Learning Environments) developed at Toronto provides a rich computer environment aimed at creating a certain kind of school environment in which the focus is on problems rather than on categories of knowledge...
The standard CSILE classroom has eight networked computers per classroom, connected to a file server, which maintains the communal database for the whole school. The core of CSILE is the communal student-generated database which encourages students to articulate their theories and questions, to explore and compare different perspectives, and to reflect on their joint understanding. In CSILE, students work individually and collaboratively, commenting and building upon one another's understanding...
Articulating ideas in writing encourages students to formulate their theories explicitly, it facilitates memory, and it supports reflection and revision. Also the written records live on, creating resources for others and so knowledge is progressively transformed...
By writing a note in CSILE or by commenting on other students' notes, students become contributors to the knowledge of the class and so gain an overview of how understanding grows. Students working in CSILE classrooms become aware that a true measure of learning is understanding something that you didn't already know and consequently that learning is a matter of taking a deep approach to a question, studying for a long time and finding more and more questions (Lamon et al, 1995: 5,6).
While this brief outline excerpted from one recent paper has not done justice to the rich collection of papers which describe how these projects developed individually before the McDonnell Foundation's support allowed them to be synergised into the one, the SFT project, it gives some insight into what Knowledge Construction Environments might look like in a real classroom.
There is no doubt that similar things are happening in a few New Zealand classrooms, but none that I know of so firmly underpinned by learning theory and none attempting to implement three such diverse, but related, projects in one classroom with close attention being paid by full time, paid, experienced researchers to the very issues that were outlined earlier as being of key significance to New Zealand schools, ie
• the quality of student learning in a technology enhanced environment
• the cognitive skills needed by the students
• the role of the student in controlling the learning
• the role of the teacher in designing and facilitating that learning.
In relation to the quality of student learning, the Schools for Thought project sets out explicitly to enhance the quality of student learning, not just the quality of their technology use.
It does this by focusing on information-rich situations with compelling problems to which there is not one 'solution' but a number of ways to tackle the problems through thinking and discussion. The learner simply has to sift through information, compare, relate, analyse and interpret it.
What is on the Jasper videodiscs is information. Translating that information into what you need to know to work your way through the problem happens in the head, but being able to use the technology to replay parts of the problem demonstrates how the technology can aid the use of thinking skills. When you add these problem solving strategies to the FCL systematic research process, and the explicit teaching of summarising, clarifying, questioning and predicting strategies (very similar to the Action Learning (Gawith, 1984, 1987, 1988) approach we teach in New Zealand), and add the rigorous self editing and quality control students exert on the data they add to the database in the CSILE initiative, you have a comprehensive and powerful knowledge construction environment rich enough to sustain students through a variety of information accessing, processing and production activities which force them to work on that information with their heads to turn it into knowledge.
The skills learners use are all the essential skills of the NZ Curriculum - thinking skills, information skills, maths and numeracy skills, communication, social and co- operative skills.
To use these knowledge construction environments well requires rigour in terms of thinking and interpreting information on the part of the learner, but also rigour in planning and guiding the learning on the part of the teacher. The knowledge construction environments of the future are much more than just the chance to download multimedia information in the name of a project.
They use technology to shape a level of thinking which would be hard to achieve without the technology.
Richard Braddock says:
The future belongs not to wide-eyed visionaries who speculate on where the technology can go. It belongs to the sharp-eyed realists who determine where the technology should go to meet users' unmet demands. (Cited in Ofiesh 1986: 301)
If we were to substitute learners for 'users' we could, in summary, ask ourselves whether learners' unmet demands relate to the need for more technology, or the need to be guided by teachers to navigate the skills and strategies they need to learn from the technology.
If this is so, our first job is with teachers. Maybe we do NOT need more technology. Maybe teachers need TIME, not just to learn to use the technology but to work with each other to plan, monitor and evaluate how it can be integrated into our classrooms, and to explore, and make explicit, the adaptations they need to make in their skills and strategies, as teachers, to get students to learn in the knowledge construction environments they design.
Simply, how can we be expected to plan, monitor and evaluate student learning in a technology-enhanced knowledge construction environment, when we ourselves have never used technology and other resources to construct knowledge from information in a technology-enhanced knowledge construction environment.
Anderson, J. (1981). The computer as tutor, tutee, tool in reading and language. Computer Solutions, 2 (2)
Betts, F. (1994). On the birth of the Communication Age: A conversation with David Thornburg. Educational Leadership, 51(7), 20-23.
Beswick, N. (1987). Re-thinking active learning, 8-16. London, Falmer Press.
Chandler, D and Marcus, S. (Eds.) (1985). Computers and literacy. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.
Dede, C.J. (1992, May). The future of multimedia: Bridging to virtual worlds. Educational Technology, 54-60.
Dwyer, D. (1994, April). Apple classrooms of tomorrow: What we've learned. Educational Leadership. 22(4), 30-31.
Ennals, R. (1993). Computers and exploratory learning in the classroom. In I. Beynon and H. MacKay (Eds.) Computers into classrooms. London: Falmer Press.
Gawith, G. (1984). Getting a handle on information skills. Paper and workshop presented at the Reading Association Conference in Wanganui, 1984.
Gawith, G. (1987). Information Alive! Information skills for research and reading. Auckland: Longman Paul.
Gawith, G. (1988). Action learning. Auckland: Longman Paul.
Hannafin, R. D. & Savenye, W. C. (1993, June). Technology in the classroom: The teacher's new role and resistance to it. Educational Technology, 26-31.
Jonassen, D. (1993, January). Thinking technology: The trouble with learning environments. Educational Technology, 35-37.
Kay, A. C. (1991, September). Computers, networks and education. Scientific American, 100-107.
Lamon, Mary et al (1995, in press). Schools for Thought: Overview of the project and lessons learned from one of the sites. To appear in L. Schauble and R. Glaser (Eds.), Contributions of instructional innovation to understanding learning. Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum.
McLuskey, L. (1994, March). Gresham's law, technology and education. Scientific American, 138-148.
Maddux, C. D., Lamont-Johnson, D. and Willis, J.W. (1992). Educational computing: Learning with tomorrow's technologies. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Means, B. (Ed.) (1994). Technology and education reform: The reality behind the promise. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
Melchior, T. , Gawith, G., Edwards, J. and Keany, M. (1995, in press). New technologies: New learning. To appear in A.L. Costa and R. Liebmann (Eds.) When process is content: Towards Renaissance learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage
Merrow, J. (1994?). Promises, promises: The Merrow Report. Video narrated by John Merrow
Ofiesh, G. (1986). The seamless carpet of knowledge and learning. In S. Lambert and S. Ropiquet (Eds.). CDRom: The new papyrus. Redmond: Microsoft Press, 299-319.
Palinscar, A.S. and Brown, A.L. (1984). Reciprocal teaching of comprehension-fostering and comprehension-monitoring activities. In L. B. Resnick and L. E. Klopfer(Eds.). Towards the thinking curriculum: Current cognitive research. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 19-39.
Salisbury, D. (1992, July). Towards a new generation of schools: The Florida schoolyear 2000 initiative. Educational Technology, 7-12.
Wawrzyniak, S. and Samootin, L. (1993). Sharing the vision: Proceedings of the Filth Annual Australian Computers in Education Conference. (ACEC). Sydney: NSW Computer Education Group.
Wirth, Arthur G. (1992). Education and work for the year 2000: Choices wef ace. San Francisco: Jossey Bass