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September 27, 2006

Learning with technology: using computers as cognitive tools - rant


I have to start my response to this article by raising a question that plagues me often. The authors of this article begin by commenting very negatively on the “traditional ‘instructivist’ pedagogy … that has characterized educational practice for decades.? They claim that it has “stymied intellectual growth? and call for a change. I am always slightly amused by such rhetoric written by people who have obviously been produced by the very system they denigrate. It obviously worked for them or they would not be where they are now. I am not saying that their call for change is not valid; I just find it funny that the call for change comes from those who are so very fluent and successful in functioning in the dominant code of the very process they decry. Just a thought before commenting on the article itself. =)
I also found myself skeptical of their comment on the constructivist perspective that “the ultimate nature of reality, or whether it even exists, does not matter as much as our unique and shared constructions of reality.? Oh please…… My construction of reality is just that…. my construction…. It does not change reality. I suppose I find myself somewhat in the instructivist camp because I am old enough to believe that it is indeed valid to believe that teachers can and should convey certain kinds of knowledge to students. While all of the arguments about allowing students to represent their own understanding of the material in various ways seem very appealing and credible, I still believe that it is my responsibility to convey some “standardized interpretations of the world? to my students. A well-educated person does have some nodding acquaintance with how the rest of the world interprets a text, a play, a poem or theories about science or math. Unfortunately for my students, they do not really just get to make up their own little worlds and live in them. What a disservice it would be to them to make them believe that their view is the only “reality.?
The idea that our very conception of knowledge must change so that “we should move from a conception of knowledge as possession of facts and figures to one of knowledge as the ability to retrieve information from databases and use it to solve problems? is problematic for me. This is clearly advantageous for some fields and in some cases. However, I see that there are other situations, and perhaps other kinds of information that must be stored in the human brain, not in a laptop. When a mother tucks her children in at night, are we really to believe that reading a story to them from a screen is the same as being able to tell them a story, rich in authentic details and elaborations, that she has tucked away in her memory? Because I work in the humanities, literature and theatre, I see the human mind as being a critical storehouse of information from which all personal creativity can be fueled because of all the details stored there from an intimate familiarity with the works of others. Salomon et.al. (1991) make this point very well and I must admit that I find myself clearly in their camp.
All that does not mean that I don’t see the advantages that having students use computers and software to handle many, many tasks and kinds of learning. I do see that that can be VERY valuable, I just don’t want to have the other kinds of learning be totally invalidated in the way that the authors appear to be leaning. I could go on and on commenting on the various kinds of programs and their potential applications as tools for constructing meaning and scaffolding new information, but the authors do an excellent job of outlining the possibilitie s and they comment ethically on the actual research that supports the use of each of the kinds of programs they discuss. An interesting and thought provoking article.

September 17, 2006

Hypertext and the Changing Role of Readers

Blog on Hypertext and the Changing Role of Readers

I must admit that I personally prefer reading a book to reading on a screen. I, like the author, learned to read lying on my bed, hoping not to be interrupted. I love to read. When I have to read something long I always print it out too, and peruse it at my leisure and mark it up to suit my purpose.
As an English teacher I really struggle with the whole idea of encouraging students to always "challenge the author" or add their own thoughts to a text. All too often they listen, not to learn but to find fault and they thus miss any chance to learn and change because they are seeking to change or challenge others. Unfortunately my students' thoughts are rarely insightful or profound; they are much more likely to be insipid or just smart-mouthed.
I totally agreed that they would be likely to be more "animated" and "engaged' but it would be because of the novelty of the activity. A few of them would respond to the element of power intrinsic in clicking and directing their own path of research and would do more than they ordinarily would. Some would just try to find ways to goof around and make it look like they were working, but all their clicks and links would be viewed or read on only the most superficial level.
I did like the idea of the Scavenger Hunts. I thought this would be a great way to get reluctant students engaged in a pursuit of knowledge that they might not be open to if it were presented in another format (like lecture). In fact, I am already thinking about ways that I could incorporate a scavenger hunt into my classes. Most of my students have Internet access at home, or at a friend's house, so I would probably not have to take them to a lab. Perhaps they could do the assignment at home. Perhaps it could be extra credit, to allow for those who might not have the Internet at home. I will have to give that more thought.
I was also intrigued by the idea of creating a space for a discussion forum. My senior class reads the novel Montana 1948. There are several issues that would lend themselves beautifully to a cyber-discussion. Since some of the issues are touchy, the students might be much more willing to discuss if I were to give them a "voice" in a setting that was less threatening than a face-to-face classroom discussion. I am definitely going to investigate the NCTE Web site. I was also enticed by the description of the National Geographic Web site that allows readers to become someone accused of witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts. Wouldn't this be a great addition to any study of The Crucible?
I found myself agreeing with Janet Murray's position that the "reader of electronic text... is not experiencing authorship. The reader is experiencing agency, Deciding where to click does not constitute authorship." I am very much a creature of my training. Snyder suggests that "the tradition of print literacy privileges the author." YES. And in my archaic world that is exactly how it should be. That is the reality that I am comfortable with. I am also comfortable with the author's contention that hypertext is here to stay and we just need to accept that and do what we will with it. I just cannot see it ever replacing that wonderful feeling that books give me.
I am currently writing this on my laptop sitting in the car while we travel to Iowa to visit our daughter who is a freshman at Grinnell College. It is family weekend and they have many "events" planned. But the upshot of all that is that I am not currently able to access the Internet and can hardly wait until we get to the hotel to look at some of the sources this article discusses.

September 12, 2006

Computers as Mindtools

As I read this article, it seemed to be talking about me, and my experience with this class. As we were designing the concept maps in class on Thursday, I was not only learning the technology and how I might use it to help my students, I was thinking about how I used technology in my classroom in new ways. As I read the statement: "By comparing semantic networks created at different points in time, they can also be used as evaluation tools for assessing changes in thinking by learners" I realized that that was exactly what we were doing by creating a concept map at this early stage in the class and another final one that will be due at the end. The final maps will reflect what we have learned in this class and will represent the changes that have taken place in the way we think about information and are able to design a representation.
I thought the SimCalc project looked like a program that some of my students would get very excited about. Many of my students love to play video games and can discuss endlessly the various levels of the games they play. The discussion of the Visualization tools that are especially useful in chemistry sounded like something that would have helped me. Chemistry was really not my best class.
I got really excited about the Hypermedia. I would really like to create links that my students could follow for additional information about a subject, and the idea that they could add to those links when they found new sites was very appealing. Although I did have a moment's pause thinking about the kinds of links they might add. I wondered if it would be possible to block inappropriate things, links or images from being added to a site. Since I teach senior English some of my 18-year-old boys might try some very inappropriate tricks. I would have to have some way to monitor who was adding what, so that there could be some level of identification and accountability. That may sound overly cautious, but my students do some pretty strange things sometimes.
The conversation tools are the most familiar to me. While I have never blogged before today, I certainly love e-mail and instant messages. I would love to create a sit
uation where my students were required to formulate coherent and cogent contributions to a discussion. I have my students write at least one paragraph per day to me. I grade it and always return it the very next day. (Not exactly instant messages but dialogue nevertheless.) They tell me things and contribute ideas SO much more readily in writing than they ever do in discussion. I think it is partly because it feels safer. They know that I will be the only one reading their writing, and if they were in a communication environment where other students would be reading what they wrote, I am sure that some of the frankness would be lost, but I still think that they would be far more willing to "talk" if they could do by typing their responses. I would even like to see that kind of dialogue happening while we were all sitting in the same room. If all the kids were on a computer and could type their responses to questions or discussion issued, I wonder how they would respond.
I asked the tech consultant in my building if the district owned Inspiration and if it could be loaded on my laptop and my classroom computer. She said she would come and do it in the morning. It was just that easy. I was so excited. After we had worked on our mind maps in class I wanted to do more and continue to "play" with the program, but it is not on my home computer….. So here we all go. I am excited about this class.