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 (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.