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Integration of Computers in Teaching and Learning
It is amazing how much a learning environment can change when technology is added to the traditional classroom! While technology is not essential to creating authentic, learner-centered instruction, it offers a powerful resource for engaging students in authentic experiences, typically increasing both their motivation and their learning. Authentic instructional methods can support the development of creative thinking skills by providing opportunities for students to engage in holistic, complex, and challenging activities that promote learner autonomy and active learning; how directed instruction can support authentic learning; how content standards can be
taught through authentic learning experiences; and how technologies could support both authentic learning and directed instruction. In this unit, you will begin to think about designing learning experiences that incorporate digital tools and resources to promote student learning and creativity. There are three primary roles that the computer can serve: computer as tutor, computer as mindtool, and computer as a support for reflection and conversation. This categorization provides us with a starting point for thinking about different ways we can use technology to engage our students in creative thinking. Although we use the word —computer— we are not just talking about a desktop or laptop computer. Many of the applications and activities described in this unit are supported by a range of technologies, from handhelds (PDAs), to calculators, and even to some cell phones. And since we often use the web to locate instructional resources, we will also discuss strategies to assist in locating reputable resources that can be used as tutorials, mindtools, and supports for conversations.
Computer as Tutor
In the role of a tutor, the computer is typically used as a teaching machine, that is, to
teach new content to students. If you have ever set up a new computer system using the CD-ROM that comes packaged with it or have worked your way through a tutorial to learn a new piece of software, then you have used the computer as a tutor. Although
this role for technology is typically associated with directed instruction in which the
goal is for students to master new skills or to improve retention of new information,
the tutor model can be adapted to teach more abstract and complex reasoning skills.
In addition, many existing computer tutorials can be used to prompt student inquiry
or to frame student discussion and reflection, even though this was not the original
purpose for the software program.
Computer-based tutorials typically provide a complete lesson on a specific topic
1) presenting new information
2) providing practice
3) evaluating student learning
Computer tutorials, especially when delivered via intelligent tutoring systems, have the advantage of being able to provide sophisticated feedback at the level needed by individual students. An intelligent tutoring system (ITS) is a type of educational software that can track student responses; make inferences about his/her strengths and weaknesses; and then tailor feedback, provide additional exercises, or offer hints to improve performance. The software is said to act intelligently, not actually to be intelligent. Other names for this type of software include integrated learning software (ILS) and computer-adapted instruction (CAI). Because an ITS uses sophisticated language and branching (i.e., sequencing the way information is presented based on students’ previous responses), it can promote the kind of creative thinking desired. For example, Cognitive Tutor is a mathematics intelligent tutoring system, developed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, to help middle and high school students learn math. According to the authors (Carnegie Learning, 2006), Cognitive Tutor provides students with the benefits of individualized instruction, ample practice, immediate feedback, and coaching. As an intelligent tutoring system, the program combines individualized computer-based lessons with collaborative, real-world problem-solving activities. To get a sense of how this type of software works, try out Mrs. Lindquist: The Tutor, an ITS designed to help students learn how to write algebraic expressions for algebra word problems. Pay attention to the type of feedback the software provides when you make an error and you will see how “intelligent” it appears to be.
With the right teacher input and software design, a computer tutorial can be an
effective way to infuse activities that require and develop creative thinking into the
curriculum. For example, the teacher can ask students to work in groups around a
computer and then when the software prompts them with a challenge or a question,
they can discuss the issue together before reaching consensus about what the response should be. Just like a teacher, computer tutorials can initiate or frame a meaningful discussion. Unlike a teacher, however, the software will never be intolerant or pass judgment on students’ responses. When used as intended, computer tutorials provide opportunities for students to learn new knowledge or skills. When used in more open-ended ways, they can provide additional opportunities for students to engage in activities that support creative thinking (e.g., reflection, meaningful conversations).
One common way of learning new information is through searching the web. The
web can provide access to numerous computer-based tutorials, but as you may know, it can teach you new content in other ways as well. You can locate information on a
variety of topics—how to train your dog to sit, prepare balanced meals, or use video
in your classroom, for example. In order to scaffold or support your students’ use of
the web as a tutor, you might want to create a WebQuest.
A WebQuest is an organized format for presenting lessons that utilize web resources (see example below). The origin of WebQuests is attributed to Dr. Bernie Dodge and Tom March at San Diego State University. As outlined on Dr. Dodge’s website (Dodge, 2006), a WebQuest consists of five parts and a teacher page. A WebQuest contains elements that most educators agree comprise sound instructional design components:
1) an introduction that motivates and prepares the students for the activity,
2) a clear statement of
the intended outcome of the lesson,
3) the steps that students should follow,
4) criteria on which they will be evaluated, and
5) concluding activities where students reflect on and extend their learning.
You may want to create your own WebQuest using simple web development software, or access one of the many WebQuests available online. Like any lesson plan that you find on the web, you may need to modify WebQuests to meet the needs of your class. However, be sure you credit the original source.
Computer as Mindtool
Mindtools are computer applications that enable learners to represent, manipulate,
or reflect on what they know, rather than to reproduce what someone else knows. By requiring students to think about what they know in different, meaningful ways, mindtools engage students in critical thinking about the content they are studying. By functioning as intellectual partners with students, mindtools enable them to act smarter than they would without the tools. For instance, in order for students to create databases, they must engage in analytical reasoning; in order to create a web page, they must actively construct representations of their thinking. Students cannot use mindtools without thinking deeply about what they are doing.
There are a number of different types of mindtools including databases and concept-mapping tools (also referred to as semantic-organization tools); simulations and visualization tools; and hypertext and hypermedia (referred to as knowledge-building tools). Although other computer applications may also be used as mindtools (e.g., programming software, expert systems, modeling tools), our goal is not to present an exhaustive description of all the possibilities, but to introduce you to the idea of how you can use common software applications as mindtools to promote creative thinking among your students.
Databases and Concept-Mapping Tools
Database and concept-mapping software are computer applications that help students think about, and then communicate, the underlying structure of a content area. Since structure is intrinsic to all knowledge, tools that require students to identify that structure can help increase their understanding of the content. Have you ever made a list of items you want to buy from a supermarket and then organized it by categories in the store so that you could find the items you needed more readily? On a relatively simple level, you structured your list based on your understanding of two things:
1) how the store (content) was organized (e.g., by food types) and
2) how to classify the items on your list into the different categories.
Now, if there were many different ways to classify the items on your list (by quality, supplier, brand names, etc.), and all of them were relevant to your shopping needs, then you would have to think more carefully about how to organize your list.
Databases are a type of computer software that organizes information. When we use a computer database, we can search for information in a variety of ways and receive the results almost promptly. Although databases are most often used for the purposes of organization and retrieval of information (i.e., as productivity tools), they can also function as mindtools, especially when students are asked to create them. That is because in order to build a database, you must first understand which relationships facilitate its use and then search for, and locate, the information needed to fill it. This requires the integration and organization of a content domain, which requires creative thinking skills. For example, if you were asked to create a database of all the educational videos available in your school library, what are some of the categories you would use to classify each video? Of course, you would want to be able to locate a video by its title and subject area, and also by grade level. But would it also be important to know the release date or the production studio? And what about being able to relate the information in the video database to information in a teacher database that would allow you to find out if a teacher in an earlier grade level had already used it? As you can see, the planning stage of designing a database is one of the most crucial parts of the process, and it is this aspect that requires students to engage in the creative thinking skills of analysis and evaluation.
Databases have been used to help students understand the organization of a range of content areas in many subjects and can be used to teach thinking skills. The youngest students probably need help actually developing a database, but you can guide them through the planning process during a group activity. For example, students in a second- or third-grade class can help you classify different types of clip art images you typically use that are then stored in a database. Students from upper elementary grades, and higher, can access, and sometimes add to, a range of databases online.
Collaborative databases are a special type of database that supports a shared process of knowledge building. The goal is to engage students as scientists in the problem-solving process. That is, students generate hypotheses about a given problem situation; gather information through research and observation in order to confirm, modify, or refute their hypotheses; and then seek feedback from others who either collaborate in the investigation or review their published work. An example of this type of collaborative database is the Knowledge Forum, formerly known as CSILE (Computer Supported Intentional Learning Environments). To help you understand why this is called a collaborative database, picture an environment that consists of text and graphical notes, all produced by students, and accessible through typical database search procedures. Students are given a question, search for and find information, and then record it via notes in the database. Other students then comment on the notes and add new notes. Before students can send a message, however, they must label the message using a limited set of categories (e.g., claim, evidence, counterargument). So, for example, if students post an opinion, they are prompted to support that opinion with evidence, an example, or reasoning. Teachers have used Knowledge Forum effectively in many different areas of the curriculum.
An example of a more public collaborative database is the popular online encyclopedia, Wikipedia (see the figure below). Based on the format of an encyclopedia, this website utilizes a database that can be accessed through web pages by multiple users who create and store information that is then reviewed, revised, added to, and linked to other information.
A wiki is a piece of server software that allows users to create, edit, and link web pages quickly, which is what wiki means in the Hawaiian language—quick or fast. According to its creator, Ward Cunningham, a wiki is the “simplest online database
that could possibly work”. Wikis are a great tool when students need to complete a task together—whether doing research, writing a paper, or planning a presentation. If they are not all in the same class or if work needs to get done in the evening or during the weekend, wikis allow them to coordinate their efforts much more efficiently than sending a bunch of e-mails back and forth. And they do not have to know web authoring languages or other complicated tools to do so. Most wikis work the same way. With the click of a button, each student can make changes to a web page. Because changes are attributed to specific users, the community can verify the accuracy of the information or ask for additional details. So, for example, after Kofi creates a wiki page, he simply saves it. Then when his classmate, Kwasi, accesses it, he clicks an “edit” button, makes some additional changes, clicks save and it is a web page again, ready for the next student to access and modify. Edit – Write – Save! Following this simple process, it is easy for the students to coordinate their writing efforts.
Wikis have not yet received widespread acclaim as it can be difficult to determine
the accuracy and authorship of the information posted, especially in large public
wikis. Jaron Lanier, a computer scientist, usually credited with coining the term “virtual reality,” suggests that just because these tools give voice to a new “online collectivism,” it does not mean the collective is correct. The anonymity these tools provide can sometimes erode authority and even accuracy. Just as with any technology tool, you and your students should take steps to ascertain and evaluate the accuracy of information that a specific wiki contains.
While some teachers are cautious about—or outright forbid the use of—online resource wikis, you can use wikis in your classroom in a variety of ways. For example,
you and your students can use a wiki to create your own resources or projects on a
closed network, to provide space for group journaling or writing, or to engage students in debates about course topics. Specific websites—including some wikis—are available to help teachers create and use wikis in the classroom.
Concept maps are “graphical tools for organizing and representing knowledge”. For example, the figure below presents a sample concept map about the seasons.
Concepts (e.g., seasons, amount of sunlight) are included inside of circles or boxes, relationships between the concepts are represented by lines or arrows, and labels are used to describe the relationships (e.g., causes, is determined by). The concepts may also be referred to as nodes and the relationships as links. There are many ways to use concept maps: Students can use them to access prior knowledge, to organize and represent current knowledge, and to explore new information and relationships. Creating a concept map involves:
1) identifying the important concepts in a domain of knowledge,
2) arranging those concepts spatially,
3) identifying relationships among the concepts, and
4) labelling the nature of the relationships among those concepts.
Because students have to manipulate information, and think about the relationships among different concepts, creating a concept map encourages convergent thinking. Students are forced to think about how concepts in a domain fit together and to identify additional ideas or concepts that need to be included. There are a variety of software tools that facilitate concept-mapping including MindMap, Inspiration and Kidspiration, and SemNet. Interestingly, even though Inspiration was developed for teachers and students, many scientists, engineers, and other professionals have adopted it as a powerful way to visualize their thinking.
Tips for Using Educational Wikis
Consider the following tips when incorporating a wiki in your instruction.
Simulations and Visualization Tools
Simulations provide simplified versions of phenomena, environments, or processes
that allow students to interact with, or manipulate, variables and observe the effects
of those manipulations. If you have used Oregon Trail, Sim City, or Operation Frog, then you have an idea of what a computer simulation is like. However, not all simulations promote creative thinking (at least not automatically). While simulations have the potential to promote creative thinking, their usefulness will depend on why and how you and your students use them. One type of simulation software that can be especially powerful is a microworld, which allows learners to manipulate, explore, and experiment with specific phenomenon in an exploratory learning environment. Think about some of the video games you or your friends have played. Typically, you must master earlier levels of the game in order to move on to more complex, advanced levels. These adventures occur in a microworld, a lifelike context in which you manipulate objects and observe the effects of your actions on other objects in the environment. As a more academic example, consider that of Interactive Physics, which enables learners to build and test mechanical design models. Through the use of demonstrations, car crashes, and falling objects, students explore such topics as momentum, force, and acceleration. Students can change any aspect of the environment (friction, incline of the surface, etc.) and observe what happens to the other aspects of the environment. This, then, enables them to generate and test hypotheses about relationships among the objects in the microworld. Microworlds can foster the development of problem-solving strategies, critical thinking skills, and creativity.
Visualization tools allow learners to picture, or represent, how various phenomena operate within different domains. While these tools are often used to help students visualize scientific phenomena, other tools are available that help students understand other types of phenomena, such as the structure of an argument. For example, computer tools are available that enable students to manipulate complex data sets as a way of gaining understanding of statistical arguments. Graphic organizers are a type of visualization tool that can help learners sort or record information. There are many different types of graphic organizers including data grids, tables, diagrams, flowcharts, storyboards, and Venn diagrams.
Concept mapping tools, described earlier, can also be used as graphic organizers. While most of these organizers have been used long before computers were invented, today we have computer software that can simplify the creation of many of them. For example, the ReadWriteThink organization makes a tool available on their website that allows users to create Venn diagrams and the popular Inspiration concept-mapping software includes a Venn diagram template. Organizations that create visualization tools often provide a number of descriptions of how their tools can be used in the classroom. Inspiration Software’s newer tool, InspireData, is a data visualization tool that allows you and your students to easily map and manipulate data, such as what you might collect from a survey, and then share that information with the concept-mapping software.
Hypertext is text displayed on a computer display or other electronic devices with references (hyperlinks) to other text that the reader can immediately access. Hypertext documents are interconnected by hyperlinks, which are typically activated by a mouse click, keypress set, or by touching the screen. Apart from text, the term “hypertext” is also sometimes used to describe tables, images, and other presentational content formats with integrated hyperlinks. Hypertext is one of the key underlying concepts of the World Wide Web where Web pages are often written in the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML). As implemented on the Web, hypertext enables the easy-to-use publication of information over the Internet.
For over 40 years, technological “solutions” have been offered to the teaching profession in order to improve their effectiveness, ranging from programmed text and teaching machines through to the modern fascination with computers. Areas such as computer-based learning (CBL) or computer aided instruction (CAI) aim to provide some of the functions of the teacher. The technologist’s dream, of course, was the provision of a workstation for every learner so that they may proceed at their own pace, and to some extent the dream remains today. However, between the earliest teaching machines and the latest hypermedia environments, there has been a radical shift in prevailing pedagogy, from the repetitive reinforcement schedules of the behaviourists through the cognitivist movement and latterly the constructivists. Each movement has sought to make the technology its own and can make a case for the use of hypertext in its own terms. Within education, hypertext has been seen by some as a valuable new constructivist tool for supporting teachers and students. The perceived advantages of hypertext as an educational medium are usually ascribed to its nonlinear property. This is often contrasted with the assumed linearity of traditional text, for example: In contrast to hypertext, most standard text documents are constructed to be read linearly, from beginning page to ending page. Hypertext has certainly become a popular term to be discussed about in education, not surprisingly since it is relatively new, technically impressive, and, until the novelty wears off, often fun to use. A brief search of the literature using the search terms hypertext OR hypermedia AND learning will yield over 100 references.
The “hype” in hypertext stands for a structural feature: Hypertext-systems are
computer-based systems that consist of nodes and links. Each node contains some
amount of text or other information, and the nodes are connected by directed links, suggesting the conceptual model of a graph. A hypertext system provides a mechanism for moving along the links. So, a broader definition for hypertext describes a system of nodes of information through which people can move non-linearly by following the links. Thus, the participation of the reader in the information access process is an important feature for hypertext: “True hypertext should . . . make users feel that they can move freely through the information according to their own needs”. Some authors differentiate between hypertext, hypermedia, and multimedia, in the sense that hypertext is text with links, multimedia is synchronized media, and hypermedia is multimedia with links. Differing from this conception, the term “hypertext” is used to refer to the mentioned structural feature of a graph, consisting of nodes and links-regardless of the media that present the information in the nodes.
Considerable interest has emerged in the role that hypertext-systems play in a
learning context. Slogans, like that of the “hyperlearning-revolution,” appear
more and more. The cornerstone of what is claimed to be a hyperlearning revolution is the assumption that, because of its structure, hypertext facilitates active, exploratory learning. This means that the learner is engaged through his or her
perspective, following his or her interests and preferences. The system encourages
inquiry and discovery and so enhance learning. The promises for educational benefits of hypertext are considerable. However, the theoretical and empirical base is (still) relatively weak.
The Advantages of Hypertext
We usually use the term hypertext to refer to a computerized document displayed on a computer screen. Using hypertext users can explore information in a more flexible way than possible with conventional text. Hypertext is a facility for organizing and linking information in an associative non- linear way. Hypertext systems allow users to move rapidly and flexibly between information sources of various kinds. They are able to learn faster, find information quicker, or put stored knowledge to use more effectively. There are many advantages that hypertexts have compared to paper alone. First of all, the reader can follow hyperlinks at high speed. He can link to more detailed explanations, pictures, from parts of pictures to explanatory text, to reference information or to a glossary.
Some additional benefits of hypertext, that paper documents do not have, are that the hypertext documents can have complex and interesting structures. The document could be structured around diagrams so that the reader has the ability to link from the diagram structure to the text. The reader can navigate logically, as opposed to physically, around the document, at high speed. Also, the reader can very rapidly expand and contract areas of the document.
Furthermore, hypertext can have intelligence built into it. When a hyperlink is followed rule-based processing may occur, computations may be performed or the document may ask the user questions. The document may assist solving user problems, for example by relating issues to their possible solutions. A hypertext document can adapt itself to the reader. It can indicate what the reader has already looked at; moreover, the document can adapt itself to the likes and skills of the reader. The computer can recognize the reader’s skills and the reader can mark whether he liked what he has read.
The user of hypertext can also mark the document in interesting ways. He can use electronic bookmarks; he can indicate what parts of the document he might want to revisit. Furthermore, he can effectively delete what he does not find useful in order to simplify his view of the document, and he can leave annotations anywhere in the document.
Hypertexts are also more flexible than conventional text because they can be designed for ease of updating. With large paper documents, updates sent out periodically are often not inserted, as they should be; to do so is tedious work. With electronic documents the updates do not have to be inserted by the user. They can be distributed electronically, or new disks can be sent out periodically. Additionally, in a hypertext many documents can be linked. Documents may have references to one another that can be automatically followed by the reader. Multiple documents may have hyperlinks to a common glossary, diagram, and sets of concepts or common nuggets of information. Another benefit of electronic text is that documents may include sound, animation, or video. Finally, the cost of digital storage is much cheaper than the cost of paper. Today this cost is realizable only with large documents. A vast amount of information can be stored on a CD-ROM. A CD-ROM can hold the equivalent of hundreds of books and be mass-produced usually for the price of one book.
Disadvantages of Hypertext
As we have seen a hypertext system allows non-sequential, non-linear, user-driven access to information. On the other hand, this powerful flexibility can result in problems such as information overload and user disorientation where users feel or become lost in hyperspace. Without a good knowledge of the primary text, hypertext moves may simply disorient the reader. Hypertext systems might promote over- complexity.
Some of the most common cases of user disorientation are when a user does not know where to go next. Moreover, when he knows where to go but does not know how to go there. Also, when a user does not know where he is within the overall structure. Information overload results when the user is swamped with details, which may not be relevant to current needs and can, result from disorientation. There are probably two main ways of overcoming these problems. The first is to develop better navigational tools so that users always know where they are and are given an indication of where a particular link will take them. The second is to introduce users to the hypertext concept gradually. Users should be introduced to smaller; more structured systems so that they can become familiar with the process of navigating through materials before they progress to larger, unstructured systems.
Although, to a degree, all these problems can be the result of poor system design they are also inherent characteristics of the hypermedia systems. Books are usually read sequentially; from a hypertext page it is often possible to access many pages next. This is of course a simplification, it is quite possible to access a book via an index or to flip from topic to topic, however, printed text is essentially linear and the problems cited against hypermedia are not often levelled at printed material.
Hypermedia, an extension of the term hypertext, is a nonlinear medium of information that includes graphics, audio, video, plain text and hyperlinks. This designation contrasts with the broader term multimedia, which may include non-interactive linear presentations as well as hypermedia.
It is multimedia packaged as educational computer software where information is presented and student activities are integrated in a virtual learning environment. It is a computer-based information retrieval system that enables a user to gain or provide access to texts, audio and video, photographs or computer graphics related to a particular subject. It refers to a kind of software environment that combines the characteristics of both hypertext and multimedia.
Ways to use Hypermedia in Learning
Characteristics of Hypermedia Applications
−the learner makes his own decision on the path, flow or events of instruction.
−he has control on such aspects as sequence, pace, content, media, feedback, etc.
−it supports the principle that learning is an active process.
−the learner has the option to repeat and change speed, if desired.
−the learner may choose the learning activities he prefers.
−the learner can work on concepts he is already familiar with.
−he can develop his technical skills with the computer.
−hypermedia includes more than one media.
Limitations of Hypermedia
Hypermedia does not replace authentic experiences.
It does not and CANNOT replace the teacher in the teaching-learning process.
The computer has zero (0) I.Q. and depends on what man can input or make of it.
Useful Instructional Events with the Use of Hypermedia
Get the learners attention.
Recall prior learning.
Inform learners of lesson objectives.
Introduce the software and its distinctive features.
Guide learning, eliciting performance.
Provide learning feedback.
Enhance retention and learning transfer.
Another popular use of computers as mindtools is through the creation of digital
stories. As with other mindtools, digital stories enable learners to reflect, represent,
and communicate what they know. Based on the premise of oral storytelling, digital
storytelling involves students’ creation of a short movie/video that presents a compelling personal perspective. It may be a story from their own experiences, such as describing the importance of a place or how they overcame adversity—or from their research as when they “become” settlers in the new world. This can be used in multiple ways such describing how they solved a mathematical problem or handled a troubleshooting experience to resolve computing issues so that others can learn from it. Typically, stories are told from a personal perspective to allow the viewer to see an event, moment, or place from another’s point of view; yet effective digital stories also have a theme to which viewers can relate. It has as its basis the writing of a strong personal narrative that begins with a “hook” or “lead” to draw the viewers into the story. They proceed through illuminating specific events or moments in time and conclude with a wrap-up that often is presented in terms of lessons learned.
Throughout the years, digital storytelling has evolved into a recommended series
of steps and procedures. Students first develop a personal narrative, then select the
most powerful point in their written work to develop into a script. Based on the storyboard, students select images needed to supplement their scripts. Although students may create their own images through digital photography, videotaping, or
scanning images, they often select images from those available on the web or from
royalty-free clip art collections. The next step involves recording the narration—
often the most challenging step. Using readily available software such as iMovie or
GarageBand on the Mac or Moviemaker on the PC, students arrange their images,
synchronize them with their recorded narration, and output the file as a movie.
Some teachers may use more widely available presentation software, such as Microsoft PowerPoint or Apple’s Keynote software, for supporting digital storytelling activities, especially with younger students. Presentation software allows even very young students to insert pictures, text, and record audio in support of digital storytelling.
Merits of Digital Storytelling
As a mindtool, digital storytelling helps students learn to write more effectively
through visualizing their stories. As such, it provides authentic, personal learning experiences for your students. Additionally, throughout the process, students learn skills that are important to a variety of content areas such as writing for an audience, researching information, communicating effectively, as well as technology and information literacy skills.
The opportunity to develop a personal story is extremely motivating for students,
and the tangible outcome of the process contributes to confidence-building necessary
for creative thinking. Students need to be self-directed in their efforts to plan their
actions, monitor their progress toward achieving the goals of their projects, and evaluate their efforts. You can help students in the evaluation process by providing them with rubrics in advance that allow them to self-assess their projects. And viewing digital stories can help students identify with the perspective of others.
Computer as a Conversation Support
While the previous sections focused primarily on how the computer can be used
to increase individual learning outcomes, in this section we discuss how the computer, as an interactive tool, can contribute to conversations among learners, and thus contribute to group and community learning outcomes. That is, when used as a support and resource for the communicative processes of teaching and learning, the computer can be used to increase creative thinking processes among groups and communities.
In the next sections, we talk more specifically about how the computer can be used to promote collaborative learning outcomes among learners who are both near and far.
Computer as a Collaborative Learning Tool
Imagine two students working at the computer to complete a simulation game, such as the Oregon Trail or Sim City. As the pair work together, they engage in a heated debate about the pros and cons of different decisions. They make predictions about potential outcomes and then, after some discussion, come to agreement about which steps to take next. In this scenario, the computer acts merely as a prompt or resource for students’ conversations, and therefore, as a means to illuminate their thinking. It is this use of the computer, as a mediator of conversation, we discuss here. Whereas in traditional classrooms, teachers may have discouraged students from talking to each other during individual seatwork, here we recognize some of the positive outcomes that can result from the conversations that occur among students as they work through complex problem-solving situations. For example, in a study conducted in the early 1990s, Teasley and Roschelle (described in Wegerif 2002), observed pairs of students using a simulation, called the “Envisioning Machine,” that was designed to teach Newtonian physics. The authors described how the computer program provided a shared focus, the means to uncover the true meaning of the language used to represent the physics concepts being addressed (velocity, acceleration), as well as the means to resolve conflicts by testing out alternative views. In interpreting the results, the authors claimed that it was the conversation between the learners, as prompted by the computer simulation, which led to the observed learning gains.
When used as a collaborative learning tool, computers are used not only for stimulating effective language use but also for focusing children’s learning activities on specific curricular tasks. What seems to be important here is not the computer software, per se, but the quality of the conversation that occurs around it. This, then, prompts us to think about the teacher’s role in an “engaged” classroom and how she/he is responsible for supporting high levels of meaningful conversation.
It is important that teachers prepare students to work together effectively, whether around the computer or not. Through these activities, students learn not only to work together, but also to use language as a tool for collaborative reasoning, problem-solving, and knowledge construction. Research suggests that, in combination with the right instructional strategies, the computer can support the development of transferable creative thinking skills.
Computer as a Conferencing Tool
Communication in an online forum is different from face-to-face (F2F) communication; in some ways worse, and in some ways better. While we lose important information (facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, etc.), we also eliminate information that can cause bias or prejudice (knowledge of age, gender, disabilities, etc.).
Computer conferencing can open up many new possibilities for participation. There are many claims that electronic conferencing can be an effective support for the development of creative thinking skills. The reasons for this tend to relate to 1) the ease with which everyone can participate, and 2) the ability to be able to think through your responses before responding. Furthermore, having several conversations occurring simultaneously can prompt more metacognitive reflection. Think about the relative ease with which you participate in multiple conversations with your friends using instant-messenger software. Now, put that into a context where you are all focused on making a decision, or solving a problem, and you can see the potential for developing good thinking (as well as communication and management) skills.
There are a variety of ways in which you can use the computer as a conferencing tool with your students. E-mail, listservs, blogs, wikis, newsgroups, and forums all offer additional possibilities. For example, e-pals can connect your students with students in other countries through written exchanges on topics of mutual interest. In a similar fashion, but on a classroom level, Kidlink offers a network run by 500 volunteers in over 50 countries who provide free educational programs related to helping children understand themselves, identify and define goals for life, and collaborate with peers around the globe, individually or through school. Interaction between participants takes place through hundreds of discussion rooms, mailing lists, chat channels, and Kidlink’s website. The Global Schoolnet is another example of using the computer to connect students from around the world to explore community, cultural, and scientific issues that prepare them for the workforce and help them to become responsible and literate global citizens.
Additional conferencing activities that can support collaboration among students include those that focus on the joint collection, analysis, organization, and presentation of information. Typically, students at geographically dispersed sites collect local data and then compare and contrast patterns (e.g., related to health, climate, plant and animal species) across locations. This, then, allows students to look for overarching patterns in the data, requiring creative thinking. For example, Journey North engages students in a global study of wildlife migration and seasonal change. Students share their own field observations with classmates across North America. As one example, students followed the migration of the monarch butterfly as it journeyed north from Angangueo, Mexico toWashington, DC. Other seasonal changes that students have helped track include the first frog heard singing and the first maple syrup sap run.
Videoconferencing and Webconferencing
Videoconferencing and webconferencing tools are becoming more affordable and can be found in many classrooms. Videoconferencing tools can connect teachers and students across designated networks designed specifically to support video or— increasingly—over a high-speed Internet connection. Virtual schools were some of the first schools to employ videoconferencing, especially when the real-time interaction between teacher and student was critical, as when learning a foreign language. Webconferencing tools such as Zoom and Google Meet also offer opportunities for synchronous communication. Often supported by common web browsers, teachers or students can host sessions over the Internet that allow others to view presentations, share documents across computers, chat, or take polls. Some webconferencing tools also support live video through the use of inexpensive web cameras, or webcams. Webconferencing tools vary as to whether they support audio through the computer or whether participants use a phone line. Computer conferencing allows students to engage directly in knowledge creation with others who are not physically present. By providing access to multiple perspectives, students are challenged to think more deeply about the topic at hand. And while it is not intrinsically superior to think together with those outside the classroom, than with those within, it can be more motivating.
We described how computer software could serve as a tutor, mindtool, and as a support for conversation. When technology is used as a tutor, the software explicitly teaches or provides practice with a specific body of content. When technology is used as a mindtool, it serves as an organizational tool, simulation and visualization tool, or knowledge-building tool. As a support for conversation, the computer software contributes to conversations among learners, and thus facilitates group and community learning. Since the web is a popular way to access computer-based tutorials, mindtools, and conversation supports, we also discussed techniques for productive web searches and evaluation strategies.
Although there are many ways that technology can be used to promote creative thinking skills among students in your classroom, it should be fairly clear from our discussion that simply using technology will not accomplish this goal. Rather, technology needs to be used purposefully in the ways discussed and in an environment that explicitly supports students’ efforts to be good thinkers. For example, computer tutorials, by themselves, will rarely have enough depth to develop students’ creative thinking skills, but when used as the basis for a discussion, students can achieve these higher levels more readily. The same is true for computer tools such as concept maps and simulations: effectiveness as a thinking tool depends on how the tools are used. As you can see, the effectiveness of a lesson will depend, to a large degree, on you, as the instructional leader in the classroom.
The impact of technology on teaching and learning
Simplifying lesson preparation
Breaking down boundaries
Some ICT Teaching aids which can be applied on active learning strategy:
Innovative trends in ICT Education