So - the first article I have to read about IT in education is eleven years old. (Perhaps a gentle introduction to the kind of IT I will actually find in education…). It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. The study is well aware of its limitations, and is grounded in pedagogical ideals that seem pretty solid in terms of supporting children’s learning, viz
(1) active engagement,
(2) participation in groups,
(3) frequent interaction and feedback, and
(4) connections to real-world contexts
The study then gives examples of how Y2K technology can be used to put these principles into practice. Marco Torres it ain’t. The strength of the article is in identifying the main areas in which IT can be used to support learning, but, with so little idea of what connected technologies will make possible, its suggestions of how to do this are predictably limited.
1. Learning Through Active Engagement
“Students learn best by actively "constructing" knowledge from a combination of experience, interpretation, and structured interactions with peers and teachers”
– for this the study refers to Bransford. Using the “Microcomputer-Based Laboratory,” students can immediately plot graphs from their data. their mate’s graph on the bus the next morning, which jogs a vague memory of that thing they did in Bio the day before. All well and good – in fact, a bit of a jolt to remember a time before Excel – and it increases their learning gain around using graphs by 81%.
2. Learning Through Participation in Groups
Some good justification for this, too -
Social contexts give students the opportunity to successfully carry out more complex skills than they could execute alone. Performing a task with others provides an opportunity not only to imitate what others are doing, but also to discuss the task and make thinking visible. Much learning is about the meaning and correct use of ideas, symbols, and representations. Through informal social conversation and gestures, students and teachers can provide explicit advice, resolve misunderstandings, and ensure mistakes are corrected. In addition, social needs often drive a child's reason for learning. Because a child's social identity is enhanced by participating in a community or by becoming a member of a group, involving students in a social intellectual activity can be a powerful motivator and can lead to better learning than relying on individual desk work.
This seems exactly the kind of thing that web-based learning groups were made for. The study gives the example of Computer Supported Intentional Learning Environment, which apparently encourages metacognition, too. It supports ‘structured collaborative knowledge building by having students communicate their ideas and criticisms--in the form of questions, statements, and diagrams-to a shared database classified by different types of thinking. By classifying the discussion in this way, students become more aware of how to organize their growing knowledge.’
3. Learning Through Frequent Interaction and Feedback
Yup, this sounds familiar too – and predates Visible Learning by almost a decade. The graphs example above comes in again here – timely, specific feedback about what students are learning. The article suggests that boilerplate feedback responses sent via email constitute a good example, too. Pass me a bucket.
4. Learning Through Connections to Real-World Contexts
Bransford, again, on transfer. I think the main difficulty here is going to be how to identify projects that primary school children could hook up with – hopefully we’ll get some pointers there.