Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Technology in Education: Second iteration

Oh well ... It's the 5th week of the semester and I'm too tired. So, better late than never, here is the second iteration of my model.

All this week's articles focused on the scientific inquiry process and how to create a learning environment that help students get involved in it. As mentioned in Sandoval's paper, "scientific inquiry is generally defined as a process of asking questions, generating data through systematic observation or experimentation, interpreting data, and drawing conclusions". As I kept on reading this week's papers I got more and more convinced that if what we want to do is "teach our students how to learn" (as Maggie proposed in one class discussion), scientific inquiry could help us tremendously in the process of doing so.

Just like Sandoval and Wilensky explain in their articles, students are used to approach learning with "shallow strategies" such as memorization of facts and theories, and automatic application of formulas. They normally don't go into a deeper level, applying reasoning to relate what they have learned in class with the real world. And as a consequence, they don't construct theories of how the world works, they don't ask "what if" questions, propose answers and test them. Why is this even important to learn? Because is the only way students can take over knowledge, make it their own, and don't be afraid of using it to create more knowledge, "seeking out new facts and concepts when a gap in one’s knowledge is discovered" (Wilensky).

I also can't resist mentioning that somehow many of the papers for this week reminded me of last week papers where there was this mentioning of the students becoming the teacher (or the expert). To stress the relevance of this part of the learning process, I'll add to my model how students become researchers, applying an inquiry cycle, and becoming experts as time passes by.

Two of the articles focuses specifically on simulation tools (Thinkertools and NetLogo). Thinkertools allows students to create and experiment with models that are less abstract than algebraic laws but are more abstract than real-world phenomena. Netlogo is a language to simulate systems. It allows the modeler to add the basic elements of the system and then specify rules for them to behave and relate to each other. Simulations are ideal for students, since they allow safe attempts of interaction with the real world with immediate feedback.

In my first version of the model I included the real world as an important part of the inclusion of technology in education. Nevertheless, these two articles about simulations made me realized that not in every case students interact directly with the real world. In many situations students will interact with a tool that allows them to model the real world. I decided that it is important to specify that in the model too.

What I also found interesting in these papers is that in Sandolval's and White's there was an acknowledgment that no fundamental change in the way students learn will happen if a reform in the curriculum isn't considered. Both papers proposed curriculums that could include not only the usage of the technology, but also activities to support what Sandoval calls the "epistemic reflexion" in the students. This reinforces my decision to include the curriculum as part of the information ecology in my model.

The importance to include teachers in the reform process is mentioned in all three articles:
  • White's article leads to a reflection about the importance to also train teachers so they can lead their classes through the scientific inquiry process. While doing a follow-up on teachers using the Thinkertools materials, they realized that the ways in which the teachers were implementing the curriculum often did not match what the designers had envisioned. It seemed that the teachers did not have a formed conceptual framework for characterizing good inquiry teaching. As a respond, the designers decided to use a framework that characterizes expert teaching.
  • In Wilensky's article we can also find references that could point out the important role of the teacher in an inquiry based class. For instance, the authors mention the potential danger of students building models just to make it fit real life, without reflecting on the process, asking questions and evaluating his answers. Even when the authors never mention that a teacher could help in this scenario, I do think if a teacher has a conceptual framework to do so, he can advise the student and avoid him to curve fit. In the section "Discussion: Answers versus theories", Wilensky also mentions how some of the participant teachers felt uncomfortable with the fact that there was no pre-establish right answer when using NetLogo for inquiry. The inquiry process is an iterative one, that is why the process is what matters the most, not the final answer. Teachers who are not aware of this or haven't been trained to teach using scientific inquiry might feel scared by the indeterminacy.
  • Finally Sandoval's article also talks about trying to eliminate this notion of the final right answer and emphasize in reflexion, revising and improving (iteration).

For all those reasons, the new version of my model will stress that the teacher must constantly receive training not only about the technology included in class, but also about the learning goals that the curriculum wants to achieve.

Finally, both Sandoval and White make a huge emphasis on assessment, which I frankly had left out from my model before. White explains that the way assessment is done must also change, must fit the curriculum goals. Self assessment as well as peer critique are encouraged in this articles, since those are better for to obtain reflections from the students about their performance and the knowledge they are acquiring while learning to use the scientific inquiry process. I will certainly add a reference to the importance of self and co evaluation of students.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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