Monthly Archives: February 2010

Aids to Computer-Based Multimedia Learning (Mayer & Moreno)

So I started out all excited about this reading, and then quickly realised it was a little bit ‘not exactly rocket science’ territory. Having said that, it’s sometimes nice to see some robust research (ignoring sample size concerns) that reinforce a model which I probably would have accepted at face value.

In essence, Mayer and Moreno provide a five-point plan for building audiovisual explanations to teach concepts (for example, consider the awesome recent YouTube clip explaining the credit crisis). By drawing on some pretty straightforward cognitive psychology (mainly around the issue of ‘cognitive load’) they posit and then find supporting data for the claims that…

  • you should use present the explanation using both words and pictures (multiple representation principle)
  • you should present the words and pictures at the same time (coherence principle)
  • you should not include extraneous material as it uses up cognitive processing bandwidth (coherence principle)
  • you should present words as auditory rather than written, otherwise they use up visual processing bandwidth (modality principle)
  • you should not supplement the auditory narration with written text for the same reason (redundancy principle)

So, fairly obvious if you were thinking about it from a cognitive load point of view, but a couple of counterintuitive ones in there if you are approaching it from a ‘more is better’ or ‘add some interesting bells and whistles’ point of view.

Obviously, I’m really curious about taking this type of research-based approach into more interactive, and technologically recent types of environments. Perhaps more of that in the weeks to come. One of our assignments is to develop a multimedia piece, drawing on these guidelines. Given that the aim of the assignment is for us to build skills, I am tempted to look at creating an explanation using augmented reality and 3D modelling. Just for fun 😉

Changing How and What Children Learn in School with Computer-Based Technologies (Roschelle, Pea, Hoadley, Gordin & Means)

Back in 2000, Jeremy Roschelle and colleagues published this review of research to date into computer-based technology in schools. While comprehensive, the article skews heavily toward considering more progressive applications, and away from ways that computers were being used to support repetitive drills and other more traditional pedagogic approaches.

They note that research results have been inconclusive for a number of reasons;

  • wide variety of specific pieces of hardware and software being used
  • blurring of the effect of technology and other concurrent reforms within schools
  • lack of decent longitudinal studies.

Following from the title of the paper, the authors look first at how computer use in schools relates to a number of findings from cognitive research into learning (the 'how'), and then provide a brief review of the application of computers to a number of different subject domains (the 'what').

In terms of cognition, they assert (drawing on examples) that computers can provide excellent learning support as suitable software applications can create learning environments that;

  • actively engage the student
  • facilitate group participation
  • provide interaction and rapid feedback
  • are related to real-world contexts

In terms of subject matter, they discuss applications in

  • science (primarily interactive modelling and visualisation tools)
  • mathematics (again, dynamic interfaces for visualising abstract ideas)
  • 'social studies, language and the arts' (briefly mentioning applications that move students from being appreciators to creators)

The authors identify developing teachers' skills, revisiting assessment, modernising curricula, and creating cultures of change as critical challenges to introducing these types of technologies into schools.

What I found most intriguing about the paper was the repeated assertion that various applications had dramatically improved students abilities to comprehend concepts and their application, but had limited impact on more traditional test scores. In one typical case students 'scored about the same on standardised math tests, but showed significant improvement in their ability to solve complex problems'. Beyond the initial question of 'Can our tests really be that crap?' This raised several thoughts for me;

if certain applications can improve conceptual understanding and application, but not fact recall and rote procedure, then clearly we need to think clearly about the two as different domains of knowledge

if we think about the limited time available for learning, then focusing time on 'conceptual learning' will necessarily impact our 'fact recall' achievement

this has probably been one of the key reasons that institutions have not pushed harder in this area, as it was not being suitably measured by their KPIs

if we take it that conceptual knowledge is more valuable than rote knowledge, any institution that starts to adopt this type of teaching (including but not limited to this kind of technology use in class) will suffer apparently poor performance by widely established metrics

an institution trying these methods will need to convince parents that test scores are not the primary objective, and will ideally have to work with those institutions that students will move on to (high schools or universities etc.) in order to give them an understanding as to how the true merit of the students should be judged

The issue was raised eloquently by Postman and Weingartner in their strident 'Teaching as a Subversive Activity', when they acknowledge the impact that the critical analytic approach they take to education will have on students' standardised test scores.

Beyond test scores and implementational challenges, Roschelle and his co-authors struck a chord with me when they point out that, at the end of the day, '[t]ime spent preparing students to do well on numerical calculation tests, vocabulary, or English mechanics cannot be spent on learning about acceleration, the mathematics of change, or the structure of Shakespeare's plays.'

On a side note, the description of the ThinkerTools application intrigued me enough to go see what they have been up to over the past decade. Looks like US Berkeley continued tinkering with their tools, but have been very quiet since about 2006 sadly, and no downloadable applications are available. :(

Another area I am keen to explore (and a big hello to you, Ben), is the use of simulations of complex systems to teach concepts without the underlying maths (p.87 of the paper). In particular, the paper by Resnick, 'Turtles, termites and traffic jams: Explorations in massively parallel microworlds' sounds intriguing. 

Disciplines of Inquiry in Education: An Overview (Schulman)

As promised by the title, this is very much 'an overview'. Basically, Schulman provides educational researchers with an outline of the role of 'method' within research. The audience seems to be those who have arrived at research through a single discipline and may be a little blinkered in their approach.

Schulman highlights that there are a range of different disciplines from which research methodologies can be drawn (using the term 'disciplined inquiry' at times to describe methodological research). He described education as a site for research (a 'field of study') rather than a discipline, and lists a range of disciplines from which methods of inquiry can be drawn to examine questions of education – including demography, history, sociology, psychology etc.

The critical point Schulman is making is basically 'horses for courses' – the nature of one's area of research area or question will determine the best form of research method, or alternately, your mode of inquiry will significantly influence the questions you seek to answer. Not only is there a relationship between the research approach and the questions being addressed, Schulman also points out that there is inherent ideological baggage that comes with different disciplines. This is demonstrated through an examination of different approaches to 'social darwinism'.

To anyone who comes from an interdisciplinary field, the paper will be fairly straightfoward and reasonably uncritical. Schulman does not critique the nature of disicplines themselves, taking as given that there exist a set of disciplines with embedded ideological taints. While he concludes by loosely advocating a multi-disciplinary approach (he describes what sounds like 'triangulation'), he also does not address the different narratives and vocabularies that different disciplines use, and the potential difficulties in drawing them together. 

I was perhaps most interested with Schulman's comments about the generalisability of case studies. My dark academic history having its origins in the 'sciences', I have always had a soft spot for statistics based quantitative studies. What Schulman points out is that 'case studies are confronted with a problem of generalisability that is not different in kind from that confronted by their quantitative colleagues'. The point of a case study is that you are claiming 'it is a member of a family of individuals or events of which it is in some way representative', and you are then extrapolating from that representative case to a broader population through generalisation – just as quantitative studies do, except that statistical tools are not used. 

In taking some of Schulman's thinking and advice forward, I think it would be interesting to draw on some of the interdisciplinary/transdisciplinary approaches to find mixed-methodologies that may be useful for examining questions within education as an field of study amenable to different disciplinary approaches. I'm thinking here of Bruno Latour (and his approach to topics like 'Aramis') and Michel Serres (it feels like the educational researcher may need to become something of Serre's 'Troubadour', though he may be a bit hardcore for white feels like a quite pragmatic field like education). If I have time I will go back and read Joe Moran's very accessible overview, 'Interdisciplinarity' to see whether some of the approaches used to traverse disciplines within other integrative fields may be useful within education. Of course I assume someone has already done this, and look forward to stumbling across them at some point…

A Little Bit of Background

Parts of this blog chronicles my exciting adventures as a part-time (or ‘reduced load’ as they seem to want to call it) student in the University of Sydney’s Master of Teaching program, within the primary schooling stream, aka USyd MTeach (Primary). The intention is primarily for it to encourage my to write critically about my readings and experiences – if anyone actually reads it, well that’s a nice bonus (and a big ‘hello’ to you!). You can spot entries related to my endeavours as they have all be categorised as ‘Master of Teaching’.

It has been interesting watching people’s reactions when I tell them I am studying to be a primary school teacher. In a way it is frustrating, as I sometimes would like to explain the big picture, and get their thoughts on things – but often I feel a little self-indulgent giving them the whole back story. But, this bing my blog, I thought I would include it in case it is of any interest. And the best way to do that seemed to be to include the short piece I had to write as part of the application process, explaining why I wanted to do the course, and what I felt I would bring to it…

My own schooling began when I was lucky enough to attend an unusual primary school in an idyllic valley in northern New South Wales. Orama Public was so small that each classroom was shared by several years, and the local community was actively involved with school activities. My parents were part of the thriving counter-culture movement in the area and saw themselves as a key part of my education, meaning that I learnt as much at home as I did at school.

This environment planted the seeds of a lifelong passion for learning that I continue to treasure today. I quickly discovered the great joy of facilitating learning and discovery in others. From high school peer support through to postgraduate tutoring and running professional development courses, I have always sought out opportunities to nurture the same passion for learning in others that I enjoy.

My personal affection for learning also manifests itself as an insatiable and infectious curiosity for the world. I am saddened by the number of adults who have decided that the world no longer holds any magic or mystery for them. All around us are opportunities for discovery, imagination and exploration. Children know this, and a vital part of education must be nurturing this curiosity in the hope that they will retain it, along with all the creativity, empathy and inspiration that it brings.

For many years it has been my ambition to provide young people today with some of the inspiration and support that I was lucky enough to receive. To that end, I would like to one day start a school. Many parents today struggle to find options that they feel relate to their ideas about education and the world. They see traditional schooling as built on a set of conventions driven by the needs of an outdated idea of society. More progressive alternatives such as Steiner and Montessori also seem increasingly out of touch with a rapidly changing world.

I believe that there is an opportunity to create a contemporary approach to early schooling that responds more adequately to today’s society; an approach that acknowledges recent advances in child psychology, and is grounded in more socially progressive attitudes toward gender, race, ecology, culture and economy. Such an approach may even draw on thinking from emerging fields such as new media theory and embedded cognition that are beginning to shape our understanding of the way we learn.

While the road to launching such a school may be long and full of unexpected discoveries, a thorough grounding in the theory and practice of teaching and education is a critical foundation. I believe the University of Sydney teaching course will help add theoretical rigour to my thinking, and extend my exposure to ideas in the field. It will also help me gain a stronger practical understanding of the real challenges of such a project, and provide the opportunity to build connections with others in the field that will be invaluable moving forward.