By Anita Pincas
I have been an internet watcher ever since I first got involved with online communications in the late 1980s, when it was called computer conferencing. And through having to constantly update my Online Education & Training course since 1992, I’ve had the opportunity to see how educational approaches to the use of the internet, and after it, the world wide web, have evolved. Although history doesn’t give us the full answers to anything, it suggests frameworks for looking at events, so I ‘d like to propose a couple of models for understanding the latest developments in technology and how they relate to learning and teaching.
First, there seem to be three broad areas in which to observe the new technology. This is a highly compressed sketch of some key points:
1. Computing as Such
Here we have an on-going series of improvements which have made it ever easier for the user to do things without technical knowledge. There is a long line of changes from the early days before the mouse, when we had to remember commands (Control + X for delete, Control + B for bold, etc.), to the clicks we can use now, and the automation of many functions such as bullet points, paragraphing, and so on. The most recent and most powerful of these developments is, of course, cloud computing, which roughly means computer users being able to do what they need on the internet without understanding what lies behind it (in the clouds). Publishing in a blog, indeed on the web in general, is one of the most talked about examples of this at the moment. The other is the ability to handle video materials. Both are having an enormous impact on the world in general in terms of information flow, as well as, more slowly, on educational issues. Artificial intelligence, robotics, and “smart” applications are on the way too.
2. Access to and Management of Knowledge
This has been vastly enlarged through simple increase in quantity, which itself has been made possible by the computing advances that allow users to generate content, relatively easy searches, and open access publishing that cuts the costs. Library systems are steadily renewing themselves, and information that was previously unobtainable in practice has become commonplace on the web (e.g. commercial and governmental matters, the tacit knowledge of every day life, etc.). As the semantic web comes into being, we can see further advances in our ability to connect items and areas of knowledge.
3. Communications and Social Networking
We can now use the internet – whether on a desktop or laptop or small mobile – to communicate 1 to 1, or 1 to many, or many to many by voice, text and multimedia. And this can be either synchronous or asynchronous across the globe. The result has been an explosion of opportunities to network individually, socially and commercially. Even in education, we can already see that the VLE is giving way to the PLE (personal learning environment) where learners network with others and construct and share their own knowledge spaces.
For teachers there is pressure not to be seen as out of date, but with too little time or help, they need a simple, structured way of approaching the new technological opportunities on their own. The bridge between the three areas of development should be a practical model of teaching and learning. I use one which the teachers who participate in my courses regularly respond to and validate. It sees learning and teaching in terms of three processes:
- acquiring knowledge or skills or attitudes,
- activating these, and
- obtaining feedback on the acquisition and activation.
I start off by viewing any learning/teaching event as a basic chronological sequence of 3Ps:
But this basic template is open to infinite variation. This occurs by horizontal and vertical changes. The horizontal variations are: the order in which the three elements occur; the repetition of any one of them in any order; the embedding of any sequence within any other sequence. The vertical changes are in how each of the three elements is realised. So the model can generate many different styles of teaching and ways of learning, e.g., problem based, discovery based, and so on.
Finally, this is where the bridge to technology comes in. If a teacher starts from the perceived needs in the teaching and learning of the subject, and then systematically uses the 3Ps to ask:
- What technology might help me make the content available to the learners? [P1]
- What technology might help me activate their understanding/use of the new content? [P2]
- What technology might help me evaluate and give the learners feedback on their understanding or use? [P3]
then we have needs driving the use of the technology, and not the other way around.
Here is a simple example of one way of organising problem based learning:
(Click on the table to zoom in.)
I have developed the model with its many variations in some detail for my courses. Things get quite complex when you try to cover lots of different teaching and learning needs under the three slots. And linking what the learners do, or want to do, or fail to do, etc., with what the teacher does is particularly important. Nevertheless, I find that my three areas of new development plus the 3P scaffolding make things rational rather than being a let’s-just-try-this approach. Perhaps equally important, it serves as a template to observe reports of teaching methods and therefore a very useful tool for evaluation. I have never yet found a teaching/learning event that could not be understood and analysed quickly this way.
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