Tech and Tussels
Educators who are out-of-sync with Information
Communications Technologies (ICT)'s evolution
often feel alienated by it. The reason for this
alienation is manifold: first, in their struggles to
accept new teaching and learning technologies and
second, in the conciliation between the features of
new technologies against a teacher's pedagogical
beliefs, which includes Pedagogical Content
Knowledge (PCK). Put simply,
[PCK] refers to the most regularly taught
topics in one's subject area, the most useful
forms representation of those ideas, the most
powerful analogies, illustrations, examples,
explanations, and demonstrations-in a word,
the ways of representing the subject that makes
it comprehensible to others. It also includes
an understanding of what makes of specific
topics easy or difficult: the conceptions and
preconceptions that students of different ages
and background bring with them to learning.
(Shulman, 1987, p. 9)
Consequently, when non-IT or non-ICT mediated
PCK have been successful in many instances,
alternative vehicles of mediation will make little
sense to the teacher. A lot of effort on the part
of leadership and change agents is required to
overcome hindrances in adopting new technology. A
teacher must be convinced that it is worth analysing
the relationships between technology affordances
(opportunities) against his/her pedagogical road
map. To do this, conceptual models to facilitate
connections between the two are necessary to assist
teachers in translating technology functionalities
into pedagogical content. In this paper, I would like
to present these conceptual models.
In this section, we look at how contributions in
contemporary research have put a face on (1) educational theories and (2) the intimate mechanisms
that link ICT, learning and their sociocultural
settings. Next, we examine how two models are
integrated to provide a complete picture to guide
innovations surrounding the use of technologies in
teaching and learning.
Conole, Dyke, Oliver and Seale (2004) remind us
that there is already a wide range of educational
schools of thought and learning theories such
as "behaviourism, constructivism and social
constructivism. . In addition, other models of
learning such as Kolb's experiential learning cycle,
Javis' model of reflection and learning, Gardners
theory of multiple intelligences and Flavell's
theory of metacognition have a particular focus and
emphasis" (Conole, et al., 2004, p. 18).
To encapsulate these educational approaches, Conole et al., (2004) extrapolated their characteristics and
represented them on a Octahedron (see Figure 1) that
consists of six components:
- "Individual-inferring that the individual is the
focus of learning.
- Social-learning is explained through interaction
with others, through disclosure and collaboration
and the wider social context within which the
learning takes place.
- Reflection-inferring that conscious reflection
on experience is the basis by which experience is
transformed into learning.
- Non-reflection-when learning is explained
with reference to processes such as conditioning,
preconscious learning, skill learning and
- Information-when an external body of
information such as text, artifacts and bodies of
knowledge form the basis of experience and the
raw material for learning.
- Experience-when learning arises through direct
experience, activity and practical application"
(Conole, et. al., 2004, p. 23).
Figure 1. Octahedron encapsulating educational theories
(Conole et al., p. 24)
Conole's et al., (2004) contribution of a clear,
succinct and unambiguous oracular aid to plan and
order learning activities is indeed a remarkable
one. However, commissioning ICT affordances into
learning designs must be done against a backdrop of
sociocultural factors that could nullify the merits
of ICT integration for all they are worth. To paint a
vivid picture of this backdrop, Cole and Engeström's
(1993, p. 7) model of activity system (see Figure 2)
serves to alert us of "the intimate mechanism that
link ICT, learning and their sociocultural settings."
Unmediated functioning occurs along the subject
(individual), the object (task) mediated by tools, at
the vertex of the triangle. According to Lim (2002),
humans abide in groups where labour is shared:
the "continuously negotiated distribution of tasks,
powers, and responsibilities among the participants
of the activity system" (Cole & Engeström, 1993,
p. 7), and dealings between the learners (subject)
and community are dependent on the groups'
mediating tools/artifacts, and rules, which are the
"norms and sanctions that approximate the expected
correct procedures and acceptable interactions
among the participants" (Cole & Engeström, 1993,
p. 7). "Activity theory has been successfully used
to analyse success, failures and contradictions
without simplifications. It offers a set of conceptual
tools that can be supplied to various situations to
understand the coupling of cognition and activity"
(Lim, 2002, p. 413). The activity model of activity
system is dynamic and transcends time where there
are continual constructions and reconstructions of
high level integration.
When we integrate Conole's et. al., (2004) Octahedron
into Cole and Engeström's (1993) activity theory,
it becomes clear that a teacher must pay a lot of
attention not only to the dynamics but also to the
components of the activity theory, in regard to the
deployment of education theories (see Figure 3).
For example, a teacher might plan to use the social
constructivist pedagogy to educate students on the
effects of pollution on the ecosystem. He planned to
use cases, put questions in discussion forums and
assigned roles to students with the aim of letting
students make meaning for themselves through roleplay
(where there is a division of labour in meaningmaking).
Plotting his design on the Octahedron
(Conole et al., 2004), the process of meaningmaking
is skewed towards experience rather than
information, and is nested within a reflective and
social setting. But the teacher soon discovered that
his students, who regarded social activities as a
waste of their time, resisted the role-play exercises.
At the same time, the instructional culture of the
school centred heavily on blackboard teaching, and
that all the PCs in the library available for research
work were already taken up by other students.
Figure 2. The mediational triangle (Cole & Engeström,
1993, p. 7)
Figure 3. The fortified mediational triangle
The model discussed in this paper can serve as
an aid to plan and to scrutinise the purposes and
quality of ICT-mediated learning activities, as well
as make ICT affordances more explicit when desired
educational theories are ascribed to, against the backdrop of the intimate mechanisms that link technology, learning
and the sociocultural settings. The Fortified Mediational Triangle
can also be used as tools to advocate or defend pedagogical
positions in a learning episode against its intended outcomes. For
researchers, the Fortified Mediational Triangle help frame useful
questions to study the effects of ICT integration on learner subject
matter competencies. For professional development, the Fortified
Mediational Triangle helps to identify situate discussions in ICT
mediated learning upon pedagogically informed framework.
Conole, G.; Dyke, M.; Oliver, M. & Seale, J. (2004). 'Mapping Pedagogy and Tools
for Effective Learning Design.' Computers & Education, Vol. 43, Nos. 1-2, pp.
Cole, M. & Engeström, Y. (1993). 'A Cultural-historical Approach to Distributed
Cognition.' In Saloman, G. (ed). Distributed Cognitions: Psychological and
Educational Considerations (Learning in Doing). Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press. pp. 1-46.
Lim, C.P. (2002), 'A Theoretical Framework for the Study of ICT in Schools: A Proposal.' British Journal of Educational Technology, Vol. 33, No. 4, pp. 411-421.
Shulman, L. (1987), 'Knowledge and Teaching Foundations of the New Reform'. Harvard
Educational Review, Vol. 57, No. 1, pp. 1-22.