This article describes the process of creating a Meaningful
Learning Environment (MLE) by going through a three-step cycle
(i.e. activity-artefact-reflection) and recording the process
of learning in the form of digital portfolios. The production
of quality MLE and learning through MLE is assured by following
an integrated method of feedback and evaluation, consisting
of self-evaluation, peer review and teacher-feedback carried
out through various activities [e.g. online (synchronous and
asynchronous) discussion, classroom group discussion and presentation].
The methods explained below are based on my own practical
experience of designing project-based activities for NIE students.
Using Information and Communication Technology (ICT), the
students create digital portfolios during the course of their
studies in instructional technology; learning takes place
individually and collaboratively as each student interacts
with their team members and the teacher.
What is Meaningful Learning?
In order to effectively integrate technology into a meaningful
learning experience, we must first have a clear understanding
of what a meaningful learning experience is. Meaningful learning
occurs when learners actively interpret their experience using
internal, cognitive operations. Meaningful learning requires
that teachers change their role from sage to guide. Since
students learn from thinking about what they are doing, the
teachers role becomes one of stimulating and supporting
activities that engage learners in thinking. Teachers must
also be comfortable that this thinking may transcend their
own insights. Meaningful learning requires knowledge to be
constructed by the learner, not transmitted from the teacher
to the student (Jonassen, et al., 1999).
According to Jonassen, et al. (1999), meaningful learning
- Active (manipulative): We interact with the environment
manipulate the objects within it and observe the effects
of our manipulations.
- Constructive and reflective: Activity is essential
but insufficient for meaningful learning. We must reflect
on the activity and our observations, and interpret them
in order to have a meaningful learning experience.
- Intentional: Human behaviour is naturally goal-directed.
When students actively try to achieve a learning goal that
they have articulated, they think and learn more. For students
to experience meaningful learning, they must be able to
articulate their own learning goals and monitor their own
- Authentic (complex and contextual): Thoughts and
ideas rely on the contexts in which they occur in order
to have meaning. Presenting facts that are stripped from
their contextual clues divorces knowledge from reality.
Learning is meaningful, better understood and more likely
to transfer to new situations when it occurs by engaging
with real-life, complex problems.
- Cooperative (collaborative and conversational): We live, work and learn in communities, naturally seeking
ideas and assistance from each other, and negotiating about
problems and how to solve them. It is in this context that
we learn there are numerous ways to view the world and a
variety of solutions to most problems. Meaningful learning,
therefore, requires conversations and group experiences.
To experience meaningful learning, students need to do much
more than access or seek informationthey need to know
how to examine, perceive, interpret and experience information.
Steps in Creating MLE
In the introductory courses in the Instructional Technology
for Teacher Education Programme at NIE, the trainee teachers
are assigned to create an MLE using ICT. Working in groups
particularly in pairs, the trainee teachers experience the
process of meaningful learning as they progress through the
following steps of producing the MLE.
- Developing an Idea Map Using Mind-mapping Tools: Each group of trainee teachers decides on a topic and brainstorms
on how to include various attributes of meaningful learning
in the creation of a learning environment for their students.
The trainee teachers then represent their ideas in a visual
format using mind-mapping tools (http://www.mindjet.com).
Next, two other groups of trainee teachers review each Idea
Map. The feedback is provided to the creators online using
the discussion forum Blackboard delivery platform
on the peer-review feedback received, each trainee teacher
then makes changes and modifications. The trainee teachers
also note down their reflections on how useful they have
found these sets of activities.
- Creating a Flowchart of Activities*: Based on their own requirements for developing a student-centred
learning environment, the trainee teachers organise the
information and activities that they want their students
to cover by following four basic steps:
- divide the content into logical units;
- establish a hierarchy of importance and
- use the hierarchy to structure relationships
among chunks; and
- analyse the functional and aesthetic success
of the complete system.
Next, the trainee teachers sequence the activities using
flowchart techniques such as Grid, Web, Sequence and Hierarchy.
After sequencing the activities the trainees start working
towards the detailed design of the individual screen for
display in the form of storyboard.
- Designing the Storyboard: A storyboard is a visual
representation, or sketch, of what an interface (e.g. computer-based
training, website, movie, book) is supposed to look like.
The trainee teachers draft their storyboards based on the
following three key considerations:
- Navigation: What and where will
it appear on each page? What technology will be used
to implement it?
- Identification Info: What type
of identification information (e.g. title, menu link,
home link) did each page need?
- Content: What should be visible
on a particular page?
To help them create their respective storyboards, the trainees
learn the techniques and strategies of searching information
on the Internet and how to evaluate these resources. Then
they search the Internet for relevant data to be incorporated
into the chosen topic for their respective MLE projects.
- Creating the MLE Using PowerPoint: To actually
create their respective MLEs, the trainee teachers learn
and use the advanced features of the MS PowerPoint software
as well as media selection for maximising learning effectiveness.
When developing the MLE, the trainee teachers concentrate
on three aspects:
- Context: creating a real-life,
complex and authentic scenario;
- Activities: designing activities
for collaboration, sharing, decision-making and knowledge
- Tools: providing tools for searching,
thinking, reflection and creativity.
The trainee teachers make a workstation presentation of
their final artefact of their respective MLE projects. Subsequently,
peer evaluation is conducted and the feedback collected
is used to modify each project before final submission.
Integrating the Learning of ICT in Education through Digital
As they create their respective MLEs, the trainee teachers
learn to use different learning technologies. At the same
time, the trainee teachers have to maintain a learning portfolio
on the Web that tracks their progress through a set of learning
activities [i.e. designing and developing artefacts, taking
part in online (synchronous and asynchronous) discussions,
reflecting on various tasks] as they work towards completing
the MLE project. The trainee teachers are evaluated based
on different rubrics for different activitiesa rubric
to evaluate the trainee teachers reflections on various
activities was also specially created (Bhattacharya, forthcoming).
For students to visualise the learning as a whole and not
as bits and pieces of tasks to complete, it is vital that
the students understand how the different activities that
they perform are connected and integrated (Bhattacharya &
Richards, 2001). Hence, the e-portfolio is used to assist
the trainee teachers to better understand and articulate their
learning as they developed their personal professional knowledge
and skills about IT in education. This is because digital
portfolios are capable of showing a more complete picture
of student progress and achievement than traditional approaches
to assessment. By developing digital portfolios, the trainee
teachers are able to demonstrate a variety of competencies,
take greater responsibility, and become skilled at self-evaluation.
Bhattacharya, M. (forthcoming). Electronic Portfolios,
Student Reflective Practices, and the Evaluation of Effective
Learning. Australian Association for Research in
Education2001 conference proceedings. Fremantle,
Bhattacharya, M. & Richards, C. (2001). Innovative
Course Design as Action Research: Instructional Technology
for Teacher Education. Society for Information Technology
and Teacher Education2001 conference proceedings.
Orlando, Florida. 10521057.
Jonassen, D.H.; Peck, K.L.; & Wilson, B.G. (1999). Learning
with Technology: A Constructivist Perspective . Upper
Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Publishing.
* Cognitive psychologists
have known for decades that most people can only hold about
four to seven discrete chunks of information in short-term
memory. The goal of most organisational schemes is to keep
the number of local variables the reader must keep in short-term
memory to a minimum, using a combination of graphic design
and layout conventions along with the editorial division of
information into discrete units. The way people seek out and
use information also suggests that smaller, discrete units
of information are more functional and easier to navigate
through than long, undifferentiated units.