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As an instructional medium, IT does not necessarily cause changes or improvements in teaching and learning. This CDTL Brief presents the first of a two-part discussion on how instructors may utilise the options and opportunities in IT-supported Learning Strategies for improved teaching and learning.

August 2003, Vol. 6, No. 8 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Information Communication Technology Mediated Learning
 
Mr Alfred Low
Educational Technologist
Centre for Development of Teaching and Learning, NUS
 

Meaning making in a real-world situation is context-diverse and requires deep thinking, soliciting opinions and engaging the thoughts of others through communication. Traditionally, technology has been used to deliver and communicate instructions to the student who will hopefully comprehend those instructions and learn from them. It is also assumed that people learn from technology, by watching television or documentaries, responding to programmed instruction or listening to a teacher in class. But Jonassen (1992) argues that technology does not directly mediate learning. Instead, learning is mediated by thinking, and thinking is set in motion by learning activities, and learning activities are mediated by instructional interventions, including technology. This article will briefly mention the background of the use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) in learning, discuss why ICT is able to elicit meaningful learning from learners who are dispersed in space and time, as well as describe a way of how this is achieved.

Historical & theoretical background

Since the commercialisation of the Internet around the mid-90s, we have observed not only a stark transformation of the educational landscape, but also a shift in the educational value system in favour of instructors facilitating social learning, nurturing critical and independent thinking, as well as inculcating life-long learning skills and habits. Much of this transformation has been based on the application of socio-constructivist learning theory. As a philosophy of learning, constructivism is “founded on the premise that, by reflecting on our experiences, we construct our own understanding of the world we live in” (On Purpose Associates, 1998–2001). As an extension of the constructivist view of personal effort in meaning making, socio-constructivism theorises that the meaningful construction of knowledge occurs when a learner interacts with other learners.

Epistemological basis for ICT-mediated learning

If learning is a generative process, the mind is always in search of and is responsible for knowledge acquisition through the engagement of cognitive processing based on prior knowledge and experiences. But “it is not reasonable to assume that all knowledge should be personally constructed, as completely idiosyncratic knowledge constructions would result in intellectual chaos. Socially constructed reality will always maintain an important role in society” and constitutes the “conceptual glue that reconciles schemas and the glue that hold societies together” (Jonassen, 1992. p. 5). Hence, while it is conceptually viable to implement socio-constructivist learning in the classroom, it was not until the advent of ICT that we have begun to see how social learning is able to take place beyond the classroom spanning across cities, countries, continents and time zones.

At the heart of an ICT-mediated socio-constructivist learning environment is the joint-problem-space (JPS). By definition, a JPS “is a shared knowledge structure that supports problem solving activity by integrating goals, descriptions of the current problem state, awareness of available problem solving equations”/resources and “those associations that relate goals, features of the current problem state, and available actions” (Roschelle & Teasley, 1995, p. 70). An ICT-supported JPS is able to sustain synchronous1 and/or asynchronous collaborative work between geographically dispersed learners in different time zones. Consequently through an ICT-aided JPS, collaborative problem solving “amplifies the learner’s cognitive processes while using those technologies” (Jonassen, 1992, p. 3) which make it possible for peers separated by distance and time zones to solve problems within “a negotiated and shared conceptual space, constructed through the external mediational framework of shared language, situation and activity—not merely inside the cognitive contents of each individual’s head” (Roschelle & Teasley, 1995, p. 71).

Features of an ICT-mediated learning environment

ICT is able to embody JPS by providing functional features such as information banks, symbol pads, construction kits, phenomenaria2 and task managers (Duffy & Jonassen, 1992) that could be integrated within a Learning Management System3 (LMS). Jonassen states that these features facilitate a series of interactive online activities that “trigger the learners’ schemata4” and prompt learners to interpret new information for themselves and in mutual consultation with other learners; after assimilating new information back into their schemata, “learners reorganise their schemata in the light of the newly interpreted information, and then use those newly aggrandised schemata to explain, interpret, or infer new knowledge” (Jonassen, 1992, p. 3). Lest the learners construct knowledge that is “completely idiosyncratic” and “results in intellectual chaos” (Jonassen, 1992, p. 5), it is vital that a Subject Matter Expert5 (SME) validates this new knowledge. By functioning as an e-Coach6, the SME provides a crucial element of human intervention within an ICT-mediated learning environment to eradicate any misconceptions that learners might have as they construct new knowledge.

An example of how ICT can mediate learning

One technical example of ICT-mediated learning is to ask learners to make decisions about an online case study, or a series of online case studies, by manipulating variables and then checking boxes, radio-buttons or clicking hotspots via a web form. ICT encapsulates learners’ inputs through these web forms and then retains the inputs within a database repository, each web form creating a new data entry record in the repository. Each record can be retrieved from the database, collated with other records and displayed on an Active-Server-Page7 (ASP). The ASP will bring to the learners’ attention any misconceptions of making a particular choice(s); it pegs and displays the overall percentage of all other learners who have made the same choice(s) alongside the choice(s) made by the learner.

Next, the teacher or SME functions as an e-Coach to give overall comments on the activity and facilitate a peer review process through the use of an online discussion forum within the LMS hosting the learning activity, or that functions independently from the host LMS. The e-Coach monitors if learners have any misconceptions about the subject matter and intervenes when the discussion is derailed. Alternatively, discussions can be conducted synchronously using chat rooms; but unless well regulated, chat rooms can be very chaotic when participants try to chat simultaneously.

Caveats

Implementing an ICT-mediated socio-constructivist learning environment is not without drawbacks such as a high attrition rate. Frequently, many learners may participate in online activities out of necessity or curiosity; however, their participation rate, especially in discussion forums, tends to diminish over time. This may be due to a lack of motivation, cultural clashes, fear of rebuttal and losing face, fear of engagement because of language difficulties, or a combination of such factors.
To combat attrition rates, one can communicate a consequence of non-participation or enforce some sort of penalty if learners are found to be over-domineering or defiant within discussion forums. A positive way to encourage motivation is to award points for putting up a good argument that helps other learners learn.

Conclusion

No matter how sophisticated ICT may be, it is incapable of thought and merely facilitates the scaffolding of knowledge. Unlike a competent human e-Coach, ICT cannot ascertain a learner’s motivational levels and language skills, detect semantic and cultural differences, and gauge learners’ communication abilities. Not all learners possess the same intellect and effective questioning skills that will help them engage in profitable dialogue and cut through information overload. In this regard, when machines solely mediate teaching and learning, such efforts are likely to be doomed to failure. Hence, the presence of a competent e-Coach (e.g. who is knowledgeable, able to encourage participation, communicates well) is vital in making ICT-mediated learning succeed.

References

Duffy, Thomas M. & Jonassen, David H. (1992). Constructivism and the Technology of Instruction. Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.

Jonassen, David H. (1992). ‘What are Cognitive Tools?’. In Kommers, Piet A.M.; Jonassen, David H. & Mayers, J. Terry. (Eds.). Cognitive Tools for Learning. Germany: Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg, NATO Scientific Affairs Division, pp. 1–6.

Roschelle, Jeremy & Teasley, Stephanie D. (1995). ‘The Construction of Shared Knowledge in Collaborative Problem Solving’. In O’Malley, Claire. (Ed). Computer Supported Collaborative Learning. Germany: Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg, NATO Scientific Affairs Division, pp. 69–97.

On Purpose Associates. (1998–2001). ‘Constructivism’. Funderstanding. [Electronic Citation]. http://www.funderstanding.com/constructivism.cfm (Last accessed: 8 November 2002).


Footnote:

1 Occurring or existing at the same time, or having the same period or phase (adapted from the definition supplied by http://www.dictionary.com/ (Last accessed: 30 December 2002).

2 An area for specific purpose of presenting phenomena and making them accessible to scrutiny and manipulation such as e.g. online hub and spoke diagrams, “experimental apparatus, simulation games physics ‘microworlds’ ” (Duffy & Jonassen, 1992. p.47) and constructivist games such as Civilization and SimCity.

3 A web-based software solution that support, tracks, administers and manages the delivery of learning.

4 A pattern imposed on complex reality or experience to help explain that reality, mediate perception, or guide response (adapted from the definition supplied by http://www.dictionary.com/ (Last accessed: 30 December 2002).

5 An individual who exhibits the highest-level domain of knowledge.

6 A Subject Matter Expert who mediates learning by eradicating learner misconception; who encourages online participation, managers and resolves conflict, and maintains decorum at the discussion forum.

7 An HTML page that includes small, embedded programs that are processed on a Microsoft Web server before the page is sent to the user adapted from the definition supplied by Refsnes Data, (1999–2003), ‘Introduction to ASP’, W3Schools.Com, http://www.w3schools.com/asp/asp_intro.htm (Last accessed: 3 January 2003).

 
 
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Embracing Appropriate Technology in Teaching and Learning
   
Information Communication Technology Mediated Learning
   
Supporting Online Learners in a Constructivist Manner: A Case for Future Development Work in the Singapore Context