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In this issue of CDTL Brief on Learning with Technology, the authors discuss how to use some Integrated Virtual Learning Environment (IVLE) features to enhance students’ learning and understanding of the subject.

May 2005, Vol. 8, No. 3 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Technology-mediated Learning—The Case for Macromedia Breeze and IVLE Tools
 
Alfred Low
Educational Technologist, CDTL
 

Can computers ever replace face-to-face teaching? This million-dollar question lends itself to rhetorical contentions, driven by the shifting contextual flux of the educational goal, keeping in pace with a world of discontinuity that we now live in. When considering the use of technology in teaching and learning, a teacher wants to know whether it can make the subject matter more accessible to the learners. In other words, what is in the technology and how it facilitates understanding, retention, retrieval and transfer of knowledge and information in ways non-technological methods cannot. In this paper, I will share two ways that Macromedia Breeze and the IVLE tools can help mediate learning and make the learning process more exciting for students.

Affordances

When the opportunities presented by a piece of technology are taken up to mediate pedagogic content, these opportunities become known as affordances. The term affordance has been used to “describe a potential for action, the perceived capacity of an object to enable the assertive will of the actor” (Ryder, 1996). In the context of a virtual learning environment (VLE), affordance is used to describe opportunities provided for learners to alter the state of their subject matter competencies. For teachers engaged in face-to-face teaching, affordances are opportunities available within a pedagogical setting that orchestrates conditions for maximum learning and retention (Kennewell, 2001). The affordances of a physical classroom environment include the opportunities presented by the technology in support of a learning task, the social support for learning provided by the teacher or other learners, and the contextual support provided by the setting in which the activity occurs (Kennewell, Parkinson & Tanner, 2000). In lessons involving the use of ICT and in VLEs, affordances can take the form of computer-intrinsic activities (e.g. entering variables via a Web-form into a computer-simulated furnace to plot graphs) and task-intrinsic activities (e.g. making the link between graph and equation) (Kennewell, et. al., 2000).

Self-instruction

Since ICT present affordances that can be taken up in various learning contexts, one way the computer may be able to replace face-to-face teaching is to promote self-instruction. Self-instruction in the broad sense describes “situations in which a learner, with others, or alone, is working without the direct control of a teacher” (Dickinson, 1987, p. 5). In the narrow sense, “it is a deliberate long-term learning project instigated, planned and carried out by the learner alone, without teacher intervention” (Jones, 1998, p. 378).

As the content-to-user, teacher-to-user, user-to-user interactions are pre-planned in self-instructional materials, the self-instruction approach is sometimes preferred over the didactic method especially when the content needs to reach a large audience. Keirns (1999) distinguished between the expository- and inquiry-based self-instruction in Table 1.

Table 1: Expository self-instruction and inquiry-based
self-instruction contrasted (Keirns, 1999, p. 84)

Expository self-instruction Inquiry-based self-instruction
content is presented to the learner content is provided to the learner
learner is guided learner is coached and given advice
learner has opportunities to practise what is learnt learner experiences the environment with which meaning is constructed
the learner is being assessed learner monitors own progress


Macromedia Breeze and IVLE tools for self-instruction

Macromedia Breeze and IVLE tools allow teachers to plan online activities by using lectures slides and tutorials. Table 2 maps the tenets of expository self-instruction, affordances and technology. Teachers who prefer the didactic method of instruction may use this as a guide to plan online activities.

Table 2: Tenets of expository self-instruction,
affordances and technology

Instructional Event Affordance Technology
Presenting information Intentional, through sequencing of content Macromedia Breeze
Guiding the learner Assisted performance Macromedia quizzing with customised feedback messages and/or polling function
Practicing by the learner
Task-intrinsic activities
Macromedia quizzing functions with immediate feedback and/or Flash-based simulation inserted
Assessing learner progress Intentional IVLE assessment

T able 3 maps the tenets of inquiry-based self-instruction, affordances and technology. Teachers who advocate methods such as collaborative learning, case-based learning or problem-based learning may use this as a guide to plan online activities. However, teachers should provide appropriate rubrics (with explicit behavioural descriptions) and communicate them clearly to the learners to ensure successful teaching and learning.

Table 3: Tenets of inquiry-based self-instruction,
affordances and technology

Instructional Event Affordance Technology
Providing information n.a. Macromedia Breeze
Coaching and advising the learner Assisted performance IVLE Discussion forum or IVLE Project with Flash-based simulation or micro-worlds.
Experiencing by the learner
Computer and task-intrinsic
activities
Ditto


Final thoughts

Creating VLEs with Macromedia Breeze and IVLE tools does not necessary imply that face-to-face instruction must be replaced completely. In my opinion, this should not be done as teacher-student rapport is important in the learning journey. The teacher plays an instructive role whether learning is self-directed or not. But with technological advancements, it is possible to do more with less. However, the teacher must take time to acquire the necessary skills to configure and manage learning in VLEs. At the same time, teaching staff must adopt an open mind and be willing to suspend their biases before technology-mediated approaches can be introduced successfully.

References

Dickinson, L. (1987). Self-Instruction in Language Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jones, F. (1998). Self-instruction and Success: A Learner-profile Study. Applied Linguistics. Vol. 19, No. 3, pp. 378–406.

Keirns, J. (1999). Designs for Self-Instruction: Principles, Processes, and Issues in Developing Self-directed Learning. Mass.: Allyn & Bacon.

Kennewell, S.; Parkinson, J. & Tanner, H. (2000). Developing the ICT Capable School. New York: RoutledgeFalmer.

Kennewell, S. (2001). ‘Using Affordances and Constraints to Evaluate the Use of Information and Communications Technology in Teaching and Learning’, Journal of Information Technology for Teacher Education. Vol. 10, Nos. 1 & 2, pp. 101–116.

Ryder, M. (1996). Affordances and Constraints of the Internet for Learning and Instruction, Paper presented to a joint session of the Association for Educational Communications Technology, Indianpolis, February 14–18. http://carbon.cudenver.edu/~mryder/aect_96.html. (Last accessed: 14 April 2005).

 
 
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Root Questions for Large Classes
   
Using Online Discussion Forum in Learning Mathematics
   
Technology-mediated Learning — The case for Macromedia Breeze and IVLE Tools