WAYS OF LEARNING ON THE WORLD WIDE WEB
by Robert Parson
M.Ed., Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto
WAYS OF LEARNING ON THE WORLD WIDE WEB
EDUCATION AND TEACHING GOALS
In this section, I will present learning and teaching activities, goals and procedures which are relevant to designing instruction. Some examples of how these activities and procedures have been or can be applied to Web Based Instruction (WBI) will be included. There are three main parts that will be covered. In this first part, we will look at Teaching Goals and Situated Learning .
The second part, Ways of Learning, looks at the way students approach learning: their actions as well as their attitudes.
Teachers have a greater aim than simply imparting knowledge. "The aim of teaching is simple: it is to make student learning possible" (Ramsden 1992:5). The aim of learning in higher education is greater than acquiring knowledge. Student learning includes the way students handle their new knowledge, their approach, the way they assess arguments and find patterns to integrate their knowledge. It is a series of complex activities for which it is difficult to prescribe a process, but using the work of Laurillard and others, I will offer some ways to think about the process, in order to facilitate the next steps of exploring WBI and its applications.
To begin, let us look at how students learn. There is a great difference between everyday learning and applied learning. Dewey (1963), Piaget and other educational philosophers have argued for an active engagement of the learner through pedagogical experiences, however " in universities, with its continual reliance on lectures and textbooks, the classical tradition of importing knowledge still flourishes" (Laurillard, P. 15). The "lecture" style of presentation, where the teacher expounds on a subject, hoping that some of the information will transform itself into student's knowledge is still too often the norm. There is nothing to show that this style of teaching improves, when it is transposed to the Web.
Advocates of situated learning argue that knowledge must be situated in a specific context, relevant to the topic being learnt. This process will help the learner acquire the relevant concepts. These concepts then become knowledge tools. In order to achieve a greater value, a means or method to use these knowledge tools must be taught to the learner. However, more than knowing the "how", students must be able to know "when" to use them, "why" they should be used, "what" sorts of situations would call for them. In short, the use of knowledge tools should be accompanied by judgment. For the teacher trying to devise the context to be presented for a particular topic, this requires analyzing the degree of authenticity, embeddedness in the social and physical world. (Laurillard, P. 18). An example might be a lesson on how to use a scale for a map, such that given a map of Florida or their hometown, the students could compute distance, time and a preferable route, to travel from point A to point B.
There is also an added requirement in institutions of higher learning: these tools include more than facts, figures or life experiences. Abstractions, theories, symbols play a great role. Laurillard stresses the difference between the two types of knowledge: " Everyday knowledge is located in our experience of the world. Academic knowledge comes from our experience of our experience of the world....academic learning involves scientific concepts, learned in the classroom and developed through analytical procedures." (P. 26) This is mediating learning: creating a bridge between the world of experience and the world of analytical scientific concepts.
Again, the knowledge and skills acquired require an assessment on the students' part of when and why they should be used. For example, The Bosnian Virtual Fieldtrip (Crampton and Rundstrom, 1996) is an interactive online geography course which investigates the circumstances that lie behind the situation in Bosnia. In situated learning, an accomplished learner who had gone through the course, would be able to apply similar analysis techniques to investigate historical and geographical elements that are part of the problem in Quebec-Canada, the U.S. civil war or Israel. The student would not necessarily resolve the questions, but would be able to identify as well as apply techniques or skills from the Bosnia course which would be appropriate in order to form a knowledgeable construct of the new situation.
In the next section, will look at an example of situated learning on the Web.
Situated Learning Example: Subtext
In considering the designs for teaching in this manner, the teacher should try to create experiences that address both the direct experience of the world, as well as the reflections or abstractions of that experience (Laurillard, P. 29)
An example of situated learning that is presented in this manner is in teaching subtext as part of playwriting. In one section of The Playwriting Seminars (1997), Richard Toscan, of the Virginia Commonwealth University defines and shows examples of texts with and without subtext. Subtext is the thought or emotion that is beneath the text, the unspoken dialogue in a script.
Using situated learning, he could begin by contrasting subtext in modern plays as they relate to subtext in our everyday conversations. The "Hi, how are you?" "I'm fine, thank you." of our everyday greeting can hide an infinite amount of subtext from "Oh no, I still owe you that ten dollars..." to "Please don't ever leave me again!" This would provide a bridge between our everyday experience and the theory of subtext.
However, his first example accomplishes this link to real world experience, meeting a "new" person at a party, while creating a link to actual playwriting, by using a scene reminiscent of Woody Allen's "Annie Hall".
Excerpt from "woodyallen.html" (online)
The Subtext of Him and Her is in
(A party. Her and Him look out
The above text introduces the use of subtext, while maintaining a link to our own experiences. The next step looks at the role of subtext in an actual play 'night, Mother by Marsha Norman. Thus the student goes from concept as part of world experience, to a more theoretical framework. At the same time, the example below shows not only the practice of the concept, but the reasons for its application.
Excerpt from Subtext in 'NIGHT, MOTHER (online)
This is what would happen if Jessie spoke all of her Subtext . . .
Moving to a more theoretical framework could include analysis of subtext in Chekhov, Ibsen or Shakespeare and then analyzing how their use of subtext influences the characters' actions, their words and rhythms, the rhythm of the play or even the way that this language relates to the society being depicted.
In order to be successful the teaching should address both the direct experience of the world and the reflection on that experience that will produce the intended way of representing it.
In a further demonstration of how the concept can function in a play, Toscan offers a text in three stages, the first includes text as well as subtext.
Excerpt from Demo 1-A (online)
In the next example, subtext is separated from the actual dialogue.
Excerpt from Demo 1-B (online)
Spoken Subtext is marked by the underlined text:
In the final example, only the actual dialogue is present.
Excerpt from Demo 1-C (online)
As shown in this example, instruction delivered by the Web is certainly capable of situated learning styles of delivery. In the next section, we will look at other ways of learning.
Ways of Learning
For each area, I have linked to an online example, or have downloaded and edited material from the Web to provide an example.
In her second chapter Laurillard examines what students bring to learning. She cites studies that look at individual's characteristics , aspects of the student population, motivational types and longitudinal studies that concern the way study and learning practices evolve. Her principal suggestions to facilitate the process of teaching or curriculum development are concerned with conceptualizing, representational skills and epistemology, or conceptions of learning.
Here we enter a domain of activity where communication is necessary in order to take advantage of any of the activities or concepts listed below. As described earlier, several modes of Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) are available via the Internet. Though it is beyond the scope of this paper to describe each of these in detail, the examples in this section deal with Web surfing as well as CMC.
Citing several studies which probe the manner in which students carry out different tasks Laurillard concludes that "what students know can be described in a relatively concise way as long as you penetrate to the level of what the concept means to the student." (Laurillard, P. 37) In order to help a student who is carrying out a task incorrectly, Laurillard suggests that analysis of the incorrect procedure is ineffective.
In practice, this would suggest that teachers investigate how their students are conceptualizing fundamental precepts of the subject area, as well as giving greater emphasis in the curriculum on defining concepts and their uses, before moving on to the implementation or procedural stage.
There are several ways this can be accomplished: through examples, communication or feedback, or specific assignments. In English 210e: Technical Writing (Beam, 1996) at the University of Waterloo, students use Chat for synchronous communication. In discussing assignments, the instructor, Peter Goldsworthy (1996) addresses concepts, at the same time as structure and purpose. As well as being an example of conceptualizing, the text offers a picture of online discourse and feedback between an instructor and his students. The attached text has been altered to preserve the anonymity of the students.
The first two tables contain questions and answers from an online Chat session between Peter Goldsworthy (1996), the instructor, and the students of English 210e: Technical Writing, at University of Waterloo. Students' anonymity is preserved by using initials only. The text was edited only so far as placing the questions and answers close to each other. Note that the time lapses between them can be quite significant, but this delay does not seem to impede communication.
The Feedback Table #3 captures text from a student-teacher exchange, relating to "Myself As a Learner".The course is Composition 105, at the University of Michigan and the professor is Marcy Bauman (1996).
The left-hand box contains the dialogue, while the right-hand box contains my description of the actions.
Feedback Table #2
Feedback Table #3
In this example, the student is responding to Marcy Bauman, professor of Composition 105. The students have responded to the assignment "Myself as Learner" in which they are to describe their learning process.
The professor's (Marcy Bauman) response:
The above examples of discourse demonstrate how important focused dialogue can be between student and teacher. Clarifying concepts, exploring each other's understanding of a term, goal or assignment take more time in the initial stages but bear fruit as aprt of the ongoing process. It is important to note that these were accomplished with technology readily available on the Web today.
A means for the students to investigate their own knowledge of concepts and procedures in a given subject is through representational activities. Laurillard encourages not only active representations using words, graphs, symbols etc. but "manipulation and interpretation of those representations". (P. 47)
Representation entails different sub-activities which could be useful:
This activity would seem apt for users of WBI as a means of encouraging a disciplined approach to acquiring useful information on the Web. More than that however, a presentation demands that the data be analyzed, assessed and organized in order to create the presentation.
In my personal experience as a researcher, I have found myself spending several hours "surfing the Web" to locate information about a particular topic, even after I had already uncovered some useful sources. At a certain point, I realized that the goal of my activities had become "acquisition" of data. If I could just get one more paper on this topic, "all would be revealed." It was the necessity of presenting my findings which forced me to analyze what I had acquired and to put off the "gathering" impulse.
As well as encouraging a synthesis, a learner's representation of their knowledge allows for a form of assessment. In order for the representation to communicate learner's knowledge effectively, it must be understandable first to the one who creates the representation, secondly to others. By verifying that the representation accomplishes what it is meant to do, the learner must perform a preliminary assessment of his work. If the representation is made available to others, further assessment may be forthcoming.
An example of this type of work is The Multimedia Mall (Allison, de Cosson, Karsten, Lawton, Macdonald and Sangiuliano,1995) created by students of Course 1514s Internet Resources and Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE)/University of Toronto, an online course held the summer session, 1995.
Students were to create an online site of Internet resources for educators. This assignment necessitated their familiarity and ability to use Internet tools as well as learning to create a Web page. The assignment also challenged them to locate the resources, assess their value, organize the chosen resources into categories and describe the components. This group of students also created a particular environment for the site, facilitating the conceptual mapping of the site as well as integrating their knowledge of Internet navigational theory.
Formed in the image of a three-floor mall, each floor offers a different set of resources. The Upper Level offers resources geared towards particular subject areas such as art, French as a second language, history and Internet-specific tools. The Lower Level's focus is on multimedia tools such as graphics, audio and video. The Concourse offers resources on collaboration and a description of the creation of the site.
Please see "The Multimedia Mall" online.
As an example of a representation as a learning activity, this site incorporates most of what could be called traditional learning activities, i.e.: research, assessment or evaluation of resources, constructing with new tools and concepts and using this knowledge to build a representation of what has been learnt. The fact that the representation is online changes very little, except that the target audience for these resources may be educators from anywhere in the world. While this factor may have some influence in motivation, the main point of the example is to demonstrate that this useful manner of learning, representation, is possible, or even facilitated by the Web environment.
In the previous sections of this paper, I have offered descriptions and examples of events, attitudes and activities that would, based on Laurillard's Rethinking University Teaching, create an engaging and effective learning environment. It is true that many of these examples, taken from the Web, could have occurred in a classroom or lecture hall. But it is not the point here to ask "Does this teach better than...?" The Internet is continuing to take a greater place as a means of facilitating and delivering instruction. It can be a mere presenter of information, like the traditional lectures or "page turning" CBT, or it can integrate a more effective pedagogical philosophy. The difference will be in the way each lesson or each course is designed and delivered. This paper has shown that the Web is capable of offering or delivering sound educational experiences. It is up to the instructors, course designers and administrators to implement this tool in such a way as to encourage learning, not simply deliver information.
Allison, J., de Cosson, A., Karsten, S., Lawton, D., Macdonald, J. & Sangiuliano, N.(1995) Multimedia Home Page. Available: http://www.oise.on.ca./~jmacdonald/Mmulti.html. Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto.
TCC Online Conferences