Sunday, September 30, 2007

Reflection on Computers as Mindtools

Jonassen, D. H., Carr, C., & Yueh, H. P. (1998). Computers as mindtools for engaging learners in critical thinking. TechTrends, 43 (2), 24-32.

I remember I had a hard time drawing flow charts for my Instructional Design class last year. At first I tried to draw the charts with Microsoft Word, Powerpoint, or Photoshop. They didn't work so well. Then I started using Inspiration. I felt so happy that Inspiration had provided me with a handy tool that allowed me to visualize and connect all the ideas for the project. In addition, it also allowed me to hyperlink those ideas with related resources.

Another example is the use of MSN and Skype to communicate with my family and friends back in my home country. Making international phonecall is so expensive and inconvenient. Online chatting (text, voice, and video) saved me a lot of money and made the communication simple and effective.

According to Jonassen, technologies should not simply become tools that the learners learn from. Rather, they should engage the learners in a process of knowledge construction. The concept of "Computers as Mindtools" provides me an in-depth understanding of meaningful learning and critical thinking supported by computerized technologies that occurs in our daily life.

When drawing a flow chart with Inspiration for my Instructional Design class, the software helped me to analyze and organize what I know and what I was learning. Accompanying the use of technology were the high-order thinking skills, as my work was to develop a concept map that connected a large number of ideas to each other via links. This process is what Jonassen called "Semantic Networking." And the Inspiration software I used belongs to the semantic organization tool category, one important member of the Mindtool family.

When chatting with my friends and family online through MSN or Skype, I was engaged in a meaningful conversation with one or a group of people. Those conversation tools helped me to interpret or visualize the message (e.g., a smiley face icon, webcam) and sometimes provided me a community-like environment(multi-user chatting, NetMeeting) which promoted socially co-constructed learning and communication. And best of all, they are totally free and user-friendly!

Highlights from the article:

I. Technologies should not support learning by attempting to instruct the learners, but rather should be used as knowledge construction tools that students learn with, not from (p. 24).

II. Classification of Mindtools

1. Semantic Organization Tools (analyzing & organizing; represent semantic relationships among ideas)
1.1 Databases: computerized record keeping systems; analyzing and organizing subject matter (e.g., MS Access, Filemaker, dBase, MySQL)
1.2 Semantic Networking (concept mapping): represent the structural relationships of knowledge; reflect the process of knowledge construction (e.g., SemNet, Learning Tool, Inspiration, Mind Mapper)

2. Dynamic Modeling Tools (describe the dynamic relationships among ideas)
2.1 Spreadsheets: computerized, numerical record keeping system, amplifying mental functioning; requires abstract reasoning, supports problem-solving activities, higher order reasoning (e.g., Excel. Representing, reflecting on, and calculating quantitative information)
2.2 Expert Systems: program that simulates the way human experts solve problems; an artificial decision maker; problem-solving: (e.g., PyKe, MQL 4, CLIPS)
2.3 Systems Modeling Tools: building simulations of dynamic systems and processes (e.g., Stella, Model-It)
2.4 Microworlds: exploratory learning environments or discovery spaces in which learners can navigate, manipulate or create objects, and test their effects on one another; ultimate example of active learning environments, because the users can exercise so much control over the environment (e.g., Sims, Math Worlds, SimCalc)

3. Information Interpretation Tools (access and process the info; e.g., search engines scanning info resources like WWW, and locating relevant resources for learners)
3.1 Visualization Tools: represent and convey mental images (e.g. MacSpartan)

4. Knowledge Construction Tools: When learners function as designers of objects they learn more about them than they would from studying about them (e.g., Logo; Papert's constructionism)

5. Hypermedia: designing multimedia presentations requires project manage skills, research skills, organization and representation skills, presentation skills, and reflection skills (e.g., Flash, DreamWeaver, HTML)

6. Conversation Tools (socially co-constructed learning)
6.1 Online Telecommunications (sychronous: Chats, MOOs, MUDs, videoconferencing; asychronous: email, Listservs, bulletin boards, computer conferences)

III. Rationales for using technology as mindtools
  • Learners as designers
    • the quickest way to learn about sth. is to have to teach it; learners are teaching the computer;
    • Mindtools require learner to think harder about the subject matter, constructing their own realities by designing their own knowledge base
  • Knowledge construction, not reproduction (a constructivist use of tech)
    • Mindtools function as formalisms for guiding learners in organization and representation of what they know
    • Learners are actively engaged in interpreting the external world and reflecting on their interpretations (participate and interact with the environments - mindtools)
  • Learning with technology
    • The effects of technology vs. the effect with technology
    • Learning w/ tech: the learner enters an intellectual partnership with the tech
    • Qualitatively upgrading the performance of the joint system of learner plus tech (mutual enhancement between the computer capabilities and the learner's thinking and learning); The whole of learning becomes greater than the sum of its parts
  • (Un)intelligent tools
    • The appropriate role for a computer system is not that of a teacher/expert, but rather, that of a mind-extension cognitive tool
    • Planning, decision-making, and self-regulation of learning are the responsibility of the learner, not the computer
    • Computer system can serve as powerful catalysts for facilitating these skills
  • Distributing cognitive processing
    • The learner and the computer should do the part they do best
    • Learners should be responsible for recognizing and judging patterns of information and then organizing it
    • The computer system should perform calculations, store, and retrieve information
  • Cost and effort beneficial
    • software readily available & affordable
    • easy to learn

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