Literature Review for Case Y
This page was written by Alastair Reynolds
This piece of research is concerned with whether a particular Mathematical topic can be taught (and learned) effectively using a computer-based activity. This literature review will therefore consider:
There is a large amount of educational research into the nature of learning. Underwood (1994) considers three models of learning which are representative - the behaviourist, apprenticeship, and constructionist models.
The behaviourist model
This model was favoured by educational researchers who were most interested in the observable features of the teaching and learning process. Behaviourists define learning as nothing more than the acquisition of new behaviour (On Purpose Associates, 1998a). The basic concept is that all human behaviour is composed of simple stimulus-response events which can be seen or measured. For example, humans are conditioned to pick up the telephone if they hear it ring - the ‘phone ringing’ is the stimulus and ‘picking up’ is the response. Once a stimulus which produces a certain behavioural response has been identified, the behaviour can be controlled via the stimulus. Critics say that Behaviourism oversimplifies human behaviour in that it ignores the mental processes involved, and implies that humans are automatons (Black, 1995). Jones and Mercer (1993) point out that more complex behaviour is hard to analyse in terms of simple stimulus-response events. Nonetheless, behaviourism has had a significant influence on educational practice.
The apprenticeship model
Advocates of the apprenticeship model state that all knowledge is an integral part of the context in which learning is taking place. Knowledge can only be attained through observation of the culture and interaction with it. For example, student teachers are encouraged to learn how to teach through interaction with a community of practice - the school. Because the learning context will change over time, the knowledge is not necessarily absolute - it can change and develop (Underwood, 1994). Another important feature of the apprenticeship model is that knowledge and learning are inseparable from practice - it is not possible to know without doing (On Purpose Associates, 1998b). Jones and Mercer (1993) point out a link with Vygotsky’s work; he considered that learning takes place as a result of interaction with a community of learners, where a learner’s development can be assisted by ‘cognitive support’ from an adult or more capable peer. One criticism of the apprenticeship model is that some knowledge is more conceptual and can not be experienced in the community.
The constructionist model
This model is founded on the premise that, by reflecting on their experiences, learners construct their own understanding of the world they live in. Learners generate rules and mental models which they use to make sense of experiences (On Purpose Associates, 1998c). Piaget (1952) called these ‘rules and mental models’ cognitive schemas, and described the process of learning in terms of assimilation and accommodation. Assimilation is where new knowledge does not contradict understanding already gained by the learner, and is incorporated directly into the cognitive schemas. Accommodation takes place when there is a conflict between current understanding and newly-presented knowledge, and in this situation the cognitive schemas will need to be reshaped in order to incorporate the new knowledge.
Underwood (1994) points out that different learning theories may be applicable in different areas. It may depend on the type of knowledge the learner is trying to attain - factual, procedural and conceptual knowledge may be learnt more effectively under different models.
One key difference between the styles of learning is the level of mental skill required. Behaviourists argue that learning is an automatic process and as such no skill is required on the part of the learner. The key skill in apprenticeship learning is the ability to observe and copy the actions of others. In the constructionist model, the learner is required to process and filter information, looking for contradictions and links, and applying the understanding gained to a variety of situations.
It should be noted that this study is not considering the learning of ICT skills - instead it focuses on learning using ICT. Ideas for classroom ICT use have been based on a range of learning styles. This section provides examples of ICT use which correspond to each of the models of learning given in the previous section.
The behaviourist model
Jones and Mercer (1993) describe the ‘teaching machine’ programs, one of the early applications to be based on the behaviourist learning theory of Skinner (1938). The programs repeat three basic steps - first some material is presented to the student (stimulus), then the student responds to a question (response). The program would then inform the student whether the response was correct or not. Skinner’s principle was that the initial material should be designed to maximise the possibility of the a correct answer, thus resulting in regular reinforcement of correct responses. Although teaching machines went out of use fairly rapidly, Skinner’s principles are sometimes still used in the design of instructional materials. A second application based on behaviourism is ‘drill and practice’ software. Geisert and Futrell (1990) cover this type of program in some depth. The computer is ideal for such activities because of the way in which it can generate generic questions repeatedly. The important difference between a drill program and a teaching machine is that the drill program is used to practice skills which were already learnt in a different context - it makes no attempt to teach. There are areas where this is ideal for turning conscious ability into automatic ability. For example, a pupil who knows their multiplication tables will be able to improve their performance through practice.
The apprenticeship model
Because being part of a learning community is a fundamental feature of this model, it is difficult to imagine how computers can encourage this kind of learning. Simulations have been used, but the objective of most of these packages is usually to solve some long-term problem rather than to develop new skills. A good exception is a flight simulator. Moss (1985) discusses how simulations can be put to good use in developing social and language skills, which does relate to the Vygotskian ideas behind the apprenticeship model. Underwood (1994) points out that a by-product of under-resourcing in schools is that most work on computers is collaborative, which can result in pupils learning together, and from each other. Perhaps the most important way in which computers can encourage apprenticeship learning is through new communications technologies. Davis (1994) explains how, through electronic communication, students can become apprentices in a number of fields. Examples given are: collecting data and analysing it with scientists, working with an author to write novels, collecting articles and producing a newspaper, and others. An important feature of this type of learning is its authenticity.
The constructionist model
It is more difficult to find examples of ICT being used to promote constructionist learning. Underwood (1994) divides the use of ICT into (i) that which enhances performance and (ii) that which encourages new ways of thinking. The results of a survey into ICT use indicate that “good classrooms are using IT as a tool to enhance performance, poor classrooms have not reached this stage at all, and there is little evidence of teachers or students working beyond the performance enhancement stage.” Examples of constructionist learning tend to occur through the use of open-ended packages, for example word-processors, spreadsheets, programming languages, communications software. The tasks also tend to be of an open-ended, problem-solving type. Jones and Mercer (1993) describe how Papert (1980) advocated the use of LOGO for development of mathematical thinking. His aim is to provide an environment where mathematical concepts are made simple and concrete so that children can relate to them, and then assimilate or accommodate these concepts into their understanding.
A problem with using ICT for constructionist learning is that it is essentially limited by the inventiveness of the person using the computer. One way to approach this problem is to consider how this inventiveness can be developed. Davis et al (1997) introduce the idea of IT as an intellectual tool. This concept is derived from Vygotsky’s idea of higher mental functions which are developed through a learner’s culture. Other examples of such intellectual tools are literacy and numeracy. The power of such tools over traditional ‘knowledge’ is that the tools are applicable to many situations - the skill with which the tools can be applied will increase with experience and greater awareness of the tool’s capabilities. They are essentially a support to thinking. Because IT is so flexible, Davis et al suggest that it is better visualised as a collection of tools which can be applied to a variety of problem-solving situations.
Until recently, research into the effectiveness of ICT use in the classroom tended to be somewhat biased, in part because most of the researchers were advocates of the use of ICT (Underwood and Underwood, 1990). Some more objective research has now been conducted and a clearer idea can be gained of what factors lead to more effective classroom ICT use.
Scrimshaw (1993) indicates that teacher involvement in co-operative ICT work is essential. It is necessary to observe and analyse pupils’ actions and to interact where appropriate. A second area he highlights as important to effective ICT use is the initial choice of task. The task needs to be at an appropriate level so that pupils’ current ability is stretched further. Although the task may be open-ended, the teacher must have clear objectives for the pupils’ learning. Thirdly, he describes teacher instruction as fundamental when starting an activity using a new ICT application. Although his aim is to have pupils collaborating and tutoring each other, he recognises that the skills involved in using a new application are not efficiently learned through discovery. Instead, some clear direction needs to be given by the teacher. In time, the process can be made more efficient through helping children learn how to help each other. These are all forms of scaffolding - assistance given to enable the learner to achieve their potential. The amount of scaffolding should be “as little as possible, but as much as necessary”, varying from situation to situation (Scrimshaw, 1993).
Davis et al (1997) suggest that a crucial factor in the level of cognitive learning is the authenticity of the task. Authenticity is the level to which the activity is integral to the learning context; learning a foreign language is authentic if you are in the country where that language is spoken. In a classroom this presents a slight problem because the topics pupils need to learn about are integral to other contexts. Quality learning should therefore be achieved through trying to combine authenticity to the classroom and authenticity to a particular field of study.
Morrison (1985) lists a set of conditions under which computer use is likely to be effective, including:
This study intends to examine whether a particular example of teaching using ICT is effective. The context is the learning of mathematical knowledge through the medium of LOGO. A full description of the activity undertaken can be found on the research design page.
The use of LOGO
Papert (1980) considers the potential of LOGO to some depth. He advocates the creation of a “mathematical world” in which children will learn as a result of interacting with their environment. In this study, the use of LOGO is not as central to the learning; it provides a ‘workspace’ on which mathematical work can be quickly and accurately carried out. This has some similarity with the concept of “microworlds”, which Sutherland, Noss and Hoyles (1987) describe as computer-based environments for the learning of a specific area of the mathematics curriculum. These are usually self-sufficient activities, whereas the use of LOGO is only one component of the task in this instance.
Ernest (1989) gives three ways in which LOGO can help children’s learning of mathematics:
A good test of the effectiveness of a particular piece of teaching is to consider whether it has met its objectives. This will require careful analysis, and more importantly it will require clear objectives to be set. In the description of the activity carried out for this study, detail of the learning objectives will provide a reference point with which the learning outcomes can be compared. It will also be important to consider the factors which can contribute to effective learning (as outlined earlier on this page). This will allow analysis of why the activity was or was not effective.
You may now wish to go to the literature review for case X if you have not already read it.
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