Registred users interviewed Carol Strohecker about everyday learning
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Users of elearningeuropa.info asked questions on everyday learning to Dr. Carol Strohecker, expert in constructive learning processes and diversity in thinking and learning.
In this interview Dr. Carol Strohecker give us her insights on a lot of subjects around the role of new media in the learning process. We thank her for her kindness to our users.
What is the difference of didactics or methodology between e-learning and traditional teaching/learning (such as face to face teaching)? Can you predict, in e-learning environment, which abilities/skills of human will be developed (or created) more specially, and which one will be reduced (or disappeared), compared with the traditional education?
HaTran (Rest of the world)
Digital capabilities have obviously revolutionised ways we can communicate, access information, construct ideas, and learn. But human experience is strongly dependent on relations among people. We can do some socialising in virtual worlds, and researchers and developers have devised ingenious ways for us to see, hear, and engage with others virtually. No doubt such channels will continue to improve. But we are a long way from achieving the range and subtleties of real-world interpersonal interactions. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology made a bold move in acknowledging the importance of face-to-face, real-time, real-place relating, through their establishment of the MIT Open Courseware movement. By putting syllabi, course notes, and related materials online they are providing a wealth of information to anyone who wants it, free of charge. But they continue to charge tuition fees for the experience of being a student enrolled on campus, because they understand the importance and added value of face-to-face interacting with professors, students, and other members of the MIT community. The most important characteristic of any learning situation, physical or virtual, is its support for people to make their own knowledge – to employ information and relationships in processes of creating their own meanings and understandings.
What are the current practices & methodologies used to teach Computing subjects online keeping in mind that they don’t have local support and are lone learners?
Abdul Rehman http://www.ecmit.ac.ae arehman2 (Rest of the world)
I would recommend the Open Courseware from MIT’s department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Logo, and Squeak. Also, this paper gives an overview of many available systems (but I would recommend checking the material that each of the systems’ developers provide for thorough descriptions of their theoretical bases, recommended uses, and example code.
Do you consider that e-learning should be complemented with Strategic Planning Systems?
Aida AIDUCA (Rest of the world)
I don’t know much about the field of Strategic Planning but I would only say that it would seem a good idea if the learners are the ones not just involved planning their own learning, but in charge of planning their own learning. Others may provide resources and recommendations, but each learner needs to develop self-awareness of how he or she learns well and must have the power to act accordingly.
If we replicate the real world learning situations into the digital environments, the learning process will be more productive? What kind of tools could we provide to create more human digital scenarios?
HaTran’s question prompted some consideration of social factors in learning. We can also consider how the increasing availability of sensing technologies enables a broader range of perceptual and conceptual involvement as people learn with digital technologies. Perhaps these sources would be useful for further consideration:
Do you envisage informal learning playing a greater role within the formal environment of traditional education? If so, what new skills will teachers need to learn to enable this cultural shift?
Paul Justice (United Kingdom) www.elearningscotland.org
Yes, I do think what’s become known as "informal learning" will play an increasingly important role in all sorts of educational settings and processes. It’s important to remember that "informal learning" does not mean "unstructured learning" but, rather, "differently structured learning" – learning settings and processes that have structures which may differ from those we recognise from traditional schooling. In my view, these differing structures come from identifying things that are important to know in the 21st century, examining and articulating the structure of that knowledge, and creating tools and environments that learners can use as they construct this knowledge for themselves. The world is changing so rapidly that there is no reason to assume that anyone, including teachers, will have learned everything they need to know through some initial professional development. Everyone, including teachers, needs to keep learning throughout life and career. The most exciting teacher development project I have seen is "Empowering Minds," conducted by Dr. Deirdre Butler at St. Patrick’s College, Dublin City University. In this project, practicing teachers learn about digital technologies side-by-side with their young students. The setting is transformed from classroom to studio, where learners of mixed ages work with a range of materials – colourful paper and fabrics, photographs and videos, writing instruments, building bricks embedded with tiny computers and sensors – to construct folkloric narrative scenes with figures that move in response to light and sound. Everyone is a learner, everyone is a teacher, all are creating things together – things that communicate, things that exercise cultural understandings, things that exemplify the deepest ideas in computation. The participants develop understandings of their own learning processes – indeed, they are learning about learning itself, as well as about the interdisciplinary range of ideas. It is a true "learning environment." For more information see:
Why the governments of Europe do not get hundreds of e-learning contents developer companies to develop all standard courses thought in European Schools from 1st grade to 11th grade. There are about 160 or so courses in 11 year of education. EU can afford $ 160 million to develop 160 courses. Then everybody should reach them free like MIT Courseware. Am I too naive?
I don’t know whether anyone has proposed this idea so that it could be debated by potential founders. I would only say that "standards" need to be thought about carefully, especially when such a large and diverse group of people is concerned. Furthermore if we were to develop courses that merely extended today’s curricula, I think we would not be spending our funds well. Too many existing curricula are outdated, both in terms of the knowledge they address and how they address it. We need to rigorously question what people need to know in the 21st century and what kinds of learning environments will best engender this pluralistic knowledge. Last year MIT Professor Emeritus Seymour Papert and I conducted a seminar on this topic, in conjunction with a conference on technologies in education (which was being held at Media Lab Europe as a programme associated with Ireland’s hosting of the EU Presidency). We posed the question of whether people will use computer technologies merely to instigate incremental progress in education, or whether they can prompt us to consider and achieve fundamental changes. Professor Papert’s forthcoming book will explain his preference and recommendations for achieving fundamental change. Meanwhile, you could find some of his earlier writings at:
I’m doing a research about discussion groups and its importance and benefits for the pedagogical process, that’s to say, teaching and learning. What are de pros and cons of the discussion groups? In which way the discussion group can be an answer to the different learning styles in a virtual classroom? Is this tool more appropriate for a specific kind of students, for certain subjects? What type of pedagogical activities can we develop with this tool? Which are the best strategies to stimulate the students participation?
Maria Pedro Serrador mpserrador (Portugal)
What an interesting and important topic you are exploring! I believe that discussion is extremely important to learning processes. It is a way for a learner to make developing ideas explicit and to enrich or challenge them through comparison with other views. Years ago I had the good fortune of studying with the aforementioned Professor Seymour Papert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. One of my most cherished memories is of a seminar in which we read Galileo’s "Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences." This is a beautifully written work in which three characters discuss the phenomenon of gravity: one is a strong proponent of the view that the phenomenon exists and a sage elucidator of how it works; another is a clever sceptic; and the other is a simpleton who nevertheless asks questions that can be illuminating. This method of personifying different views is a helpful way to bring out detail and sustain rigour in considering an idea. Years later I incorporated readings of Galileo’s "Dialogues" into a seminar that I conducted at Media Lab Europe, along with Imre Lakatos’s "Proofs and Refutations" and Gregory Bateson’s "metalogues" with his daughter Catherine. (We had also read these "talking about talking" exercises in Professor Papert’s seminar). In addition to such literary approaches, there are many computational tools that can support discussion of learning experiences and processes. Here are just a few that I’d consider noteworthy for their strong theoretical bases and application potential or for their ways of supporting learners’ developments of self-awareness, expressive vocabularies, and multiple perspectives: http://www.empoweringminds.spd.dcu.ie, http://www.inderscience.com/filter.php?aid=6019, http://www.media.mit.edu/~ananny/papers/mobileHCI2003.PDF, http://people.ucsc.edu/~wsack, http://smg.media.mit.edu.
I would appreciate your insights on the cultural differences in attitudes toward everyday learning. For instance, what differences do you see between the US and Europe?
Lisa Neal, Editor-in-Chief, eLearn Magazine lisaneal (United States of America)
The biggest difference I see is Europe’s greater reliance on mobile telephony. This pervasive technology enables a range of capabilities in communication and computation, which offer wonderful potentials for intercultural exchange and for learning among people of all ages. I also appreciate being closer to some important landmarks in the learning landscape, such as the "play well" concept emanating from Denmark, the "hundred languages of children" concept from Italy, and the "genetic epistemology" concepts of the Piagetian tradition whose birthplace is at the centre of the European continent. Jean Piaget’s work has often been misunderstood – and often misused – among psychologists and educators. But the emphases on structure and development of knowledge, and on microanalysis of individuals’ thinking processes, provide important approaches for research on learning and for design of tools and environments to support learning.
I am currently working on a project that is looking at the prospects of setting up a Virtual College for the Dublin Fire Brigade training centre. I have spoken to representatives from the Fire Brigade and I am getting a mixed view with regards to using e-learning as a tool for training. A web based learning tool is appealing to some, but not to all. Do you see e-learning as a method of enhancing training and if so, what tools are currently being used and is technology or cost the deciding factor?
Murray Ahern Muahern (Ireland )
You are fortunate to be in Dublin, as a multifaceted group has emerged recently to examine and develop e-learning concepts and methods. I would suggest contacting Declan Kelly at the National College of Ireland. He has access to a wealth of information about e-learning practices and prospectuses. You might also contact Jim Devine at Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design & Technology, who is renowned for his work in e-learning.
I would like to study cognitive sciences next year. Is trying to establish "learning profiles" for individuals an old idea? If yes, what are the current theories about the individual ways of learning? If not, who/what laboratories/institutions are most advanced in this field and are there any on-going projects?
Sergiu Popesco sergiusergiu (France)
My favourite paper on this topic continues to be "Epistemological Pluralism," by Sherry Turkle and Seymour Papert, my own doctoral dissertation (MIT 1991, "Why Knot?") explores a related approach.
This anthology has a section on styles and strategies which exemplifies similar approaches:
These sorts of domain-focused, microanalytical approaches seem more appropriate for learning research than the generalised, questionnaire-based personality- and role-type categories that have become popular for organisation and human resources management.
Suppose there are 120 hours of instruction for a 9th grade physic class: If we can prepare a very well done internet course full of activity, interactivity, simulation, graphics, animations, pictures, videos, I claim that students can learn better than remote areas and underprivileged areas and underdeveloped countries schools’ students. Am I right? A very good course can be prepared let us say at $ 1 million, but when 1 million children reach and use it, it costs only $1 per student: why do you think people and governments of the world do not go for e-learning?
Muvaffak GOZAYDIN e-learning promoter mgozaydin (Turkey)
I share your concern that not enough people have access to such important ideas and your apparent realisation that providing people with computers and communications infrastructure is an important initial step but does not go far enough: we need to develop sophisticated treatments of content so that it is easily distributable, uses a range of media, and supports constructive interactivity enabling individuals to build their own understandings in ways that suit them well.
We are working in implementing e-learning (training) method to replace the traditional method and we have two questions: is there a questionnaire to analyze the profile of student in which we can trust, without the risk of the pleasant answers? And, is there any standard more flexible than SCORM Standard, with more functionalities. We would like to have the support of a browser to search for a word or at least not so hermetic, because if we are constructing a course with variants within the learning profile, we just can’t do it with this standard. How can we deliver the learning objects separately respecting the SCORM standard?
I’m not in a position to recommend an alternative or work-around to SCORM, but your desire for browser support makes sense to me and I hope that any standards developers who are reading may take note of your request. On the deeper methodological issue, I am way about questionnaires as instruments for ascertaining learning profiles. Such instruments go in an important direction by acknowledging differences in learning styles. However their necessary generality makes them brittle when we consider the vast diversity in learning styles: we are far from being able to anticipate and capture all the relevant descriptors of people’s ways of engaging and thinking. From the perspective of the nascent learning sciences, such instruments are premature. We need to do much more research into how people learn in order to develop the views and vocabularies that would help us to characterise thinking processes and how they grow, develop, and change over time for different individuals.
I am interested in the use of commercial Instant Messaging Programs (Yahoo Messenger, ICQ etc.) in e-learning. Are there any examples of using this everyday technology in e-learning? How would you suggest incorporating them in a learning process?
I would suggest pursuing the resources mentioned above in the notes to Maria Pedro Serrador and Murray Ahern.
Could you tell us if the spontaneous and self initiated learning is more successful than the learning traditional model, started and directed by the teacher?
There are several ideas in your question that need to be teased apart: learning may be spontaneous and/or deliberate, self-initiated and/or recommended, self-conducted and/or guided, exploratory and/or rote, constructive and/or didactic, and/or of course much more. I think the most important recent development in learning research and practice is the theory and method of "constructionism," which can be contrasted with the notion of "instructionism". For a wonderful compendium of sources on this idea, see: http://www.papert.org
I would like to know to what extent the ICT and the new technological devices applied to the educational field can really change the way we think. I mean: using hypertext environments frequently -for instance- could change the linear way in which we structure knowledge?
Technologies can echo familiar ways of thinking or support new ones, depending on how we choose to situate and use the capabilities. I think the most important step we can take toward employing the full power of the computer is to encourage people to go beyond word processors, spreadsheets, and search engines to exploring the computer’s extreme versatility as a modeling tool. Even young children can write computer programmes to animate graphics, compose melodies, and control real-world movements of gears and sensors. These activities can be enjoyable and valuable in and of themselves, but they can also promote learning about fundamental ideas about how systems work generally – and this is important knowledge for surviving in our social and physical, large and small contexts on planet Earth. I will soon be publishing a paper elaborating on these ideas in the International Journal of Knowledge and Learning: http://www.inderscience.com/browse/index.php?journalCODE=ijkl ("Learning Cyrkus," in press).
What do you think about the power of "unwitting learning" - for example learning from experience?
kopeckyk (Czech Republic)
I think the discovery of the unconscious mind and studies of unconscious processes of thought are among the most important advances of recent times. I am grateful to writers such as Freud, Poincaré, Piaget, Winnicott, Papert, and Minsky for their studies of such processes, which play an immeasurable role in "unwitting learning." Such processes are perceptual, cognitive, affective, and emotional. We still have much to learn about how these aspects of human experience function and interrelate. Perhaps serendipity is worth considering as another aspect of "unwitting learning." The world gives us many ways to probe and understand the workings of gravity, ecologies, families, and countless other complex phenomena that constitute our experience. But where the natural world does not provide easily accessible means for developing such understandings, we can devise our own representations and models to aid experimentation. The computer is an excellent tool for such explorations. Again, please see my forthcoming article, "Learning Cyrkus," for further consideration of these points: http://www.inderscience.com/browse/index.php?journalCODE=ijkl
I am incorporating an e-learning platform for Language and communication teachers in Chili. They are teachers of seventh grade (students from 11-12 years old). I’m interested in your opinion on a blended strategy that incorporate classroom activities (e.g. oral language, drama, TV or radio listening, news reading) and web-based activities (construction of dialogues between characters, developing of drama sketches, news analysis, exercises of school journalism, etc. Can one combine these activities in a way that there is continuity in the course and that neither the purpose of learning nor the course’s objectives are lost?
Rolando Palacios (Chile)
Your approach sounds delightful and I hope you will pursue it. The different media lend themselves to different kinds of activities, which may be associated with different ideas and with different learning styles. These broad ranges have great potential to support "the purpose of learning," with each person being able to seek out and exercise interests and preferred approaches within an overall context. Please consider carefully what you mean by "continuity" and the "course’s objectives." Each person may be best able to create continuity for themselves if it means coherence within their own scope and progression of ideas. And are your choices of media consistent with your objectives? The broad range of media may be most consistent with a broadly encompassing notion of learning, one which respects and empowers each thinker’s unique development rather than attempting to bring everyone into the same prescribed knowledge. Above all, real learning takes time, and the sort of learning environment you describe would need especially to allow participants to spend time exploring the range of ideas and media, deepening activities in areas discovered to be fruitful. You could find examples of such environments, with descriptions of the media and other design decisions they rely on as well as analyses of the learning they support, in these books on constructionism and at the site of the previously mentioned Empowering Minds project: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0893917869/qid=1113719826/sr=2-1/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_1/104-8271849-0011115, http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0805819851/qid=1113719826/sr=2-2/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_2/104-8271849-0011115.
I would like to thank all of the correspondents for their thoughtful and provocative questions. I appreciate this opportunity to exchange views with you and hope you will persevere in your attempts to engender productive learning experiences and better understandings of how learning happens.
Carol Strohecker has conducted learning research at Media Lab Europe, Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She earned the PhD of Media Arts and Sciences from MIT in 1991, and the MS in Visual Studies from MIT in 1986. She has been a Lecturer for the MIT Media Arts and Sciences programme and has worked in the Human Interface Group of Sun Microsystems. Carol has been a Fellow of the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, the US National Endowment for the Arts, and the Massachusetts Council for the Arts and Humanities. She holds 4 US patents for her work in interactive media tools and methods.