Rapid overview of Educational technologies

Behaviourist approach

The behaviourist approach was advocated by Watson and Skinner, in the first half of the 19th century. It originated from disappointments associated with the introspectionist methods then largely used to investigate human behaviour. As the content of the mind was not directly accessible to any kind of measurement, early psychologists had come to rely heavily on the participant's desription of his subjective experience to extrapolate the sequence of events taking place in the mind when performing tasks involving cognitive functions (involving attention, reasoning, etc). Behaviourist strongly disapproved of this. Their opinion was that only sound scientific methods could lead to a correct understanding and that this was true for all fields of study, including animal or human behaviour. Therefore, they created experimental labs in which they focused on the aspects of behaviour that can be studied with the use of objective measurement: the input and the output. What was in between (inside the mind) was declared a black box outwith of the aspects of behaviour that can be studied objectively and therefore outwith of what any serious scientist should study.

Applied to a learning context, this approach views learning as the result of situations that are known to create a desired output. Obviously, only fairly simple cause/effect relationships lead to reliable outcomes. Therefore the learning of many skills require a chain of teaching events, with new skills acquired in a step-by-step manner.

In practice, the educational model adopted is one in which the teacher transfer his knowledge to the pupil with the use of drill and practice prorgrams. It is difficult to see how Wikis could be used to as effective learning tools in this approach. For instance, when used for a task that require students to fill the blank on a page, there is no way to provide immediate feedback to the student. Better results could be achieved with an html page with form elements. Moreover, there is the risk that a student inadvertendly erase some of the adjacent text. Other disappointments associated to the use of Wikis in an otherwise dominantly behaviourist learning context are described in Heather's blog and her post "My Brilliant Failure: Wikis In Classrooms". <blog: http://kairosnews.org/node/3794>.

Cognitive/constructivist approach

An important difficulty with the behaviourist approach is that their contribution is intrisically limited by the decision they have taken to investigate only what can be explained and predicted with fairly simple cause-effect relationships. If this approach lead to a better understanding of animal behaviour, it rapidly proved disappointing for a better understanding of human behaviour. Humans display a large set of cognitive and learning abilities of a high level of complexity that cannot easily be described with simple input/output equations.

The need to include the black box, the full complexity of the human mind, in the equation lead to the cognitive approach. Some of its famous representatives in the educational domain are John Dewey, Lev Vygotsky, Jean Piaget, and Seymour Papert. Most of them are defenders of the constructivist approach characterised by the view that we learn by what we do. There attention is not given that much on the trigger (the input, what gets presented to the learner) but rather on the optimal use of the learning abilities that the learner posseses. Its motivation is the realization that a huge deal of learning has, in fact, already occured long before a kid has its first formal teaching experience. By better understanding the pre-conditions of learning as well as the contexts in which learning do or do not occur without assistance, the educator is able to propose learning situations that assist the learner in the construction of his knowledge (Dewey). Situations that "spontaneously" give way to learning are ones that are inherently social, ones where there is a short-term goal that require the acquisition of new skills or new knowledge. Therefore this approach favours learning situations where students work in groups to co-ooperatively solve some real-life, practical problems. The teacher's role is mostly to design an appropriate scenario, to arrange for the resources required to be available, and to act as a guide during the exercise. Much of the control is left to the learners, who are expected to negotiate what they should learn, which strategy they would adopt, and help other group members find the resources and knowledge needed to complete the task successfully. More on this in the paper by Judith Conway: on Educational Technology's effect on models of instruction.

Associated concepts

Some concepts commonly associated to the constructivist approach are:

Knowledge construction

Important to the constructivist approach to learning is the notion of collaborative construction. Learners take an active role in realizing projects in order to explore relevant concepts. Construction is a social activity involving both the artifacts created by the students and the relationships between the students.

Projects as a methodology and Discovery Learning

Jerome Bruner was influential in defining Discovery Learning. It uses Cognitive psychology as a base. Discovery learning is "an approach to instruction through which students interact with their environment-by exploring and manipulating objects, wrestling with questions and controversies, or performing experiments" (Ormrod, 1995, p. 442) The idea is that students are more likely to remember concepts they discover on their own. Teachers have found that discovery learning is most successful when students have prerequisite knowledge and undergo some structured experiences. (Roblyer, Edwards, and Havriluk, 1997, p 68).

Co-operative Learning

Cooperative (sometime known as Collaborative) Learning is a model of teaching with the following essential features: students work in teams to master academic materials, teams are made up of high, average, and low achievers, and are racially and sexually mixed, reward systems are group-oriented rather than individually oriented. (Arends, 1994, p. 344)

Emergent pedagogy

In a modern twist, Blank and colleagues express their ideas in a framework known as "complex" or "emergent" systems (Waldrop, 1992; Johnson, 2001; Buchanan, 2002; see also Complex Systems and Emergent Systems: A Discussion ). Such systems have been examined in fields ranging from physics and biology to psychology and animal behavior. A classical case is the "swarm intelligence" of an ant colony gives rise to a complicated social structure in which none of the ants need "understand the larger picture."

They propose that they are also relevant to pedagogy, challenging us to think about education not in terms of carefully pre-planned, hierarchical structures, but rather with an understanding that complex organization has a high probability of arising out of the bi-directional interactions of autonomous, somewhat randomly behaving elements. They outline a framework of emergent pedagogy for understanding and facilitating both individual learners and classroom structures. Central to it are the ideas that the brains of individual students and teachers operate as emergent systems that are neither possible nor desirable to control fully. The activities and benefits of a classroom are not all individual interactions between teacher and student. Interactions among students are equally important; students and teachers are collectively contributing to a somewhat unpredictable project with an insistently social dimension, which is in turn crucial to the individual achievements of all involved. Finally, the relations between the individual classroom and the larger educational community of which it is a component also need to be carefully considered.

Another important contribution of emergent thinking to pedagogy is the way it broadens the lens to include the group level. Thinking only in terms of enhancing students" ability to think independently, the focus of teachers and students tends to become narrowed to individual achievement. Recognizing that growth and change occur because of interactions among elements highlights the importance of contact among individuals, and of overall group dynamics. Students need these interactions to provide experiences, viewpoints and stories alternative to their own, which will enable them to alter their individual stories in new ways.

Conceptualizing the classroom environment in terms of emergence thinking highlights its inherent social nature, and invites us to attend to the role of the group in individual performance, as well as to the contributions individuals can and should make to the learning of other participants. <Cut/paste from Emergent Pedagogy>

They also highlight that brains are themselves well described as emergent systems. Brains can be seen as having two somewhat distinct information-gathering systems, each with its own particular style, analytical processing and intuitive learning (Grobstein 2003b, Grobstein 2004).

They use that information to insist on the benefit of encouraging the interplay between two different, but complementary, aspects of learning: intuitive experience and analytical reflection.

More on Dewey (unstructured notes)

"Dewey's theory is that experience arises from the interaction of two principles - continuity and interaction. Continuity is that each experience a person has will influence his/her future, for better or for worse. Interaction refers to the situational influence on one's experience. In other words, one's present experience is a function of the interaction between one's past experiences and the present situation. For example, my experience of a lesson, will depend on how the teacher arranges and facilitates the lesson, as well my past experience of similar lessons and teachers." JP Cut/paste from the 500 word summary he refers to at foot of this page:

"We have roughly divided characteristics for knowledge-building discourse into three categories: (a) focus on problems and depth of understanding; (b) decentralized, open knowledge environments for collective understanding; and (c) productive interaction within broadly conceived knowledge-building communities." "In knowledge-building discourse more knowledgeable others do not stand outside the learning process (as teachers often do), but rather participate actively." "Less knowledgeable participants in the discourse play an important role, pointing out what is difficult to understand and, in turn, inadequacies in explanations. To the extent that novices can be engaged in pushing the discourse toward definition and clarification, their role is as important as that of those more knowledgeable." Cut/paste from:


"I had used course websites for my introductory classes, but they had been strictly informational. Those sites included syllabi, schedules, and lecture notes. The communication facilitated by those sites was strictly one-way, from instructor to students. The students would use the site by printing it out and stuffing it into their notebooks. This usage saved the department some money on copier expenses, but using technology in these limited ways was not enhancing my teaching. More was possible. "

"The dimension of teaching with Tiki from which my classes have benefited most is that it facilitates learning beyond the classroom. As an all-inclusive course content site, it has all the course content students need: information about the course&amp;#8211;including syllabus, reading assignments, homework, and deadlines&amp;#8211;as well as handouts, lecture notes, reading notes, discussion forums, and chat capability. All of these features are available via the internet all the time, 24/7. The communication fostered by using Tiki can be especially important in certain contexts. Three years ago I began teaching our symbolic logic course via distance learning, delivering the course using a synchronous (that is, simultaneous) computer-based format to as many as six campuses at once. Included in that course were three sections at my campus, in three different classrooms. Students at the regional campuses, though glad to finally have access to a non-math course that fulfilled their math requirement, expressed concern that they did not have good communication with me or the class. With as many as 100 students enrolled, but sometimes only five in the lab at a regional campus, they felt cut off and isolated.

I took two steps to address this concern. First, I initiated "online office hours" using chat functionality similar to that provided by Tiki. Since it was not feasible for most regional campus students to travel to my office, and since many of them are reluctant to telephone (and incur long distance charges), using technology this way seemed a fine solution. Many students took advantage of this form of access. Second, I provided an online discussion board and made contribution to the board a requirement for the class (just one post per week, on average). This feature of the course took off immediately and was a terrific success. Students found that they could use the board to ask questions, to discuss issues in the reading, to seek help with specific logic exercises, to vent about the difficulty of the material, and to explain their own approaches to others in the class. Some even brought up current events to discuss, though I made clear that such posts did not count as a contribution to the class. When I introduced these elements into my distance learning sections of logic, I was not yet using Tiki, which had yet to be developed. I found separate pieces of software that were not an integrated solution, the way Tiki is. I began using Tiki during the 2003-04 academic year, thus obviating the need to run all of the other services on my server. One additional advantage of using Tiki bears mention. Many schools are pushing instructors to use more instructional technology, since colleges and universities are spending considerable sums on the equipment and support infrastructure for the classroom. Philosophy instructors sometimes resist these changes, insisting that our classes still work best with good, old-fashioned classroom discussion. I agree; but we can nonetheless use technology to extend that discussion beyond the classroom. I use Tiki to supplement, not to replace traditional classroom interaction, though in my distance learning logic class that interaction has already been displaced. Using one, or a few, or a dozen of Tiki's features can be an appropriate way for philosophy instructors to address the pressure to use more instructional technology.