(Working on my comprehensive exam, and this section on Constructionism is an unfortunate casualty of editing.  I guess I’ll have to lose a few sections if I’m to stay within the 7000 word limit!  Anyway, I thought I’d post it here so that my work isn’t a complete “waste”.)

Seymour Papert, a student of Jean Piaget’s, expanded Piaget’s theory of constructivism, into pedagogical principles (Kafai, 2006).  Like constructivism, Papert’s constructionism views learning as “building knowledge structures” (Harel & Papert, 1991), and extends the constructivist view that learning is the active process of knowledge construction, to a view of instruction where learning and teaching are themselves constructed through teacher-student interactions while they are engaged in “design and discussion of learning artifacts” (Kafai, 2006; p. 36).  In addition to school settings, Papert acknowledged the importance of informal learning environments by asserting that such interactions could occur in community centres and within families (Kafai, 2006).  Building on Piaget’s mechanisms of assimilation and accommodation, that children use to make sense of the world and incorporate new knowledge with prior knowledge; constructionism extends both these mechanisms and focuses on helping learners make connections with their prior knowledge.  Papert’s notion of “objects-to-think-with” referred to both physical and digital objects becoming objects in the mind that facilitate the construction, examination, and revision of connections between prior and new knowledge (Harel & Papert, 1991; Kafai, 2006).  While Piaget saw formal abstraction as the fourth stage and the ultimate goal of cognitive development, constructionism sees the potential for both concrete and abstract thought to become advanced (Turkle & Papert, 1990).

Like social constructivism, constructionism also values the importance of learning cultures.  While social constructivists focus more on the social dynamics of these, constructionists focus on the social context and how it fosters learners’ connection-making to what is being learned (Kafai, 2006).  Papert reasoned that learning should be facilitated by “improving the connectivity in the learning environment, by actions on cultures rather than on individuals” (Papert, 1993; p. 105).

Harel, I., & Papert, S. (1991). Constructionism. Ablex Publishing Corporation.

Kafai, Y. B. (2006). Constructionism. In K. R. Sawyer (Ed.), The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences (pp. 35–46). Cambridge University Press New York.

Papert, S. (1993). The children’s machine: Rethinking school in the age of the computer. Basic Books.

Turkle, S., & Papert, S. (1990). Epistemological pluralism: Styles and voices within the computer culture. Signs, 16(1), 128–157.

Catching Up, CSCL, and Comps

Catching Up

So much has been accomplished since my last post about the Common Knowledge Alpha launch!  Since then, we’ve launched Common Knowledge Beta and subsequently, a 9-week enactment of Common Knowledge Solar in 2 grade 5/6 classrooms, as a major component of the EPIC project’s year 2 classroom interventions.   I’ve also done 2 presentations at AERA 2013 (San Francisco, CA, USA), and co-presented a webinar (with Jim my supervisor – Prof. Jim Slotta) to graduate students at Beijing Normal University and 3 other universities in China.  These events have been somewhat monumental in my academic journey, and they each deserve their own post (which I’ll have to do some other time).

CSCL & Comps

More pressing deadlines are nipping at my heels:

  1. CSCL 2013 presentations (workshop & short paper presentations)
  2. My comprehensive exam (7000 word literature review) – affectionately known as “comps”

Yesterday, I read 3 Gerry Stahl papers, in preparation for the “Across Levels of Learning: How Resources Connect Levels of Analysis” CSCL pre-conference workshop I’m attending. Funny thing is, Gerry Stahl (respected scholar and a workshop organizer) offered me a time slot to present my work and have discussion/feedback about it (I had only asked to attend, not present at this). So of course I’ll take it – what an honour, right? I have to make 1 slide (due tomorrow) for this workshop presentation.

His 3 papers speak to what Jim  was saying about my dissertation work at our recent meeting – that my work doesn’t quite fit with scripting and orchestration literature, and that I should focus on KB discourse and KB practice. A bit surprising to hear, since one of my main interests and analysis focuses has been to look at how teachers orchestrate online and offline classroom discussions to facility community progress in collective/collaborative inquiry.  Anyway, in Stahl’s 3 papers (and what this workshop is about), he says that “a central research issue for CSCL” is how does collaborative knowledge building take place? He also says we need to understand how individual cognition and societal institutions affect small-group meaning-making processes.

Looking at Levels of Learning and How They’re Interconnected

Gerry Stahl points out there are 3 planes in which learning, cognition, and knowledge building can be analyzed:

  1. individual learning
  2. small-group cognition
  3. community knowledge building

Stahl says we need to understand how these planes interconnect, and he’s particularly interested in the conceptual connections between these planes. This brings me full circle back to what Jim was saying at our recent meeting – that the Knowledge Community and Inquiry (KCI) model doesn’t address:

  1. how discourse informs the knowledge base, and
  2. how learners use the shared collective knowledge base to decide what to do next

Stahl suggests looking at “interactional resources” – how are these generated/modified as a result of their interaction with individuals/small-groups/community. To my mind, “interactional resources” in my case, would be the Common Knowledge (CK) notes themselves. The CK tablet UI would be personal inquiry spaces, the CK interest group “Knowledge Boards” would be small-group shared inquiry spaces, and the CK “Common Board” displayed on the classroom’s SMARTBoard would be the community shared inquiry space.

Still playing with these ideas (mostly because I have to figure out what to put on this 1 slide – which Gerry Stahl has scripted to have the following headings):

  • Main claim
  • Illustrative resource
  • Supporting data
  • Current status

My main struggle right now is what to put for “Main Claim”.  I think this is also really pivotal for my comps and dissertation work, so this workshop prep is very timely :).

If you’re interested, here are my Researchr notes from those 3 Gerry Stahl papers:

  • Stahl, G. (2012). Traversing planes of learning. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 7(4), 467-473. Springer.
  • Stahl, G. (2013). Learning across levels. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 8(1), 1–12. Springer.
  • Stahl, G. (2013). Transactive discourse in CSCL. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 8(2), 1–3. Springer.

Common Knowledge – Alpha 1

I’ve been working with some of my Encore Lab colleagues to design and develop a tablet-IWB (interactive whiteboard) discourse tool, for the past year and a half.  Our first implementation (May 2011) was a simple application that allowed students to contribute “Inquiry”  and “Idea/Comment” notes from tablets.  These notes (in response to a newspaper article) appeared instantaneously on the classroom’s IWB on a simple chronological T-table with the column headings:  “Inquiry”  and “Idea/Comment”:

The public IWB display’s T-table format seemed too rigid for the way students wanted to interact with each other’s questions and ideas through this tool.  The red annotations in the above image show that students tried to reply directly to each other’s questions, and found a semantic way to get around the technology’s constraints.

To address students’ interaction needs, the next iteration (May 2011) allowed students to add their comments to specific notes that they read from their tablet. In response to the HelioRoom Embedded Phenomena (EP) inquiry activity, students contributed notes related to their observation-based hypotheses identifying the “planets” that were “orbiting” around their classroom. These “Hypotheses” notes appeared on the IWB colour-coded by “planet”, and could be dragged into thematic note clusters on the IWB. Students shared their general wonderings via white “Idea/Question” notes:

To allow for student-tagging of the notes they contribute, our next iteration (autumn 2011) was used in the WallCology EP inquiry unit. This iteration included a set of pre-defined tag words from which students tagged their notes. Instead of using colour-coding to thematically differentiate notes, this IWB display afforded the filtering of notes by “keyword” tag(s):

Our most recent iteration:  Common Knowledge – Alpha 1 (Nov. 2012), is now a stand-alone tablet-IWB web application that scripts the knowledge community through three progressive phases of blended (oral and online) in situ discussions:  Brainstorm, Analysis, and Synthesis.   After the Brainstorm phase, the knowledge community considers emergent themes arising from the contributed notes, and socially-negotiated tags are entered into the system by the teacher.  The Analysis phase begins with the system sending these notes to student tablets in rapid succession for students to tag and optionally, compose a response.  Student tagging of notes results in a dynamic IWB display of the community’s notes (white icons) connected by lines to corresponding tags (red-rimmed) icons:

The teacher may “pause” the system, to refocus student attention on oral class discussion spurred by the community’s notes.  Later cycles of discussion focus student attention on a specific tag to synthesize learnings through their contribution of “Synthesis” notes (orange icons):

Here’s a Prezi of the blended activity flow (faces have been blurred to protect the children’s identity):

We’re looking forward to developing the alpha 2 iteration of Common Knowledge in early 2013! In the meantime, you can take a look at the code on Github.

(This has blog entry has been cross-posted to Encore Lab’s blog)…

My Keynote Address About ‘Blended Learning’

Last Wednesday (August 22), I had the honour of giving a keynote address to about 125 of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB)’s teachers, teacher-librarians, instructional leaders, program co-ordinators, and IT professionals at the 2012 Summer Institute organized by the ICT-Teaching and Learning with Technology and the Library and Learning Resources and Interdisciplinary Studies departments.  It was very well received!  Here’s the slide deck I presented (to view slides in fullscreen mode, click on the icon in the bottom-right of the slide window):

There’s a backchannel on TodaysMeet that ran alongside my keynote address so that audience members could dialogue throughout the half-hour presentation, and see their comments projected on the wall.

I had wanted to include some audience interaction during the address (using slide #17), by doing a think-pair-share-on-TodaysMeet, and follow it up with an oral discussion about the TM posts. I thought that would be nice way to model how to facilitate an offline discussion about online postings. Probably would have taken at least 10-15 minutes. But when I got to slide #17, I glanced down at my time, noticed that I was already at 27 minutes by that point, and decided to skip it because I didn’t want to throw their day’s schedule too far off course (we had started 10 minutes late). Oh well :(.  If I ever do this talk again, might need 45-60 minutes, lol!

Karen Beutler (ICT Instructional Leader for grades 7-12), with whom I had the pleasure of working alongside back in my Instructional Leader days, was very generous with her feedback, and in dialoguing with her, she’s inspired me to think further about how I could improve/extend the ideas I presented (thanks Karen!):

  1. Slide 3:  should “mobile” be considered its own “environment”?   I agonized over this slide.  I wanted to create a visual representation that would make the concept of blended learning easy to understand. Traditionally (i.e. before mobile web-enabled technologies), blended learning was a mixing of face-to-face (f2f) and online learning environments.  Karen:  “…mobile is just the means/hardware to access the online classroom” – exact same thought came to mind as I was googling “blended learning” to see how others explained it. In the same way that “online learning” is a “thing”, “mobile learning” is also a “thing”. Plus TDSB’s director sees m-learning as a focus. Also, mobile devices have other functionalities useful to BL that aren’t necessarily connected to the web (i.e. augmented reality apps, probes, photo/video/audio recording, GPS/mapping-related apps). For instance, James MacLean-Taylor presented at the marketplace his class photo-journal blog about Chinatown, Greektown, and Little India; and there was a mapping component to the photos.  So that’s why I decided to give “mobile” its own circle. I probably should have said more about the distinct affordances of mobile technologies besides the fact that they’re small and portable.I also struggled with the possibility of adding a 4th circle called “immersive”. But decided against it because depending on what type of immersive environment it is, it could either be a subcategory of “online” (i.e. Second Life, etc. – does anyone even use SL anymore???), or it’s a simulation from which to observe phenomena that isn’t accesible in real life – which, on its own, doesn’t really seem to fulfill what I would call “learning”, and therefore not circle-worthy :). But perhaps it really is circle worthy? Time will tell. I think we need a couple more years to see where this thing is going. Will it be a “thing”? I think so. What do you think about this one?
  2. Slide 5:  looking at BL through DI lens, then extend to 3-part lesson?   The term “3-part lesson” crossed my mind briefly when I was building the presentation (remembering Karen mentioning it a number times over the past year or 2). In an effort to ease the teachers into a new concept – “blended learning” (BL) – I was trying to find a familiar “lens” through which the teachers could see BL.  The whole “lens” thing is a throw-back to my master’s work.It seems to me that the 3-part lesson, as a methodological tool, seems to be a more granular tool than Differentiated Instruction(DI). DI as a tool, is on a more “macro” level than 3-part lesson, in that a teacher would use DI to decide on the general approach to instruction, that would possibly span several weeks. 3-part lesson would be the lesson planning tool that the teacher would use to enact said “general approach” on a day-to-day level.So I decided to go with DI because: (1) it’s a familiar lens to teachers, (2) it seems to drive home how “environment” can now be differentiated – DI of “environment” always seemed a bit vague to me without the technolog layer, (3) most importantly – my subversive attempt to get teachers to stop thinking about ICT as the flashy end product, and begin to see that ICT needs to be used in a way that TRANSFORMS learning (i.e. weave ICT throughout the learning process, capitalize on its peer-to-peer communication capabilities because SO MUCH learning comes out of that).Certainly 3-part lesson could have been a lens as well, but perhaps shown much later (after the DI lens), as an example of how to integrate BL into a single lesson, framed within a larger BL-infused lesson unit. This would be an interesting extension to the presentation itself – to show a mapping of an entire BL-infused unit, then maybe a 3-part lesson out of that unit.