I would like to say how much I enjoyed Steven Stahl's Commentary article, "Bringing Old Ideas to New Times: Learning Theories of Kurt Lewin Applied to Distance Education" (March 1999). Many theories can come into play regarding technology use, but all too often "thinking- oriented" theories and research (affective, cognitive, psychomotor) are not adequately used in regards to technology. For the most part, educators see technology utilization as an entity separate from the business of teaching the "regular" curriculum, making it a difficult task to integrate technology into the classroom's teaching and learning activities.
Stahl points to several factors that prohibit the meaningful use of technology. He states, for example, that "all too often . . . instructors fail to trust students to learn anything not explicitly stated by the instructor." Time constraints and the need to accomplish tasks on deadline are partially responsible for this mistrust, but also important is the fact that educators are expected to guide the instruction toward a prescribed end, so that students can be tested for grades and/or prepared for curriculum-based exams that are largely memory- and fact-based. Educational institutions still favor learning that is easy to test and measure. Constructivist, experiential-based learning is not so easily defined.
Stahl also argues that "instruction must be planned with a clear vision." What he does not point out, however, is that the development of a "clear" vision is complicated when education involves the use of computers and technology, especially higher-level, thinking-oriented software (i.e., simulations, modeling, multimedia authoring systems, HTML, and Web-authoring programs). With technology-enhanced learning, students find that there are many means of accomplishing their tasks, and that those tasks need not be approached in one particular order or manner. The nature of computer use, which allows students to work at their own pace, does not lend itself to neat, clean, "scaffolding" activities. Even today's information superhighway confuses this "clear vision" and planning. With the Internet as well as higher-level thinking software (i.e., Simcity 2000® series, and others), there are too many places from which to gather information.
Students are accustomed to "surfing" the Internet, but not for a specific purpose. Internet-based tasks frequently focus upon "gathering" information for a report/project or upon discovery-based "surfing" without guidance or the use of search engines. Instead, the focus should be placed upon the process of "finding" rather than "gathering." Students are not used to developing a better understanding of new ideas, understanding complex questions, or using Internet-based opportunities to enhance learning through visual, auditory, and kinesthetic browsing. Many educators themselves are new to the Internet and do not understand, let alone teach their students, the process of using it effectively. Educators who are not trained in managing wide-ranging exploration, but who are under pressure to use the Internet, tell students, "Just find what you can," or " Look for information on ____." Unless students are guided purposefully or learn to use search engine tools, they are usually unsuccessful in their searches. And the same is true for using simulations (and other types of higher-level thinking software) in which the object is to make cities, create planets, or develop successful machines or ecosystems.
Moreover, as Stahl mentions, the prevalent feeling is that computer use should be fun and should not relate to "work" or learning. Keeping activities enjoyable, exciting, and agreeable sometimes takes precedence over using technology in meaningful ways. Many times technology is used as a "side show" after the "main" work is finished. If the students are engaged with the technology, they should be learning; but, as I have seen in my own research, this is not necessarily the case.
Stahl applies "old" learning theories to four main areas, which I characterize as T.E.A.M.: technology, education, applications, and microworld learning environments (Flescher, 1997). The emphasis today is most often on the first parttechnology. For educators, parents, administrators, and students, the first task is learning how to use the technology hardware and/or software. But to transform classrooms through the infusion of technology, significant attention must also be paid to establishing opportunities to learn, practice, and use the other three: education, applications, and microworld learning environments. It is crucial that theories, research, and activities associated with these areas also be integrated into the classroom.
An example of this integration is one of my student's endeavors. She is learning how to use a popular multimedia authoring program, Hyperstudio®, which is similiar to PowerPoint®, for the first time (technology). We use Hyperstudio's powerful but easy to use tools to bring together new-found knowledge on her selected research topic, volcanoes (education). She is exploring books and resources from the library and then applying the information (applications) to produce her own personal "stack" program. In this (created microworld learning) environment, we are working together to transform the information into her own original piece of worka multimedia learning world complete with sound, artwork, and much more. We start in the library to find basic information, then use the Internet to find more advanced and current resources on volcanoes in the world and recent eruptions (sometimes we are able to view these events online, with videotapes and other visual resources). We discuss ways to develop the information and transform itnot only for her use, but also as a tool for communicating with others.
While it is her stack, the created ideas evolving in the stack are modified with my guidance. My student and I share and debate ways to make the information clearer, not only with words, but also with pictures and sound. I have found (by giving teacher training workshops in Hyperstudio) that these methods work as well with educators as with students. Even as teachers become students of technology, students become teachers for others; in the process, all develop and take more responsibility for their own learning capacities. Hyperstudio could be substituted by Web page authoring, the use of modeling or programming languages (i.e., BASIC, LOGO, Stella), or the use of simulations like SimCity 2000®, SimLife®, and others. Nor is science the only domain to which these teaching tools apply; my students have produced stacks dealing with the Titanic, the Holocaust, Egypt, and other topics.
Stahl explores the complexity of technology use. Given this complexity, it is important that technology be combined with other factors to make a truly effective enhancement of teaching and learning possible. Taking into account all these factors is a multifaceted T.E.A.M. (Technology, Education, Applications and Microworld learning environments) effort. This is not just the educator's domain, but also that of students, administrators, parents, and all involved with the educational process. In many school districts, technological, experiential-oriented learning endeavors are taking place. These districts have found ways for the various groups to cooperatively use the four factors to promote proper technology utilization. The key will be to encourage others who are not at this level to use technology in a fruitful wayone in which students and educators will feel more comfortable about constructing and developing information both with and without technology, instead of being perpetually involved in the education process I call "regurgitation station."
Flescher, E. (1997). Discovery and experiential-based learning with computer simulations. Dissertation. University of Kansas. Dissertation Copyright Office TX 4-792-401. (PDF file available. Contact Eric Flescher, Ed.D, at KCStarguy@aol.com)
Stahl, Steven. (March 1999). Bringing old ideas to new times: Learning principles of Kurt Lewin applied to distance education. The Technology Source. Retrieved March 31 from the World Wide Web: http://technologysource.org/?view=article&id=46kids gamesshooter gameshidden object gamesmanagement gamesbrain teaser games