Modeling with Technology: Mindtools for Conceptual Change, 3rd Edition by David H. Jonassen
Part 3 of Modeling with Technology deals specifically with the "tools of the trade." Instead of chapters deailng with how to model phenomena, Chapters 9-17 explain how to model WITH certain technologies. Many of these tools, such as concept maps and spreadsheets, were examined in earlier chapters. Part 3 takes a more in-depth look at how to use these tools in a number of situations. These chapters help the educator understand some more basic situations in which to use these tools. I found this section to be generally more user-friendly, as it was more explanatory and I was already familiar with a number of the tools, such as hypermedia and computer conferences. Perhaps the most relevant technology for Education students in Betty's Brain, in which students figure out how to teach while learning about a subject themselves. I think this program could be used in addition to teaching human subjects--the effects might be very interesting.Since Jonassen's book is intended for practicing educators, it is extremely useful that almost every chapter includes detailed instructions on how to coach student learning and construction of various systems. Also useful are the sections on evaluation of progress and final products. Since many of these tools will be new to many educators, many would be lost with regard to assessment. Since Jonassen is an expert in this field, I generally trust his ideas. It is also possible to tailor his directions to suit the needs of each individual class.Each chapter also includes a section on advantages and disadvantages of the featured tool. While this is useful, I believe that more disadvantages/limitations of technology should be featured. Jonassen could give an example of a classroom in which the featured tool did not meet expectations. Since the intended purpose of this book is to promote the use of technology/mindtools, it makes sense that extensive disadvantages are not featured. However, educators need to know how NOT to use the tools and in which situations these tools would NOT be useful. Since this book is not an advertisement for featured products, I see no reason why Jonassen cannot include more information about situations in which these tools would not work.
Part III addressed how various Mindtools can be used for modeling. In chapter 9, Modeling with Databases, Jonassen began with a look at management systems in education. Having worked in various school systems, I have to admit, this technology he addresses is incredibly useful/important. But that was not really the crux of this chapter. This chapter focused on modeling with databases but did little to impress this reader.Chapter 10 dealt with semantic networks, or what the classroom calls concept maps. I visited semanticresearch.com and their product does look interesting, far better than Inspiration. Which by the way, I do not agree with Jonassen about the concept map on page 103. That map looks way too busy to dissect, even if you zoom in and look at, there is too much to absorb. But of all the chapters reviewed up to this point, it is the most useful. The chart on page 109 is a great resource to use in the classroom and the step by step instructions of how to construct a concept map are valid. The point of student constructed maps sounds like common sense, but I remember webbing in my notebook and being told it was wrong. It feels good being right so many years later. Chapter 12 addressed what Jonassen delineates as a lack of research that has been done on this technological innovation (138), yet he “argues” that students gain more understanding with expert systems (139). Likewise, while I am under the belief (and I can be mistaken) that this is either beyond the scope of the students that I have taught or not worth the time to learn the technology, he claims that, “experience has indicated otherwise” (139). When Jonassen began chapter 13 claiming that, “system modeling is the most complex and engaging of all the modeling tools described in the book” I took this a cue to see if this technology can be used in the real world. After reading the chapter, I was impressed with the technology, but it has it limitations. Jonassen readily admits that system modeling takes a lot of time, and this interferes with testing and current high stakes testing (164). But he also notes that without that in mind, this brings the reality of constructivist learning to the student, which in many respects is important. Chapter 14 focused on Direct Manipulation environments (DME’s) and it had my interest at first, then it quickly dissipated. Looking at a product like Betty’s Brain sounds fascinating but doesn’t this sound odd explaining something to a computer. What I am trying to say is that if you are working in groups and you are wrapping your brain around an idea that someone in the group doesn’t understand, couldn’t you just eliminate the computer. This technology seems tantamount to a virtual flower garden in lieu of just growing a plant in class. That critique aside, Genscope seemed rather interesting, I know I could have used that when I was studying genetics. I liked chapter 15, with the only critique being that it was not long enough. I am a visual learner and I know that this is one area that needs improvement in the schools. Programs mentioned in the chapter such as MacSpartan, would have saved me countless time manipulating those tiny little plastic pieces that they give you in chemistry class (and it would have been correct, unlike whatever I was making). I just wished that Jonassen addressed more technology for the social sciences. Chapter 16, Modeling with Hypermedia, is a chapter that would have been useful for me when I started teaching. Jonassen’s advocacy of a non-linear approach to learning and the idea of student created web pages are great learning tools. When I taught world history, I had the students create web pages for each chapter, so that by the end of the semester, there was a resource beyond the boring textbook that the students actually read. His observation that students spend too much time on aesthetic effects as compared to content and that presentations are time consuming are right on the mark.Chapter 17 suffers from what many of the other chapters are plagued by, obscure terminology that only educators would use. While addressing “asynchronous computer conferences” (discussion boards), he brings up the negative and positive aspects of this medium for educational uses. Having been a student since discussion boards were popularized, I have witnessed many of the critiques that Jonassen addressed (minimum postings, etc.) But the value to the chapter comes from the recommendations that he offers educators on how to facilitate useful discussion via structured discussion boards. I know that this would and will make my educational experience more meaningful.
This part of the text deals with more advanced modeling systems and expert systems, utilizing databases and other similar programs. This section of the text deals with more “hands-on” approaches, coaching and modeling the readers, educators, on specific ways to implement the technologies in a classroom setting. He also took the time to include methods of planning, pacing, and evaluating student progress in these areas. One of the challenges involved in implementing any new type of activity is that the educator is unsure what to expect and what how to determine if adequate progress is being made. The recommendations that Jonassen provides are essential to utilizing these technologies effectively. Collecting and organizing data is clearly an important skill. In my “past life” working in private industry, I spent a great deal of time working with databases, manipulating numbers and collecting information. I am very aware that the skills associated with the use of databases is crucial for success in the work world, and educators would be intelligent to provide these skills to their students before having them look for jobs.While modeling systems seem very intimidating to me in general, Jonassen succeeded in proving ample options for their utilization in the classroom. However, I feel that many of his explanations feel to the same problems that existed in previous sections, that of using excessive terminology that may be intimidating or confusing to novice educators or technology users. The sheer volume of information that he provides, particularly in the area of modeling, may be overwhelming, and teachers may feel that they cannot adequately manage the technology and therefore not use it in the classroom, which is contrary to Jonassen’s goal. While I do not want to seem critical, I wonder if many of the educational goals that are promoted by the technology Jonassen discusses could not be accomplished without technology. I cannot argue that many things are faster with the use of a computer; I myself type much faster than I write, therefore I prefer to write notes on a computer than on paper. Similarly, programs that accomplish tasks such as systems mapping are not the only option; the goals can be achieved -- perhaps more slowly, but still achieved – through a pen and paper. Similarly, discussion boards (as discussed in Chapter 17) are not the only means of discussion. While they do allow more time for reflection, they are subject to misinterpretation and do not allow the participants the benefit of asking questions for immediate clarification. Perhaps technology may not be a substitute for the time-honored activity of in-class, in person discussion. Maybe I am old-fashioned, but I also know that the ends are what are important; how we achieve those ends is still open for discussion.
After reading the first two parts of Jonassen’s Modeling with Technology, I had some general questions about what is and is not implementable in the classrooms where I work (and in my subject area – English). I looked to Part Three for more practical applications of these modeling strategies and for some sense of how and when I can use mindtools in my planning. In this section of the book, Jonassen presents various modeling technologies that fall under the five categories of mindtools outlined earlier in the book. Each chapter presents various uses of specific software and other computer technologies and includes a review of case-studies and other research on the implementation of these technologies. Chapters 9 and 11 talk about databases and spreadsheets as effective tools for organizing declarative knowledge and making more complex relational data comprehensible. As a modeling tool, spreadsheets can also simulate real-world experiences by anticipating results and allowing different factors to be manipulated in various scenarios As Jonassen and the research he cites explain, spreadsheets and databases are powerful tools and can be used ways that support constructivist learning and encourage student engagement. My one concern about these chapters is that in my own professional experience with databases (and spreadsheets) I get tripped up in the process of assigning initial categories. Perhaps it is because I never had the clear instruction or developed this kind of organizational (and for me, spatial) approach to knowledge and categories. This may well be the case, but it leaves me uneasy because I do wonder whether my students would find this process equally frustrating. Chapter 10 returns to the possible classroom uses of concept maps (discussed in chapters 4 and 5). Jonassen argues that building concept maps parallels the kind of semantic networking that our minds use to make meaning of the systems in the world. The technologies that support this modeling of cognitive processes are, in Jonassen’s view, “the most versatile of the Mindtools described in the book” (115). It is fitting that the use of concept maps to teach students to navigate semantic networks is directly aligned with Jonassen’s beliefs about conceptual change; these technologies support the active construction of knowledge and sense-making at the systemic level.When I first started reading Chapter 12, I did not realize that Jonassen was proposing that students design expert systems themselves. It wasn’t until he presented research that I realized that this was a such a pure example of constructivism in action. The building of expert systems perfectly aligns with Jonassen’s vision for technology in the classroom. Students do the thinking, planning, implementing and troubleshooting of these systems all of which inherently involves metacognitive practice, because student-experts are creating systems based on their own knowledge bases and understanding of problems and solutions. I’m still not sure how such a system would work in an English classroom, but the examples (139-140) of the various scientific applications were fascinating. Chapter 13 discusses system/population which like many of these tools seem to lend themselves to science class applications. While I can see the ways in which these tools can be used in math classes (to work with and manipulate data) or in the social sciences (to visualize/hypothesize/problematize certain social phenomena), I do not see why I would use a systems tool in my English class. Though I appreciate the nod in my direction, in the Hopkins (1992) example of Stella used to map plot and sequence in Hamlet, I can’t help but find this a little forced (p.158). Wouldn’t this just be using the tool for the sake of the tool? I think some traditional English class pen and paper or straightforward discussion would let my students probe the “what if” and “what next” questions of causation and sequence that Stella would help them frame.The “Teachable Agents” of Chapter 14 seem to sync up with the kind of instruction encouraged here at GSE. Having students teach a “Betty” or set up a “Moby” is a way of having them put their knowledge into very direct action. It is interesting that these technologies can provide students with learning moments that are direct and immediate in a way that traditional demonstrations/applications of knowledge (like classroom presentations) are not.Chapter 15’s brief overview of visualization tools was pretty straightforward. This is one example of educational technology I find eminently appealing – if a computer program can make an abstraction concrete I’m all for it. I am not a visual learner myself and I sometimes find visualizations more confusing them helpful (since I am spatially- challenged), but I know they can really change other people’s learning experiences.In Chapter 16, Jonassen discusses the uses of hypermedia in various educational contexts. Hypermedia is broadly understood to include presentation-creating software like PowerPoint and information systems like the internet. Since both of these technologies are active part of my daily life as a student and teacher, I was already familiar with many of their uses in the classroom. The chapter outlines what amounts to an argument for project-based learning; Jonassen explains that planning, researching and preparing presentations requires students to develop a number of skills, including time-management, self-monitoring, and other metacognitive processes. Chapter 17 also explored technologies I find very familiar. Asynchronous communication tools – like BlackBoard and e-mail play an enormous part in my life as a graduate student. In my coursework, I have seen first hand how a tool like BlackBoard can change a classroom community and drastically alter a learning experience (and not always for the better). I do think that discussion boards and other features of the “distance learning” experience will be playing an increasingly larger role in secondary schools in the near future, so I better get used to them!In the end, am left with doubts about the place for many of these mindtools in the secondary English classroom. Even where I do see relevant technologies – the concept maps, vocabulary charts – I find myself questioning whether or not these tools (which require more constant access to computers then we have at my school) really enhance my students’ learning in fundamentally new ways. Clearly this is a big concern and I hope future exploration of these technologies will give me added insight into their value-adding applications in my classroom.
In part 3 of Modeling with Technology, Jonassen looks more closely at the technologies themselves, after focusing on the educational goals behind using the tools (Part 1), and looking at the content-contexts for using mindtools (Part 2). Part 3, “Modeling Tools (Mindtools)”, makes up the bulk of the book, further proving that it’s purpose and goal is to serve as a “how-to” and catalogued manual for using technology in the classroom.Each chapter focuses on a type of technology that could serve as a “mindtool”, explaining exactly what the technology is and how it works, enumerating its benefits, and examining it against the goals for “meaningful learning” set out at the beginning of the text. In addition, Jonassen provides the several different products and software available in each category and the classroom subjects they apply to. For example, in the broad category of “Systems and Populations Dynamics Tools” (chapter 10), Jonassen introduces the reader to many options (if only by name), including Stella, PowerSim, Ven Sim, Model-It, NetLogo, and EcoBeaker. In addition, each chapter offer step-by-step suggestions for planning lessons that use these technologies, as well as the advantages and disadvantages (“limitations” according to Jonassen) of using each technology in the classroom. Perhaps the least interesting for reading, but the most helpful for reference, is the feature of each chapter where Jonassen fully cites studies and instances where these technologies were used in real classrooms and evaluated for their benefits. Though he can’t explore each instance, they are enumerated there to encourage further research; the book serves as an introduction and overview to modeling with technology in the classroom, not as a complete encyclopedia of knowledge in this area.Unfortunately, there are a few disadvantages that go along with the introduction-overview-reference guide nature of Modeling with Technology. The specific softwares aren’t really discussed or evaluated, leaving the reader to research and evaluate what will work for their classroom. Our class felt so unknowledgeable about the plethora of technologies that Johanssen introduced that we felt we did additional research on a few of them, to supplement the text. Although this allowed us hands-on experiences with the technologies, it made the reading of the text a sometimes frustrating exercise—it’s initially hard to really understand and evaluate the chapters where the references to technologies are more obscure. For most of the “Advantages and Limitations” sections of these chapters, I just had to take Jonassen’s word for things. Even with my limited knowledge, I feel like Jonassen's critique may be overly optimistic; he offers very little limitations, many of which ignore the administrative limitations to using these technologies (price, educator training and support (with the noted exeption of Chapter 13). Overall, the optimism may not be a bad thing, especially if it encourages more educators and schools to use these technologies when appropriate.
In Part III of "Modeling with technology", Jonassen delivers several ideas for using technology as a mindtool in the classroom. In Part I, Jonassen lays the foundation for how and why learners learn best. In Part II, Jonassen describes approaches for framing such learning, and Part III connects that framework with specific computer applications.The computer applications include databases, concept maps, spreadsheets, dynamic tools (that promote reasoning and critical thinking), visualization tools and hypermedia.Each technology presented represents a different tool to adhere to different learning approaches and styles. The effectiveness of each "mindtool" varies according to areas of discipline, teaching style, and classroom environment. For example, the kind of technology that's useful for a tenth grade foreign language teacher may not be usefulfor an eighth-grade math teacher.In describing each technology, which Jonassen calls "mindtools," the author carefully describes all the eventualities that educators must consider when introducing a technology into the classroom. Such considerations include the pedagogical rationale for using such technology, ways to model usage, assessment, and the advantages andlimitations of using such technology. What Jonassen fails to address however, are specific ways that mindtools can enhance or supportlearning for different types of learners. For instance, if I have a student who is struggling with critical thinking and reasoning, whichcomputer program would help such a student? And, further, are there are limitations or issues in introducing such technology in the classroom for such learners?While I appreciate all that Jonassen does explain in Part III of the book, there are some missing pieces that specifically describe how different types of technology can be used as mindtools for differentkinds of learners.
While part II described knowledge and what Mindtools can be used to support it, part III describes the Mindtools and finally provides guidelines for how to use them. While each chapter is not consistent in its section titles, they follow a basic pattern. Jonassen begins by describing the Mindtool which until know has only been related through examples. Following this he says how it could be used to build models which we now know is key to meaningful learning. Each chapter (except 14: Modeling with Teachable Agents and Direct Manipulation Environments) also contains a coaching guide with step-by-step activities that can be used or adapted by teachers to create models. After this he offers suggestions for assessment or evaluation of learning using the Mindtool which follows from chapter 3. Finally he explains the advantages and limitations of the Mindtool. Part III is the most concrete segment of the book. Here he finally says what the Mindtools are that he has been discussing and using throughout the book. If a teacher was to read the book from the beginning, at this point they would be starving for specifics and directions, which he vaguely gives them in the coaching guides. My suggestion would be to read the descriptions of each Mindtool in part III either concurrently or prior to reading part II or perhaps use it as reference when a type is mentioned.
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