Modeling with Technology: Mindtools for Conceptual Change, 3rd Edition by David H. Jonassen
Part I of Jonassen’s Mindtools is more than just an introduction to the concept of mindtools. In Chapter 1, Jonassen puts forth the theories that guide the rest of the book while constantly incorporating demonstrations of how certain programs function as mindtools to explain. I greatly appreciate this integration of exposition and application, which is echoed throughout the other two parts of the book. Jonassen even says, “…I am practicing what I am promoting---modeling for learning” (p 4). Part I relies heavily on theoretical description and argumentation with visual representations. Description is necessary in order to orient the reader to the concepts of how mindtools function to improve conceptual knowledge.The audience for this book is educators at all levels who have some familiarity with constructivism and educational philosophies. Jonassen explains two theories regarding conceptual change in simple terms that even a neophyte such as myself can understand. However, the conceptual models from Stella that he employs as examples confused me more than they aided my comprehension. Although visual representations of models often help me understand difficult concepts, Figures 1-1 and 1-2 were too large and complex for me to grasp, especially since they are the first conceptual models in the book. The words in Figure 1-3 are far too small to read without eye strain and it was hard for me to compare this model with 1-1. Although Jonassen admits that the models are complex, he justifies himself by saying that conceptual change is also complex. The inclusion of these models was probably for demonstration purposes than for reader comprehension.Chapter 2 demonstrates the applicability of computer-based mindtools and modeling to most subject areas. Jonassen starts out talking about the relationship between internal models (those in the learner’s mind) and external models (those that the learner constructs). He believes that this relationship is reciprocal and mutually helpful. From my own experiences, I am inclined to disagree with this idea. Often, external models serve to confuse me because they don’t correspond directly to my internal models. While it would be nearly impossible to physically represent something in my mind, I don’t put as much faith in this relationship that Jonassen sees as mutually beneficial. This theories cannot be viewed as universally true.Jonassen’s overview of mindtools for modeling relies greatly on previous research. I find his theories of how mindtools function to be quite optimistic. While I believe that mindtools can in fact do all he promises, I am more skeptical of their implementation. Often, basic mindtools such as graphing calculators are presented as ways to “make a task easier” (p 21). Since this is a problem on the level of individual implementation, I cannot fault Jonassen for this. However, I also wonder if there is anything wrong with making a simple task easier. While Jonassen is very much married to constructivism, I see no reason why all teachers must adhere to this philosophy. Jonassen’s writing allows little room for personal dissention.The assertion on page 23 that Mindtools, more so than computer-based instructional programs represent a “more efficient use of time and money for technology,” is confusing. Jonassen does not explain what he means by “computer-based instructional programs” nor why Mindtools are so much easier to use than other systems. I know of many students who encountered numerous difficulties while attempting to use Maple, a calculus Mindtool which Jonassen mentions in Part III. Their difficulties impeded their success in understanding calculus.Chapter 3 starts out with a rather lofty claim: “If students learn to model what they are learning, they will surely perform better on any test.” While Jonassen certainly makes convincing arguments about the usefulness of modeling, this blanket statement makes it sound like he is a salesman trying to unload a bogus product on unsuspecting clients. It is unfortunate that this statement precedes a rather interesting chapter concerning rubric assessment for student models. Assessment/figuring out what students really know/understand is often the hardest part of teaching and I appreciate the inclusion of clearly outlined rubrics. While they would have be adapted to fit certain classes and to allow for more specific categories, the rubrics are well done.Overall, Part I flows nicely because of short chapters that are divided into many sections. These short chapters help keep the reader’s interest and the many divisions help readers organize Jonassen’s numerous ideas into categories. While he may cling too steadfastly to constructivism, he is quite adept at showing how to constructivistly use many technologies.
(a work in progress -er)In the first part of Modeling with Technology: Mindtools for Conceptual Change, Jonassen takes time to define “meaningful learning”, and how particular technologies that he refers to as “mindtools” can uniquely lead to more meaningful learning in diverse classroom contexts. For the purposes of this book, “meaningful learning” occurs when students not only learn content, but also engage in activities that force them to organize, conceptualize and apply the material—they are learning tools for meaning-making rather than simply learning facts. The “mindtools” that aid students in this kind of “conceptual reorganization” are defined as technologies that help students create models and simulations for their growing knowledge. Mindtools are expected to “share the cognitive burden of carrying out tasks”, rather than doing all the thinking for students. With this definition, I automatically thought of a calculator. A student can depend on a calculator to do all the cognitive work, as when they use it merely for checking their homework, or they can use the calculator to explore and edit their current knowledge of math, as when students use graphing calculators to visualize and hypothesize their understanding of algebraic equations.Jonassen does a great job of linking up pedagogical goals with his vision of what technology’s role in the classroom could be; he makes a convincing argument by introducing the learning goal before the tool. Obviously, he is writing to and for educators who agree with his definition of “meaningful learning”—but even coming from a non-education academic background, I could understand and value these ideas. After all, how often are technologies introduced into a school or classroom with the clear expectation of changing student’s thinking processes? Jonassen’s vision is an ambitious one, but one he makes worthwhile for the reader, if only because he’s done the important work of setting clear educational goals. Unfortunately, the first section, if isolated, can frustrate some readers who want to “see more” of the “how”, instead of the “why” of using this tools. The first models he introduces are conceptual models of his own work; he models his work on using technology to model. While introducing modeling is important and valuable to build up to conclusions he makes in latter chapters, first time readers may wonder (if they have not done their homework and perused the table of contents before diving in) whether theory and vision will be made applicable. This is a minor criticism, with few implications for the value of the book as a whole, but one that must be made.The greatest strength of the first section is its wonderful organization, beginning with a vision of what a classroom should be, introducing a way to reach this goal, and then, most importantly, thinking about assessment. Many times, articles and books offer a vision and solution, but take little or no time to set out how to judge whether the tool is effective in reaching the goal. The third chapter is filled with tables that clearly outline when a tool or activity is aiding the student(s) in “knowledge contruction”, “self-regulation”, “collaboration” and “critical thinking”—all important student skills. I was really impressed by the detail and thought behind these well-organized tables; they offer something “real” that an educator can immediately apply to the classroom.
Jonassen’s Modeling with Technology opens with a presentation of the conceptual and theoretical foundations of the book. Throughout his discussion of educational technologies and their efficacy, Jonassen refers to constructivist principles of understanding as “sense making.” More specifically, Jonassen is concerned with an understanding of “conceptual change” that is grounded in constructivist educational theories (3). In his first chapter, Jonassen discusses a few understandings of conceptual change as a learning theory. Jonassen then asserts that “modeling for learning” is the ideal instructional strategy for promoting this kind of learning. As students create, manipulate and work with various kinds of educational models they are constructing understanding and engaging in learning as conceptual change. In the other second chapter, Jonassen goes into greater detail about the kinds of modeling that educational technologies can facilitate and the kind of conceptual change that such models can bring about. He argues that computer-based technologies make many kinds of modeling possible. These different modeling technologies are what Jonassen refers to as “mindtools” (20). Jonassen explains that mindtools represent knowledge in such a way that facilitates learning by making it possible for students to “externalize internal conceptual models, modify their structure, and amplify their meaning” (24-25). Jonassen then outlines the different learning contexts in which models are used, all of which are explored later in the book. Briefly, these models cover domain knowledge, systemic understanding, problems, narratives, and cognitive simulations. In the third chapter, Jonassen offers some insight into how learning with mindtools can be assessed. He acknowledges that the kind of knowledge-construction and “higher order” thinking that mindtools facilitate is difficult to monitor and gauge. It follows that this move towards a new understanding of learning (as conceptual change) necessitates a revision of traditional approaches to assessment. Jonassen proposes modes of regulation and assessment that encourage students to engage in metacognitive practices. Jonassen argues that it is important for students to develop the critical awareness and skills so that they can self-regulate and self-assess their own learning. In addition, he offers some concrete rubrics that teachers can use in support of their students’ learning. Part One position Jonassen in a very specific place in educational theory. From these early chapters, Jonassen’s reader knows that this book conceives of knowledge, learning, and classroom instruction in very particular ways. Jonassen’s argument for teaching and modeling with mindtools firmly rests on these constructivist theories. In the second and third chapters, he offers a coherent transition from this theory to the case-study and research-based presentation of specific educational technologies (mindtools) in the rest of the book. If one buys into the constructivist position and theories of learning as conceptual change and modeling as an ideal strategy, then one is well-equipped to follow Jonassen through the next fourteen chapters. On the other hand, a reader who does not accept Jonassen’s theories of learning may also recognize the text’s reliance on theories not fully explicated in these introductory chapters. As a member of the sympathetic audience, I recognize the importance of grounding this investigation into educational technology in learning theory. Still, I wonder whether Jonnasen does educational technologies a disservice; if a reader were to reject Jonassen’s theoretical framework he or she might not be open to any of the possible uses of educational technologies in the classroom.
How does technology create meaningful learning? Is the goal of education to teach students how to learn effectively? Jonassen argues that modeling is key in fostering critical thinking, problem solving, and overall conceptual change in students. Essentially, Jonassen argues that technology, if used correctly, can help circumvent systemic issues in present-day U.S. classrooms-- problems that include student apathy and lack of engagement. Jonassen believes in empowering students to navigate their own learning processes--assuming students aren’t learning ways to capture memorable knowledge. In "Modeling with Technology," Part One, Jonassen introduces technology as a way to allow students to build upon knowledge that already exists to make new connections and draw new conclusions—enabling problem solving and conceptual engagement in the classroom environment.Jonassen argues that "humans are natural model builders" (12) and that modeling is among the most conceptually engaging processes that can be performed" (15). However, how much modeling do we, as humans, need to cognitively and conceptually engage? Such a belief is centered on constructivist educational theory—focusing on how a learner learns rather than the subjects taught. Constructivist theory also argues that there is little knowledge created by the learner outside of the community of learners. For instance, in explaining the variety of phenomena that can be learned through modeling, Jonassen provides examples including visualization tools to better understand geometry, complex associative maps (concept maps) to capture and build upon domain knowledge, and databases to model storytelling and experience recognition. But, this is not the only avenue available for learning—and not all learning is created in a linear vacuum. For instance, educational theorists, such as Vygotsky or Freire, who are proponents for social learning, might disagree with the notion of students using technology as an intellectual partner. Jonassen also questions the fidelity of model building as a limitation (24). In essence, the argument that all modeling equals constructive learning, or conceptual development is difficult to support. There are certainly times when modeling with technology is the best method for teaching, however it centers on a learning process that is created in a vacuum; an environment where modeling is used to help students make clear, assessable connections. And, while I believe Jonassen introduces a reasonable argument, I believe it’s imperative that educators understand that technology (as Jonassen describes it) evokes a very specific type of learning—and while it’s effective, lacks social interaction necessary for some learning objectives.
Part One of Jonassen’s Modeling with Technology argues that meaningful learning naturally engages conceptual change (xv). The author, believing that the best way to promote conceptual change is through the construction of models that represent learner’ s internal conceptual model, dedicates the first chapter of his book to theories that promote this idea. Laying the foundations that frame the rest of the book, Jonassen explored the cognitive conflict theory and the revisionist theory of conceptual change. Underlying the arguments Jonassen posits is an endorsement of constructivism and the belief that technology can bridge the gap in understanding. Chapter 2 caters to Jonassen’s belief that model building is much more productive for learning and conceptual change than model using. (14). It is here that he introduces modeling domain knowledge, modeling systems, modeling problems, modeling experiences, and modeling thinking, all topics that he explores later in the book. Also defined is what exactly are Mindtools. Defining Mindtools as, “computer based tools and learning environments that have been adapted or developed to enable learners to represent what they know” Jonassen believes that Mindtools do not make work easier for the learner, but actually the reciprocal (20). He validates this notion by explaining that this type of constructivist learning cannot take place without a deeper understanding of content and it even encourages meaning-making processes (21). Being realistic, the author also issues caveats to the limitations of model building, most of which can be avoided with proper planning and experimentation with students. Jonassen began the third chapter by addressing the problem of high stakes testing and its all-pervading nature in education today. He sees modeling as an antidote to this type of “mediocrity” that is the result of memorizing material for tests (27). However, if implemented and assessed properly, models with Mindtools, spurns the growth of knowledge construction, self-regulation, collaboration, and critical thinking. To help educators, Jonassen directed the flow of the chapter to the dissemination of rubrics to assess modeling. Modeling with Technology: Mindtools for Conceptual Change is geared towards education professionals. The lay reader is not the target audience, but it is certainly accessible to most, given the simple wording and explanations of terms and concepts. Jonassen certainly endorses technology and he validates it with concepts that are available to all, pending the ability to dedicate time to its understanding.
The first part of Jonassen’s text focuses on explicating the theories that are guiding the use of technology in education today. While this is an issue that has been widely discussed, Jonassen focuses on the logistics of implementation and how this can be done in a way that will be effective for both the teacher and the learners. His text focuses on the idea of a mindtool, anything that will help with the processing of information, promoting “meaningful learning”, but typically falling under the category of technology. His text allows readers to classify the wide variety of technologies available while providing guidance as to how they can be used most effectively. A great element of this text is the inclusion of figures to clarify the concepts discussed. Jonassen uses figures both to show examples of the technology he discusses; additionally, he uses the technologies (such as the concept mapping software) to explain and clarify some of the theories that guide his text. As he explains, he is modeling what he teaches – the use of technology to clarify concepts and assist learning.His text continues to discuss how many of these technologies can be applied to particular subject areas. As a Spanish teacher, I found some of these applications a bit of a stretch; while I do not deny the value of these technologies in English, Social Studies, and certain math-based courses, I struggled to find an application for these technologies in my subject area, particularly at a basic level.In short, the introductory section of the text gives the reader the theoretical and broad-based background to proceed to the more detailed elements of Jonassen’s theories related to education and technology. While the book does have short chapters that are well organized, the lack of in-depth explanation and clarification at this point in the text (he regularly refers to further explanation in later chapters) was frustrating and left me wanting more information.
This book is not a how-to on using technology in the classroom, so if that is what you are looking for, turn back now. What this book is however, is a brief description of various tools one can use in the classroom to enhance learning. As the author states “it is impossible to detail every step in the process or to provide examples that are relevant to every grade level and subject” (p xvii). Jonassen goes on to say that in order to use this book a teacher must generalize the uses of Mindtools to creatively incorporate them in the classroom. I see four ways to use this book, and of course one may use a combination of these. One way is to read part I which describes what Mindtools are (in short, software for meaningful learning) and more importantly the theoretical basis behind using them. If you are interested in a particular way to represent knowledge such as through systems or problems, then you can just go straight to part II to see which Mindtools could be useful for this. However, if you are more interested in one particular Mindtool, you can skip to part III where it describes the Mindtool and ways it can be used to promote meaningful learning. Finally, you could read the whole book to get an overview of Mindtools; what they are, how to use them, and why. Part I outlines the theory behind the use of Mindtools to improve learning. Jonassen outlines his assumptions about how people learn which are mainly based on constructivist learning. He describes humans as “natural theory builders” who create their own knowledge by making models and testing their environment (p 4). He describes meaningful learning as requiring conceptual engagement, conceptual development, and methods and strategies which support intentional learning. Throughout chapter one Jonassen practices what he preaches by providing models for the theory and assumptions he describes. This is a great demonstration of how building models helps one to understand while simply looking at them often does not. While they look nice, the models are somewhat difficult to comprehend and one must take some time to study them. This is exactly his argument in chapter 2; model building is a powerful tool while model using is insufficient. Also in chapter 2 Jonassen introduces the phenomena he will discuss in depth in part II and connects them to model building. After he makes his argument for building models to create meaningful learning and understanding, he goes on to say how Mindtools can be used to build such models. This is a well thought out case for Mindtools, but Jonassen keeps himself in check my consistently presenting the limitations after he has convinced you that his is a good idea. Chapter 3 concludes the first part of the book with a look at assessment. His main idea is that if one is to teach via Mindtools, then one should assess via Mindtools. One may have to disregard their traditional idea of assessment in order to use the rubric Jonassen offers. He encourages teachers to help students become self-reliant learners and relinquish their authority. This sounds ideal, that students could assess their own learning and make changes to improve; Jonassen claims that Mindtools can make this happen.
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