Modeling with Technology: Mindtools for Conceptual Change, 3rd Edition by David H. Jonassen
In Part II of Modeling with Technology, Jonassen continues to promote strict constructivism while offering more in-depth looks at various modeling software. The main argument of the beginning of this section is that students need not have a mastery of domain or content knowledge to be able to model procedures or construct knowledge in individual ways. This argument reinforces Jonassen’s view that knowing why you are doing something and how a system works is more important that being “filled up” with knowledge.Chapters 5 and 6 are relatively similar, with domain and content knowledge resembling one another quite closely. Concept maps and spreadsheets as mindtools appear in both chapters because they are applicable to many situations. This dual applicability is refreshing in that schools can reuse programs again for different subjects/purposes. Although I appreciate the number of technologies Jonassen explores, using a basic program like Excel will save schools money and students time in learning how to manipulate new programs.While the chapter on cognitive simulations and detailing the processes of metacognition (thinking about thinking, monitoring one’s own thoughts) was appealing, I am more interested in modeling stories. Most teenagers enjoy hearing, telling and creating stories as well as using their creative energies in projects. I believe many social science teachers would be much more amenable to using Storyspace or Learning Constellations than some of the other, more complicated systems detailed in other sections. The figures of these technologies make them seem inviting and user-friendly.Throughout Part II, Jonassen’s disdain for memorization and top-down instruction continues to grow. While his rigid adherence to constructivism allows for a cohesive text and growth of ideas from Part I, I would be interested in seeing how to combine his view with more traditional instruction. Is Jonassen too overly optimistic? A quote from page 53 shows that the author himself [slightly] questions the ultimate success of his methods: “Getting students to understand the complexities among phenomena in the world…would represent a major accomplishment for any teacher or professor.” Many of Jonassen’s goals are so lofty that having a student fully understand anything using modeling software would comprise a “major accomplishment.” On page 88, he recognizes that more research needs to be done to compare the effectiveness of building cognitive simulations with more traditional, less technological practices such as “journaling [and] think-alouds.” I believe that the previous quotes belie the need for tempering Jonassen’s strong constructivist sentiments with other theories of learning. Not all students will prosper with pure constructivism. Investigating CBR and other such theories is a step in the right direction to providing multiple points of entry/paths of success for all kinds of students.
If part one of Modeling with Technology was a theoretical framework to using "mindtools" in the classroom, then part three is a "how to" for creating meaningful lessons. Chapters 4-8 look at how mindtools can help students organize and test out their knowlegde--whether the content is a collection of facts and figures, a system (such as the ecosystem), a problem, or a story.By offering the various content "types" up for technological enhancement, Jonassen effectively meets his intended audience, educators, halfway. However, some content types appear to lend themselves more easily to the use of "mindtools". Using a spreadsheet to model a complex number-based problem (ch 6) is more useful a technological experience than inputing a history lesson in a database. Obviously, Jonassen leaves it up to the teacher to decide whether the student will benefit from the use of a mindtool in each situation, though this is not explicitly expressed. By offering a variety of classroom situations and technological tools, Jonassen turns his book into a valuable reference guide for any lesson planner--the descriptive chapter titles and section headings allow one to browse and learn more about the technologies that are most applicable to their classroom.I was very impressed by the mere number of technologies that were introduced, especially those that offered visuals from student input--graphs, charts, concept maps. Perhaps I'm particular to pictures because I tend to use diagrams to break down particularly difficult concepts. As a math student, graphs made more "sense" to me than equations.I was most confused by the "expert systems" introduced in Chapter 6, the example given (the logic of the bombing of Hiroshima) could also be accomplished by a in classroom debate that requires the same student research and logic-building exercise. Perhaps because I've never worked with such a program, I don't "get" it's unique offering. The "figures" for the expert systems were long lines of input and answers--is this what the screen looks like on such a program? Can such a text-based technology be that engaging, especially for younger students? I am a bit skeptical.
Part II of Modeling with Technology: Mindtools for Conceptual Change addresses modeling phenomena. In a relatively small amount of space (57 pages), Jonasssen dissects modeling domain knowledge, modeling systems, modeling problems, modeling experiences, and modeling thinking. None of the topics covered brought up in Part II were necessarily new and innovative, but they considered a reworking of traditional learning in accordance with Jonassen’s idea of Mindtools. Chapter 4 centered on modeling domain knowledge. Jonassen posited, “that using Mindtools for building models of domain knowledge will help learners to acquire (comprehend and retain) that knowledge more effectively than most traditional learning methods.”(40) This echoes the thinking stressed throughout the monograph, “knowledge cannot be transmitted from the teacher to the student.” Jonassen advocated the use of domain knowledge with databases, concept maps, spreadsheets, visualization tools, and hypermedia for the sole purpose of “more meaningful learning” (46). Perhaps Jonassen is on to something here. As a teacher for several years now, I can attest to my students not retaining what I teach them as well as what they learn themselves. Jonassen tackled modeling systems in chapter 5 and he clearly advocated that educators who use constructivist activities not to stick entirely to content. He claimed that it is not a “natural” way of learning and that organizing systems with concept maps is one way to connect with students. Where the concept maps were seen as illustrations, they may not be seen as especially clear examples (51), the message comes across loud and clear, especially with modeling systems with spreadsheets. The next chapter began with the intent to “show how learners can us Mindtools to reconceptualize content as problems.” (54) There is nothing more frustrating as a teacher then when after a week (let alone a day) a student forgets what they had just learned. This chapter focused on a theme that I liked, “the more ways that students represent problems, the better able they will be to transfer their problem-solving skills to new situations.”(55) I was familiar with modeling with databases, concept maps, and spreadsheets, but expert systems was new to me. Perhaps this reviewer has hesitation, but this type of modeling requires more explanation. Whereas in the rest of the book Jonassen elaborates extensively, this section appears to be brief in selling its point across to the reader. But, much like the rest of the book, Jonassen has the reader look to another chapter for clarification. Chapter 7 was a section that as a social studies teacher is tool that is utilized often, perhaps too often. I know that I have made my students make web pages, but I have never made them make a story of it as the chapter suggests. Perhaps it could work, it sounds interesting. I know based upon my own research, the use of case-based reasoning (CBR) and the use of it in databases is an area that many are not familiar with. This chapter proved to be valuable to the teacher just for the mentioning of the Knowledge Innovation for Technology in Education (KITE) program. This resource, partially established by the author, is of itself an outstanding example of what this chapter suggests. Chapter 8 was one of the more lofty chapters in Modeling with Technology. Whereas the other proceeding chapters dealt with technologies and concepts that seemed more attuned with the average classroom, this chapter presented the reader with building cognitive simulations. Trying to understand metacognition and then present it to students so that they could then prepare models seems like a great idea, although time consuming and not necessarily the easiest or best approach.
Jonassen's book is an interesting change from a great amount of more advanced technology in education materials that are available, in that his discussion allowed us to read about real technologies that can be used in the classroom, with a quick and relatively straightforward discussion of their affordances and constraints. When we deal so much with the theoretical, I fear that we lose sight of the forest for the trees, and forget that what we must do is find a way to actually use these things in a practical manner in the classroom. This book does, in my opinion, a good job of addressing relatively accessible technologies that can, and already have been, effectively utilized in a classroom setting.One problem that I did have was with the relative complexity of some of the technology presented, particularly some of the modeling software. I fear that the majority of Jonassen’s target audience, educators, may be overwhelmed by the relative complexity and somewhat advanced descriptions involved. I do not consider myself to be a technology expert, nor am I completely incapable of using new technology and acquiring technological skills easily. However, I am infinitely aware of how difficult it can be explaining the instructions for an activity to my students. It seems as though many of these technologies are advanced, and may be challenging for the teachers to use, let alone the students. Even if the teachers take the time to learn a technology thoroughly, their students will probably not be on the same page as quickly. I wonder how much time will be spent trouble shooting problems on the students' ends and explaining what they need to be doing and how it works. As Jonassen mentioned, solving the problem is of little value is you do not understand the method that you used to solve it.I found Jonassen's discussion of using systems as a means of organizing content very interesting. When applying this to my own content area, I can see how once students have knowledge of a particular grammatical skill or additional vocabulary, it will affect their ability to perform in other areas of the system as well. The challenge that I see in explaining this to students is that they do not have the knowledge yet to understand all areas of the system. I have found that it is best to intentionally not tell them certain things, even if they ask, because it is too advanced for them. I worry that if I show them too much information, they may be overwhelmed and unable to focus on the task at hand. While the cognitive benefits of this approach certainly are great, they may be outweighed by the challenged that an explanation would cause to a teacher of foreign language, particularly at the introductory level. I do wonder, however, if the addition of this information would allow them to begin to process the language as a living organism and not as a series of memorized dialogues.While this section of the text does manage to provide a great deal of information in an organized and detailed fashion, I fear that it is not going to be completely accessible for all educators, particularly those who are new to the use of technology in education and are not as technically advanced.
In the second section of Modeling with Technology, Jonassen continues to outline the constructivist argument for using mindtools and modeling in classroom teaching. He breaks down this section into five chapters, each of which addresses a different possible modeling strategy. These possible uses of mindtools were mentioned in Part One and all of them will be revisited in the third section’s more in-depth analysis at specific educational technologies in action. As mentioned earlier, I am a reader who is already sympathetic to many Jonassen’s presumptions about knowledge and learning. I agree that “domain knowledge should be a corequisite (not a prerequisite) for the effective use of domain knowledge” (39). I think that comprehension and analysis are interrelated and I tend to reject a lot of the taxonomies of learning that rank levels of understandings without recognizing the interrelatedness of analytical and other learning processes. In Chapter 4, Jonassen introduces a number of educational technologies that can help students model domain knowledge in a way that recognizes this relationship between mastery of content and effective analysis. These technologies – concept maps, spreadsheets, visualization tools, and hypermedia – are revisited later in Part Three.The fifth chapter continues to build on the constructivist claim that ”knowledge is necessarily constructed by individuals and co-constructed by groups through their interactions with the world” (47). This is a central part of Jonassen’s argument for modeling strategies that address systems and hierarchies in content knowledge. Since I am also concerned about the ways in which systemic thinking is implied by (but never directly addressed) in my curriculum, I am interested in learning more about how to incorporate system modeling into my instruction. In chapter 6, Jonassen proposes an additional use of system modeling technologies as problem-solving tools. He also presents databases, spreadsheets, and visualization tools as other technologies capable of facilitating (and modeling) problem solving for students.In Chapter 7, Jonassen presents modeling tools that serve to facilitate and model story analysis and narrative construction. He suggests that students use databases to index information while they read. He also proposed the use of hypermedia to organize and present narrative information (biographies, ethnographies, etc.). While I am familiar with the second use of technology in support of reading, I was intrigued by the suggestion that databases can be used to structure textual analysis. Chapter 8 introduces metacognition and self-reflective processes as a key part of Jonassen overarching learning strategy. In this chapter, Jonassen describes mindtools which “model thinking” by allowing students to construct cognitive simulations. It is his belief that having students program and interact with this kind of cognitive model encourages students to become more cognizant of their learning processes.I tend to find all of these possible uses of technology exciting. I do have some more general concerns about some of Jonassen’s assertions. There are a number of places where he throws out ideas about learning and memory without grounding them in research of any kind. While Jonassen’s version of constructivism is the most familiar to me (and perhaps the most appealing), there are other bits of Jonassen’s educational philosophy that I find kind of hard to pass over without further questioning. When Jonassen makes statements like “examining content in terms of how the concepts function together in the world may be a more effective way to organize content than lists of topics” (49), where is the proof? Is it true that “systemic understanding is so much stronger than memorization” (53)? And how and why are “traditional, topic-based representations of content… inconsistent with the ways that humans naturally represent the world” (54) ? Can these justifications really stand on their own? I recognize that these may not be essential pieces of Jonassen’s presentation of specific media, but these assumptions do seem important to him. Where is the research to back it up? Without it, this argument for building systemic knowledge falls flat especially when compared with the much stronger (and more research heavy) argument behind the concept maps and semantic networks presented later in the book. Maybe Jonassen thinks that getting to this information later is sufficient (since I would think that the declarative knowledge in semantic networks relates to this systems-based approach) but I am not sure what to make of these unsubstantiated assertions at this point.
Part II of Jonassen's "Modeling with technology" connects constructivist theoretical reasoning for learning with more tangible, applicable methods that are useful in the classroom. While Part II is less theoretical, it still serves as a bridge between Jonassen's constructivist theories--and the directly applicable "mindtools" that are introduced in Part III. In essence, Part II serves as a frameworkfor methods of how learning can be brought to life in ways other than lecture-based, teacher-centered learning.In reading Chapters 4-8 of Jonassen, readers are introduced to several different approaches to teaching and learning. Such methods stem primarily from the student as the main navigator of his/her own learning process, as found in the constructivist theory of education. In Chapter 4, readers learn about how students benefit from identifying domain knowledge, and build upon their domain knowledge to acquire new learning. In Chapter 5, Jonassen introduces systems modeling as a useful and effective way to allow students to organize thoughts and information in ways that mirror the way they naturally think. Such organization, Jonassen argues allows students to construct new knowledge without relying on what already exists.In Chapters 6-8, readers are introduced to learning by way of reconstructing problems that already exist in the world. Such methodsinclude modeling problems, using visualization tools, databases to qualitatively represent problems, and supplemental storytelling. In Chapter 8, Jonassen introduces simulation as a way to model problem solving for students.Each chapter introduces a new method for learning, and Jonassen promotes that students create their own content, systems and engage in their own learning process to promote metacognition. As a teacher, one would argue that student-lead learning would solve several problems in multi-level classroom as it allows for differentiated learning. However, are there any constraints for using such methods for learning-impaired students? Such a question needs to be addressed as various learning methods can hinder the learning process just as much as it can help it.
Part II discusses modeling phenomena. Jonassen upholds the idea that there are different kinds of knowledge and “how you know something may be more important than how much you know” (p 39). Each of the chapters in part II focuses on a way to present knowledge; domain knowledge, systems, problems, experiences (stories), and thinking. He starts each chapter by describing the type of knowledge, which is helpful since if you only look at the list above it may be difficult to make these distinctions. He then inserts his opinions about quality versus quantity of knowledge, teaching content, and other pedagogical controversies. Jonassen then presents various Mindtools a teacher could use to promote meaningful learning with respect to the knowledge presented. He discusses how to model with these Mindtools and presents a large number of examples. Some of the example software or internet sites are more useful than others (see the “evaluations” page), but the range of examples helps one gain a feeling for the possibilities in a classroom. While there are no how-to guides, the chapters offer more of a brainstorming session. As you read through you may think that a particular program would not work, but the example could trigger another idea more plausible for your class. Jonassen does not hide the fact that this book is wanting of detail and instructions, it is meant merely to provide the framework of Mindtools and spark ideas for the teacher to shape their own lessons.
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