Paper presented at the ISATT Conference, Faro, Portugal, September 21.-25.,
2001 ICT as a mediating artefact in Learning
Paper presented at the ISATT Conference, Faro, Portugal, September 21.-25., 2001
ICT as a mediating artefact in Learning
May Britt Postholm*
Department of Education
Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)
Huseby Junior Secondary School, Trondheim Municipal School District
According to Koschmann (1996) a new paradigm is emerging in ICT. Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) as it is called, is concerned with how learning is reflected in the language of learners, how social factors affect the learning processes and how ICT actually is used in the learning processes. CSCL studies therefore also tend to be descriptive.
The research study has been conducted when pupils were working project directed. Project work requires the pupils to be active during an extended period of time. During a project period the strict borders between the different school subjects are wiped away, and links among subject matter disciplines are instead made present. Project-based learning can also give the pupils the feeling that they act in realistic situations in which they solve actual questions that also are of their interest. According to Blumenfeld (et al 1991) project work can in this way build bridges between activities in the classroom and real-life experiences.
This paper will focus on the classroom structure that is shaped by both the project method and the ways the teachers structure and guide the pupils throughout the collaborating process in which ICT is a central mediating artefact (CSCL).
Collection of text and context material.
In the case study research conducted in an ethnographical framework I visited the classroom for a period of five weeks. Altogether fifty-six lessons with project work in an 8th grade class. I collected data material by observation, cassette recordings, video-recordings, logbook and recorded interviews with the main informant, the teacher team he was a part of and the headmaster. All the recordings are moreover transcribed. I also asked the teachers and the pupils to write answers to open questions. In addition the school's activity plan, the class's periodic plan and the teachers' year syllabus is included in the material. With these data collection methods I got a material that made it possible to understand the processes from the participants' perspective and a basis to write a "thick description". Together with triangulation and thick description I used member-checking to secure quality on the research work.
Vygotsky built a bridge between the internal and the external when he conceptualized development as the transformation of socially shared activities into appropriated processes. For Vygotsky (1978) the mediation with both signs and tools was the medium to connect the external and the internal, the social and the individual. In sociocultural theory individuals and artefacts are comprehended as aggregates embedded within sociocultural activities. Artefacts are thus understood as extensions of the individual (Prawat 1996).
The Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) is developed by LeontŤv (1981) on the basis on Vygotsky's thoughts and ideas. CHAT laid the foundation for The Activity System developed by EngestrÝm et al (1999). To understand an action it can be placed in the context of an Activity System. As mentioned Vygotsky's basic idea was that each human mental function has a mediating structure, and therefore can be analysed as a triad: individual, goal and mediating artefact (Vygotsky 1978, Cole 1997). The Activity System comprises a number of triadic relations. The minimum elements in this system are subject, artefacts, goal, rules, community and division of labour. All these factor have a mutual effect on each other, and in the complete activity system there are also connecting lines across the different triangles (see attachment one).
Situated learning is a theory that considers learning as an active participating process in practice. This theory highlights the development of the whole person rather than a body receiving factual knowledge about the world. The concept "legitimate peripheral participation" is central in the theory of situated learning. Legitimacy of participation means a person belonging to a community of practice. The feeling of belonging is not just the precondition for learning, but also an important part of the learning process itself. The novice can gradually move from legitimate peripheral participation to full participation by taking part in the activities. Persons, actions and the world are implicated in humans' thoughts, their speech, knowing and learning, and learning thus implies persons to develop with respect to the possibilities enabled by these systems of relations. Therefore learning involves the construction of identities (Lave & Wenger 1991).
Wenger (1998) defines practice as the source of coherence of a community. In this connection he describes three dimensions of practice that are: mutual engagement, a joint enterprise and a shared repertoire. Regarding the learning concept Wenger (1998) thinks there is a big difference between a lesson that is about the practice and takes place outside it, and explanations and stories that are a part of the practice and takes place in it.
Description and interpretation
The headmaster utters that the school's motto is to make the pupils better in activities or subjects they already master, at least a little bit. He says:
"It is our concern to concentrate on that the pupils get the possibility to develop in fields in which they have a potential (Ö). Our aim is that the pupils can develop and build their identity bound to activities they master. I think it is important that the pupils feel that they succeed and master activities and problems, and that they get the opportunity to develop fields they are good at. To succeed also gives pupils that struggles with double consonants confidence to tackle this problem too."
This motto also permeates the teachers' thoughts.
This teacher team had some different directives (rules) to follow than the other teachers at the school, because this class had got the status as an experimental class. This means that the spearhead class is exempted from following the National Curriculum and the ordinary evaluation tradition with marks. The class these teachers follow contains of 39 pupils at the age of thirteen to fourteen years. They are nineteen girls and twenty boys.
The pupils learn to use tools such as video camera, maps, atlas, the science method, e-mail, Apple Works and the editing computer programme called I-movie. The final result of the pupils work ended up in two film on the web, one about their school and one about their town. When the pupils learn to use the I-movie programme, they work through task after task, there are several discussions and clearing ups in front of the computer screen. Two girls, Molly and Karen, are sitting in front of the computer screen trying to make a rolling title to the film shots they have worked with. Molly is clearly the pupil that is assisting Karen and the rendered dialogue below starts with Molly's response to one of Karen questions.
Molly: Write the name of the characters in the third text file.
Molly: Yes, here (pointing at the screen).
Molly: There (pointing).
Karen: Oh, there, yeah (excited).
Karen: Write "our dirty dog" in the fifth text file (reading together).
Molly: And Maggie in the sixth.
Karen: I do not know what is what here? (uncertain).
Molly: One, two three, four, five, ok, here (pointing).
Karen: Two, three, four, where? Where is it then?
Molly: You have to count.
In this way the discussion goes on until Molly have finished almost the whole process. She reads the last exercise and tries to carry it out.
Molly: Click on, click on resolution chart (reads and execute the instruction).
(Now Molly can see the finished rolling title showing up at the screen).
Molly: Oh, cute, did you see that Karen? (excited).
Karen: No, just wait a little bit. The ninth (she is reading by herself, concentrated on the task she does).
Molly is excited when she watches the rolling title showing up at the computer screen just as a rolling title in a "real movie". Blumenfeld et al (1991) utters that project-based learning can give pupils the feeling that they are acting in the real world. The computer editing programme the pupils are using as a tool during this training exercise, also seems to give the pupils a feeling of real-life experiences. Now they have actually made a rolling title as the one they can see after films or movies they watch during their leisure time. This programme or tool also makes it possible that pupils of thirteen to fourteen years of age can get the feeling that they succeed, and that they manage to make a professional result. A result like this can motivate the pupils to more engagement and work in such learning processes. According to researchers as (Crook 1994, Light & Littleton 1994, Mercer & Wegerif 1999) the most effective ways of using computers in the learning processes in school is through classroom activities that integrate an instructional and supportive involvement of the teacher, a software programme that elicits discussions and gives the pupils to work together without the a constant supervision of the teacher
Some pupils in the class are doing the filming, some others are editing the films. Both the film groups and the editing groups are decided on the basis of observation made by the teachers during the working processes. The pupils know that the teachers observe them. Steven, one of their teachers, says to them: "We do not look for bright pupils, but how conscientious you are, how good you are to collaborate, how responsible you are and if you take the lead in the group. We look close to that. Knowledge you can acquire your whole life, but well behaviour is difficult to learn if you do not learn it at an early age. Do you think that seems right?"
This editing process is characterized of intense collaboration dialogues between the pupils. They have to agree which shots they are going to have on the film, how long each cut are to be, how these cuts are put together, what background music they are going to play to some shots and which shots are at best without music accompanying the filmed actions. The pupils have to agree upon which colour the written comments are going to have and how big the letters are to be. They also have to agree about the rolling title at the end of the film. Otherwise they need to help each other to use the I-movie programme to carry out the procedures they want it to do.
This activity really seams to motivate the pupils. During the editing process, you can hear comments like: "this is cool", "it is smashing", "this is really professional", "iiiiiiiiiii", "we are that good" and "this is incredibly fun".
The dialogues in front of the computer screen do not only show that the pupils are excited. They also show that the pupils have learned something during the editing process. One of the groups is almost at the end of the process, and they are going to watch the whole film sequence yet another time. The girl Molly starts the coming dialogue:
Molly: Shall we watch the whole film once more, we have to see if there are any wrong spellings or something like that (they have written comments to different shots).
Mary: Yes, ok.
(They start the film).
Mary: Oh, thatís good, it suits so well, wow! (they watch the pictures and listen to music they have
connected to them).
Mary: Itís really though. Do you know what, this is really good (are excited).
Steven: Had you imagined that it should be that good?
Mary: No, I didnít believe that I was even able to do this.
Molly: No (agreeing and confirming Maryís statement).
Mary says to Steven the teacher, that she had not even imagined that she could use this programme and do the editing work. She was surprised by her own performance during this process. The I-movie programme makes Mary confident with the result. Mary has of course learnt to use the programme, but at the same time the result is amazing due to the software programme. Mary also utters: " Oohhh, I want to do this more", and thus gives the impression that this editing process has been a motivating activity.
During this project Mary and the other pupils in the two groups have moved from legitimate peripheral participation towards a full participation in the aimed practice of the community. They have managed to learn some of the teachers' competencies through their guidance. The learning development exists first on the external plane, in the communication processes between the pupils and the advising dialogues between the teacher and the pupils. Then the competencies are appropriated by the pupils, and the practical knowledge is adapted by the individuals on their internal plane.
In the group processes they got the opportunity to plan the work and to make decisions. In the communication processes they had to listen to each other, and thus the chance to learn to listen and to be listened to. During the project period they got the opportunity to learn to use different tools, they got the chance to use them and make a film and edit the film. The pupils got the opportunity to become better collaborators. The pupils had also every facility to expand their knowledge about their town and school
Instead of asking what the individuals learn, the question should rather be what learning that is made possible and necessary by social arrangements (McDermott 1997). In project work both social and subject matter are interweaved in group work dealing with content topics. Project work thus makes the arrangement for a personís holistic development. In practice you learn from activities you feel that you have a belonging to, that you are personally engaged and in this manner involves your whole identity. Perhaps it is not accidental that you remember best of all from your school history the actions and activities that took place in the schoolyard during a school day. There you could talk to friends or take part in actions that interested all the persons involved. In addition to that the project work method ideally builds on the pupilsí interests and experiences, technology has the potential to sustain student motivation and support student learning during the different phases of project work, but it depends on the social arrangements.
Technology and by that computers are made by human beings. Artefacts and related communities have a mutual effect on each other. People develop their tools at the same time as these tools influence the community in which they are used. I do not say that computers as a mediating artefact by itself bring about change and thus make good arrangements for learning in the classrooms. The teachers are the most prominent factor to lay the foundation for a learning environment in which the pupils can grow and develop. The teachers at schools A use a computer programme that motivates the pupils and gives them real life experience. In addition this programme elicits conversations between the pupils and between the teacher and the pupils that mediate both the pupilsí and the teacherís learning and development. These actions take place in a supporting and structured environment that both limits the activity at the same time as it creates buds for the community to flower. In this way the school-teaching can be a part of the identity-changing community of the pupilsí practice, and in that way get a relationship with their learning.
Ansvarlig for innhold: May Britt Postholm Mail: May Britt Postholm Sist oppdatert: 28.10.2002.