Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Collaboration and databases for learning

Doug Lynch, Chair of our department, sent the following email message to me recently calling my attention to an article that he found:
Steve: I found this article that may be of interest as we craft grant plans...but has implications for your mission as well.
Douglas J. Lynch, Ph. D.
The citation for the article he recommended is:
Sara Dexter, Aaron H Doering, Eric S Riedel. (2006). Content Area Specific Technology Integration: A Model For Educating Teachers. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 14(2), 325-345. Retrieved December 19, 2007, from Education Module database. (Document ID: 1017922091 [link requires UNE Network access]).
The article describes an ambitious college-wide strategy for dual integration:
This dual integration (technology integrated in the content area methods course, and the content area integrated into the technology course) is the essence of the model of teacher technology preparation we present here. The fellows were essential as they were the bridge between these two domains of knowledge as well as between the instructors of the technology and methods courses. All participants' willingness to learn and to organize their efforts around the teaching and learning of that content area was also essential.
This supports the initiatives that Heather and (and Dan to a smaller degree) have started for integrating across Social Studies Methods and Technology for Teaching and Learning.

I followed another lead in the paper from a section where the authors described their process of establishing the ways of working together
The technology course instructor, and usually the project director, met with the methods course instructors in each content area to learn about the standards, important ideas and processes in that content area, and the learning outcomes for the methods courses. During these meetings we introduced the concept of mindtools (Jonassen, 1996) and started to identify, which technologies might be best for their students to learn. The mindtools concept, and later the notion of using technology to add value to instruction and assessment (i.e., technology making possible something otherwise impossible to do or difficult to achieve) proved to be generative concepts for the faculty members' learning. These ideas helped the faculty members focus on topics in their content area where technology could really help teaching and learning. That we argued from the outset that technology wasn't a panacea, but rather a tool with capabilities that could be very helpful in carefully selected instances, also lent credibility to the project staff and technology course instructor's efforts.
Doug had marked the Jonassen citation (1996) with the comment "get." The citation refers to the book Computers in the classroom: Mindtools for critical thinking. While we wait to get the book, I searched for related work from Jonassen. He surprised me with the best justification I have found so far for my claim that databases are valuable resources for teaching and learning. For several weeks, I have been trying to help Doug understand why I think that Zoho Creator is such an important development.
Databases may also be used as tools for interpreting, analyzing, and organizing subject content by learners. Student-constructed databases using a Concept Development Strategy and an Interpretation of Data Strategy requires learners to select information to collect and to organize it into meaningful categories (Rooze, 1988-89). Student-constructed databases have been used to support history instruction (Knight & Timmons, 1986) and lessons on seashells (Goldberg, 1992), and as an inquiry tool to aid higher-level thinking in a fourth-grade American Indian studies course (Pon, 1984). Constructing database queries is a form of hypothesis testing (Katzeff, 1987). The database shown in Fig. 1 was developed by learners studying cells and their functions in a biology course. Although the intellectual benefits of building knowledge databases is obvious, more formal research on the efficacy of these activities is needed.

Designing a database requires the learner to identify a content domain, sense an information need, and develop a data structure for accommodating the information to be included. Building databases involves analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information (Watson & Strudler, 1988-89). Database construction is an analytic process which engages important critical thinking skills such as evaluating, organizing, and connecting information; a few creative skills such as analogical reasoning and planning; and several complex thinking skills such designing a product, problem solving and decision making (Jonassen, 1996).
Let's get designing and building!

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