Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Domo arigato kindergarten roboto

There never seems to be any shortage of complaints that younger and younger kids are gaining access to more and more technology. However, the articles for this week push that giving access to relatively complex technology to very young children (starting around age 4) and used in directed and scaffolded ways can be highly productive in early education learning. In all 3 instances, young children were able to successfully utilize the technology used to better understand abstract ideas from the life of bees to physical manipulation through visual programming. I like that Bers et al. point out that what they are doing is different that turning the computer into a TV set or use video games that do not invite creativity.

Instead, the children in all articles are sort of participating in an AR/PS type of simulation. Since the children are concretely grounded in the physical world, they are using robotic manipulatives or digital representations of the real world to enact experiments that would not be feasible in the real world so that young children could participate in them. To me, this resembles very closely the notions of AR/PS activities that were discussed last week (and in my previous blog post). If you take a look at my drawing it includes my first 2 models and integrates them into my third. So from the original model the emphasis is on the educational technology itself. It depicts educational technology needing to be easily accessible/usable, secure, remixable, and shareable. Model number 2 depicts what happens in using AR/PS activities. It show the real world on one side and the alternate world on the other side; a wormhole of technology connects them (symbolizing that technology is at least partially used to bridge the real and alternate world). Above the technology wormhole is either Kang or Kodos beaming down students' prior technology use as an effect on the technology wormhole. The third model incorporates these 2 models as weights on a barbell that an individual is trying to balance as they walk across a drooping tightrope between cliffs. The idea here is that there is a balance that needs to be struck between the technology itself and the use of it as an AR/PS environment for learning. In some cases this balance is going to require scaffolding as a means of achieving the balance. This was particularly evident in the Bers et al. article as there were several instances where the goal of using the technology became a bit distant as the students using the technology were finding it hard to use due to a disconnect between the technology, their knowledge of the technology, and that the topic being taught in the lesson was generally difficult for young students. Similarly in the Montemayor article the use of StoryRoom involved some scaffolding with the students before they were able to successfully operate the digital manupulatives. The takeaway for me was that technology needs to have reared its complex and confusing head sometime prior to the actual "launch date" that it will be used in the classroom as the crux of a lesson. Otherwise students are trying to learn a high level technology skill AND a highly abstract concept (or multiple ones) all at the same time which for anyone can lead to a little frustration and failure. Granted failure can be a positive thing in the use of AR/PS environments. But what I would like to see is the technology be introduced in advance of the lesson and see if the students come up with the connection between the technology and the learning of an abstract concept rather than having the technology and the abstract concept slammed together into a single tsunami of new information and expected learning.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Virtual simulated real-world situated participatory learning...with computers

Ok, I'd like to address a couple of things before I get started. First, I hope that you got a little chuckle from the title--that was my intention. Second, my model incorporates references from the TV shows Coach (because it's an old favorite) and The Simpsons (because it was on while I was reading the articles for this week). That being said, let's get into this week's model on participatory simulations (PS) and augmented reality (AR). At first thought, this unit sounded like Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D). Interestingly enough I wasn't too far off in that assumption.

The idea behind PS and AR is the idea that learning is situated and takes place within the real world yet involves a type of role playing with data or other malleable factors to create a simulated experience allowing students to experience real world situations that would be unrealistic for them to participate in in reality and lack any negative consequences that would otherwise be a concern in such an actual situation. Now, rather than just pretend that students are modeling let say, virus infection patterns, they are able to use hand held technology like a Palm, netbook, or even an iPod Touch to realistically emulate such an experiment. In my humble opinion (and somewhat mirroring what Klopfer et al. concluded) students are more willing to interact with and enjoy technology that is more interactive and visual rather than technology like "analog" digital nametags. When playing a game (or participating in a simulation) the more feedback that can be offered to the user the more ensconced and immersed the user becomes in the experience (again loosely illustrated from Klopfer et al.). I believe that this also ties into the situated nature of the activity. The more immersed the player is in the experience the greater the buyin to the experience as situated learning rather than an activity to illustrate a real life situation.

So let's break down my model. The picture shows 2 worlds, one on the left and one on the right. The left illustrates the real world where students reside while the one on the right illustrates a parallel universe where data or other hypothetical factors can be drawn from. Connecting the 2 planes of existence is a wormhole based on technology used in the PS or AR. Through the use of this technology (and dependent on the quality of the technology) the 2 planes of existence are bridged into a single experience through which students are situated into a merged plane of existence where learning can be done that would otherwise be unrealistic for them to practice in the real world alone in a classroom or lab. The alien in the spaceship above (a likeness of Kodos or Kang) is disseminating a beam of students' prior experience and use of technology that augments the technology wormhole making it more or less effective dependent on several factors. These factors include but are not limited to students' lack of technology use, students' love of technology, students' own agenda of technology.

In a best case scenario, students are able to take a wide variety of technologies and utilize computer fluency/flexibility to achieve an optimal AR/PS environment bridging the real and parallel universes and yielding a strong situated learning environment. While the worst case scenario involves students either rejecting or becoming frustrated with the technology or using it subversively due to their personal agenda of how they want to use the technology, both resulting in a struggling learning environment.

As a side note and a shout out, a lot of what was in the articles and my personal feelings on the ideas leads me back to Jeff's Tweeting Characters work as a PS/AR. So ask him about it if you're interested.