MAS.714J | Fall 2009 | Graduate

Technologies for Creative Learning


Reading responses for Week #3: Learning Sciences

Reflection and Questions

Posted by Mitch Resnick and Karen Brennan

The readings for this week both talk about major transformations in the ways people think about learning and education. The Sawyer article focuses on new ways of thinking about learning, while the Collins/Halverson article focuses on new ways of thinking about education (with special focus on the impact of new digital technologies).

Sawyer provides a very nice overview of the “new science of learning” that has been emerging over the past 30 years, bringing together researchers from a variety of disciplines (including psychology, education, computer science, and anthropology) into a new field called the learning sciences. Sawyer lists several core ideas underlying the learning sciences:

  • To make use of knowledge in real-world settings, people need to develop deep conceptual understanding (not just acquire facts and procedures) 
  • People must actively participate in their own learning; it’s not enough for teachers to simply deliver better instruction. 
  • The best way for people to learn is in an environment that builds on their existing knowledge - not an environment that treats learners as empty vessels waiting to be filled. 
  • People learn best when they have opportunities to communicate and reflect on what they are learning.

The Collins/Halverson paper focuses on changes in the nature of education, arguing that new technologies are incompatible with traditional approaches to schooling. The paper describes three eras of education: the apprenticeship era, the schooling era, and the lifelong learning era (which we are entering now). It explains education has changed along many different dimensions (e.g., content, pedagogy, assessment, location) between these three eras.

For your blog post this week, please respond to the following:

  • Critique the Collins/Halverson analysis of the three eras of education. Do you disagree with any parts of it? How well does the Collins/Halverson description of the new lifelong-learning era align with Sawyer’s discussion of the learning sciences? 
  • Think about your own education. How does it fit within the Collins/Halversn description of the three eras of education?

Student Reading Responses

Posted by SK

Question 1:

One of the places where I disagree with the Collins/Halverson article is in their conception of “learning to learn.” They introduce this as the successor to learning practical skills, then basic skills, then disciplinary knowledge of previous educational eras. They state that “With the digital revolution, the focus is more on generic skills, such as problem solving and communication in different media, and on finding resources and learning from them.” I agree with this statement to a point, though I feel that the conclusions the authors come to as a result are very weak.

While most of this paper is spent discussing the history and potential implications in the future of education reform, Collins and Halverson do provide a some suggestions for actions moving forward. There are few specifics, but they mention “machines for all toddlers that help them learn to read on their own” and “computer-based games on the web that foster deep learning on entrepreneurial skills.” These suggestions sound overly optimistic about the abilities of machines and individual pieces of technology to motivate and inspire students let alone help anyone learn to learn. They also seem poorly grounded in much of the learning science research as outlined in Sawyer’s piece. They are only justified by Collins and Halverson’s own criteria (more engagement, less competition, customization, more responsibility, and less peer culture), which sound positive on the surface, but seem arbitrary without more to back them up.

Sawyer expanded on the importance of reasoning and why it is important to know how to learn. He tied this to the findings of learning scientists that “students learn deeper knowledge when they engage in activities that are similar to the everyday activities of professionals who work in a discipline.” One of the more compelling ideas that he presented was that of a computer “capturing and expert’s process” and “allowing the student to compare her process to that of the expert.” Most of the examples he gives imply that attempts to do this have been along the lines of structuring experts’ knowledge as data and using AI software to reconfigure it on the fly. This sounds like a bit of over enthusiasm about AI to me, and similar to Collins and Halverson’s suggestions to some extent. Why do the tools to help encourage reflection and reasoning (and therefore learning how to learn) need to be technological by their very nature? Can they benefit just as much by simply using new technologies?

It seems to me that the real issues are the lack of interaction between students and the real experts, not the experts’ knowledge. Much expert knowledge and process is already encoded in text books, but it is explicitly didactic and removed from professional practice. Why can’t we use new communications technology to bring experts doing their work in their own words directly to students? Already many students do this by watching specific and instructional YouTube videos, asking questions on a forum where experts participate, and reading blogs from the pros online. In these forums, experts seem more likely to illuminate their reasoning process (and how they continually learn) than if their knowledge were repackaged or reprocessed through software. Though these many experts do not take individual students under their wing as in the apprentice era, many students are able to learn from their work as it is made visible online.

Question 2:

When I think of my own education, I see some similarities to ideas presented by Collins and Halverson. One of their more provocative ideas is that students are too much immersed in a culture of their peers. One way that I (and many others) got around this was by seeking out tools from the professional world and teaching myself how to use them. Usually this required illegally pirating software from file sharing networks. By doing this, I learned more about how professionals work rather than working to learn in the way an educational software developer thought was best for me. Seeing the full set of tools in a program like SolidWorks showed me how professionals were concerned with integrating collaboration tools, or flexible, modular, parametric design processes.

Using these professional tools also helped me engage directly with professionals and learn in non-school locations. For example, I used SolidWorks to design robots for my school’s robotics team. I then could take those designs and bring them to a professional machine shop where I experienced how they were fabricated. The design process was portable, so I could work from home and have them produced at the machine shop in addition to doing design and fabrication work at school. Finally, I could share the CAD files from my designs with other robot builders in online forums and receive critique from people of many ages and backgrounds.

Posted by SL

Hi SK, I too felt that in their comparison of the three eras of education Collins & Halverson’s conclusions about future content: “… the focus is more on generic skills, such as problem solving and communication in different media, and on finding resources and learning from them”(p.5) were weak. Their approach leaves out very important ideas about deep learning and thinking, as well as higher level skills that we would find in intellectuals or experts. I worry that there is no room for developing deep thinking in this future, which raises concerns about educating in a wide but shallow way. The content described in their article may be too limited, too applied. Sawyer does a better job of supporting the kind of knowledge needed, deep and integrated knowledge, for the next generations:

In the knowledge economy, memorization of facts and procedures is not enough for success. Educated graduates need a deep conceptual understanding of complex concepts, and the ability to work with them creatively to generate new ideas, new theories, new products, and new knowledge. They need to be able to critically evaluate what they read to be able to express themselves clearly both verbally and in writing, and to be able to understand scientific and mathematical thinking. They need to learn integrated and usable knowledge…(p. 2)

My own experience in education, post college, confirms some of Sawyer’s ideas about using authentic practices in education to deepen knowledge. Since college, I’ve gone back to school and participated in situative learning settings on several occasions, and in each case the learning has been far more powerful and engaging than my entire pre-adult educational experience. I was fortunate to be able to use immersive environments to learn a few languages and my documentary television journalism profession. Learning by doing and experiencing were perfect for integrating knowledge, for making knowledge usable and deep. It was the interaction with the experts around me that made the difference-and seeing the application of my learning immediately. Computers, digital editing software, high-end digital cameras and editing equipment were the technologies supporting my learning process. They were integrated collaboration tools as you mention. For me the technology was not at all supported or enhanced by “learning software” (an anachronism in my opinion). The technologies at hand were tools and supports through which I built and expressed my learning.

Posted by FG

Collins and Halverson’ proposal that small children learn on their own with computers also caught my eye. I found the image of a toddler left on his/her own with a computer both hilarious and tragic.

But then, one may wonder if the only alternative is for the child to be alone - perhaps, for children who are on their own/spend a lot of time alone for whatever life circumstances [only child, uncaring parents, illness, etc.] having a computer to interact with might be better than not having one.

Posted by DG

I think one important thing to remember is that the computer can extend the learning; it augments the human interaction. For instance, imagine instead of standard wooded blocks with a letter on the side a smart block. The child still can build what the want, but if they spell out a word the blocks or a computer in the room can say it and provide the definition. In this way the child can experiment and find new words and it adds another possible constraint to their construction efforts - all towers must be made out of words.

Posted by JL

When I read that children can learn on their own with a computer, I had a completely different image in mind. I actually imagined a robot companion teaching a child. Currently developed to express social cues, gestures, and facial expressions, robots are capable of being engaging social teachers. Like in Danny’s example, a robot and a child can be working together to build a bridge out of wooden blocks. The bridge collapses and the robot gives a suggestion to how to make the bridge sturdier. The robot teacher can facilitate this scaffolding in a much more intimate way than a typical classroom setting.

However, even if robots can be effective teachers, I still believe a child’s education environment should consist of both this intimate learning as well as classroom learning. Fellow classmates provide competition, fellowship, and motivation as they embark on new concepts and new material together. I have always found that fellow students could always explain concepts better than teachers just because they know where I am coming from i.e. they have roughly the same level of prior education. They would know where I probably made a mistake on a problem because they made the same mistake before. Having this common playing field, students are sometimes great teachers too!

Posted by SL

Collins/Halverson in many ways present us with the same challenge and vision as Papert in Mindstorms. In Chapter 8 of Mindstorms Papert presents us with the unsettling idea of a world without schools and a challenge to educators for better learning models and environments (and by extension: using computers and computation). He goes on to suggest another environment for learning, a different model of learning, that of the samba schools in Brazil. The model is inspiring, and points to ways of integrating many of the social and cognitive functions that our schools should be developing in students: learning is applied, skills are practiced, rehearsed, the learning and learners are diverse in age and expertise (and culture), and so on.

Collins and Halverson, though they insist that schools are here to stay, do propose much the same challenge as Papert:

“The central challenge is whether our current schools will be able to adapt and incorporate the new power of technology-driven learning for the next generation of public schooling. If schools cannot successfully integrate new technologies into what it means to be a school, then the long identification of schooling with education, developed over the past 150 years, will dissolve into a world where wealthier students pursue their learning outside of the public school.” ( Collins, A. and Halverson, R., 2009, p. 2)

While in this statement they focus on how new technology will widen the educational gap between economic classes, or in another sense, widen the digital divide, the message is the same. With a now established global knowledge economy, with new technologies in common use outside of school, and lack of technology skills and capabilities in school curricula, and the fact that our students are falling behind in the global competition for jobs due to a lack of appropriate knowledge and skils, the challenge to educators is to come up with new models for teaching and learning, relevant to the skills and knowledge required in this new technology driven, global market:

“With time, these pieces might come to comprise the fragments of a new system of education in which schools have a less central role, as in the apprenticeship era. But for now, these elements have developed independently of one another. They do not in any sense form a coherent system of education. That is where the need for visionaries is most apparent. It will take energetic visionaries to do the kind of work Horace Mann did during the first educational revolution - that is to figure out how to build an equitable and coherent system from these emerging pieces.” (Collins, A. and Halverson, R., 2009, p. 5)

This is very much a call to action, and Collins/Halverson offer convincing support for why the time is right. They build their case systematically by outlining the incompatibilities between schooling and technology and they describe the many new environments that are now available to learners outside of traditional schools.

However, throughout this article they take a narrow view of how technology (computers) can be used, how technology-driven learning would work. It’s a view primarily based on computer as tool to access learning materials and the web, computer as assessment tool, computer as tutorial/stand alone learning environment. It’s a bias toward using computers as augmentation for the current schooling system. This bias can be found throughout the entire article. (I could list all the quotes but this blog entry is way too long already.) As Papert, Resnick and many others have shown, using computers in the learning environment goes way beyond tutorials and information access to become a part of the learning experience. TURTLEs, Scratch, some of the LEGO products and even my Fab Lab project all use computers in a very different way. They serve as scaffolding and knowledge-building tools, crossing the boundary between the physical and digital worlds. Through them you can design, iterate, create, and communicate. Computers and digital technologies become an integral part of the learning process and they can accommodate and encourage much social interaction. They serve an integral role in the learning environment rather than replacing teachers, books, libraries or demonstrations of knowledge.

Collins and Halverson also outline what they believe will be lost by our assimilation of technology into educational models, and their argument is compelling. We don’t want to lose ground in equity, citizenship and social cohesion, diversity, or broader horizons. But I don’t agree that integrating technologies into our educational system will necessarily mean losses in each of these areas, rather integration will present new opportunities to address each of these areas (though admittedly equity is a big challenge). Their arguments for what will be gained by assimilation are not overwhelmingly powerful or exciting: engagement, less competition, customization, more responsibility, and less peer culture. As laid out, the losses seem far greater than the gains, more convincing than the gains. And their final imperatives for rethinking education: “…customization, interaction, and control” (Collins, A. and Halverson, R., 2009, p. 10) seem somewhat insignificant, frankly. While I agree with them on the challenge and the call to action, this prescription for a better model doesn’t engage, excite or convince.

Posted by FG

I fully agree on Collins and Halverson taking a narrow, reductionist view of technology. As we have seen for ourselves and as many here have said, technology alone is not enough, it should be integrated into a rich and supportive environment. Human contact and nurture are essential components of successful learning. I’m curious, how long would the relatively fast and painless core life skills we learn as babies and toddlers, such as walking and speaking, would take us, if they weren’t learned in the presence- and with the support of our parents and close family members? What if during those critical first years, we had to learn to make our first steps and first everythings in the presence of computers instead of our own parents - even let’s say, emotionally-smart ones? How long would it take? My guess is that it would take much longer, and perhaps even be less efficient…

Posted by SL

Yes growing up with computers as surrogate parent/teachers would be just awful. This kind of relates to Sawyer’s discussion of “situativity,” the idea that knowledge is a process that includes the learner, the tools, others in the environment, and applied activities. Learning core life skills in situ was essential. And while computers can be supportive of the learning process, they can’t replace the interaction with the real world. What if we were all educated based on a situative model? Again this harks back a bit to Papert’s samba schools and immersive learning environments, which I think is an interesting and promising vision.

Posted by JC

I agree that technology is just another tool and not a replacement. There are supposedly groups around the country attempting to execute immersive learning in a community setting. I have yet to run across documentation discussing results, outcomes, etc.

Posted by VR

Collins/Halverson’s paper demarcates chronological boundaries between the apprenticeship era, schooling era and lifelong learning era of education. They claim that in contrast to the Industrial Revolution’s apprenticeship era in which the state took over responsibility for educating children from their parents the present era of education is returning this responsibility to the parents. I’m not aware that this is in fact the case. If, as Collins/Halverson state, only 1.1 million US students are being home-schooled it follows that the lion’s share of the student population is still being influenced by the state schooling system. Moreover, the reading does not specify the cultural scope (US students vs world-wide students). Assuming the former, I would say this is not yet fact. Although I’m personally open on a case-by-case basis to effective alternatives to traditional state-run education I’m not sure at which age, developmentally-speaking, we should begin to emancipate our teenagers. Premature educational emancipation could have serious implications if the teenager is left without proper adult guidance.

Repeatedly, Collins/Halverson show similarities between the apprenticeship era and the lifelong-learning era. For example, learning assessment during the apprenticeship era was accomplished as the master observed the student, correcting them as they went along. By analogy, the lifelong-learning era’s assessment method in a computer-mediated learning environment can provide custom-tailored feedback. Additionally, it may throttle and customize the learning material as the student completes tasks.

Whereas I was inspired by the vision and broad overview provided by Sawyer’s paper on the Learning Sciences I felt that the Collins/Halverson paper was very enthusiastic, optimistic but lacking in specific quantitative data. Although some attention is placed on the ‘shadow’ of this wonderful vision (“What happens to those who are left out of the digital revolution?”) overall I preferred Sawyer’s sound presentation and synthesis of the various disciplines backing the Learning Sciences movement. As an avid supporter and soon-to-be developer of digital technology for education I had every reason to agree with Collins/Halverson but felt reluctant to fully endorse their view due to some key disagreements. Namely, I don not believe computers and software, in their current state, are sophisticated enough to adequately interact with young students without teacher or adult supervision. “Schools are not amenable to the customized education that is now sought, and so now education is moving into many different venues… such as homes.. where learning materials can be accessed from computers and the web”. I find this depersonalization of education to be quite disturbing. In a subsequent section on relationships Collins/Halverson suggest that in the future students will be interacting with systems that have no understanding of them as individuals and will deal with them in a non-critical, impartial manner. I believe that in an ideal classroom the enthusiasm, passion and love for the subject matter the teacher brings into the environment can serve as a huge catalyst for inspiring students to learn. Why would a teacher be so excited about Oceanography, a student might ask? Being drawn into the expanding field of awe and wonder that a great teacher conveys is at the core of learning not just for performance but for the sake of learning itself. I would strongly argue that currently most computer and software systems are not endowed with sophisticated systems including real-time affective computing (emotional awareness) abilities resulting in an impoverished interaction model- something we can not afford when it comes to shaping young minds.

In turn, it is clear that Collins/Halverson’s vision of a global, networked classroom would be a dream in terms of embodying the human family’s diversity of opinion and practice. I would still recommend the judicious application of technology to education. I’ve always been a big fan of using the best components of any system and integrating a cohesive whole from the parts. Real, physically-present teachers and the experience of a good classroom is much harder to digitize than we think. Although I do not doubt we will continue to revolutionize communication technology and that children should become literate in creating videos, animations, Web sites, programming, etc I find it interesting that Collins/Halverson vision of the future of education is comprised of hybrid techniques from current practice augmented by the older apprenticeship era model of education.

Posted by DL

I agree that computers have a long way to go when compared to the “ideal” classroom, where the “ideal” teacher would inspire students to learn for the sake of learning and not for performance. However, your clear distinction made me wonder how often we have such ideal situations. And perhaps while computers may not be capable of some things, the advantages it provides (or the weight we place on its advantages) offsets its own disadvantages, and the disadvantages brought about from the all-to-common non-ideal classrooms and teachers. And you may agree that perhaps it isn’t even the role of the computer to provide affective support (regardless of whether if it can or cannot); without teachers, I can see such a role being fulfilled by parents and other people in the child’s community.

Posted by VR

I agree that parents and other people in the child’s community could provide the affective support.

Regarding educational technology: I am in support of bringing computers and robots into the classroom. However, I do feel like all factors need to be considered. When I stated the classroom experience can’t be digitized I meant that, beyond contagious enthusiasm, a good teacher communicates with a wide range of non-verbal methods. Most telepresence systems currently do not include affordances for pointing/gesturing and body language. We should strive to design systems that enable and empower the user/student to go beyond the typical (current day) 2D representation of a person/avatar on a screen.

Posted by FG

A child’s parents, close relatives and general family/home environment are often seen as those who should provide the affective and psychological support to their child’s education, especially his/her acquisition of technological skills - such as being introduced to a computer, etc. - and rightly so. Indeed, this would be an ideal complement to the often group-based use of computers in schools and colleges.

The problem is that I see the issues of parents involvement and affective support as being directly related to the digital divide again. In less privileged families, where both parents [when there ‘are’ two parents still] are working long hours or two jobs to make ends meet, there is little time or disposition to spend time with kids to teach them new skills, play with them and monitor their progress. I don’t know what the statistics are, but many parents in lower-income families are simply less involved in their children’s education and extracurricular activities. Many such parents are themselves ill-equipped to provide such nurturance and guidance, lacking themselves the technological knowledge and general curiosity about it. In many families, going through the daily routine and surviving is the focus. Then, in more extreme cases, some parents simply don’t care about their children’s education - usually these are ‘social cases’, which may include a alcoholic parent, etc.

The scenario of parent involvement that IL described earlier can hardly be taken as a general one for society, as the experience of an MIT student can hardly be deemed ‘standard’ and representative of society at large.

Posted by DG

I think that technology can help with these issues as it can be easily made available to all children. If we design software that treats education like a game - students need to level up by learning new skills and applying their knowledge; at each stage they are exposed to new ideas that are appropriately contextualized to the knowledge that they have shown that they have. This is not merely replacing a test with a computer, but integrating it deeply into their learning environment where they can compare their progress to others (peer pressure to perform).

Also, by giving the children a place to excel parents who either uninformed or care little may become interested in their child’s new talents. In the following quote, we see that Anjana’s sister-in-law who has no technology experience is proud and excited for Anjana. When a someone is excited and passionate about something it can be contagious and it my spread throughout there family.

“Again, Mitra was delighted with the results. Given permission, girls rushed to the computers. “I feel great!” exclaims Anjana, an enthusiastic girl who lives in Madangir, a low-income district of New Delhi. At home, her family is a bit mystified. Anjana’s sister-in-law is a stay-at-home housewife who has never seen a computer. But she is thrilled that Anjana has the opportunity to master a technology that seems to offer so much promise. “It increases her knowledge,” she says, “and it will be a big help when she looks for a job.”’ - Frontline World

Posted by JC

Many students are growing up in a world of being stuck-on-survive. There parents, relatives, etc. can’t provide the nurturing environment needed to support exploration. In these environments, it is critical for community organizations and the school systems to provide a common place that the youth either have to attend or want to. This brings us back to looking at how to make our schools more effective.

Posted by SK

Re: VR’s posting. “Although I’m personally open on a case-by-case basis to effective alternatives to traditional state-run education I’m not sure at which age, developmentally-speaking, we should begin to emancipate our teenagers.”

This brings up a good point about what seems to be a glaring omission throughout both the articles: there is no discussion of different approaches for different levels of education. The authors don’t seem to acknowledge that using technology to learn might have an entirely different effect for kids, teens, and lifelong learners of different ages. Collins and Halverson’s conclusions make suggestions for many different age groups even though much of their argument seems to be based on how adults might continue to learn and Sawyer sort of lumps together all school-age kids, even though this represents a wide range of mental development.

Posted by FG

First, I have to say that Belgium, France and pretty much the rest of Western Europe have been in the throes of reforming their education system to embrace more learner-friendly practices, as described in these papers, for the past 30 years or so, just like in the US, and with similarly unsubstantial results when it comes to adoption of these new practices… so this is familiar territory.

I found Allan Collins and Richard Halverson’s balanced approach to the new proposed system of education, with equal mention of its pluses and minuses, refreshing compared to the blind embrace that often comes from hardcore reformists:)

Sawyer seems to fall in the latter category, as we are treated to sweeping black-and-white statements and broad generalizations about traditional education, such as “Constructivism explains why students often do not learn deeply by listening to a teacher or reading from a textbook,” or in his rigid Table 1.1 comparing Deep Learning and Traditional Classroom Practices: “Learners memorize without reflecting on the purpose or on their own learning strategies,” or “…carry out procedures without understanding how and why.” I understand the point Sawyer is trying to make - that the new type of participatory learning offers a richer, more involved and ultimately more efficient way of learning new skills and knowledge. But we do know that schools and universities have produced great minds and innovators. And on my own little scale, I can say that I am the product of a traditional education, and I did memorize courses material, but I did so inquisitively, searching for my own additional information to complement it.

For this reason, Collins and Halverson’s more nuanced take is refreshing, such as when they acknowledge the commercial interests behind new educational technologies.

Sawyer’ and Kolodner’s accounts of the difficulties of establishing the field of learning sciences within their contemporary educational landscapes are characteristic of the growing pains that always accompany the location and introduction of a new practice in a given sphere, which amounts to a disruption - a normal scenario here. The divide between the theories and applications in the real world, which Kolodner pinpoints, is also a common problem.

One recurrent theme in all three papers, and one that is central to the proposed reforms is that of “deep and lasting learning” as Kolodner writes. She calls for “better learning” in schools. Similarly, Sawyer makes extensive use of the terms “deep learning” and “deep knowledge”: “When students gain a deeper understanding, they learn facts and procedures in a much more useful and profound way that transfer to real life settings.”

I feel we could do with a little description or some definition of what is meant exactly by “deep learning.” I understand that it is learning that is collaborative, participatory, hands-on, and technology-aided, but these qualifiers refer to methods. All the authors never really define what it is exactly we are learning that we weren’t well equipped enough before to learn well, or in what better ways we are learning the new fact or skill. How much better are we learning? And what does ‘better’ mean? Are we learning ‘more’? Faster? For longer periods of time? What are the goals of improved education?

Sawyer and Kolodner both call for learning that will last - “Deep and lasting,” Kolodner writes. But if all the new skills we acquire through the new reformed system are guaranteed to stay in our mind for good or at least a long time, then how do we reconcile this property with the call for lifelong learning? Collins and Halverson make clear that lifelong learning capacities and frame of mind are a must in today’s new socio-economic and technological conditions. But why is there such a need if what we are learning is by definition programmed to stay imprinted in our minds?

I am myself a lover of learning and converted to the notion of lifelong learning, as I plan to keep exploring and acquiring new skills right through pension and beyond, but I just wish to point out what appears to me to be some faults in the logic behind the argumenst presented.

A related question to that of defining quality learning is: how do you measure success? - a question which is also not really addressed. How do you assess what makes ‘better learning’? How do you go about evaluating the results of the new type of teaching and learning methods? How do we interpret them? Shouldn’t this have to be done over a long period of time for it to be accurate? I would think that in many spheres of knowledge and activities, one would want to check the long-term effects of the new fact/skill acquisition. How else could we define them as ‘deep and lasting’? It would seem necessary to check how much is being remembered after a certain time - if that is indeed a parameter of success - as well as how much the skills and material acquired the learner is able to apply to other academic and life situations. Also, how do we deal with the fact that knowledge and practices change over time?

There seems to be little evidence that this type of research has been conducted, at least I see no mention of this in the three essays, or perhaps just glimpses of it. Yet the standards for the success of these new methods must be established, their efficacy defined. Will they be successful if the learner succeeds in accomplishing a task at the end of the session? Or to repeat it by imitating it? Or creates something new? Or still remembers what he has learned the next day? The next week? In two years’ time? Or if he can apply what he has learned in the session in other aspects of his life, at any time in the future? If the latter - who will be there to check and evaluate the effects and results of the learning session? These last questions in particular point to the near intractability of the procedure…

I find the question of evaluation especially relevant when it comes to collaborative learning: how do you assess the learning success of each person in the group? How do you ensure that each individual receives an equal amount of new information, skills, ideas and feedback from the other participants and group leaders [should there be some]? When it comes to such abstract notions as ‘creative ideas’ or renewed motivation, these can be especially hard to track and evaluate for each learner and comparatively to his peers in the group. Sawyer writes about “the power of collaborative learning.” I would be curious to see how he determines that the learning is powerful.

As I am on the topic of collaborative learning, an interesting note: Sawyer asks “How can we create a culture where learners feel like a learning community?” And the theme of community development and group-based activities come up throughout many of the arguments in these readings. But this gives me a funny sense of coming full circle and being back at square one: a “learning community” - wasn’t that what the classroom was supposed to be? And if not the traditional one, then its reformed version [as there have been many reforms in schools and colleges already]? Having said this, I can easily guess what Sawyer has in mind and how his participatory, multi-skilled and technology-enabled community differs from that of the traditional mainstream class environment. It’s probably the way he phrased it and the absence of characterizing details that make it sound strangely familiar.

Just a couple more points on Sawyer’s article:

  • Sawyer argues that people must take responsibility for their own schooling. Although this is a great concept, it is easy to imagine how underprivileged children and families may not have the right conditions to take such a step and could therefore fall behind - a point that our authors do recognize. 

    Sawyer refers to the “authentic practices” that are part of the new type of the educational experience: hands-on activities are designed in such a way that they offer real life-based experiences to students, so as to bring them as close as possible to the work of professionals in real settings. The problem is, we know they aren’t authentic. The activities planned in reformed programs are still simulations and therefore ‘fake’. They still require that the participants suspend belief. 

  • I appreciated Sawyer’s mention that we should take into account students’ “prior knowledge and misconceptions” - often new teachers prefer working on ‘virgin minds’… as old habits and acquired skills that may not fit their style may be hard to break and redirect.

To take a closer look at Collins and Halverson, I also have a few points to make:

  • The two authors write that “Technology has been kept in the periphery of schools,” and make a case for technology integration. But perhaps they center their argument for a new system of education a little too much on technology. Technology is great, but is snot enough. It must be accompanied by the supporting curriculum, practices and philosophy. It’s not just about integrating technology into our learning lives, it’s about how it is being used. It’s not just about bringing computers into schools. The Russian government is doing that - but for all the wrong reasons, using them to transmit state propaganda to schoolchildren and teenagers through carefully designed youth multimedia programs and services. 
  • I like their idea of making learning opportunities ubiquitous and part of our ambient environment, like workplaces, urban services like libraries, etc. In fact it would be cool to somehow connect all these learning-rich places and being able to navigate them and the newly acquired skills and content with ease.

Collins and Halverson make very strong cases for customizing the material and learning opportunities for children/students/users of the new system, providing them with the information they need, when they need it and in the format they want it. All this comes with fast and appropriate feedback and computers that adapt to the students [instead of vice versa in the traditional educational system]. They also say that this new learning environment has less peer pressure and is generally much friendlier than the cold and rigid traditional system.

One question that arises from these observations is how do students/learners in the new educational system go from this comfortable little educational cocoon to the big jungle that is the world out there? Unless these reforms are extended to other spheres of life - and I think that there is great progress in that direction - it might take some adaptation and readjustment to function in the ’normal’ traditional institutions after one has completed one’s education in the new system.

The ‘real world’ that is the current job market, or even the world of academia, do not come naturally with instant feedback and engagement tools and devices - motivation is not delivered on a silver plate, or ‘created’ for the user, he/she must find ways himself/herself to be curious, explore, study more, and eventually find his/her own sources of motivation and engagement. Real life doesn’t come with instant feedback, people must learn how to be self-motivated and resilient in the face of failure and adversity. Real life doesn’t doesn’t provide customized knowledge on demand, one must learn how to search and hunt for it, sometimes dig with one’s nails to find it.

The real world, however, does come with plenty of peer pressure, competitors and other similarly nasty things - all of which the learner has to learn how to deal with. Getting rid of peer pressure, as the authors suggest is recommended, is no way to learn how to deal with it. I would think that the best way to learn about something and how to deal with it is to come into contact with it. Learning to adapt and make the most of these situations and difficulties could also prove an essential life skill.

The mainstream traditional educational system has failed generations of students in numerous ways. Ironically, this is perhaps just one department where it has had some useful function - preparing students to cope in the world out there - although of course this is no acceptable reason for keeping such a system in place.

But my own conclusions upon reading Collins and Halverson would be:

  1. Don’t make it too comfortable for the learners:)
  2. Seek to engage without too many engagement tools and practices - so that engagement and love of learning evolve from the learners themselves and become an intrinsic part of their personality. In fact, it would be great to make engagement/motivation part of the learning experience itself.

Perhaps the proposed technologies and new practices can help develop just these features in learners and inspire a lifelong curiosity and desire to acquire new skills. But we must make sure that children become independent learners, who do not need to rely on external factors and devices for their motivation, and eventually education.

I realize I have been quite harsh in my assessment of this week’s authors. But as said, I am already aware of the many advantages the smarter type of education has to offer over those of the chain-like, factory-style traditional system, and I am already converted to the notion of a new world fast adopting these thought-provoking and innovation-oriented educational technologies. So I hoped to provoke discussion by pinpointing some of the less smooth elements and possible flaws in the proposed system. Perhaps this may lead to some suggested improvements even.

As for my own education:

Traditional from start to finish at primary and high-school in Belgium, [although those years already saw some reforms], which I supplemented with my own extracurricular courses in private schools and private home tuition [ballet, drama, Latin and Greek for fun; math to raise poor grades]. University was very much ‘a la carte’ at The University of London, Boston University and Harvard.

Posted by DG

“When the state took over responsibility for education, families and individuals ceded most of the responsibility to the schools. Many school children seem to defy the school to teach them anything.”

This quote from Collins & Halverson describes my attitude to toward formal education throughout my childhood - I actively fought against my own education. The subjects in which I excelled were those that seemed relevant to my daily life and related to topics that were of interest to me. In fact, the majority of my learning was done outside of school or on my own. Now, I can categorize myself as a lifelong learner. Through reading, experimentation, lectures, classes, travel I continue to push myself to better understand the world.

There was only one section in the discussion of the three eras of education that I took issue with, and that was the one dealing with equality. I think that there are two significant errors with this line of thinking. First, as schooling uses more technology we will begin to see the benefits of mass production. Costs will go down as quality goes up; there will be better materials at lower prices available to all. In contrast to the present day where the day to day activity of teachers hasn’t progressed in any meaningful way in the past 70+ years. In addition to the ability to reduce costs and improve quality, a concern was raised that public schools would become a dumping ground for the poor and uninterested. The uninterested was detected can be taught through other means, and their issues addressed directly. While the poor, given access to the same technological resources will be able to control their learning and have access to better materials than they normally would have.

I think that Sawyer and Collins/Halverson are complimentary. I see Sawyer as deconstructing well defined common skills and the best way to transfer them to others by understanding what the common difficulties are, what the best techniques are to achieve reflection, and so on. Whereas Collins/Halverson are more concerned with engaging the learner, and having them acquire skills that are not well defined.

Posted by JC

* Critique the Collins/Halverson analysis of the three eras of education. Do you disagree with any parts of it? How well does the Collins/Halverson description of the new lifelong-learning era align with Sawyer’s discussion of the learning sciences?

I find Collins/Halverson’s three eras: apprenticeship, instructionism, and life-long learning provide general phases for mainstream education. The categories do exist together today; although not in equal quantities. Education is evolving, but niche learning, like shop classes, still are more apprenticeship oriented.

Collins/Halverson express the concern of equity and the potential for public schools becoming dumping grounds. I agree with the statement; however, in some parts of the country, public schools are already perceived as dumping grounds. This is already a problem in our current phase of instructionism education.

Collins/Halverson and Sawyer do agree, from a high level perspective, of lifelong-learning aligning with learning sciences. Lifelong-learning and learning sciences requires the student to take responsibility and pursue interests; understanding that no one method is ideal. Collins/Halverson discuss some more practical issues involved in lifelong-learning, such as still providing the a framework for learning through certifications. Sawyer addresses the same issue from a higher perspective by using the term scaffolding.

* Think about your own education. How does it fit within the Collins/Halverson description of the three eras of education?

Overall, I am a lifelong-learner pursuing opportunities that spark my interest. My learning has included instructionism and apprenticeships. The primary and secondary education was mainly by instruction, with infrequent apprenticeships. Post-secondary education was also instruction; however, the classroom instruction dropped in importance as the focus was on experience. Other areas of study, such as fire fighting and EMS, were a mix of instruction and apprentice. I’ve taken more responsibility over general learning and exploration as I’ve grown older and more curious.

Posted by FG

In response to your mention of the three eras of education as defined by Collins and Halverson as “already existing together today” although not in equal quantity”: it just struck me that the authors, and we ourselves in our responses tend to see the three eras as distinct from each other and as if mutually exclusive. But who says this should be so? I had plenty of moment of lifelong learning experiences and opportunities in the course of my traditional primary and high-school education, as when I did my own research and read more about a particular topic or took extracurricular classes to complement the main obligatory teaching. Even my hobbies of dance and drama brought something to my overall education.

I personally think that a convergence of sorts must be possible and beneficial. Why not take the best of each era and mix them into an enriched, multi-faceted practice of educating?

Posted by JP

After reading Collins and Halverson’s article on rethinking education in the age of technology and Sawyer’s book chapter on the new science of learning, I realized that I have been deeply immersed in an old educational paradigm, learned from my high school English teacher. He explained that what people knew was something in their heads, and what was in their heads was something people memorized. I never questioned this idea and actually used it most frequently to learn. On reading these articles, I have concluded that this old paradigm, memorizing, might be consuming and inefficient for me to learn well.

In the beginning, it becomes so clear that to shift people from the old paradigm, instructionism, to new educational paradigms such as constructivism, cognitive science, educational technology and socio-cultural studies, and to change the current “mammoth” school system are not simple jobs. Therefore, it is more appropriate to find a starting point to improve the educational environment than to list all the necessary tasks and handle them one by one.

As a starting point, I loved Sawyer’s “Scaffolding” approach to assist people in promoting deep learning: giving some hints that help them understand something by their own intelligence rather than providing the knowledge itself. In terms of architecture, scaffolding is almost as important as the foundation of a building; scaffolding is a key element in constructing a building. It provides access to all the materials on higher floors where it is impossible to reach without scaffoldings such as a high ceiling or a façade of a high-rise. Another nice quality of scaffolding is that it works in a timely manner: it is installed only where it is necessary to complete the job. It can be easily manipulated and transferrable, used for commercial buildings and then reused also for residential buildings. As long as they are in good condition, the lifespan of scaffolding is endless.

The most potential teaching tool that works similarly with scaffolding will be a computer. Collins and Halverson’s reading well described the transforming nature of education by digital evolution. One thing I like is the notion of lifelong learning that people cycles between learning and working throughout all his lifetime. That changes the view of seniors from abandoned people to the most productive members of economic activities.

Collins and Halverson also mentioned about the loss in using computer technology in education such as the loss of equity, social cohesion and diversities. However, the use of computer tool may be the only method to improve the efficiency of learning by providing customization, interactivity and high controllability. It is very difficult to imagine any other tool can support the new challenge in educational paradigm.

One minor thing I imagine differently from those two readings is that I do not limit the use of computer in form of an isolated product like current desktop or laptop devices. Rather, I imagine all kinds of various environmental features like furniture, rooms, buildings and playgrounds and even a public place can be equipped with micro-computer. Computer-integrated environment can be a tool to improve the lifelong learning process as an enjoyable, yet productive scaffolding.

Posted by VC

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m not totally convinced that Collins/Halverson’s vision of life-long learning is the best way to go about education. I’m not against the life-long learning approach; in fact, I do agree that it addresses some serious issues with schools today (over-competitiveness, the one-size-fits-all mentality). I think the best way to go about education, however, lies somewhere in between the schooling age and the projected lifelong education age. As Collins/Halverson argue, students need be engaged and self-motivated in their own learning-schooling doesn’t account for that. At the same time, I do believe that there is some knowledge that everyone must have-and sometimes acquiring that knowledge isn’t fun.

I’ve been reading about the Matthew Effects (loosely defined as the-rich-get-richer and the poor-get-poorer) in education. Studies show that students who go into school with a lower level of vocabulary than their peers never catch up. (It’s worth noting that these studies identify interaction and discussion with parents as the main source of developing a rich and varied vocabulary at a young age. I don’t have the numbers on hand right now, but the disparity in vocabulary and school-readiness among low-income children and children of professionals is enormous.) A first grader’s literacy scores can strongly predict his or her literacy scores in 11th grade. Why is that? The dominant theory is that students who start behind are likely to be reading material that is too difficult for them, and they get discouraged. They use too much cognitive energy trying to decode words and don’t have enough brain power left over to do higher-level thinking.

So how does this relate to the reading? Collins/Halverson write, “Memorizing information is becoming less important with the web available, but people do need to learn how to find information, recognize when they need more information, and evaluate what they find.” Great. I agree with all of those things, but in order to do any of those steps (finding, recognizing gaps, evaluating), people need some base level of knowledge so they know what they’re looking for and can recognize what they don’t know. When I was studying International Relations, I had trouble getting through the newspaper readings because I didn’t know where all the countries were and I didn’t have a grasp of the major leaders or events of many of the regions we studied. Like the students who started school with a low level of vocabulary, I was spending too much cognitive energy looking up countries, events and leaders. As part of my major at Georgetown, I was required to take a class called “Map of the Modern World”, where we had to learn about every country in the world. It was a grueling, painful class, but ultimately rewarding. When all was said and done, I could finally dive into my reading in a meaningful way. If that class hadn’t been required, I would never have taken it and I’d probably be struggling to get through the international section of the newspaper.

Though Sawyer and Collins/Halverson both support a change in the way school is done, they differ in that Sawyer focuses more specifically on how technology can be used to develop the critical thinking skills needed to make learning a rewarding lifelong pursuit, backing up their claims with credible research. Collins/Halverson identify many technologies that have potential to improve learning, but don’t provide concrete examples of how these technologies have been effective. For example, they describe internet cafes as potential “libraries of the future”. While it’s true that young people could go to an internet cafe to “spend hours on the web, engaging in conversations and games, reading what is happening in the world…if they have the initiative”. That’s a big if. I spent a year teaching in Asia, where internet cafes are extremely popular among young people. Not once did I see or hear about anyone using an internet cafe to learn about the world or practice their programming skills. Most people would be chatting with their friends online (often about relationship drama) or looking at pornography. Though Collins/Halverson identify many points of potential for technology in education, in my eyes, they lose a lot of credibility by including many ineffective examples of how technology can be used to support learning.

I was torn in writing my critique of Collins/Halverson. I want to believe in lifelong learning, but I also strongly believe that some sort of foundational knowledge is a prerequisite to having a truly full lifelong learning experience. I did my k-12 learning in a typical, high-pressure, suburban public school and then attended Georgetown University for a year, which had very strict requirements and very little space for exploration (at least as a first year). Both of those institutions fall squarely into the “schooling era” category. After my freshman year at Georgetown, I transferred to Brown University-a school known for its open curriculum and academic freedom. At Brown, you are only required to pass 30 classes (if you take 4 per semester, that’s 32 classes-which means they build in space for you to fail) and complete a major. All classes have the option of being pass/fail, and failed classes don’t appear on your transcript. I loved Brown. Everyone was self-motivated and totally engaged in their classes, and the people who weren’t engaged in class were generally looked down on. After all, with all that freedom, why would you take a class that didn’t spark your interest? At the same time, with all that freedom came responsibility, and the administration expected us to think responsibly about our curricula. Theoretically, one could take all dance classes pass/fail and still get an Ivy League degree. If I didnt’ have a strong base in many traditional “core” subjects, however, I probably would have been tempted to take all classes in one area. And in doing so, I would have lost the connections that exist or emerge from learning about several different disciplines-the explosions of the mind that make learning a worthwhile pursuit.

Posted by SL

I strongly agree with Collins and Halverson that basic motivations behind learning are changing. As the pace of technological innovation accelerates and the knowledge economy burgeons, lifelong learning is not a far off vision, it is here and now. Lifelong learning is a trend, and its time has come. In researching literature about the development of the Bologna Process in Europe, it became clear to me that this trend is not only demand-driven by a working population with new needs for new learning tools, but driven as well by a competitive international market. The Knowledge Economy is big business now, and so too is Education. Lifelong learning represents an increasingly larger slice of this business and is part of a growing business sector in the global economy. While I don’t see lifelong learning as a complete alternative to schooling, I think it will bring serious evolutionary pressure on schools as we know them to adapt and change in order to survive. I think schools will eventually be pushed financially to compete, a very different approach to education than current practice. I think the danger with the lifelong learning being a competitive business, is that old ideas about technology will be (and have already been) incorporated into these new learning systems. For example distance learning tools and computer tutorials, while they have their good aspects and uses, are often used as a replacement for teachers and classrooms. And I have seen this misuse in online courses and distance education programs. In order for lifelong learning to have a powerful, engaging impact on learners, especially learners who may never meet each other or their teacher, serious thought and work has to go into how to provide “situativity” in the learning environment-that is, how to develop deep, engaged, usable knowledge that is applicable.

Posted by JL

I agree with Collins/Halverson’s analysis of the three eras of education. The education during these three times was molded from the needs of society and the resources that were currently available. Before the industrial revolution, education primarily consisted of passing down skills and craft. After the industrial revolution, the boom of innovation and new jobs required people to have some basic knowledge and training to become skilled workers. The digital revolution brought about an immense amount of resources that were easily accessible. This information age allows everyone to learn basically anything they want instantaneously through the Internet. Collins/Halverson and Sawyer both agree that our education system is outdated and not catering to the needs of society and using the resources that are available. The digital revolution needs an education system that evolves with it.

My own education fit in well with Collins/Halverson’s three eras. My education was a part of the transition from the schooling era to the life-long learning era. I received a computer in the 10th grade. Before then, my education only consisted of what I learned from my teachers, what I read from encyclopedias, and my parents. Limited by these resources, trying to find answers to some of my questions became a frustrating process. But once I owned a computer and had access to the Internet, I felt that knowledge was at my fingertips. By finding my own answers to my questions, it gave me the initiative to learn on my own, which is crucial when pursing higher education; by owning the responsibility to your education, you become limitless to what you are capable of. I truly believe this is why I was so successful in my education.

The endless blogs, forums, and discussion boards available on the internet offer you the knowledge and skills of experts. You can Ask Jeeves or Mr.Google “how do i install my own faucet” or “how do i reboot my computer” and the information is yours to learn and apply!

Posted by RC

For the most part I believe Collins and Halverson captured the change in educational means accurately. I disagree about some potential benefits described of the lifelong-learning era, however. The diminution of peer culture is described as a potential benefit, but I don’t see it as such. Collins/Halverson describe peer culture as tending to devalue learning and foster drugs, sex and violence. Although this is a possibility, I believe the peer-culture adds to the learning experience. You learn a different set of communication skills when associating with peers than with adults. The cliquey nature of peer culture also teaches young people to adapt and find role models among themselves. It does not have to emphasize superficial qualities such as looks and strength. I often felt that i learned more from my peers than I did from my teachers and professors. Similarly, I feel that less competition can also be a potential loss instead of a potential gain. I agree that competition can be overwhelming, but competition can also be a motivating factor. It can aid in setting benchmarks to measure one’s own achievements.

Collins/Halverson discuss the possibility of national certifications where one can develop the areas that they are interested in and apply for certification in that area whenever they are ready. I see these as being very similar to the testing system currently used for assessment that we’d like to move way from. Although there is more customization, these still sound like standardize tests to me. I believe a problem in our current education system is that we teach students in preparation for state exams - the subjects taught are only those covered by the exams and test taking skills are emphasized. It seems like these certifications would end up doing about the same and would thus fail to achieve the education reform that it is setting out to do.

Both the Collins/Halverson piece as well as the Sawyer piece discuss the need of adapting technology into education. Both describe the impact a computer can have on shaping a student’s education. Sawyer discusses a need to shift from the instructionist theories to a more learning science approach, where education moves away from the expert authority delivering information to the learner. This need is categories by Collins/Halverson as a shift from the schooling era to the lifelong learning era.

Posted by ZH

RC, I think I have the same feeling too: I learned more from my peers than i did from my teachers. Because there are much more chances for us to share ideas with our peers, during which we are getting deeper understanding of the problem. I strongly believe that interaction between people and people is one of the most important part of the learning process.

About certification testing, I think this is a difficult problem. I guess all the people hate this idea and definitely, like what you said, our current education system is that we teach students in preparation for exams. But it is also really hard to imaging using a simple and efficient way to test what we learned instead of an exam.

Posted by DL

I agree (with those who have posted before me) that the Collins/Halverson and Sawyer pieces are complementary, in the sense that they do not contradict each other. Similar undertones can be found in both.

However, I disagree with those who believe that the two pieces are a continuation of each other. Fundamentally, the Collins/Halverson piece (via their exploration of the nature of education) grapples with the issue of WHAT we should be teaching in this new age, as “technology is changing what is important to learn.” The Sawyer piece addresses the issue of HOW learning happens, and ultimately HOW we should teach for deep understanding. The two pieces speaks to two different domains of science education.

The interesting connection between the two articles is that technology can be an excellent candidate in facilitating deep conceptual understanding, when implemented correctly, especially in the realm of transfer learning (for example, transferring existing knowledge to new and complex situations as presented by computer simulations).

Posted by VR

After reading various comments relating the Collins/Halverson and Sawyer pieces as complimentary I reflected on my previous statements. However, I still feel that Sawyer’s well-articulated overview of the Learning Sciences seems better organized, more scientific and far more detailed in its description of the subject matter.

On the whole, I was hoping the Collins/Halverson piece would specifically address the challenges inherent in digitizing classroom teacher-pupil (physical) relationships into a non-physical/digital format. It’s certainly possible that this was out of scope for their paper but I felt the praise and promises of digital education technology could have been accompanied by critical evaluation of potential hurdles to their success. In this regard, I found the Learning Sciences methodology outlined in Sawyer’s paper to be a positive step in the right direction.

Posted by ZH

Actually i do not agree the presumption that life long education should be based on computer environment. They neglect one of the most important things: interaction between people and people.

So,like “In the lifelong-learning era, assessment usually occurs as the learner progresses through a computer learning environment, in order to provide support to carry out the tasks and determine whether the learner has accomplished the goals.”

I think they still regard computer as a digital tool aiding traditional education. They still think that learning is just a to acquire knowledge. But how about to learn to be an graphic designer? how to improve leadership? How to learn the critical thinking? most of the contents are not solid knowledge and people cannot learn from a single teaching mode, even if it is super customized. Thus, there is no way to test those un-solid knowledge and skills in a computer environment.

“Peer culture arose with schooling, and in many ways adopted attitudes and beliefs that were opposed to learning. As learning moves out of a school setting, peer culture may weaken and there will be settings where children are working on tasks with their parents, other adults, peers, and often in isolation from other people in a computer environment.”

Collins and Halverson think that “Putting young people into schools, where their main interactions are with peers, creates an unhealthy situation. Peer culture tends to devalue learning and foster drugs, sex, and violence.”

Admittedly, there could be some unhealthy situation. However, that is not necessarily caused by the peer influence. Furthermore, I would say it is extreme important to let children play with peers. It is true that kids can get knowledge and skills from adults easier. But is that the final goal of education? Actually the communication between the peers is very important: children could explore things together, during which they learn how to cooperate, how to share, and how to communicate. The correct answer to the question or acquiring a skill at that time is not important. The important thing is what kids get during the process of learning.

Based on this, i disagree that computer environment is a best tool for lifelong education. It is a strong tool to acquire what you do want to learn. Like Collins and Halverson said, computer could customize to the individual’s needs. However, you only acquire what you want to learn. It looks very efficient, but the problem is that their knowledge is limited: people can only tell what they want to know, but cannot tell what they potentially have interest in.

So, that is the best part of school: it can physically gather people together: people learn not only the thing they do want to learn, but also the thing they potentially have interest in. Furthermore, though the discussion, people present their ideas and absorb the opinions from other persons, which makes deeper understanding of what they learn.

If we go back to the readings of Sawyer’s paper, he discussed a lot of elements which is very crucial to the lifelong education: externalization, articulation, reflection and so on. " The learning sciences are centrally concerned with exactly what is going on in a learning environment, and exactly how it is contributing to improved student performance. The learning environment includes the people in the environment; the computers in the environment and the roles they play; the architecture and layout of the room and the physical objects in it; and the social and culture environment. " So here, he addressed the importance of the learning environment, which we can not see from Collins and Halverson, who just simply emphasis the role of computer and neglect the importance of the environment, especially between people and people.

Actually why MIT is amazing, why this class is amazing is more because people can get together, not only discuss online, but also make projects, discussion in a real world.

In my experience of education, the only part I want to mentioned here is how much i learned through internet as a lifelong learning area. It has an incredible collective resource: we can get almost anything we want to know. I learned “processing”, a computer programming language totally from internet; I learned “how to play blues guitar” through internet and I even got the tips from online video tutorial: how to ski and based on those tips, i got a huge improvement.

Posted by AL

Question one:

It seems like Collins/Halverson are distinguishing the three eras as: 1) “Apprenticeship-based” - pre-Industrial Revolution 2) “Universal Schooling” - 19th Century, post-Industrial Revolution 3) “Lifelong learning era” - current, Digital Revolution. I do agree with the very brief chronological description of the eras, and agree that Horace Mann was a key “visionary” father figure of American public education. However, I think the authors really only delved into a descriptive plan of the era they call the “Lifelong learning era” (Collins, A. and Halverson, R. p.5). Although I agree with the description of the current de-centralized landscape of education, I personally disagree with several ideological proposals the authors put forth. I was also surprised by the fact that one of the authors was formerly the Co-Director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Center for Technology in Education. Finally, I do not think this article aligns with Sawyer’s discussion of the learning sciences, but rather, runs counter to their ideas of group-learning and complex educational settings.

Collins/Halverson claim that the fragmented places where learning occurs have developed independently of one another, and that there should be a move to “figure out how to build an equitable and coherent system from these emerging pieces.” (Collins, A. and Halverson, R. p.5) This moment they are describing would be a perfect opportunity for government, schools, and the private sector to become more invested in studying the ways learning happens in this current networked society in order to better understand the entry points into shifting the way that education occurs. Sawyer describes the solution as an interdisciplinary and epistemological approach to learning that he calls the “new science of learning,” and which he proposes so-called “schools of the future.” These schools use technology, but in a way that thoughtfully builds upon learning research, and in dialogue with teachers and schools. It is a system that is in opposition to the idea of technology replacing teachers in an “instructionist” framework, which is evident in current technology such as Computer Assisted Instruction. This is where the two articles come upon the greatest disagreement. Collins/Haverson foresee a future where traditional schooling will diminish and there will be a more self-directed, computer-based education that can occur, among other places, through homeschooling. Their argument seems to weigh heavily on a certain faith in computers as a universal, accessible, and self-directed learning machine without as much consideration as far as the other beneficial aspects of social learning. I personally feel the idea of virtual K-12 schools for distance education as a singular concept is troubling, and feel that it runs counter to the importance Sawyer places on what he calls the “complex social environment.” Another distinction I noticed in the articles was the fact that Sawyer’s was still in the form of a question; it was still looking for an answer to the question of studying how learning occurs, and the best use of a Piagetian framework for the creation of appropriate educational technologies.

Question two:

I cannot image a world where educational technology becomes involved in primary education to the degree that traditional schools are no longer the nucleus. The traditional school was developed by the founding fathers during a time when citizenship itself was still in a phase of being defined. Thomas Jefferson proposed the school as the center of the community, and of the civic society. I do agree that society is in a vastly different place now, where an industrial economy has been replaced by a networked economy, and old institutional hierarchies, including the government itself, have given way to more individualized and networked communities of self-directed information gathering and learning. I believe that within this complex, and flattened landscape, there are greater opportunities for democratic access to information, citizen-based politics, grassroots media and for creative explorations through collaborations-all of which support the notion of a strong democracy. However, I disagree with the idea that technology alone can solve these beautifully complex issues. The Collins/Halverson description of technology as universalizing educational tool, as individualized as they propose it will be, sounds like lobbyist propaganda that has no space for richness of human relationships, even amongst peer groups. This proposal seems to cater to the individual, by protecting them from any uncomfortable situation, including peer pressure, but doesn’t factor in the character building, ethics, and human development in relationships lessons that occur in spaces of education, school or out-of-school, that are not controlled completely by technology.

Posted by VC

I should probably clarify-I’m not against lifelong learning. I myself am a lifelong learner. In fact, as an undergraduate, I went through the trouble of transferring to Brown, a University that fully embraces the lifelong learning spirit. I think Halverson/Collins identify many technologies and mechanisms that could make people more excited about learning, and that is a wonderful thing. I was more frustrated that Halverson/Collins took good ideas about technology and education (distance education? Great!) and didn’t think through or make a good case as to why these technologies would work (defining the University of Phoenix’s success in terms of enrollment is not a credible way to defend the practice of distance education.)

Here’s where I’m coming from: last year I had a Fulbright grant to teach English in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Kaohsiung had just won the bid to host the 2009 World Games (sort of like an alternative Olympics) and they were scrambling to boost the English proficiency of their students in order to look like a cosmopolitan city. In South Korea, educators developed a program called the English Village, where they built sets to look like places where you’d speak English (ex: a hotel, airport, restaurant, etc). Kids would go to the English Village and stay for a week-long, language-immersion camp, where they’d practice speaking English with native speakers. The kids made huge improvements-by the end of the week, they’d developed a fluency and got over the shyness and hyper-perfectionism that plagues the majority of students from that region. They were excited about English and curious about western culture, setting them up to continue learning the language as they got older.

In Kaohsiung’s last-ditch attempt to raise their kids’ English levels, they built English villages in various classrooms around the city and then told us Fulbrights that we would be working there for 4 hours each week. The Kaohsiung Bureau of Education spent millions of Taiwan dollars building the sets, but didn’t have enough money to have the kids attend English Village for a full week, so they created a policy where each 5th grade student would go on one EV field trip that year. That is, each 5th grader would go to the English Village for one session-just two hours. The way the Bureau envisioned the program, all 30 children would stand quietly in line while they practiced the same scripted, one-on-one dialogue with one of the native speakers. And they thought that the excitement of seeing a real, live white people (that’s not a joke-I can’t begin to describe the children’s disappointment when they saw my familiar, non-aryan features) coupled with the beautiful sets for two hours that academic year would be enough to create self-motivated, fluent English speakers. If you can’t tell by the tone of my description, the project was a disaster. I don’t think any of the kids I worked with made any improvement in their attitude towards learning English (much less their proficiency), and the Bureau would have been better off spending their money hiring more English teachers or buying overhead projectors for the schools.

I feel the same way about Collins/Halverson’s article as I do about the English Village. There is so much potential in these systems, but we can’t just expect people to like learning just because it involves computers or a pretty set. Every innovation needs a well thought-out, researched plan. Obviously there is some trial and error involved in developing these kinds of programs, but we can’t simply hope that “if we build it, they will come.”

Posted by MN

1. Critique the Collins/Halverson analysis of the three eras of education. Do you disagree with any parts of it? How well does the Collins/Halverson description of the new lifelong-learning era align with Sawyer’s discussion of the learning sciences?

It is a very funny feeling how I long for innovation and radical improvements in the education systems but at the same time find myself apprehensive about its realization. I agree with most of Collins’ and Halverson’s analysis of the three eras of education and with the claim that a new system is require to adapt to the digital age and to take advantage of the customization, interactivity, and simulation capabilities of the computer. However, I don’t think that there are different skills to master at different stages of life, thus childhood education does not need to resemble the workplace. It is a time when children learn how to focus and discipline their minds, interact with a large pool of peers, and be exposed to a diverse set of knowledge that they wouldn’t have sought after themselves had the curriculum be customized. I think that what is lost by abandoning the universal schooling system- citizenship, social cohesion, diversity and broader horizons- is too costly and too essential for children to learn at their age.

2. Think about your own education. How does it fit within the Collins/Halverson description of the three eras of education?

My own education was a mix of all three era. I went through 20 years of traditional apprenticeship-style training of the violin, went to public schools, and was able to benefit from the latest technologies later in the school years. The ideal school system, I believe, probably will be a healthy mixture of these three elements, since they tend to develop different skill sets, knowledge and personalities.

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