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Nathan Balasubramanian's Response to Assignment 10

Read the Introduction to

Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.). (2001). Learning: From Speculation to Science. In How People Learn — Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Washington, D.C: National Academy Press.

Briefly discuss the following issues:

1.1 What did you find interesting about the article?

I liked the optimism and vision of the two committees, Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning and Committee on Learning Research and Educational Practice, in anticipating their synthesis of over two centuries of research on the human mind to spur “new approaches” that might make it possible for most learners to develop deeper understanding of mathematics, science, history, and literature. During my reading, I marked over 10 places where interactive learning environments like STRONG might indeed be one of these "new approaches."

1.2 What did you find not interesting about the article?

The entire article was fascinating.

2. What do you consider the main message of the article?

Current societal needs, demand educational systems that move beyond teaching of the "basics" (3Rs) to help individuals:

• think and read critically

• communicate clearly and persuasively

• collaborate and solve complex problems

And, research on expertise demonstrate four critical characteristics:

• rich body of knowledge about subject matter is important for problem solving

• knowledge is organized around important concepts

• understanding is built on prior knowledge and beliefs

• metacognition – reflecting about one’s own learning is an important ingredient for active learning

3. Analyze and describe how you have learnt a complex systems (e.g.,“Microsoft Word” or a similar system incase you have never learnt MS-Word, Photoshop, Java, using the Web effectively, …)?

I learned complex systems by first observing someone use the tools and then adapting it to meet my needs. For instance, I observed one of my students using Adobe Photoshop and a colleague using Macromedia Dreamweaver skillfully before I started using them to build my own web sites.

4. Describe the most interesting / exciting learning episode of your life!

The most interesting learning episode in my life was learning to play table tennis (ping pong, as my students call it) because it illustrates the power of observation and intent! I reproduce here a paragraph from my Smart Education paper discussed at the ITFORUM. For several months, as a 13-year old, I observed how experts at a local club played table tennis (TT). I consciously resisted taking a swing at the ball for almost three months. After internalizing the various processes observed, I finally “decided” to hit the ball “flat” and generated incredible force. I never attended a coaching camp (unfortunately?), to help me develop a conventional “top spin” style, but created this indigenous style to play competitively against numerous champions. Simon (2001, p. 207) observes “at least 90% of what we have in our heads is acquired by social processes, including watching others, listening to them, and reading their writings.” The example of learning to play TT illustrates that even physical abilities could be learned by observation. Further, participating in several tournaments, I learned how winning often starts with a mental conception. A common joke about golf being 95% mental and 5% physical (or in the mind) illustrates this too. In professional counseling, the term used for this process is called intentionality. According to Hockaday, Purkey, & Davis (2001) “it is the ability of individuals to link their inner consciousness and perceptions with their purposes and actions” (p. 219).

5. Write in one short paragraph (a) what the following concepts mean and (b) which role they have played in your personal learning (e.g., where you have encountered them)

5.1. Learning by being told
This is the common mode in which I was taught in schools and universities for over 20 years and unfortunately I learned nothing!

5.2. Self-directed learning
The key words that capture the essence of self-directed learning are initiative and persistence! In the Smart Education paper I describe how I mastered physics over the years by taking the initiative to study past examination papers over a period of 30 years. In a paper titled High-performance school systems, I used Knowles and Straka’s ideas to describe how teachers and principals might use self-directed learning to influence students’ academic outcomes.

5.3. Learning on demand
I first came across this idea when we were discussing the concept of Learning Objects, reusable self-contained modules, in one of our IDEAL Lab meetings to facilitate online adult learning. Subsequently I heard this idea used in various situations, from using Physlets to kindle student learning to reducing cognitive load in multimedia use.

5.4. Discovery learning
This term is often used synonymously with inquiry learning, where learners ask questions and find out the answers for themselves. However, it has often been abused by teachers when learners are not provided with adequate scaffolding for learning.

5.5. Experiential learning
First came across this when an Instructor in my master’s program at Sheffield asked us to complete Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory. It was fun to compare our “plots” with others but the key ideas of knowing and understanding based on Lewin’s theories of adult learning have been useful. I am personally inclined though in having students do some preliminary reflections to elicit their rudimentary understanding of concepts, through social discussions necessitated in gaming environments, before promoting full-fledged understanding by actual doing.

5.6. Informal learning
This was my rationale for organizing physics fairs when I started teaching because figured I learned and enjoyed science more by participating in annual science fairs along with fellow students rather than within the classroom where my teachers lectured or copied or read off their notes. I could select a problem of my choice, research it, and present it to others, consequently building my confidence and motivation for further study.

5.7. Collaborative learning
Helping students work on common (mostly teacher specified) problems by taking joint responsibility for learning drives my technology classes. There is active participation, thinking, learning, and reflection when students work in teams even when they work on individual projects.

6. Which media support have you used and are you using for your learning?

I used the computer and the Web to access and further my learning.

Nathan Balasubramanian

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