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LEARNING: Technology as Learning Tools in Educational Environments

  • Divya Ashok, Katie Byrnes, Ryan Coyer, Henry Doan,
  • Ali Hassani, Chris Magill, Aaron Schram, Javier Velez

Our group has transitioned within the arena of “Learning” by exploring many possible topics and themes for our course project. At our last progress report, we focused on the theme of “learning by doing” with the hope of unifying diverse interests of group members including learning theory from the fields of psychology and education, philosophical and practical implications for the purposes and uses of technology in education, the use of video games as a learning tool, and the implications of distance learning. We have formed pairs who share similar interests and have shifted from a “learning by doing” emphasis to a technology in education emphasis.

The learning theory we are employing is a constructivist and humanistic model of learning based upon the theoretical work of educators like Carl Rogers, Paulo Freire, John Dewey. We believe that students need to be active participants and co-constructors in their learning environment. This is supported in much of the research we have read in this class about the power of being a designer or co-designer in technological environments rather than a consumer. In too many of our schools and educational settings, students passively receive or consume information from a teacher instead of being engaged as a co-constructor of knowledge and understanding. We posit that technology can assist our educational community in becoming more design-oriented rather than consumer-oriented.

The need for technology in education and learning in general has grown up tremendously in the past decades. Whether we are techno-utopist or a techno-pessimist, technology has proven to everyone that, if used in the right direction, could contribute to the prosperity of the human being and supply every person with all the material needed to achieve a task or a to access information. Therefore technology is a much needed tool to the progress of humans and their lives.

However, as mentioned before, technology could be useful to learning and education only if it was used in the right direction, which makes us think that it could be a sword with two edges: If we orient it towards the right direction, we could get the best out of it, but if we orient it towards the wrong direction, we would get the worst out of it. The technology these days is used in the different domains of arts and science, and it’s contributing to the development of newer fields of education. On the other hands, the reckless use of technology (development of atomic bombs, uncontrolled use in the domain of robotics…) has exposed human lives and future to many risks because it has increased the chances of self destruction and has put humans in an obsolete position where they can’t defend themselves against technology and their creations from it.
Therefore, before we start thinking about integrating technology as a future tool for learning, we need to have a set topic defining what we want technology to achieve in this learning, and we need to put in place some norms that control the use of technology in our educational system and oversees any reckless use of it.

With regard to our research on video games as a learning tool, we have found:

1. The most effective applications of video games as learning tools are in situations where learning occurs as a byproduct of an enjoyable activity. For example, consider the computer game (from the 1980s) called Spellakazam ©. From the player’s point of view (usually a small child), the object of the game was to accumulate points and advance through the levels. However, the parents buying the game knew that in order to accumulate points and advance, a player needed to correctly spell words that were presented in various ways by the computer. So, although the player thought that they were playing an enjoyable game, as a byproduct of the experience the player became a better speller.

2. There are many settings that lend themselves to learning via video games. For example, many pilots learn how to fly long before they ever take-off in a real plane by virtue of flight simulators (a very specific type of video ‘game’). Additionally, sporting games can teach the player many specific rules and strategies that they may not have otherwise been exposed to. There are several other examples that illustrate these situations, but they will appear in the final report.

3. We have encountered conflicting evidence regarding the usefulness of video games as learning tools for people without previous knowledge of the subject. In some cases, it appears that prior experience allows a person to learn new information more quickly, while in others it appears that the best learning experience occurs in people that have no prior conception of the subject. We have a few examples that support either side of this claim, but they are far too lengthly for a midterm progress report

Another topic within our course project we're researching is distance education. Obviously, technology is imperative in order for this system to work. Technologies must be put into place to mediate/supplement the traditional in-class interaction amongst students and instructors. Simple processes such as raising a hand for immediate help, asking the format for an assignment, or asking specific questions regarding the context of a question (why is formula X important to know? what's its practical uses?) are all taken for granted in a classroom environment.

When working with a "virtual" classroom, many intangibles must be accounted for. One example would be how do student can get instructor assistance. If a student's question is straight-forward, one question/answer interaction may be sufficient to give the student what they need. Email may be the perfect medium for this. But often, a question/answer interaction will give only partial clarity to the student. In addition, the instructor's answer may invoke more questions from the student now that the context is better understood. At a certain point, back-and-forth email chains become excessive and tedious. Also, many questions (ex: "Where am I going wrong with this matrix row reduction?") are too complex to describe over a medium such as email.

University of Colorado computer science professor Michael Main also expresses concern, from an instructor's perspective, of the deficiencies of distance education. When asked if he would consider teaching a distance education course, he responded, "No. I am rewarded by the [interaction] with students." He also commented that the biggest obstacle facing instructors would be that "there would be little individual feedback, little chance to tailor work to students."

In looking at our theoretical assumptions about learning, about technology in education through the lenses of video games as learning tools and distance education we hope to offer our audience a glimpse of what the future could look like within educational settings.

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