EdTech now and then: Combining course contents

The below text has been handed in by me for the MITx course 11.132x „Design and Development of Educational Technology“. After some good results in the peer feedback and a very lifely discussion on the text with a friend I decided to publish it here as well, as I used some thoughts/input from my Master programme (especially for the conclusion).


Abstract

In this assignment I will first describe the blog as a current learning technology and the LÜK (Lernen-Üben-Kontrollieren, german abbreviation for Learning-Practising- Controlling) as an earlier learning technology before I secondly conduct a comparative analysis of both technologies. My descriptions are enriched with personal learning experiences with theses technologies. I conclude with emphasizing that both technologies represent only one of several examples for the shift in learning theories over time and their impacts on educational technology. Additionally a major outcome is the claim for the critical evaluation of Ed Tech and the interdependencies between education and technology.

 

PART 1: CURRENT TECHNOLOGY – Blog

Blog Post (http://pixabay.com/static/uploads/photo/2014/02/13/07/28/wordpress-265132_640.jpg)

A current educational technology is the Blog (or Weblog, as a contraction of the words “web” and “log”), which can be described as a page on the web that operates as an individual accessible journal. Whereas in the earlier days of blogging knowledge about setting-up a homepage was required, Blog platform provider (such as wordpress.com or tublr.com) nowadays enable each individual to create a Blog without previous knowledge [Blood, Rebecca. „Weblogs: A History and Perspective“, Rebecca’s Pocket. 07 September 2000. 18 September 2013.]. When using this technology, the user’s main goal is to produce a text about a topic of interest and make it available for feedback.

Based upon this definition are the assets and drawbacks of this technology. On the one hand a blog can be used as a personalized learning technology adapted to specific needs to keep track of the learning process. Thus the technology’s goal is to offer a platform for keeping a learning journal for feedback purposes and continuous improvement. In addition, it operates as a sharing platform that is open to individual adaptation. However, in this openness lie the drawbacks as well. The technology does not  lead to a specific goal (producing a text is a broad goal) but rather is intended to be open-ended. By doing so, it requires a deep reflection on what the blog should be used for and how it can be used efficiently. Moreover, basic knowledge in producing text, expressing ideas, looking for appropriate resources and constructive feedback is required.

I want to illustrate these insights with the help of describing my first blog (franzidoesblog.wordpress.com) to support my individual learning process. It was set-up when I started my Master’s studies in Information Technology & Learning at the University of Gothenburg in August 2014. Whereas producing a text helps me to express my thoughts and reflect on them, once starting a blog can also generate pressure concerning how often to create a post and what to write about. The blog is useful for me to keep track on my progress and as it is open for adaptation I can implement it the way it suits my purpose. It helps me to improve my writing and reflecting competencies. Nevertheless, without the appropriate target group and range, getting feedback can be a hard task.

PART 2: EARLIER TECHNOLOGY – LÜK

LÜK Kasten (http://www.lernundsprachtherapie.de/files/spiele6.jpg)

The LÜK (or LÜK-Kasten, www.luek.de) is a self-checking device for different developmental stages and ranges of subjects and topics (e.g. learning to read or mathematical calculations) [jayseducation.com]. It consists of up to 24 rectangle chips that can be placed in a flat box. Each chip is printed on both sides: one side with numbers, the other with coloured geometrical shapes. The inner life of the box is also printed with numbers (please refer to the above picture). Lately, it has been released as an App as well which follows the same operating principles (App release notice on luek.de [German only]). The intended primary audience are children from 2 to 13 years. It claims to be a learning system, that follows the latest research on learning. Even though I was working with an early version of LÜK, it is still following the same principles today.

The operating mode is divided into three steps. First, there are guiding books for a variety of contents and levels of expertise that accompany the LÜK. In it, one can find the tasks to work through. Say one is working through task 1 that reads “Add 2 and 2!”. The result “4” has to be calculated mentally and then looked for within the chips. Once the chip with number 4 has been found, it has to be placed on the space in the box printed with 1 (representing exercise 1). If task 2 reads “Add 5 and 2!” “7” has to be found and the chip has to be placed on the corresponding space in the box for exercise 2. One important fact is that the numbers face upwards so that the geometrical figures can not be seen after the chips have been placed. Second, the box is been flipped over when all tasks have been solved. Third, once the box has been flipped, the geometrical figures face upwards and reveal the geometrical figure that has to be checked against the solution printed in the guiding book.

The LÜK resembles a sort of teaching machine. The tasks are divided into several progressing steps and once all are solved an immediate feedback is available. Furthermore, each student works on his/her own pace and is thus guided by an “individual teaching assistant”. The assets of this technology lie in the individual learning pace and the transparent instructions. However, this can be seen as a drawback as well. The learning process is clearly structured and by this can’t be changed. Though the pace might be individual the process structure (the sequence of tasks) stays the same. In addition, the LÜK does offer a variety of topics but the principle stays the same, making it predictable and prone to monotony.

I used the LÜK-Kasten throughout primary school in the late 90s primarily for learning mathematical calculations. As far as I remember, most of the time I enjoyed it. We had to solve both – homework and in-class activities. However, sometimes we tended to switch to the geometrical figures directly and did a jigsaw puzzle instead of calculations by recreating the picture from the guiding book. The impact on learning was present, however seeing it from today’s perspective I doubt the effectiveness. Mostly because it was teaching to calculate without reflecting the task and you got used to the principle very quickly.

PART 3 – COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS

Comparing a Blog and the LÜK-Kasten is like comparing fire and water. Both are elements of the earth but besides this they do not really have anything in common. A blog and LÜK can be used to learn something but whereas the blog is giving a lot of freedom (blog-post as the only limiting factor), LÜK is providing the complete “learning process” (in quotation marks because I would not always call it learning process) including the content. Both approaches are thus very divergent.

To contrast the technologies, I want to try to make them more comparable by exploring instructions for the same developmental stage (I was using them at different levels of age) – let’s say at the age of 10 to learn a new language. Whereas following the instructions in a language class using blogs would lead to producing individual texts including research on it, LÜK would lead to following instructions to answer questions and producing a new geometrical figure. One recognises that LÜK itself is a very isolated and limited system compared to a blog. Each new content has to fit to the instructional idea of a guiding book and answering a set of up to 24 questions. These questions are limited in characters and context, there has to be one correct answer. Furthermore the content might change due to different guiding books but the geometrical shapes (the box itself) does not change. The blog does not give this strict guidance and thus needs the support by a teacher, that helps exploring and managing the technology for learning. But after this the blog offers a wider range of approaching a problem by creating an individual text that can be formated, enriched with pictures, videos and hyperlinks. Each post will be an individual artifact, that can be commented on by others and developed further. With each post the blog as an artifact itself is growing. This introduces a social aspect as well. Whereas LÜK is a rather isolated learning process, a blog lives from feedback and improvement.

When it comes to engagement and motivation it appears as if the blog per se would work better. However, I am critical towards this attitude as especially a younger target group can be scared of writing independently about a topic, publishing a text online and making it available for feedback. But I see the teacher in a powerful role to overcome these obstacles. It might also be a familiarization with traditional behavioristic approaches that result in a certain assumption about learning. By saying so, I mean that children (especially in math) learn from the beginning, that there is always a certain process leading to one correct answer. Finally, this leads to a sceptical attitude towards new approaches such as a blog because they can be so different from what children were used to before. It might be that with the development of more cognitivistic and situative/pragmatistic-sociohistoric approaches in learning practise [terms taken from Greeno, J. G., Collins, A. M. & Resnick, Lauren B., 1996, Cognition and learning.] this might change.

To conclude, a blog can be more thought-provoking, memorable and playful whereas the LÜK can be more structured and more motivating as it leads to direct feedback on the answers. Of course this is my personal view, it is highly likely that others would engage differently with these technologies. For example, one could enjoy the openness of a blog and using it for creative results. Another one could see LÜK as being forced into a learning process that does not suit his/her preferences. All in all, both technologies derive from different learning traditions and mirror the ideas of their time.

PART 4 – CONCLUSION

Can we enrich learning environments with both technologies? If so, how? And even more important, how do we evaluate these technologies?

What becomes more and more important to me than answering these questions is the ability to critically evaluate technologies we (want to) use. Because technology is more than (just) a tool – it is not neutral. Neither does it have a sedulous impact. If it does have impacts we have to be more specific in describing them to not fall into the category of technological determinism [Oliver, M. (2011), Technological determinism in educational technology research: some alternative ways of thinking about the relationship between learning and technology].

In my school days it was important to critically evaluate historical sources and judge their context, purpose and credibility. However, when we talk about technology we tend to be more superficial. But technology – as historical sources – always has been invented and programmed by someone to fulfil a specific need. They do not appear from nowhere.

My above described examples are only one of several examples for the shift in learning theories over time and their impact on educational technology. By arguing, that it has always to be education that is driving technology we are missing the important point I scratched upon above: even if education is giving the primary direction for the development of technologies, it is education that has to be evaluated critically. Because both fields are fields of active and ongoing research – so many technologies which have been hyped are now at the edge to nowhere, and still we are launching into new technologies without taking a deeper look on where they come from, how they work and which needs they are supposed to fulfil.

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