Technology as tool is divided into three areas: accessing information, representing ideas and communicating with others, and generating products. Many researchers (e.g., Kemble & Brierley 1991; Tesler 1991) found out that software tools (word-processors, spreadsheets, and database management applications, for instance), i.e., using computers as desktop productivity tools for writing, drawing, etc., represented a handy means of getting acquainted with computers and finding out that working with computers was meaningful and productive in one's own work.
Typical examples of tools are word-processors, electronic spreadsheets, desktop publishing, fax machines and, in general, applications belonging to Basic Level -1 in Table 1. As to word-processors, for instance, in FLL their capacity is upgraded with spellers, grammar checkers, etc. Another tool usually built in all modern word-processors is an outliner, which helps the user structure an essay, an article or any piece of writing more powerfully than by simply using the basic qualities of a word-processor. In Jonassen's words (1995, 62), "technologies as tools extend human functionality".
Technology as intellectual partner consists of five subareas: articulating what learners know, i.e., representing their knowledge; reflecting on what they have learned and how they came to know it; supporting the internal negotiation of meaning making; constructing personal representations of meaning, and supporting mindful thinking. In Jonassen's interpretation (1995, 62), technologies as intellectual partners not only extend but also amplify the capabilities of humans. This category includes tools like databases, semantic networks, expert systems, computer conferencing and multimedia/hypermedia construction.
Research is little by little focusing on these technologies but not only from the perspective of technicalities; rather, more emphasis is being laid on the personality characteristics of users who find it valuable to use these technologies. Computer conferencing is one of the best researched areas even if not even it is well known yet. A general conclusion drawn from the users of e-mail pointed to the fact that there are groups of users who value virtual environments much more than others. Dede (1995) has analysed computer conferencing from this perspective and summarises his findings as follows:
"One such population [of users of computer conferencing] is people who don't do well in spontaneous spoken interaction (e.g., shy, reflective, more comfortable with emotional distance), but who have valuable contributions to share with others. For this type of person, informal written communication is often more authentic than face-to-face verbal exchange. This may be a whole new dimension of learning styles orthogonal to the visual/auditory/kinesthetic/symbolic categories now underlying pedagogical approaches to individualization." (Dede 1995, 47)
In addition, as contended, among others, by Tella (1991), the focus has been moving towards a holistic learning environment. For instance, the use of international communications networks and e-mail has unlocked doors to an open, multimedia-based learning environment. E-mail has a lot to do with human relations too, as mentioned in connection with MC. On the whole, Basic +1 (and upper) Level tools and applications exemplify this category well (see Table 1).
When we speak of a multimedia-based learning environment, it can be associated with an anchored instruction model (cf. e.g., Lin et al. 1995, 59). This is an approach that aims at developing a wide variety of anchors that can serve as common grounds for further studying and learning. Anchors in this sense can be videos, computer games, simulations, hands-on activities on the computers, computer-mediated communication activities, etc. Technological tools are intended to contribute to the learners' construction of knowledge, instead of just letting them restate what has earlier been said or told by the teacher or by the textbook.
Some of the tools mentioned earlier (cf. Table 1) are mostly text-based, especially e-mail, mail lists, newsgroups, computer conferencing (Basic Level), gophers, IRC, databases (Basic +1) and (so far most of the) microworlds (Basic +2). IRC is used by Dede (1995, 47) as an example of how people's behaviour may shift in virtual worlds by the ongoing overlay of textual commentary that establishes social context in current synthetic environments. Dede (1995, 47-48) points out that historically the social context cues guiding communication have usually been more physical than verbal (e.g., modes of dress, tone of voice, posture), so that now in virtual worlds (worlds stripped of non-verbal contexts), users have unconsciously felt the need to create a new type of rhetoric for the exchanges on the Internet, as it is felt to be vital in distributed constructivist environments.
Technology as context contains four subcategories, i.e., representing and simulating meaningful real-world problems, situations, and contexts; representing beliefs, perspectives, arguments, and stories of others; defining a controllable problem space for student thinking, and supporting discourse among knowledge-building communities of learners (Jonassen 1995, 62).
There is a direct link between technology as context and three of the five approaches mentioned when analysing MC (see Chapter 2.2), i.e., teaching the culturally different, the cultural democracy, and education that is multicultural and that relies on social reconstructionism.
This category consists of tools like case-based learning environments, computer-supported intentional learning environments (e.g., CSILE), anchored instruction, situated learning environments, rich environments for active learning, cognitive flexibility hypertexts, problem-based learning, and microworlds. It is through these tools, especially when combined with cognitive support like coaching, modelling, and scaffolding, that we can help elevate learners through their zones of proximal development (Vygotsky 1978). (Jonassen 1995, 62)
According to Vygotsky's model of learning (1978), which emphasises the importance of social interaction in language learning and the social environment as an integral part of the process of cognitive change, an individual, in order to get to an upper stage of performance, has to work with a person who has a superior ability structure. We have to bear in mind, however, that cognitive change (the learner realises the phenomenon to be learnt) does not necessarily lead directly to change in behaviour (the learner uses his knowledge to solve real problems). Vygotsky's vision has often been interpreted (cf. e.g., DiPardo & Warshauer Freedman 1988, 144) to suggest a co-operative environment in which power is productively shared, for instance a classroom that could be called a resource room, whose teacher would be a knowledgeable coach and its students one another's colleagues. At best we could say that the action model of an advanced student will get transferred and be used by his pair or his small group and thus ameliorate the group result.
There is evidence in the literature (e.g., Smith 1992; Dede 1995) of the fact that quite a few people feel attracted to co-operative virtual environments as they estimate they can gain something valuable by collaborating together. This feeling of attraction may not be explicitly stated or even conscious; rather, it often appears to be hidden and even altruistic in that people who ask questions and call for help on the Internet either via e-mail or in newsgroups, for instance, are offered help, tips and cues in many ways. Smith (1992; cited in Dede 1995, 47) has epitomised some of the advantages embedded in computer conferencing in three types of "collective goods" that bind together virtual communities enabled by computer-mediated communication, viz.
social network capital (an instant web of contacts with useful skills),
knowledge capital (a personal, distributed brain trust with just-in-time answers to immediate questions), and
communion (psychological/spiritual support from people who share common joys and trials).
Dede even argues (1995, 47) that similar types of inducements to collaboration underlie face-to-face constructivist learning experiences.
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