Nov 23 2010

Thought Question #4

Published by under Etec 512

Learning online is not theoretically differently from classroom learning. As I deconstruct the various elements of a successful online experience, I begin to see elements of many of the learning theories we have analyzed in this course. However, it is possible that online learning might require the elaboration of some existing theories.

Elements required for a successful online learning experience: (bearing in mind that some technological determinism exists)

  • an easily navigated framework
  • clear statement of expectations
  • clear instruction on how to access knowledge (scaffolding) or construct it (constructivism)
  • the ability to access community or expert knowledge (ZPD)
  • the ability to share knowledge (distributed learning)
  • accessible and timely feedback (scaffolding and distributed learning)
  • appeal to multimodal learning
  • the ability to make learning meaningful (Ausubel) by transferring knowledge beyond the virtual world into other contexts (activity theory)

It seems to me that there are only two real innovations in web based learning – hypertext and social interaction on a global scale (web 2.0). The question then becomes “do these two innovations require the elaboration of a new learning theory or do they fit into existing learning theories?”

The easy answer for social interaction on a global scale is that it certainly fits into the category of Social Cognition. It provides the means for Distributed Learning enhanced by quasi instantaneous results to the learner’s queries. As for hypertext, I find answers in Scardamalia’s article about CSILE. Hypertext has allowed us to accelerate “knowledge building” in that it allows ideas to develop naturally (not linearly) as research can occur in any direction the learner chooses. This seems to be part of the scaffolding process that can be purposefully built in to online courses. If however it is not built-in, the learner still retains the option of accessing knowledge through his desired path.


Kanuka, H. (2008). Understanding e-learning technologies-in-practice through philosophies-in-practice. In T. Anderson & F. Elloumi (Eds.) Theory and Practice of Online Learning, Chapter 4 (pp. 91-118).

Scardamalia, M. (2004). CSILE/Knowledge Forum. Education and Technology: An Encyclopedia (pp. 183-192). Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

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Oct 23 2010

Piaget and Vygotsky – finding common ground in dialogue

Published by under Etec 512

Piaget’s style of questioning could be compared to Vygotsky’s ZPD. When an adult asks guiding questions, as Piaget would in his interviews with children, it gives the child the words with which to express his ideas, discoveries and intentions. It allows children to construct knowledge by examining what they thought they knew as they are asked to verify their knowledge through careful questioning. From there, the child might need to reach equilibration by questioning their own knowledge and reconciling it to any new information that has come in as part of the dialogue.

This is the same process as scaffolding. The experienced adult finds what the child knows and is capable of, and then suggests a path where discovery occurs and new knowledge is constructed. Eventually, the child can move on to a new level by themselves. The teacher, therefore, assumes the role of guide. The child is guided to their ZPD, which is where real learning occurs, according to Vygotzky. Piaget would probably say that the ZPD can be reached at each level of development given the right questioning.

For instance, as adults, we go through a very similar process when we discuss our ideas with other adults. Not only do we confirm our knowledge, but the conversations lead to building links and further inquiry. As adults, we are more adept at verbalizing what knowledge we need to confirm and complete our understanding.

Dialogue plays a great role in both Piaget’s and Vygotsky’s theories. Piaget identified three types of egocentric language, one of which is monologue, where the child speaks to himself during learning. Similarly, Vygotsky believed that language played a large role in learning and internalizing knowledge as the child first creates a learning monologue then moves on to an internal (silent) discourse as he grows older.

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Oct 16 2010

Vygotsky’s theory and the webquest

Published by under Etec 512

The webquest is too text intensive. It would require that the teacher read much of it to the student. Does this bring the student closer to Vygotsky’s ZPD? It would depend on what the teacher is trying to teach with this activity. It doesn’t seem to be reading. The focus of the webquest activities, according to the teacher page, seems to be more about categorizing information. The method of finding the information is mostly printing and copying data. How does that get the student closer to the ZPD? If it doesn’t, then wouldn’t this part of the webquest just be busy work?

The categorizing and sorting activities take place once the product of the quest has been completed. Would the students be as engaged in the sorting had they not printed and coloured the dinosaurs themselves? Would the colouring be sufficient for them to be engaged and for real learning to take place? I think it might. What I am suggesting is that the recopying exercise by removed in favour of time spent researching and discussing the findings amongst themselves.

I think the activity might have been structured differently so that the student would research the dinosaurs facts from a small database (provided by the teacher) – more like a match up activity than a recopying activity. This could be done in teams and discussion could take place among the team members – learning in a peer mentoring situation (Vygotsky’s social partners). The rest of the webquest activities seem relevant, however the teacher might replace the copying exercise with a dinosaur word search or some other activity that provides practice for writing. Perhaps each student could write a short fictitious story about their dinosaur once the presentations have been made to consolidate learning. This would be assessed as part of the rubric.

The rubric is not very well designed, but it is only an outline of what might be assessed. Again, I think the teacher needs to really think about what the students need to learn with this webquest so that learning can be assessed, not just the final product.

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