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Response Paper

  1. 1. RUNNING HEAD: RESPONSE TO JONASSEN (2006) Response to Jonassen (2006) Adam Cavotta Samuel Stichter Miriam Maske New Mexico State University
  2. 2. RUNNING HEAD: RESPONSE TO JONASSEN (2006) Introduction Jonassen (2006) argues that meaningful learning is brought about by conceptual change and he endorses modeling with technology as a method to promote conceptual change. Jonassen describes several mindtools (programs used to develop models) that teachers can utilize to promote meaningful learning in their classrooms. While there are several mindtools available from which to choose and Jonassen makes a strong case for using mindtools, the process of selecting a mindtool and the adoption of teaching practices required to use them, presents teachers with a few challenges. First, conceptual change, if it is to be accomplished in the classroom, must begin with teachers. The mindtools that teachers select must be used to support learners in a model building process, therefore teachers also must develop skills in model building and have a basic understanding of theories of conceptual change in order to gain the benefits of using such tools to promote learning. We contend that learning about theories behind the use of mindtools and how to bring theory into practice is of even more significance than knowing how to use the tool itself and that conceptual change about teaching practices must occur before these practices can be used in a sustainable way in the classroom. Second, limits on the availability of technologies that support model building require teachers to adapt their teaching methods to the capabilities of the systems to which they have access. That is to say, not all technologies tools possess or were designed with the intent of being used as mindtools and teachers must recognize this fact and make accommodations as appropriate. In this response, we will attempt to describe why these challenges are important, the genesis of these problems and potential solutions.
  3. 3. RUNNING HEAD: RESPONSE TO JONASSEN (2006) Conceptual Change Starts with Teachers Any structured program, whether it be a diet, exercise routine or teaching method, is only as effective as the practitioners’ ability to utilize the program. That is to say, even the best supported method for teaching critical thinking can fail if not well understood by the teacher or if an essential resource is lacking. For example, if a teacher is provided with access to technology suitable for use as a mindtool, but the assessment methods specific to mindtools are not supported by the administration, a key element of using mindtools is lost. Ideas like assessing students in groups rather than individually and using rubrics to assess knowledge construction and self-regulation may find resistance in some instructional contexts because these activities don’t directly support the students’ performance on high stakes tests or other performance expectations (such as those related to the student’s job in a workforce education setting). In a certain respect, it appears that to teach students with a goal of fostering critical thinking is to do more than is required, because Jonassen provides little support for the notion that critical thinking skills will have a measurable affect on student performance on standardized tests or any other measure of domain specific achievement. Considering this scenario, teachers are left with a dilemma, which is to choose between meaningful learning or performance on standardized tests as a focus of their instructional practices. Therefore, using the concept of conceptual change as lens for understanding this problem, we see that conceptual change regarding the pedagogy necessary to train students to be critical thinks must start at the highest levels or our educationally system and it’s greatest advocates and crucial partners to bring about this change are the teachers themselves. To further support the notion that conceptual change must occur at the level of teachers and administrators, let us consider scholarly thinking about conceptual change. Conceptual change
  4. 4. RUNNING HEAD: RESPONSE TO JONASSEN (2006) can be seen as an evolutionary or revolutionary process whereby new information is used to support a conceptual change. If conceptual change is an evolutionary process in this respect, we would see incremental adoption of methods that support critical thinking, such as the use of mindtools, however other practices, such as the manner that we assess students, would remain relatively unchanged until support for change is provided. This incremental process, while matching theories of cognitive conflict that might explain how conceptual change occurs, seems to be an inefficient method to address the perceived need for developing our students as critical thinkers, because if all of the various pieces to support mindtools as a tool and method to promote critical thinking are not used we risk devaluating and underutilizing the instructional method’s primary strengths. If, however, we were to perceive conceptual change as a revolutionary process, where by radical conceptual change is a result of new information, we see that the fullness of the benefits of teaching students to be critical thinkers can be realized. That is to say, half measures and incomplete adoption jeopardizes the efficacy of using mindtools to bring about conceptual change and that simply using a mindtool in the classroom, without the knowledge of how to model, does not constitute the action that Jonassen recommends. In addition, using a paradigm of assessment that does not match the manner of instruction muddles the ability of teachers to assess students’ progress. Only through radical conceptual change can we hope to see critical thinking as more important in the classroom than standardized tests. Support for conceptual change as a radical process can be drawn from scholarly thinking about the nature of a certain type of conceptual change within the study of the philosophy of science. Kuhn (1970) argues that while most discoveries in science occur within a paradigm in the practice of normal science, there are times when a paradigm shift occurs and conceptual
  5. 5. RUNNING HEAD: RESPONSE TO JONASSEN (2006) underpinnings are radically changed as a result. That is to say, we then must throw out some of the old assumptions in order to make way for a radically different way of looking at the world. Lack of Resources Requires Adaptation Another challenge that teachers face related to the use of mindtools is adapting teaching practices when limited resources restrict the types of tools that can be used. For example, discussion boards (structured computer conferences) have been identified as tools used to generate a verbal model of understanding; hence Jonassen suggests these tools can be used as mindtools. At certain institutions in the State of New Mexico, discussion board tools are made available through the learning management system for teachers to use in their classes. While use of this tool by a teacher may represent an attempt to foster critical thinking through the use of mindtools, the picture is not complete if the discussion lacks appropriate structure in order to help students build a verbal model of understanding. Part of the problem is that the tools provided to teachers are typically generic and unstructured hence teachers must provide the structure and make the tool work in a way that is consistent with its use as a mindtool. One barrier that appears to inhibit the ability of teachers to transform relatively generic computer programs into mindtools is the Gestalt psychological concept of functional fixedness. Functional fixedness is a strong bias against using a tool in a new way when attempting to solve a problem. (Duncker, 1945) For example, a hammer can only be used to drive nails and wouldn’t be considered as a lever or counterbalance. In order to overcome the tendency, teachers must become familiar with the process of model building and have enough information about the technology tool that they are using to change the various settings and preferences so that the necessary components for model building are utilized most often. Several other examples of functional fixedness can be seen with other mindtools, such as databases and hypermedia,
  6. 6. RUNNING HEAD: RESPONSE TO JONASSEN (2006) because students and teachers alike have so much prior experience with these programs in non- mindtool capacities that it is difficult to see the mindtool possibilities without models for how to use these tools in a new way.
  7. 7. RUNNING HEAD: RESPONSE TO JONASSEN (2006) References Duncker, K. (1945). On problem-solving. Psychological Monographs, 58, 5Retrieved from PsycINFO database. Jonassen, D. H. (2006). Modeling with Technology. Mindtools for conceptual change. Pearson Education, Inc., Upper Saddle River, NJ, USA, third edition. Kuhn, T. S. (1970). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, USA, second edition.