|[ Teaching and Learning Forum 2001 ] [ Proceedings Contents ]|
Others argue that computer based environments overcome this deficiency by representing a 'community of practice' through simulations of real world contexts and by employing a case based and/or problem solving approach to create 'authentic activities'. The integrity and authenticity of such an approach, however, has been contested, with the conclusion that "we gain knowledge of the world by being in the world" (Engestrom, 1994).
This paper argues that limitations of computer based content delivery and communication are reduced if learners are physically situated in the 'unfamiliar' world with reliance on the Web to communicate with, and receive learning materials from, the 'familiar' institutional environment. A combination of laptop computers, communication via the Web and physical location in an 'unfamiliar' environment enables enhanced learning in situ without disrupting other institution based learning programs.
St Michael's Grammar School (Melbourne), in conjunction with James Cook University, has piloted an exemplar of this model of learning by situating a group of 22 students on remote Orpheus Island in the Great Barrier Reef to undertake and complete in four weeks a full VCE unit on Ecosystems. Central to the project was a collaborative partnership with James Cook University, the use of a laptop computer by each student, and satellite technology to maintain study in their other subjects and communicate with teachers and students back at school.
To give his bright idea 'legs' and credibility, however, two things were required:
Central to this notion of apprenticeship in a 'community of practice' are the roles of 'master and apprentice' and the importance of activity or 'doing'. The 'master' sequentially engages in modelling, coaching, scaffolding and fading - moving the apprentice from observation to exploration to independence through the provision of expertise, hints and reminders, feedback, and support before finally 'fading' as control of the learning process is handed over to the apprentice. The apprentice begins by observing from the boundary, but, as learning and involvement in the culture increase, she moves from the role of observer to fully functioning agent.
Within a culture, ideas are exchanged and modified and belief systems developed and appropriated through conversation and narratives... So learning environments must allow narratives to circulate and 'war stories' to be added to the collective wisdom of the community. ...Learning, both outside and inside school, advances through collaborative social interaction and the social construction of knowledge.
Other researchers, however, have not been as positive in their response. McMahon (1997) doubts the capacity of technology to provide real world or 'authentic' tasks. He suggests that, although the Web can "present a variety of information sources", this does not necessarily translate into 'case based authentic learning' and he concludes that the assertion that web based instruction can provide authentic tasks for learners "is yet to be demonstrated with research and existing examples on the Web".
Furthermore, other researchers have suggested that, since situated learning requires that learners be exposed to 'masters' or experts in the practice of their trade, it cannot be, by its very definition, transferred to the classroom (Tripp, 1993; Wineburg, 1989). Referring specifically to computer based materials, Hummel (1993) maintains that "instructional designers who apply situated learning theory by implementation in electronic media should realise that they take an important step away from this theory ... courseware becomes the learning environment and not the authentic situation" (Quoted in Herrington & Oliver, 1995:2). Pennell (1997) is conscious of this danger when he warns that "teaching that interposes current communication technology between the learner and the teacher risks engaging the student... with a culture of technology rather than the learning culture we seek to simulate".
Jonassen et al (1993) suggest that the use of technology reduces the opportunity for active interaction with other learners, for, while the Web now permits instant discourse with people almost anywhere in the world through email, Newsgroups, bulletin boards, and Ichat, these connections have their limitations, particularly when the communication is 'cold' or the communicants are unfamiliar - either personally or culturally - with each other. The inability to physically verify vital elements of the communication and to attain the in depth and spontaneous interaction of face to face communication that develops mutual understanding and common ground is generally absent even if cost and time considerations are favourable. This suggests that 'we gain knowledge of the world by being in the world' (Engestrom, 1994).
... the apprentice school should be a roving school that offers its students the opportunity to experience the inner workings of all different kinds of adult activity as well as the opportunity to study the basic cultural skills and ideas that pertain to the world he is experiencing.In McClintock's recent work (for example, McClintock, 1999), however, this idea has found no place. Rather it has been replaced by the notion of technology bringing the world to the student. In our enthusiasm to embrace the potential of the new learning technologies, have we perhaps lost sight of alternative learning environments, which may be more effective for learning, especially if they are supported by technology?
It is this communicative function of the Web that McMahon (1997) believes needs to become a much more important focus of web based programs: "It could be argued that the use of the Web is best suited to that of a communications medium for collaborative approaches to learning rather than as a '24 hour a day glorified whiteboard' (Archee & Duin, 1995)". McMahon argues that the Web has strong potential for social interactivity and collaborative learning, creating 'virtual communities' of learners on the Internet. We would add that this potential is most able to be realised when these connected 'communities' are culturally homogeneous and familiar, and when there is a clearly articulated structure and a shared understanding of the purpose and nature of the social interaction.
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|Authors: Jim Alexiades, Head of Senior School.|
Simon Gipson, Head of the School
St Michael's Grammar School. http://www.stmichaels.vic.edu.au/
Graham Morey-Nase, General Manager, QUESTech. http://www.questech.com.au/
Please cite as: Alexiades, J., Gipson, S. and Morey-Nase, G. (2001). Deconstructing 'the classroom': Situating learning with the help of the World Wide Web. In A. Herrmann and M. M. Kulski (Eds), Expanding Horizons in Teaching and Learning. Proceedings of the 10th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 7-9 February 2001. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2001/alexiades.html