Use of ICT as Mindtools in Collaborative Erudition
The use of ICT in education has grown considerably, but the emerging technologies are either oversold or underused. Many of the ICT used in education are generic tools that are distant from the project-based instruction and erudition that techno-promoters have sought. Moreover, many institutions use ICT as a substitute for existing learning and teaching materials rather than as a vehicle for innovation and educational transformation.
Despite the many challenges facing the ICT field, many people recognize the benefits of the system and invest in it. There are many programs available for use in eengrossing students in critical thinking, one of them being Mindtools that when used effectively are bound to increase the scope of the benefits people can derive from using ICT in instruction (Erkens, 2006).
Characteristics of Mindtools
Mindtools are computer programs that scaffold diverse systems of cognition about content thereby enabling learners to think analytically about the study content (Jonassen, 1996). These programs provide promising opportunities to make students learn dynamically, autonomously, in a self-directed manner, and in collaboration with others. They act on the premise that learners cannot utilize the tools without having to think intensely about the study content. Jonassen (2000) further articulates that Mindtools are computer-based applications and education settings adopted or developed to serve as scholarly allies with the student in order to engage and expedite critical thought and higher order learning (Jonassen, 2000).
Jonassen distinguishes five physiognomies of Mindtools. Firstly, they are perceptive augmentation and restructuring tools that perform tasks more accurately and at a higher speed than the human mind. Second, they are generalizable, meaning that they are not explicit to any one function and can be employed in diverse from settings to facilitate cognitive thinking. They thus make better use of a user’s mental abilities in a horde of domains and circumstances. Mindtools are also devices for analytical thinking that enable users think for themselves, create connections between concepts, and formulate new knowledge. They also act as intellectual partners in the erudition and operational process. In this distinction, they compute, stock and retrieve data while the handler identifies and judges configurations of information. Lastly, Mindtools are concepts. They are a way of thinking and using ICT in representing, reflecting, and manipulating information.
Types of Mindtools
Mindtools are classified into various classes that include information interpretation tools, dynamic modeling tools, semantic organization tools, conversation and collaboration tools, andknowledge construction tools. As semantic information tools, Mindtools are further segmented into two; databases, and concept mapping tools. Databases are electronic record keeping structures that were primarily established as a substitute for paper-based filing systems. They allow users to store data in systematized databases that expedites retrieval. Databases can be searched to answer specific queries about the contents and identify interrelations between data, as well as drawing inferences. As such, they are useful analytical and structural tools. Concept maps are a three-dimensional depiction of concepts and their interrelatedness that are stowed in memory. Concept mapping tools are thus electronic visualizing systems for constructing illustrations of semantic grids in the mind. By relating semantic networks fashioned by learners at various points in time, an assessment of changes in thinking can be done.
Dynamic modeling tools comprise of worksheets, micro-worlds, expert systems, and systems modeling tools. Spreadsheets are electronic arithmetical record-keeping tools. They are particularly suitable for responding to ‘what if’ questions, personal accounting and budgeting, and amplifying mental functioning. The dynamic modeling tools are also used in education when working with quantitative data. Expert systems, on the other hand, are artificial decision-makers that simulate how human experts solve problems (Jonassen, 1998). Most expert systems contain numerous mechanisms that require the student to express causative knowledge in building the knowledge base. In developing these systems, therefore, students acquire a deeper understanding since the systems afford an intellectual atmosphere that stresses the enhancement of domain awareness.
Systems modeling tools are designed to enable users cultivate intricate mental exemplifications of the occurrences they are learning and in so doing, develop the ability to solve complex, as well as simple difficulties. Micro-worlds, the last dynamic modeling tools, are exploratory learning environments in which learners can navigate, manipulate objects, and examine their impressions on one another. They encompass constrained replications of real-life occurrences that enables learners control such events. They have been deemed the definitive example of active erudition atmospheres since users exercise absolute control over the situation.
The other class of Mindtools are the information interpretation tools. These tools are mainly search engines used for scanning and locating relevant resources in a world where the bulk and intricacy of data are developing at an astonishing rate. It is a fact that humans assimilate more info via visual modality than through any other sensory system but are unable to output the ideas visually (Jonassen, 1998). Visualization tools aid humans represent and convey mental images as rough estimates of those perceptual imageries. These tools make abstract real for learners, thus enabling them to comprehend notions that are problematic to express in static form.
Conversation tools, the other significant class of Mindtools to learning, are useful in supporting erudition by informally conveying meaning. These online telecommunications back interpersonal interactions among learners, amass data, and unravel problems in clusters of learners. These tools presume that students can participate meaningfully in conversations.However, many learners are unable to participate in coherent and cogent discourse because they have seldom been requested to contribute their opinions. Such Mindtools thus need to be designed with the cognizance that it may be hard for learners to use. Mindtools are thus of various varieties and use different platforms in enabling learners critically analyze situations.
Mindtools for Collaborative Learning
When used for collaborative learning, Mindtools scaffold and facilitate shared processes of cognition so as to achieve common group or community objectives. They facilitate learning on three echelons of harmonization, the first being the task-related level. On this level, learners can solve executive problems as well as Metacognitive problems by specified tools. For executive problems (writing and problem-solving), the allotment of merchandise and communally accessing common resources is facilitated by tools, for example, those that script problem-solving phases (Weinberger, 2005). By sharing and using these tools together, students and learners can be able to solve many of the executive problems and metacognitive ones (planning, reflection, and monitoring) with ease.
The second level is the social group level where students coordinate group dynamics and social processes of collaboration. At this level, students are encouraged to form and sustain an optimistic cooperation climate where they feel comfortable to chip in and take responsibility for shared activities. Mutual support programs, acknowledging the contributions of others, and humor are essential for aiding collaboration in the use of computers for collaborative learning. When group dynamics becomes negative, explicitly discussing the social aspects of these irritations can help circumvent these problems. Some Mindtools help visualize the social presence and participation of members in the community and collaborative groups (Kreijns, 2003). Tutors and other stakeholders need to create awareness of these tools and avail them to users. By so doing, there is destined to be a wide-ranging scale of involvement in community socialization.
On the third communicative level, the Mindtools are used to enable students coordinate and maintain the interaction and communication between themselves and with other collaborative group participants. These tools allow students tune the communication and ask for clarification so as to attain a mutual understanding (Erkens, 2006). This collaboration may be encouraged by explicitly planning communication and discussing how to prevent misunderstandings. Some forms of tools with synchronous and asynchronous affordances are useful for promoting communication.
There is a need to cognize that merely offering task-related tools is not enough to encourage collaborative learning since it leads to quirky analyses of undertakings if these tools are not augmented by social and open systems. There is also a need to eradicate the socio-cultural and linguistic barriers in order to formulate more meaningful collaboration efforts. Learners must also be inculcated with computer skills at an early age since it plays a significant role in scaffolding the collaborative processes between learners.
Rationale for Using ICT as Mindtools
Various reasons have been proffered why Mindtools should be used for engaging students in analytical, higher-order collaborative learning. The first is that the persons who acquire the most from constructing instructional tools are not the students for whom the resources are intended, rather the designers. When articulating what they know into a knowledge base, learners are forced to reflect on their study areas in more meaningful ways. Students do not utilize Mindtools naturally and effortlessly, they are forced to reason critically about the domain topic they are studying and by so doing generating thoughts that would have been impossible without the tools. Learners also get to create their realities by designing their knowledge bases (Jonassen, 1998).
Mindtools also encourage knowledge construction instead of reproduction. When students develop Mindtools, they are in essence constructing their conceptualization of their study domain. The conceptualizations themselves depend on personal experiences, the organizations of the experiences into awareness structures, and personal beliefs. Learners are thus able to comprehend various interpretations that they use in erecting personal knowledge. In using Mindtools, learners actively participate in understanding the outside world and meditating on their elucidations instead of having the teacher infer it for them. Therefore, Mindtools act as formalisms that guide students in consolidating and expressing their knowledge.
Salomon, Perkins, and Globerson (1991) opine that erudition with Mindtools hinges on how mindful the learner is in engaging in the errands afforded by the systems (Salomon, 1991). There is also an opportunity for qualitatively elevating the functioning of the student and the technology. When using technology, therefore, learners augment the competences of ICT which in turn enhance their thinking skills and learning. The result is that the whole learning process is augmented by the rational partnership with ICT. Computers do not control specialists nor do they control learning. Rather, they enable learners to build their knowledge.
Since Mindtools are unintelligent tools, they eradicate the behavior by educational communications to think for the learner. Derry and Lajoie argue that Mindtools are a mind-extension since they rely on the student to avail the brainpower instead of the computer (Derry, 1993). What this means is that designing, deciding, and self-modulating learning are all the obligation of the student. Computer systems, however, can act as powerful catalysts of inculcating these skills if utilized in conducts that encourage problem-solving and reflective thinking.
When students employ ICT as companions, they offload some fruitless memorizing responsibilities to the computer, thereby enabling learners reason more productively. Learnerscan recognize and judge, and organize the patterns of data while the computers execute calculations, stockpile and recover data. Learners are thus left to do the kind of processing they do best. Finally, Mindtools are readily obtainable and cheap. Most computers have pre-installed Mindtools while other tools can easily be downloaded. The level of skill required to utilize Mindtools requires limited study and can be acquired in a couple of hours.
Computer-mediated communication has availed many opportunities for accessing remote data sources, collaboration on group projects, and division of work for appraisal or response by other students. Computer- based instruction and computer-assisted instruction when combined with regular instructions improves the critical thinking skills of learners and enables them engage in collaborative learning. Tutors support learners in acquiring the skills for using Mindtools but leave the students to perform tasks using the tools themselves. The tutors are only needed when learners are faced with problems that require additional support. Using this mode of learning has been found to be effective in inculcating learning of prerequisite and higher order cognitive skills:
- Practicing problem-solving strategies and inference skills
- Drilling and practicing, which incorporates probes and tests (Crowl, 1997)
- Skill building in various areas such as logical reasoning, verbal analogies, and inductive and deductive thinking
Problems of Implementation
The greatest challenge in implementing the use of Mindtools in collaborative learning especially in schools is changing school situational factors. This is especially in the direction of teachers as coaches and learners from the prevailing model of teachers as disseminators of information. Many students have the notion that teachers have the primary task of instilling knowledge in them instead of their acquiring such knowledge with the teacher being a supporting factor. There is, therefore, the need to engage teachers and administrators in training programs where the new approach is modeled.
There is also the problem of changing assessment practices to performance-based tests that require learners to demonstrate their comprehension of basic concepts and use these ideas in novel problem-solving. Students should also be required to show how they use the tools to grow and modify their concerns and learn new concepts. Research has shown that factual information acquired through meaningful is not only retainedlonger, but the information can be utilized more successfully in solving new problems (Bransford, 1999).
Opposition to implementing the use of Mindtools is, however, expected despite the articulated benefits. There also should be increased teacher education in using Mindtools for there to be effective utilization with learners. Another problem arises in acquiring funding for purchasing the computers and software to be utilized in learning. Even though the software is not expensive, equipping the learning institutions with computers to aid in learning is bound to be a complicated process. A lot of problems lie in how the Mindtools can be used and assessed for effectiveness. There needs to be determined efforts by all stakeholders in ensuring that the tools are used for effective collaborative learning.
The prime objective of learning is the inculcation of core competencies in learners that enable them become practitioners who reflect on their decisions and interact with the ever-changing environment in more responsible and meaningful ways. This is, however, not possible in the traditional teaching and learning situations. Meaningful learning, knowledge construction, and collaborative learning as cognitive amplification tools for reflective and critical thinking can be effectively supported by computers. The use of ICT as Mindtools for use in collaborative learning is, however, at its early developmental stages and utilization. The solution is continuous erudition in communities, training institutes, and in society in general. The use of computers as mind tools will facilitate meaning more effectively than the traditional mode of learning and the computer-based instruction currently available.
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