Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Reflection Week 1 EPSY457SU

by Karen Hamilton - Thursday, 16 July 2009, 01:33 pm


In the article Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes, Vygotsky gives an overview of three theories of learning and development. The first of these is the model that assumes that development is a prerequisite for learning. The second assumes that learning is development and the third combines the previous two and suggests that, “the two processes that make up development are mutually dependent and interactive.” (Vygotsky, 81) The educational models that reflect these three theories are behaviourism and cognitivism. In the article Vygotsky goes on to suggest his own model that includes the concept Zones of Proximal Development.

On first glance it seemed hard to defend the prior three models especially since Vygotsky’s model to me was so much more in tune with the way I think and learn. With only slight reflection though, I’ve managed to take my current self out of the equation and rethink what it is that we in my college actually use and do and how I learned in grade school and high school.

The behaviourist models involve developing objectives, breaking tasks into measurable tasks. Tests are developed to see if a learner has reached a determined level. Examples of this are mastery learning where there is a pretest, teaching, post testing, and perhaps a continuing cycle. Business also uses these types of systems approaches that include setting goals and objectives, analysis of current state, creation of action plan, evaluation and modification. Many use the acronym SMART -Goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.

Cognitive models also break learning into smaller bits, and use those pieces of information to develop more complex parts. The cognitive models relate to information processing and consider the inner workings of the mind not just outward behaviours like behaviour models do.

Most of my previous structured learning experiences have fit into either the behaviourist or cognitive approach. So in some respect I have to defend these as they got me to where I am. We did a lot of boring stuff that would often be considered no more than drill and practice. We were tested and drilled and lucky for me I was a native speaker who could easily keep up with the somewhat biased types of standardized tests. I have friends who came to Canada as children and because of language issues were placed in classes for those who had a hard time learning. Similarly my friends with learning disabilities were also marginalized, and have spent their lives trying to undo some of the damage that was done by such standardized tests. Often in classes, I was bored and felt restricted; art class was always a refuge. In grade 10 we were forced to take Latin (this wasn’t a catholic school), which we all thought was pretty stupid. In spite of that feeling it was interesting and afterwards I did appreciate that it gave me insight into language that I never would have had. I think this example of Latin’s transferability fits into the cognitive model.

When we create courses in college we are primarily using cognitive and behaviourist models. We use objectives and outcomes. It is a way that simplifies and makes concrete an end result that can be measured. I’m on a committee that looks at liberal arts course proposals and final outlines. One of the first things we do is look at whether the outcomes meet the higher levels in Bloom’s taxonomy. It is a way that we ensure that a higher level of thinking is achieved but it's finite. Some of our courses are part of a university program so these outlines also have to be submitted to the university where they also evaluate outcomes. Using these methods present a nice little way to keep everything in its neat little box. But how real is it?

Vygotsky’s concept of Zones of Proximal Development is much more appealing. It is not a closed system that limits the learning. Instead it challenges the learner and focuses on what can be done. It also takes into account the social interaction that is involved in learning. In this scenario the teacher is more guide than sage; a more advanced student can be guide to a lesser one- it’s collaborative. It also takes into account that each person may not end at the exact same spot or reach there in the same way. The article states, “They never entertained the notion that what children can do with the assistance of others might in some sense be even more indicative of their mental development than what they can do alone.” If we consider ZPD, there would be times that the teacher is guide, a peer is guide, but also a computer could act as the guide. Vygotsky’s ideas fit into the constructivist model.

Scaffolding, reciprocal teaching and dynamic assessment are some of the ways these techniques have been put to use. In colleges, some of the ideas inherent in the constructivist model are being adapted to courses. One concept that is certainly being adapted more and more is the concept of authentic learning- where real world, case based examples are being explored rather than artificial assignments that often seem to be for assignment’s sake. The current generation of students is more collaborative, so whether it is being asked or not, students are learning more and more from each other and also from the computer itself.

Assignments designed with a Vygotsky model would be more opened ended, collaborative, have multiple ways of exploration, have opportunity for reflection and be more authentic and reality-based. If we compare an assignment from a cognitive or behaviourist approach it might be considered to be less open-ended and reaching only one common end point. It might not stretch a student in some cases but it would be probably a lot easier to create.

Of course besides just being more difficult to create ZPD assignments, the Zone of Proximal Development also seems to promote divergent thinking. If you were teaching certain groups who had to learn to do a defined task, you don’t necessarily want divergent thinking. Any task that requires someone to follow a set of prescribed rules might not want everyone interpreting those rules differently. So the use of ZPD might depend on the learning that is involved. In situations where teachers are to prepare students to do particular assessments there may be times when time makes it impossible for each student to explore and investigate. They may have to get to the task, or teach to the test. Any situation that requires a mark also might present problems for the assessor when each person has gone off in different directions. Administrations could also be resistant to the use of these methods as well.

When thinking about this part of the assignment, I also investigated George Siemans connectivism model.

 Connectivism is the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, and complexity and self-organization theories. Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual. Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing.” Siemans (http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm )

Chaos has a certain appeal for me, so this is something I will read more about.

Levin – Gestalt Principles and Web Design

Q. Do the principles seem compelling to you? How so? Are any confusing? Unconvincing?

These principles are compelling to me. I teach Visual Communications and cover the specific Gestalt principles explained in Levin’s site. Graphic Design students learn and follow these concepts in their work, so usually when we see professionally done sites these concepts have been taken into consideration. The content of his site seemed good, but I found the rendering of it not particularly great. I looked at some of the dates of creation and see that some are 2003. This leads me to believe that the site fits more into the Web 1.0 model than the Web 2.0 we are now more comfortable in.

In my introduction of myself in this course, I talked about my first website and mentioned that it is still posted as it was created. It reflects a time in my own exploration of web development. (It ain’t pretty!) To me in some respects, Levin’s website reflects that simpler innocent time. It has some good content but the design doesn’t do it justice. Most examples were good, but a couple didn’t work for me, specifically the “blurr test”, “Time” example and the “Other” links. His example of poor web design in the blurr test shows a page with just text. I’m not sure I’d agree with him here. Not all pages on the web are designed to be web design pages. Some may be for simply relaying content for a person to download and print simple text, so I’d make a distinction between a page that is to be “Googly” and one that might just be click to print. His time example didn’t seem to really get the point across and the “Other” link just had a sentence on it with no example, so I wasn’t sure of its real purpose.

The way colour was on Levin’s site wasn’t always effective. For example blue background and black text on link to time was unreadable. Bottom links on the first page, some of the colours make them difficult to read. (My first couple of sites have all these issues too) The navigation of the site was inconsistent. Some pages had very tiny links to get back, some had no link to get back and you were just to close the page; this became confusing so a couple of times I had to put the web address in again and start at the beginning. I didn’t like the way the site spread out to be 100% of the page. To me it would have been easier to follow if it had been limited in pixel size. The site had a different kind of navigation system with the coloured boxes. It looked cute but I’m not sure about it functionally. So though the content was valuable, I found myself focusing on some of the annoying bits; maybe it’s also that these are concepts that are familiar to me too so I was paying more attention to other things.

Q. Can you think of examples where these principles have enhanced the usability of a web page?

Most of the websites that we all might go to on a regular basis consider the gestalt principles. Sites like Google, YouTube, facebook seem to have fairly consistent ease of use and good use of gestalt concepts, especially if they want to. Some difficulties in navigation can be to divert us to pages that include advertising, but generally these sites have designs that are user friendly. We are creatures of habit, so when one of these regular sites attempts to alter things, there will be an uproar, especially if the design is not intuitive or if some feature has been ignored or removed.

Q.Can you think of examples where ignoring these principles has been detrimental to the usability of a web page?

One of the sites I’ve seen that talks about bad web site design is Web Pages That Suck. They post specific examples of bad web design and also have a link to their top 30 web-design mistakes http://www.webpagesthatsuck.com/top-30-web-design-mistakes.html

I’m sure that many of us have created websites that we’ve used for our classes. One of the ways to tell that you have ignored gestalt principles or just have a bad design is by the number of questions that arise from students, or if a large contingent of your students have missed one or many of the key requirements. Usually it’s better to test these things prior to their use by watching someone navigate through things or by creating a survey that gives feedback. In the business world a bad web design can sink a good company especially if it is a site for buying things and the site does not facilitate the process, or if it takes too long to load or it’s just difficult to read.

In our last class 590NET we evaluated some educational blogs. If the content hadn’t drawn me in on a couple of them, I would have bypassed them because of not great design. On the boring look site would be Iterating towards Openess, on the overdone side Cool Cat Teacher Blog.One of the reasons that blogs are adopted by many and read is their use of templates. Usually the templates follow fairly simple layouts that users are comfortable with. But if a person uses a template and then piles on too much it can become chaotic so it’s a balancing act. Here’s an interactive module I use in my class that gives a nice overview of Gestalt principles and Typography. (It uses Shockwave, so if it doesn’t work, download shockwave). http://seekpeace.com/gestalt/index.html After viewing it again just now, I notice that it follows Mayer’s guidelines too)

This next comment may be a bit off topic and we might cover it later. It’s important to keep in mind viewers who have photosensitivity (those with epilepsy and migraine sufferers to name two) Blinking, flashing, strobing, funny colours, perceptual motion effects, and 3D can make us sick.

Generally most believe in the KISS (Keep it simple s…) formula when viewing and creating web pages. These gestalt concepts provide some simple formulas to keep us to it.

Mayer's Cognitive Theory:

Q. Discuss this theory and its implications for your project and (more broadly) your teaching practice. Can you think of situations in your own practice that support Mayer's theory? That don't support it?

Mayer assumes humans have dual channels for processing-visual/pictorial and auditory/verbal. He believes humans first select relevant words to process in verbal working memory, select relevant images in visual working memory; next comes organizing where we organize the selected words into a verbal mental representation, organize selected images into a visual mental representation and finally we integrate these verbal and visual pieces connecting them with what we already know or understand. As designers what that means is that we have to consider how much information we put into each of these channels. If we pack too many different types of information at once, meaning will be lost or worse interfere with our key concepts.

As a visual learner it’s easy to support Mayer’s first principle that students learn better from a combination of words and pictures rather than just words. I teach visual communications. It would be hard to imagine teaching that with no visuals or with no text. Why would we listen to mono when we can have stereo or surround? Two channels makes sense.

Mayer’s redundancy principle states, “Students learn better from animation and narration than from animation, narration and text.” (Mayer, 184) One example that I can think of that would support this concept is the use of captioning. Our school as most do has a strict policy on creating media that is accessible to all. If we show a video, it has to have captioning even if we have no students in our class who need them. When creating captions there can be a choice between “open captions” or “closed captions.” Closed captioning is where a person has the option to view the captioning. The captioning is embedded in the video and can be enabled by the viewer. The other option “open captions” is where the text is burned into the video and everyone sees it, like going to a movie with subtitles. I’ve recently captioned a number of the videos I’ve created. If they are on youtube, I’m able to use an online program called CaptionTube to create the closed captions in youtube where the viewer has a choice to turn them on or off. I prefer this. For some of my videos that aren’t on youtube, I’ve used a program called MovCaptioner to create captions. In this one I’m creating open captions that are permanently burned into the video. It could be that I can create closed captions in it but I haven’t figured out how yet. So what’s my point? Well, I’d suggest that the open captions create an overload to the viewer who doesn’t need them. I often find that when I’m viewing an open captioned video, I’m reading along instead of listening or paying total attention to the images. This presents a dilemma when we are creating multimedia for a large audience. We all have probably experienced overload.

Another example that might fit into this concept of channels is this video Death by Powerpoint http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFfFQ9XU7Jw What I find interesting about this video is that they have chosen text and images and a loud music soundtrack. The video is talking about how to avoid creating bad Powerpoints, and it makes some very good points. However what I found was that when I was viewing it and reading the text and watching the images, the music was interfering with my processing. Ironic? I wonder what consideration of music Mayer makes. I have created some visual multimedia pieces that have visuals, some text and a music track (but not so loud). Would he consider this too much, or not because I don’t have a narration?

Mayer and others have shown that humans have a limited capacity in working memory. What this means for us as designers is that we must take this theory of cognitive load into account when we design any multimedia projects. Mayer’s research shows that too much information can be detrimental to learning. So we need to make sure we focus on the key concepts and if those concepts use two channels, we need to keep them close and in sync. We must also eliminate redundant materials, ideas or concepts. I’m sure most of us have seen the comedian who talks about how not to use powerpoint http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORxFwBR4smE He covers a few of the key points that relate to Mayer’s theory.

Mayer also believes that humans are active processors constantly seeking and constructing meaning by selecting, organizing and integrating information or material into their own knowledge base. This part places it within the constructivist theory as well as in the cognitive area.

Q. In this chapter, Mayer only considers visual and auditory input, but we have other senses as well. What kinds of things do we learn through touch? Smell? Taste?

I think we learn a lot through all of our senses. Lots of studies show that learning is influenced by our other senses. If we recreate the situation we learned in with smell, say there was a bakery baking during our learning for example we are better able to recall than if the smell is missing. Marketers certainly make use of our other senses to draw us in, or to keep us awake or to make positive connections to their products. Las Vegas recreates a daytime world inside to make people forget that night has arrived; they pump in scents and oxygen to keep people awake and betting. Stores pump out smells to draw customers in. We have memories of scents that have meanings attached. Maybe we bake bread before the potential homebuyer walks in. We avoid certain colours of food because we have learned that they signal something not so good. We interact with our environment in all these ways. Kinesthetic learners need to touch things, manipulate things to improve learning. When the teacher in the computer class tells me I have to sit and listen and watch during the demonstration, and I can’t touch the computer, I get a little crazy and sneakily start using the computer. I’d suggest that it’s more complicated than just this two channel model, but at the same time recognize his end 7 principles are generally fairly solid as guidelines for anyone who designs multimedia.

Q. Mayer distinguishes between "verbal" and "nonverbal" stimuli. What about iconic representations, such as the shape of a stop sign? Ignore for the moment that a stop sign has the word STOP painted on it, and consider only the shape. Is this "verbal" or "nonverbal"?

When we talk about a stop sign and iconic representations, we are talking about Semiotics. In my visual communications course I have a unit on semiotics. It’s something that designers need to take into consideration. Some images have different levels of meaning for different people. Maybe this is another area where Mayer’s theory breaks down? An image isn’t always just an image. Sometimes it’s a concept loaded with meaning. Sometimes it has more words than any text can have.

Q. Mayer's principles of design:

Mayer's research was done on instructional material about thunderstorms (a physical phenomenon). Do you think it generalizes to abstract/symbolic topics (e.g., algebra)? His data supports the hypothesis that combining spoken language (rather than written text) with pictorial information improves retention and transfer. What are the implications for blind or deaf learners, who may not have access to one of those channels? Can you think of other ways of presenting the information?

From my point of view, I’d say that it generalizes to abstract/symbolic topics. To me math is multi-leveled, not just visual. A voiceover narration while showing how to complete an operation makes use of two channels for learning; it’s effective for auditory, and visual learning. I’m not sure I’m going to totally buy Mayer’s assertion that spoken language with pictures is always more effective than text and pictures. If you are presenting complex images and some simple text, this can be more effective in some cases compared to an audio and image.

For me it’s about engagement. If a multimedia work draws me into a simple reading and presents effective complex images that make me think, I’d say I might be more engaged.

See this 2008 Tropfest Contest winner Mankind is No Island shot entirely on a cell phone http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrDxe9gK8Gk Would this be more effective with narration?

NEVER I’d say it depends. His ideas would tend to leave those who are differently abled excluded, so there’s a kind of arrogance that assumes that there is a one best way. Humans are different, complex; we have often have different learning styles and different cultural experiences.

Other ways of presenting information- In an ideal world, presenting information in the real world, one where we can touch, smell, hear, see, and manipulate whatever we are talking about. If we can’t do that then recreations of reality, like second life, or 3D presentations where the user seems to be in the situation and can manipulate objects be in the situation would be great.

Q.So-called "screencasts", which combine screen recordings with (usually) audio narration, have become a very popular technique for demonstrating computer software (you'll see many of these in your CTER career). What would Mayer think of this technique? What would he predict from the simultaneous presentation of audio narration and visual images?

I think Mayer would approve of screencasts as long as the basic 7 principles are followed. When I think of growing up in a flat world without multimedia, I feel jealous of the young kids today who get to experience learning in a more complex way. (Funny I did learn, maybe it's cultural) Mayer would predict that the learning would be superior with a good screencast; it seems intuitive that if we see what is going on, we are more easily able to follow and learn. It fits with the millennial generation who multitask, and want learning on their own terms. The ability to stop and start also increases the control the learner has in constructing her/his learning. For me screencasts work because I am visual and kinesthetic. With screencasts the computer becomes the expert that we follow. But it could be that there still might be some who would prefer a paper manual. We are individuals, so the best we can do is present alternatives that present an optimal balance. When we create we should seek opinion from a diverse group- and trial testing helps!

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