Dr Meurig Beynon, Computer Science at the University of Warwick, shares a view on the report by the education technology charity Tablets for Schools, which has found tablet computers are now used in 70% of schools.
'The findings of a recent study which indicate that "there is no clear evidence of academic improvement for pupils using tablet devices" are thought-provoking for those whose career in education began before the advent of computing technology for the classroom.
'There is a sharp contrast between my early teaching experience as a lecturer developing an exposition of a topic using a large bank of blackboards and my subsequent experience of teaching with the much more spatially-constrained interfaces that later technologies typically afford. Two aspects stand out particularly: the way in which the activity of writing on the board in real-time reflected my stream-of-thought, and the scope that the cumulative organisation of material on an array of blackboards gave for highlighting the key relationships between facets of the lecture topic.
'For instance, it was possible to derive a formal proof of a theorem in parallel with illustrative examples that informed its construction, then to preserve the statement of the theorem and complement this with a gallery of specific applications, presenting this so as first to expose the process of construction and then to preserve and complement its outcome.
'Though few would wish to return to the soon-to-be-forgotten age of chalk-and-talk, the chunk-size presentation of steps of a proof in a powerpoint-style presentation present challenges both for the lecturer, who somehow has to maintain coherent links between content on different slides, and for the students, who have to exercise their memory and imagination to reconstruct such links for themselves. The end result often seems to be that, for teacher and learner alike, the stream-of-thought is disrupted by the discontinuous progression of discrete slides and the best efforts to produce a summary slide fail to do justice to the cumulative organisation of understanding.
'The CONSTRUIT! project, led by the University of Warwick with funding from the EU Erasmus+ programme, aims to demonstrate the virtues of an alternative approach to using computers in education. The central idea is to support learning through the construction of an interative artefact (a "contrual") whose evolving state closely reflects the stream-of-thought of its maker.
'A construal acquires its meaning because of the way in which experience of interaction with it evokes experience of interaction in another context. An examination spreadsheet, whose rows and columns are experienced by human observers as referring directly to students and subjects, illustrates this principle in a prosaic way. The aspiration in making a construal is similar to that in incrementally developing a spreadsheet - or in organising lecture material on a bank of blackboards: exposing the connections between the key elements of a topic or situation moment-by-moment so that they can be more readily experienced by the viewer.
'Experiencing the connections between one aspect of our experience and another is fundamental to the view of knowing and learning championed by William James and James Dewey in the early 20th century. It is complementary to the culture of learning for which traditional computer applications are best suited, where knowledge is typically framed in terms of discrete objective rules and facts.
'The advent of tablets and other mobile devices, with apps and tweats in attendance, has made such computing technology a pervasive influence in our everyday experience. But the technologies that are best oriented towards integrating interaction with computers with our intimate thinking processes are of a different kind.
'The instruments that will be best suited to making construals must integrate the static and slowly evolving panoramic qualities of a wall of blackboards with the capacity for dynamic interaction, intervention and recall that ubiquitous contemporary computing devices provide. Developing such instruments is a conceptual, cultural and technological challenge that is highly relevant to the findings of the 'Tablets for Schools' study.'
Notes to Editors:
Issued by Melissa Holloway, Assistant Press Officer, Press and Policy Office, The University of Warwick. Tel: +44 (0)2476 575 601, Email: Melissa.Holloway@warwick.ac.uk
December 3, 2014
Melissa Holloway, Assistant Press Officer, Press and Policy Office, The University of Warwick. Tel: +44 (0)2476 575 601, Email: Melissa.Holloway@warwick.ac.uk