Sunday, January 17, 2010

GCoS Classroom using FLE4: reproduce or transform?

How do the unique opportunities provided in a Growing Community of Scientists classroom affect relationships? For example, with seamless computer access (old, new) students can use specialized knowledge building software such as FLE4.

In using FLE4, for example, in what ways are traditional relationships simply reproduced (supported/kept-the-same) and in what ways are traditional relationships transformed (changed/destabilized)?  Let's try a table, albeit a skinny one, on my blog :)  In this post, I'll be examining the relationships between 'askers' and 'answerers' of questions.  Further posts will examine other classroom relationships.

RelationshipIn what ways ReproducedIn what ways Transformed
student answers...
  • Teacher still creates questions that are directed towards students.  Students are expected to attempt to answer this question.  Teacher generally knows an answer to this question and the students are expected to stretch to answer it.
  • In these situations, the teacher is the expert, the knowledge authority.  The student is the seeker, the novice.  The teacher has power, the student less.
  • Primarily, the big questions a teacher asks with software such as FLE4 will be to initiate a knowledge-building conversation.  It's goal is to provide a focus question, an essential that provides a direction and thus some bounds to it.
  • Assuming that the teacher has laid proper groundwork and carefully and sensitively created the question, it is intrinsically motivating to students.  Also, the authority a content expert has in a community whose mission is to explore and grow in that topic is more natural.  An open-ended question promotes exploration.  This software allows other students to ask the smaller questions...
asks and teacher answers.
  • Students still ask questions of the teacher.  Students don't know the answer to the question, teacher usually does.
  • In a FLE4 discussion, when a student asks a teacher a question, they aren't JUST asking for their own satisfaction or curiosity, they are on an information-seeking mission for their community.
  • Thus students now not only ask questions of which they don't know the answer, they also become answerers of questions that the asker (a peer) does NOT know the answer.  Also quite important here is that the student's role is as an interpreter of what the authority (teacher) says.
asks and student answers.
  • In classes where students work in pairs or small groups this peer to peer interaction happens.  Using FLE4, this small group interaction still happens as student groups choose or are assigned to specialize on specific peer-generated questions.
  • Since GCoS is able to use software that allows students to discuss topics with each other, to create new knowledge within themselves and their community, this peer to peer interaction is common, not only in smaller groups, but as a whole, diverse, full class sized group.
  • This is a significant change--would you rather answer a question to which the person asking it already knows the answer such as a teacher asking a traditional, 'confirmation' or 'narrow' question, or seek to answer a question to which the asker doesn't yet know but truly wants to know?  Instead of a lackey (this is perhaps a bit degrading if you are an adolescent?) you are a producer of knowledge, a helpful person.
  • This is required in a traditional classroom you can't have everyone 'talking at once' (though expert teachers allow it when appropriate but really these are many 'side conversations' happening at one time, but students can't really access any conversation throughout the classroom that they want).
  • In a FLE4-using GCoS classroom, this mandatory, "few people active and everyone else passive" does not happen except for the unmotivated or unable to read students--two situations that still require attention.
  • This is a key advantage to a FLE4-using, GCoS environment.  Students can browse others' questions and answers and build on them to the degree that they are motivated.  They don't have to 'wait their turn' which often translates to disengaging with the conversation, especially for 'visual learners' and 'kinesthetic learners'.
  • FLE4 allows for "parallel processing" in community knowledge building.  It allows ALL students to be active at all times, and not only with their small group, but also with the whole class.
  • This affordance of a GCoS classroom is quite unique and highly motivating to students.
Student 'asks' and
  • Students still use books to find information.
  • Often, students use the books in a more active, 'mission-fulfilling' manner.  They are looking for the answer to a specific question that they feel a responsibility to their knowledge-building community, to answer.
  • Students have many more sources at their command, not just 'the textbook'.  They have access to fairly authoritative knowledge such as at wikipedia, they have computer simulations such as at the phet website.
  • In the event that the teacher has set up relationships with experts outside of the classroom via e-mail, blogging, twitter, wikis, skype, irc's etc., 'Authoritative information sources' are further expanded.

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