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The common overall point, however, is to remind us how little the technology itself does in determining whether any learning in fact occurs.
Learner's activity Laurillard lists exactly 12 generic activities e.g. expression (exposition by lecture or textbook), re-expression (a student writes an essay, tries to answer a question, tries to tell another student about it), ..etc.
Tasker's and his colleagues' idea of activity is slightly different. Examples include: Explore, Describe, Apply, Observe, Represent, Refine, Review, Access, Question, Decide, Report, Reflect, Interpret, Construct, Justify, enRole, Research, React, Resolve,
The simulation program plus a worksheet for students of things to run on it, settings to try, phenomena to set up and observe, ...
Learning session Neither Tasker nor Laurillard call a lecture or tutorial or going through an online document an "activity", firstly because these are generic formats for assets (like "books" or "videos"): a specific learner task must be added to the object. Of course, skillful students (or researchers at a conference) will apply their own goals: although not always what the author intended. In particular cases however, a lecturer may tell the audience what they think the activity should be for the next bit "Now put down your pens and just think about ....". However in many cases of pedestrian practice, the actual student task in lectures is not thinking nor learning, but collecting material for later possible learning.
Sitting down a learner with tutor and a set of coloured tiles: in one case, 10 tiles of fully saturated hues. They are asked to arrange them in any order that seems logical to them. When they finish, the tutor will ask what is the rationale for their arrangement; and (if it isn't the arrangement in fact eventually required) ask them probe question e.g. (if this learner put them in a straight line) "Could the two tiles at extreme ends from each other in fact have been placed adjacently?"
Tasker's own example schemata for learning designs include:
But a more classic design might be:
The use of the coloured tiles (whether on a tabletop, or in a 3D digital modelling package) is part of a design where the learner is given a sequence of about 10 tasks, arranging subsets of colours and then merging arrangements, and then finally placing them on a skeleton sphere to form the Runge sphere (the hue, saturation, brightness 3D colour space).
Pulling this together: it constitutes in another form the more abstract theoretical point that the learners who do best are generally those who already know the most, using their partial knowledge to gain access to the meaning of new material, and their stock of open questions to direct what they want to learn from it. An expert sees what is interesting where a layperson notices nothing. Having said that, the best interactive museum exhibits succeed in drawing in a wide variety of people: but these are rare.
Tasker's 4-way distinction first makes the point that technology alone causes no learning. Secondly, it offers a first way to break down the extra work that needs to be done, and so makes a start at planning for it by giving a framework for understanding what needs to be added to naked technology or media. As I say, it is a lesson that has been painfully rediscovered again and again. Tasker's is the clearest and furthest developed statement of this core point that I have come across.
See also Barney Dalgarno paper
A starting motivation for him was Alex Johnstone's identification of a key bottleneck for students learning chemistry: learning in three different representations at once and how to inter-relate each new concept or fact in all three domains: the macroscopic (e.g. how chemical phenomena appear to the senses, colour, smell, etc.); the formal or representational (the equations used to represent reactions); and the "submicro": the invisible but 3-dimensional world of molecule's shapes and their dynamic motions, interactions, and kinetics. The third of these is generally the hardest for students, and least well dealt with in teaching.
This identified a strategic educational problem in chemistry, and Roy took it on. His key idea for a solution was to develop computer animations that can show the shapes and motions of molecules, together with skilled tutorial dialogue to get students to see the problems with their assumptions and prior conceptions for which the animations offered insight.
The "patter" that came with the computer animations is actually highly skilled socratic dialogue. For me the demo Roy once gave me in 1993? was a notable learning experience, and an exemplar I have always remembered about a mode of learning. I currently am involved in a project that in my mind was inspired by this, although in a very different area (colour theory): creating an effective learning experience around visual exercises and demonstrations, and socratic dialogue from a human tutor that guides the learner into recognising and confronting latent problems in their pre-existing partial knowledge.
But personal human 1:1 tuition isn't cost sustainable. So Roy had two aims for the next decade of work: more simulations and animations (generalising his early exemplars to cover more of chemistry teaching); and how to replace himself as part of the package. His distinctions above reflect part of his growing analysis and understanding of what he was value-adding to the software itself.
There is a recent PhD thesis supervised by him on this stuff:
Rebecca Dalton (2003) The development of students' mental models of chemical substances and processes at the molecular level (University of Western Sydney). Available online: type in "Dalton" in the author box.
This area (of using computer animations to teach aspects of science) can raise the need for another set of distinctions e.g. between animations and simulations. A rough go at these might be:
Having said that, every simulation is only realistic about some properties, and not others that it doesn't attempt to model.
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