Motivation for the research described below contains several of those elements, three of which can be identified as the basis of the program. The first is a concern with what are termed 'higher order' cognitive skills. Hedberg (1993) notes how a new emphasis on the need to promote higher order thinking skills has been increasingly apparent in curriculum debates; Jonassen and Wang (1993), reporting on experiments with college students, observe that the latter were 'not accustomed to higher order learning outcomes from instruction'. However, the competencies agenda has also seen a tendency for academic opinion in higher education to assume that, whatever higher order cognitive activity may be, there is a strong likelihood that more of it occurs in higher education learning than elsewhere.
The second element is that of claims and assumptions, which have grown steadily in number, that interactive multimedia is particularly apt for stimulating the incidence of such higher order cognitive activity in learning (Dede, Fontana and White, 1993; Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1990). We have some reservations about the validity of this construct in the research we are conducting, but we acknowledge the pragmatic value of referring to it in relation to current concerns.
Adding to the above reservation that such utopian 'aptness' may not be readily realisable, we had as our third motivation to link such concerns with observations of the cognitive skills which are manifested when hypermedia is used in the humanities, where its propensity for promoting learning in richly linked and non-rule based domains has received a good deal of attention (Spoehr and Shapiro, 1991; Jonassen, Ambruso & Olesen, 1992).
These concerns are reflected in the key issues for multimedia research discussed by Ferretti (1991): 'What kinds of knowledge and skills are best taught with multimedia ... and how does such knowledge/skills affect performance in multimedia environments?', 'What are the characteristics of multimedia that contribute important academic and motivational outcomes?', and 'What skills acquired by students while using multimedia will generalise to other settings?'
We also revisited Bloom's (1956) taxonomy of educational objectives which, for all its comprehensiveness, is not couched in terms which can be used for en route analysis of user interactions with computer programs. As discussed below, it was decided on completion of the first set of user observations to attempt to code video recordings and transcripts using categorisations by Cradler (1985), Gubbins (1985) and Rowland (1992).
No media effectThe first position is substantially that promoted by Clark (1983), who challenged researchers to demonstrate clearly the pedagogical contribution of technological media to learning. The second is discussed by The Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (1990), Hasselbring, Goin and Bransford (1991), Pea (1985, 1987) and Kommers, Jonassen and Mayes (1992).
Those which claim that learning (type, quantity, quality, etc.) is significantly technology independent and much more influenced by other factors
Unique media effect
Those which claim that the exploitation of interactive multimedia technology as an internalised cognitive tool, rather than as a neutral carrier of knowledge as facts, is likely to produce learning outcomes which differ qualitatively from those attainable under other conditions
The prime objectives of this project have led us to adopt a broadly phenomenological approach (see, for example, Goodrum and Knuth, 1991). The costs associated with the selected research strategy do not permit controlled comparisons to be made between learning environments. Moreover, a phenomenological approach is typically sceptical about assuming that the complexity of learning situations can be accounted for through appeal to a limited set of supposedly known variables in the manner of a scientific experiment (Guba and Lincoln, 1982).
Our initial familiarisation with the product determined one of the parameters of the design of the first set of observations: users' activities had to be task oriented during the observations. This was partly a practical issue of time. However, we also took account of reservations in the empirical research literature concerning unstructured hypermedia use, where behaviour may become 'entropic, goal-lost, impulsive, and distracted by the browseables offered by the system' (Hasselbring, Goin and Bransford, 1991).
Following the style of period based research instanced in the Flashback! manual (p.76), students were referred at the observation sessions to the written task: 'Find out all the information you can about Australia at the beginning and during World War Two'. Given that this would be the subjects' first encounter with CD-ROM the task was kept simple and the period was one which is clearly delineated in the application.
Consequently, volunteer pairs of students were sought largely from the foundation year in the Faculty of Humanities at Griffith University, complemented by a small number of third year students. All had some familiarity with the subject matter of Flashback!, but it was not a criterion for the observation studies that test populations should be homogeneous.
It was decided that the same attitude instrument would be used as post-observation measure, but that the semantic differential scale would in this case refer to 'working with Flashback!' rather than to 'working with computers' as it had done in the pre-test. It was thought that this might reveal shifts of feeling and attitude between the mediating technology and the knowledge representations which it embodied.
Relevant category formers for this purpose were (a) time taken from start to first content related search activity, (b) whether there was 'closure' (ie. a pair of users deciding that they had completed the task), (c) rate of asking for reassurance about navigation decisions, (d) how often main menu was revisited, (e) rate of intervention of the research assistant (eg. to help subjects emerge from closed loops), (f) number of main sub-menus of the database searched.
Any attempt to use the concept in relation to learning with technologies in a particular set of social circumstances must therefore defer to some extent to current moves towards greater explicitness concerning the desired outcomes of education and training. However, the value placed on particular kinds of cognitive skills, as expressive of 'intelligence', seems unlikely to remain constant. Does this mean, perhaps, that the pedagogical value of interactive multimedia in higher education will increase with emergent social interpretations of intelligence which take greater account of its alternative manifestations (Gardner, 1983)?
Again, the intense interest in theories of representation - in cognitive science, psychology, anthropological biology, linguistics, philosophy and aesthetics - gives evidence of convergence towards the mapping out of a domain of pre-conceptual experience which may specifically determine the categories of reasoning and logical cognitive activity which are most highly prized as 'higher order' thinking. Is interactive multimedia somehow particularly consistent with this 'new order'? Does its ostensibly close mapping with the bodily basis of rationality (Johnson, 1987), with the 'ecological information processing' proposed by Lewis (1992), or with the 'cognitive trails' in Cussins' (1992) theory, make it the learning medium par excellence of the 21st century?
One cannot ignore either endeavours to redefine some of the cognitive aims of education or the influence of these latter research directions. We cannot yet be certain that the categories of cognitive skills we are using and developing take adequate account of the role of the pre-conceptual and 'ecological' skills of human learners. We may well suspect that current trends in information technology, and the ever increasing use of graphical interfaces and the intuitive spatial manipulation of information, will accelerate the acceptance of alternative expressions of cognitive competence and 'intelligence'.
It is in such circumstances that interactive multimedia environments for learning will not be judged simply for their potential to stimulate the forms of propositional manipulation which are best accounted for in some existing schemas of cognitive processes. We believe that the frameworks for observation and analysis which we are developing will need to accommodate broader and more subtle expressions of cognitive activity.
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|Authors: Dr Malcolm Alexander, Faculty of Humanities, Griffith University, Nathan, Queensland 4111, Australia. Tel: 07 875 7169 Fax: 07 875 7730. Email: M.Alexander@hum.gu.edu.au
David Frampton, Director, Educational Technology Services, Griffith University, Nathan, Queensland 4111, Australia. Tel: 07 875 7142 Fax: 07 875 7845. Email: D.Frampton@ins.gu.edu.au
Please cite as: Alexander, M. and Frampton, D. (1994). Technology and thinking: A qualitative study with interactive multimedia products. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Second International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 4-9. Perth, Western Australia, 23-28 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1994/alexander.html