Three conceptions of teaching and learning will be discussed.
Experience with several CAUT projects will be used to briefly illustrate how these education conceptions can impact on the educational design of CBL.
The approach taken by Wills & McNaught (in press) has been to examine six broad categories or focuses for evaluation, chosen on experiential rather than theoretical grounds. These categories were:
There are obvious parallels between these two conceptions and some standard forms of CBL (knowledge recitation and procedural drill versus simulations and microworlds, for example), but there have been few systematic empirical analyses of these parallels (Laurillard, 1993). Moreover, the relationships are likely to be complex. The design and function of CBL in a university subject may depend upon disciplinary and personal beliefs about the way knowledge should be organised into a curriculum (Schrag, 1992; Stark et al., 1988), as well as upon beliefs about how students learn, what academic teachers' roles should be, and how learning should be assessed.
One issue of some importance to transformative learning is whether and how academics base their teaching upon students' understandings of key ideas in their field (Laurillard, 1993; Marten, 1989; Marton & Ramsden, 1988; Ramsden, 1992). There is now a substantial body of evidence, much collected at the pre-tertiary level, indicating that students interpret academic concepts in "naive" ways which are often resistant to formal instruction (Confrey, 1990; Marton, 1989). Although the literature differs on the most appropriate method for addressing this problem (eg., Smith, diSessa & Roschelle, 1993), the common assumption is that students' conceptions have to be incorporated into the teaching agenda.
A point made in detail by Laurillard (1993), is that, although some forms of CBL offer students accessible ways to represent and manipulate knowledge, most programs do not provide an opportunity for conversational convergence of ideas between student and tutor (intelligent tutoring systems being partial exceptions). This suggests that, although academics who design CBL systems may be sensitive to past students' learning difficulties, some will have a pre-emptive (teacher centred) orientation to student learning, with the consequence that their students' conceptions may remain unaltered by CBL. On the other hand, as Laurillard (1993) and others (eg., Wills & McNaught, in press) have observed, CBL is only part of the teaching and learning context of a university subject. Academics with a student centred/ transformational conception of teaching and learning may incorporate pre-emptive CBL into a conversational process that assists with conceptual change (eg., White & Horwitz, 1988). In either case, the key to full understanding of the impact of CBL on student learning is the academic's educational beliefs and the resultant context in which CBL is implemented.
One group of academics are those who focus on one way transmission of knowledge. They are teacher centred and often work with the image of the student as a "clean slate" - our conversations elicit comments like:
"We don't assume any knowledge at the start of this unit."This description is consistent with the academics having expository conceptions of teaching and learning. The design of the CBL packages produced by these academics is often similar to a fancy book. There may be images, hypertext linkages and browsing mechanism, but students are basically expected to learn, remember and give back the information content of the CBL material. If there are quizzes, they are often as an addended collection of objective items with few linkages to the main body of the program.
"The onus is on the teacher to set the scene."
Another group of academics are clearly cognisant of the need to progress from where the students are. They are aware of a range of alternative conceptions that students might have and are anxious for students to have correct and useful knowledge. To this extent they are student centred. However, they are likely to believe that their own ideas are correct and that all that students need in order to learn is a good explanation.
"If I get the explanations right by using appropriate animations and clearly focussed, interactive exercises, students will learn."We have heard this many times from academics in this group. This description is consistent with the academics having pre-emptive views of teaching and learning. Instructional design focuses on good explanations coming from the teacher. Often the visual material is chosen and developed as a result of careful consideration of common student misconceptions. However, the educational design is still teacher centred with high information delivery. The learning outcomes of the CBL material are clearly specified and little divergence from these outcomes is sought or expected. Students are often asked to select the correct explanation or definition in the questions asked during the CBL module; these questions are juxtaposed with the explanatory material. Students have commented in evaluation interviews about these contexts that they understand the concepts better but still have difficulty solving the problems or applying the ideas to other related contexts.
Another group of academics design CBL material which guides students as they develop concepts and formulate solutions to problems. This sort of CBL encourages students to contemplate alternatives and to formulate their preferences by iteratively revisiting the data. This description is consistent with the academics having transformative conceptions of teaching and learning. They provide students with rich computer based data sources - both text and visual. The problems posed are ones which require students to access and work with a range of material but structure is provided by clearly thought out navigation options and by clear reasoning and learning goals. In a transformative environment, students may be asked to show their learning in a variety of ways. There may be quizzes about basic material but often there other forms of assessment and reporting are required, such as diagnostic reports, or reports or essays compiled from computer databases. In simulation programs, students will genuinely be able to explore with the intention of understanding a system, not just play a game within narrowly set parameters. There is a breadth of focus in these situations which may lead to various student learning outcomes.
It is clear that we need to work more on the relationships between the ways in which academics think about educational issues in their discipline area, the pedagogies they favour, and the learning outcomes that are likely to result. We expect that CBL will make a unique contribution to student learning when it is sensitive to students' initial conceptions while providing ways in which more appropriate interpretations can be constructed through interaction with the software. The work planned for the detailed study will provide information on the nature of, and the connections between, six key elements:
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|Authors: Professor John Bain|
Professor of Teaching and Learning
Faculty of Education
Griffith University, Nathan, Queensland Australia 4111
Phone: +617 3875 5801 Fax: +617 3875 5910
Dr Carmel McNaught
Please cite as: Bain, J. and McNaught, C. (1996). Academics' educational conceptions and the design and impact of computer software in higher education. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Third International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 56-59. Perth, Western Australia, 21-25 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1996/ad/bain.html