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2001 Gwen Gawith: Digitised Cinderellas

2001 Cathy de Moll: The Internet and September 11 disaster

2001 Mark Treadwell: Cognitive and conceptual development

2001 Gillian Eadie: ICT directions

2001 Rob Green: Integrating ICT into the secondary curriculum: PD for teachers

2001 Gwen Gawith: Garbage detection is a key component of information literacy

2000 Ron Johnston: Knowledge is abundant, but the ability to use it is scarce

2000 Stuart Hale: The last communication revolution.

1999 Pete Sommerville: Virtual field trips.

1999 Gwen Gawith: An open letter to Bill Gates.

1999 Gwen Gawith: Hype, hope or information literacy.

1998 Mark Treadwell: The emperor's new computer.

1998 Nola Campbell: A conversation about being online.

1998 Gwen Gawith: Intelligent technologies: Teaching for information literacy.

1997 Gwen Gawith: Technology and ODL: Rent an information literate luddite!

1997 Gwen Gawith: Technology and learning.

1996 Gwen Gawith: IT: charms or challenges.

1994 Gwen Gawith: new technologies: new skills for information literacy.

information literacy:
ICT & learning online

Cognitive and Conceptual Development

Mark Treadwell

In 1987 London Robert K Branson of the Florida State University wrote a paper entitled "Why Schools Can't Improve: The Upper Limit Hypothesis". This seminal paper described education as going through a life cycle.

Life Cycles for maturing technologies and systems can be represented by a sigmoid curve. The introduction of any process is characterised by an extremely slow start with a limited relative productivity. The slow beginning gives way to a rapidly changing rate until increases in productivity begin to taper off and the system approaches the upper limit for the process or technology. For any system or enterprise there is an upper limit of achievement at 100% which is never achieved.

An analogy can be drawn with flight. Initially when ballooning was the only form of flight, passengers travelled a very short distance and at a low speed with little control over their direction. As the technology improved, balloons could fly farther and faster but eventually their speed and distance reached an upper limit (defined by physical laws). A new technology was required to enable people to fly faster and so the glider filed this niche and distance and speeds increased until once again the upper limit was reached. The motorised aeroplane took over form here, but it too, reached its upper speed limits. So technology again came to the rescue and gave birth to the jet-plane, which literally took off where the petrol driven plane had left off.

Education is also a technology, as it meets the need(s) or an opportunity(ies), and as such it too began slowly with minimum outputs, but following research and reflection, the education outputs increased dramatically but they too have tapered off and have reached an upper limit. Robert K Branson suggests that this was achieved sometime after 1960. What is required urgently is a new technology (system), to allow us to once again improve the ability of our students to meet the demands of the 21st century.

As well as including electronic gadgets, technology can be defined as a system, product or an environment that meets a need or opportunity. The electronic technologies will need to be combined with good teaching and learning practice (environments and systems), in order for this new technology to take off from where the last technology finished and allow teachers to raise the teaching and learning outputs significantly.

Over the last three months we have spoken extensively on teaching practices that encourage the building of conceptual models of understanding in conjunction with knowledge and information. But there is also the issue of cognitive understanding and the skill sets that are required in order to create conceptual models.Conceptual understanding can only take place when the student has this set of cognitive skills.

Bloom, Krathwohl et all have put in place a variety of cognitive schema that we can work to. These assist us in providing a framework for ensuring students have the necessary critical thinking skills in order to develop conceptual models of understanding.

As an example: we can have a knowledge of global statistics, but if asked for a common denominator for each of these three groupings of countries:

  • Thailand; Sudan; Guatamala
  • Algeria; Mexico; China
  • England; Russia Canada

. . this knowledge may be of little assistance to us as many of us do not have a model of the world and the placement of these cities within that model.

However if we have a conceptual framework of the world we can then envision in our minds the location of each and realise that each country in each group, is within the same 10 degrees of latitude.

The power of conceptual models of understanding is that once created, the owner has the power to extract more information from them, than went into creating them.

Rather than breaking the first law of thermodynamics, (you cannot extract more energy from a system than went into creating it), we are now applying the first rule of thinking. If we are able to create models of understanding of a topic then we are also able to think laterally, to be innovative, ingenious, imaginative, and develop new thoughts and new ideas that were previously inaccessible to us. Without these models it is almost impossible to have lateral thought.

It is these abilities that set apart people who are considered to be intelligent. In truth, most students can achieve to this level, but only if they are taught. Our brighter students tend to discover these processes and realise their value earlier than less able students but this does not mean to say that these less able students are unable to carry out these thinking tasks; they simply may require good teaching, support and encouragement.

The potential for increased outputs from school is tantalising but it will need to come at a cost! The cost will be the redefining in the political, parental and student mind of intelligence and what the skill set for the 21st century actually are. This is an education task of considerable proportion and will need to be addressed carefully.

The impact of countries that adopt these strategies will be significant in both social and economic performance. The ability of a country to recognise and support lateral thinking, ingenuity and innovation and develop products, systems and environments that meet real needs and opportunities will see it leap ahead of other nations at a considerable pace. Smaller countries are best placed to achieve this but only through enlightened leadership.

The new internet technologies are forming the basis of this potential but it will require considerable teacher upskilling for the potential to be realised


Using Online Resources to Build Models of Understanding

In order to build models of understanding that can be used by learners to extract, process and apply information, there are some prerequisite skills that need to be developed.

In building models of understanding principles are the trading currency. In building models of understanding, principles are the key building blocks as they are extensible whereas facts, by their very nature, are not.

Facts are important in building the foundations of the model but they are not extensible and hence are limited when it comes to be applying the model laterally, imaginatively, or ingeniously.

Some examples of this concept:

In sport:

A principle is that foot placement is critical to final trajectory of the ball whether you are playing volleyball, tennis, table tennis, soccer or football. The principle can be applied to one sport and then transferred to another. A specific application would have been to teach the 3 second rule in basketball. The fact is not extensible outside the game of basketball. A principle would be that it never pays to hold onto any ball too long! This can be applied to almost all team sports.

In general, much of the information on the Internet is in the form of facts, (specific applications) and while facts can contribute to improving models of understanding we need to develop alongside of these, principles which can assist in developing much more powerful models. When looking at using Webquests (online units of work that highlight high order thinking tasks), as part of your student program, it is important that the questions that are presented encourage students to manipulate the information into new formats by asking them to compare, contrast, invent, predict, compose, analyse, improve, debate, determine, judge, construct, illustrate, explain . . . . . . .

It is only when students required to manipulate information and re-present it in a new format/genre that they are forced to understand the concepts and principles as well as the facts.

The difficulty in asking these high order thinking questions was that they require a very rich information environment for the students to research the question and provide the solutions required. We were stuck asking low level "projects" for many years as we simply could not resource high order thinking tasks unless teachers created their own resources; which of course many did, but you can not manage all the responsibilities of the teaching career and create all your own resources all the time.

To a large measure the internet has provided teachers with this rich information environment BUT the internet has its own problems! Teachers and students must be taught the critical thinking skills and searching strategies necessary to navigate this resource successfully. Being able to search the web effectively is a critical skill and it is not just about typing in . There are many internet tools available to teachers that will enable them to find what they want before they start using search engines. In the book "Surfing the WEB" we have provided a process for identifying these resources and how they can be used successfully by teachers and students.

Education directories are a much better tool in many circumstances, and the teachers@work site ( has over 5000 reviewed web sites that are available to be searched at no charge.

Several visiting international speakers have made the point over last several months that much of what schools do with computer technology is simply "drill and kill". It should be pointed out that facts form the foundation of models of understanding and the role of computers in delivering fact-based information is well established. It is important, however that we make sure we deliver a range of tasks that build on the factual foundation and allow students to build strong models whereby they can develop new knowledge and new understanding. These are the skills of the lifelong learner.