saying farewell to ICT based science education

December 24, 2007

The end of the year 2007 is the time of saying farewell to my 7 years of working in ICT based science education at the University of Tartu.
I am on the move already more than a year, my new job in Tallinn University is more about general social- and hybrid spaces, and i love it too. But looking back and saying farewell is sad. Maybe this is the reason i have been quiet in my weblog.

Summary of ideas i was working with:

1. Learning with web-based models in chat
We developed methods of conducting visualized individual and collaborative model-based learning in physics, chemistry and biology (Pata & Sarapuu, 2003b; Puusepp, Pata & Sarapuu, 2003a; Pata & Sarapuu, 2004b; Pata, Puusepp & Sarapuu, 2004). Problems were introduced at web-pages. Activity in chatroom started from hypothetico-predictive reasoning of the problem solution without conceptual support, and continued with model-based reasoning with expressive (constructing models) or inquiry models (performing inquiry with ready-made models). Metacognitive and cognitive support of the tutor was provided in chatroom.
The spontaneous process of developing shared mental models was analysed. It was found that the students start constructing their mental models from structural relationships within the object-category, giving them names and describing their properties, and ends with the mapping of processes. At individual level the conceptual change was found to be related with the increased process category, and changes within the object category elements. The change towards using more scientific categories besides everyday explanations was recorded as well (Pata & Sarapuu, 2003).
We developed the theoretical framework of structural and conceptual development of problem representations in science (Pata & Sarapuu, 2003; Puusepp, Pata & Sarapuu, 2003; Adojaan & Sarapuu, 2003; Pata & Sarapuu, 2004; Pata, Puusepp ja Sarapuu, 2004). This theory assumes that students ability to explain natural phenomena can be characterised as the directed development towards completeness of mental representations. In this process the structural elements (objects and processes and their properties), as well as, their causal relationships (between objects, between objects and processes, and between processes), but also the conceptual levels of these elements (macroscopic, microscopic and symbolic; concrete and abstract) are developed and hierarchically mapped in mental models and their external representations.

2. Model-based reasoning
Since the development of problem representations is tightly connected with the reasoning processes, it was presumed that different types of model-based reasoning processes would have divergent influence on the development of students‘ mental representations of the problems. It was supposed that inductive expressive model-based reasoning (constructing the model) and deductive exploratory model-based reasoning (working with inquiry model) would enhance different cognitive construction processes and mental model development.
Our results indicated that students were applying different cognitive reasoning processes when working with expressive or exploratory models.
When working with the expressive model (composing the model) students completed their individual mental models gradually with new elements, their mental models were developed as whole in the problem context. This model-based reasoning resulted that students were able of reconstructing the mental models of the problem also individually after collaborative modelling. When working with the exploratory model, students tested the validity of their initial hypothesis. For this the initial mental model was tested partially and sequentially with the exploratory model, replacing parts of it. However, difficulties were observed in relating the problem context and the model context. The usage of abstract quantitative reasoning during the collaborative model-based inquiry indicated that students were developing a scientifically correct mental model of the phenomenon. However, after the modelling activity they were not able to repeat individually mental models of the specific problem at similar abstract level.

3. Scaffolding collaborative problem-solving in chat
Learning in joint inquiry situations by using shared visualisation and synchronous talk in textual mode rises the importance of scaffolding the shared activities. In collaborative modelling students need to understand the meaning of their peers‘ representations and their planning processes.
Several studies were conducted in collaboration with the Universities of Turku and Western Sidney, focusing on the interrelated scaffolding roles of the tutor and students in chatroom environment. A role-play was conducted with basic school students, which was supported with web-based representations and tutors‘ and students‘ verbal scaffolding. The results indicated that the actions directed to solve the problem are not determined by specific tutors‘ action types but the intensity of tutor’s and students interactions (Pata, Lehtinen & Sarapuu, 2005).
Tutors‘ support was effective if directed towards supporting students to scaffold each other in the inquiry, and less effective if directly supporting students‘ knowledge construction (Pata, Sarapuu & Archee, 2005). The results of these studies were used to develop the framework for scaffolding collaborative knowledge-construction in chatrooms (Pata, Sarapuu & Lehtinen, 2006).
We also studied collaborative visualisation on electronic whiteboard of chatrooms.The participats‘ spontaneous metacommunication, and its influence on the construction of shared representations in groups was studied. It was found that when working simultaneously in verbal and visual environment, students must be guided to reflect their meanings about visuals in verbal format. The most effective was the groupwork where students shifted roles of modelling on electronic whiteboard and explaining verbally the mental models. The results of the experiment were used to develop the model for effective metacognitive scaffolding in collaborative visualised learning process (Pata & Sarapuu, 2003).

4. Inquiry learning in multi-representational environment
In series of experiments the interrelations of students‘ cognitive and metacognitive development were investigated when learning in multi-representational environment.
We studied how students developed awareness of cognitive and metacognitive tools in such environment. It was found that during the 1st problem task students did not obtain the task-related awareness of the learning objects, and it developed dynamically only after solving several problems. The level of students‘ awareness of learning objects influenced the effectiveness of solving inquiry tasks, especially the phase of transferring knowledge between the authentic problem situations and theoretical situations (Pata, Pedaste & Sarapuu, 2007).


In another study it was found that students lacked of conceptual consistency during solving the sequential steps of the inquiry in multi-representational environment, this result was supporting the theory of contextual reconstruction of knowledge from pierces rather than that of the activation of the whole conceptual frameworks. It was found that the students with alternative scientific understanding showed less progress in the inquiry learning environment, indicating that individual inquiry with the model was not an effective tool for eliminating students‘ misunderstandings (Pata, submitted).
In the next study it was found that the students‘ level of initial conceptual coherence influenced their effectiveness of performing certain steps of the inquiry in the multi-representational environment. Conceptual coherence was conceptualised as the students‘ ability to translate simultaneously information from one form of representation to another, and from one context to another. The multi-representational learning environment was found to be effective in advancing students‘ level of conceptual coherence (Pata, Pedaste, & Sepp, 2007; Sepp, Pata, Pedaste, 2007).These studies have lead to the ideas related to ecological approach to learning environments .


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