February 28, 2010 8 Comments
Virtually environments can help teachers use new methods more aligned with the way the mind learns than many teaching methods that have been employed over the last decades.
Michael J. Jacobson, Professor and Chair of Education at The University of Sydney, is an international expert in the fields of the Learning Sciences and Computer Supported Collaborative Learning. A teacher and international speaker, Professor Jacobson is a forerunner of doing research into learning in the world of 3D virtual reality. He has published extensively as scientific writer of both articles and books.
I had the opportunity to interview Professor Jacobson. Here are excerpts from our conversation:
- What technologies are particularly appropriate for learning? And how can we merge these with immersive technology to create engaging and profound pedagogical experiences?
“Recent research demonstrates that people learn best with methods where you do not just tell kids stuff—transmit it—and then see if they can sort it out, but…where you find ways to scaffold and support learners for a while, then fade it out over time and people can do stuff. And here is where technology can be very helpful. Learners can accomplish and engage in things they might otherwise not been able to.”
Professor Jacobson continued to explain, ”many times the way we teach is not necessarily the way we learn the best. Historically, people learned as a part of apprenticeships; learning by doing and getting feedback. But, in the 20th century, most teaching got institutionalized. You take a test, you receive your results, and you just go on, but often without actually “doing” the task or solving a realistic problem. Think about how kids function when they learn to speak their mother tongue fluently. Do we get them to memorize definitions of words and then give them a multiple-choice test? No, of course not! Kids are actively engaged in meaning making and communicating with those around them. They are doing many things simultaneously and often they might make mistakes in grammar or vocabulary, but they are constantly getting feedback and given chances to practice and to use language in real situations. Within a few years, children learn tens of thousands of words. They naturally learn by “doing language,” but then kids go to school and the educational system turns things all around. Rather than allowing students to construct understandings by “doing things” and learning with feedback and support, we “tell them things” that often they have no experiential basis for relating to, with limited learning—and limited motivation to keep learning—too often the result.
His latest research involves a pedagogical approach where learners are given challenging tasks or problems that they initially fail at, which, under certain circumstances, can lead to long term learning gains. Dr. Manu Kapur, a Singapore research colleague of Professor Jacobson’s, refers to this approach as “productive failure.” Professor Jacobson continues: “This is turning the sequence of teaching all around. We are allowing students to do something challenging and then when they cannot do it, we engage and suggest ways to solve it. This notion of education is counter intuitively to a lot of people. Intuitively we don’t want to hurt people, but there are methods to handling failure that are not emotionally crushing to people. We are doing research in which productive failure activities are implemented with different types of learning technologies, which we hope maybe even more powerful than other successful techniques such as scaffold learning.”
Professor Jacobson is currently working on several international projects, including one recently funded by the Australian Research Council to do research involving learning in virtual reality environments. In this project, a multi-user virtual world is being developed in which students work as part of virtual teams in a fantasy scenario based on evolutionary and ecological events in Australia. Students will make observations, ask questions, generate hypotheses, and collect virtual data related to how the impact of humans first arriving in the fantasy island changed the ecological balance in ways that caused certain extinctions and impacted evolutionary developments over time. Some of the learning activities—including those involving productive failure—will be in the virtual world, and others in the regular classes, including some activities that show ways in with the virtual world experiences were based on actual evolutionary and archeological data in Australia, such as the extinctions of giant kangaroos and wombats after the arrival of early Aboriginal groups some 40,000 years ago. The research will collect data related to learning of challenging scientific knowledge and skills as well as student motivation and interest in science. It is hoped that this project will build upon and extend other research into learning in virtual reality environments that has been done internationally, as well as to explore how virtual learning experiences may support innovative pedagogical approaches in the increasingly technology rich classrooms in Australia and around the world.
About Michael J. Jacobson
Michael J. Jacobson, Ph.D., is a Professor and Chair of Education in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at The University of Sydney where he is also affiliated with the Centre for Research on Computer Supported Collaborative Learning and Cognition.
Micheal’s main focus is to understand how to enhance the learning of emerging scientific knowledge about complex physical and social systems using 3D virtual reality and modeling environments. Prior to his appointments with the faculty, Michael was an associate professor in the Learning Sciences Laboratory at the National Institute of Education (NIE), Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and the senior associate director and an associate professor at the Korea University Center for Teaching and Learning in Seoul, Korea. Michael has also held faculty and research positions at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Georgia, and Vanderbilt University, and was engaged in organisational and international consulting activities.
Professor Jacobson has published extensively in areas related to the learning sciences and technology, including scientific papers, book chapters, and two books:
(2009). Designs for learning environments of the future: International learning sciences theory and research perspectives. Book under contract with Springer Publishing Company and (2000). Advanced designs for the technologies of learning: Innovations in science and mathematics education, Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
For more info about please see http://fdp.edsw.usyd.edu.au/users/michaelj