The Geek Squad: Alana Lefkowitz, Susan Mintzer, and Hannah Wachs

Computers as Mindtools for Engaging Learners in Critical Thinking

David H. Jonassen, Chad Carr, Hsiu-Ping Yue
TechTrends, v43 n2 p24-32 Mar 1998

SUMMARY


This article discusses various categories of "mindtools", computer-based applications and models that can be used by learners to construct, refine, and enhance their understanding of any domain. Mindtools are not courseware, nor tools that provide instruction, but rather programs that require input and manipulation of data by the user. Consequently, they become intellectual partners, working with the learner to reach a deeper level of thinking. Mindtools can include all manner of computer programs, many of which are web-based, from spreadsheets to search engines to message boards. Finally, the author outlines some of the key reasons to use mindtools: low cost, ease of use, and the way in which they scaffold the learner toward constructing meaning, rather than simply providing information.

Semantic Organization Tools


Semantic organization tools comprise the first class of mindtools discussed in the article, and the author specifically details two types: databases and semantic networks.[1]

Databases

Databases, with which we are likely all familiar, are simply repositories of information divided into records and subfields, essentially a digital version of a filing cabinet, in which records are kept in folders and subfolders. Databases can also be used to efficiently search for and sort information in order to answer questions. Databases function as mindtools when they are constructed by learners, as task which requires the learner to think about how best to categorize and subdivide the content, increasing his or her understanding of the relationship between facts.

external image database.jpg?w=400

Semantic Networks

Semantic networks are very similar to the graphic organizers used in many elementary and secondary classrooms. They allow students to visually represent the key concepts in a domain and the connections that link them. Creating a semantic network requires that the learner think consciously about his or her schema, the way in which information is mentally organized in a web of interrelated ideas. Semantic networks thus reflect what a student currently knows and can then be used to track changes in the student's knowledge or understanding of the relationships between concepts. Several programs that help construct semantic networks are cited by the article, including SemNet, Inspiration, and MindMapper.[2]


Causes of World War I
Causes of World War I
Example of semantic map from Inspiration

Dynamic Modeling Tools

As their name suggests, dynamic modeling tools are mindtools used to represent the dynamic connections among various concepts, just as semantic modeling tools show their semantic relationships.[3]

Spreadsheets

Spreadsheets are similar to databases in that they contain information arranged in fields, but they deal with numbers and equations. Programs like Microsoft's Excel are used to create spreadsheets with many applications for business and accounting, but they can also help students arrange and rearrange numeric information. The beauty of a spreadsheet is that by changing one element you can instantly see how that change would effect other elements. Students could see, for example, how small changes in atmospheric pressure could influence the weather in various locations, or how changes in food supply could effect the populations in an ecosystem. Spreadsheets act as a true mindtool because they require the creator of the spreadsheet to make equations and rules guiding the organization of the numeric data and to make decisions about how to re-sort the data to provide answers to queries.

Expert Systems

An expert system is a computer program that has the knowledge of, and can provide answers like, an expert in a given field. For example, and program might be written to provide a differential diagnosis when certain symptoms are entered, in order to assist a medical student in evaluating his or her own diagnosis.[4] An expert system becomes a mindtool when students are asked to create such a system, requiring them to think deeply about both what an expert knows, and how an expert draws conclusions between one fact and another.

Systems Modeling Tools

Systems modeling tools allow students to engage with complex problems by creating visually accessible and manipulatable models of abstract or hard to mentally conceptualize phenomena. For example, a program called Stella allows students to use icons and equations to represent complex relationships between ideas and events. The article cites an example in which literature students mapped the relationships between beliefs held by characters in the novel Lord of the Flies and the power held by the Beast.[5]

external image stella_model.jpg

Microworlds

Microworlds are impressive mindtools because they allow students a great deal of control over their use. A microworld is a virtual environment that simulates a location, system, or phenomenon under certain parameters. Users can manipulate and explore the environment, creating new objects and testing various changes in conditions. In a microworld, students can generate and test their hypotheses about how objects interact with each other, and as such they are often designed to support learning in math and science. For example, a program called MathWorlds invites students to manipulate the movement of characters to better understand calculus graphs.[6]

external image MathWorlds_still.jpg

Visualization Tools

When we dream, we see images that cannot be relayed on paper or on the computer. Visualization tools help learners display what they see or imagine something to look like onto a computer screen. There is a growing number of visualization tools for representing chemical compounds. Many students have difficulty understanding what these compounds look like. With the help of visualization tools, such a MacSpartan, students can put a picture to a concept being learned.


external image Atrazine-c-01.jpg

Knowledge Construction Tools

Knowledge Construction Tools are derived from a "constructionism" process. Students learn through constructing, and they derive meaning and learn more about the object than if they were to just study them.

Hypermedia

Hypermedia is the basic unit of storage information put into nodes. Hypermedia consists of sound bites, pictures, a video clip, or even a page from a whole text. Nodes can be added or edited, and students can connect to them via hyperlink. Creating a knowledge base through hypermedia is a complex process that engages students and allows them to be involved in the creative process. When working in groups, using hypermedia can also promote project management skills, research skills, organization and presentation skills, and reflection skills.[7]



Conversation Tools

In today's world, students are very in-tune and dependent on social media. Using conversation tools/social media through the learning process is a wonderful way to make lessons interesting and applicable to students. Conversation tools involve computer-based mediums such as blogs, classroom message boards, live conversations such as chats and MOO's, etc. A more cutting edge use of conversation tools is electronic field trips. Online programs promote communication, which leads students to participate and make their learning more meaningful.

Rationale for Mind Tools

Why do mind tools work, that is, why do they engage learners in in critical, higher-order thinking about content?[8]

Learners as Designers

The process of articulating what we know and constructing meaning from the knowledge that we have provides learners the unique opportunity to reflect on their knowledge in a meaningful way. Mindtools are not intended to make learning easier but rather challenge the learner to think about the subject matter and domain in such a way that they are in effect designing their own knowledge base.

Knowledge Construction, Not Reproduction

Mindtools are concerned with how we construct knowledge. Learners use what they already know to construct their own knowledge based on their experiences and their interpretation of their knowledge. These tools allow the learner to participate in the learning process and are actively engaged in constructing their knowledge. A main function of mindtools is to guide learners in the organization and representation of their knowledge.

Learning with Technology

When students work with technologies, instead of being controlled by them, they enhance the capabilities of the computer, and the computer enhances their thinking and learning.[9] In this environment an intellectual partnership is created with the computer. The computer is not used as a tutor or a teacher but rather as a tool to help learners build knowledge.

(Un)intelligent Tools

Computer systems are not supposed to be the teacher or expert but rather a cognitive tool for the learner. Mindtools are unintelligent tools that require the learner to provide the provide the intelligence or knowledge, not the computer. Planning, decision making, and self-regulation of learning are the responsibility of the learner and not the learning tool.[10]

Distributing Cognitive Processing

We should assign cognitive responsibility and tasks to the learning system that does it best. Learners should be responsible for organizing information and providing input while the computer system should perform calculations, store, and retrieve the information. The process of sharing the cognitive burden with the computer allows learners to be more productive with their thinking and learning.

Cost and Effort Beneficial
Mindtools are personal knowledge construction tools and can be applied by the learner to any domain.[11] They are relatively inexpensive, readily available, and easy to learn. Therefore, they are low cost and highly beneficial.

ARTICLE 7
Jonassen - Mindtools.pdf
  1. ^
    Jonassen, D. H., Carr, C., & Yue, H. (1998). Computers as Mindtools for Engaging Learners in Critical Thinking.
    TechTrends, 43(2), 24-32.
  2. ^
    Jonassen, D. H., Carr, C., & Yue, H. (1998). Computers as Mindtools for Engaging Learners in Critical Thinking.
    TechTrends, 43(2), 24-32.
  3. ^
    Jonassen, D. H., Carr, C., & Yue, H. (1998). Computers as Mindtools for Engaging Learners in Critical Thinking.
    TechTrends, 43(2), 24-32.
  4. ^
    Jonassen, D. H., Carr, C., & Yue, H. (1998). Computers as Mindtools for Engaging Learners in Critical Thinking.
    TechTrends, 43(2), 24-32.
  5. ^
    Jonassen, D. H., Carr, C., & Yue, H. (1998). Computers as Mindtools for Engaging Learners in Critical Thinking.
    TechTrends, 43(2), 24-32.
  6. ^
    Jonassen, D. H., Carr, C., & Yue, H. (1998). Computers as Mindtools for Engaging Learners in Critical Thinking.
    TechTrends, 43(2), 24-32.
  7. ^
    Jonassen, D. H., Carr, C., & Yue, H. (1998). Computers as Mindtools for Engaging Learners in Critical Thinking.
    TechTrends, 43(2), 24-32.
  8. ^
    Jonassen, D. H., Carr, C., & Yue, H. (1998). Computers as Mindtools for Engaging Learners in Critical Thinking.
    TechTrends, 43(2), 24-32.
  9. ^
    Jonassen, D. H., Carr, C., & Yue, H. (1998). Computers as Mindtools for Engaging Learners in Critical Thinking.
    TechTrends, 43(2), 24-32.
  10. ^
    Jonassen, D. H., Carr, C., & Yue, H. (1998). Computers as Mindtools for Engaging Learners in Critical Thinking.
    TechTrends, 43(2), 24-32.
  11. ^
    Jonassen, D. H., Carr, C., & Yue, H. (1998). Computers as Mindtools for Engaging Learners in Critical Thinking.
    TechTrends, 43(2), 24-32.