What Do They Learn?

What Do They Learn?

Carla R. Payne (Vermont College of Union Institute and University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-935-9.ch014
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Significant learning is marked by transformation in ways of thinking and in the making of meaning. As Winn (1997) put it: “Information is not knowledge and knowledge is not wisdom.” He goes on to point out that “the acquisition of knowledge from information requires effort and involves perceptual and cognitive processes that decode symbols, deploy literacy skills to interpret them, and apply inferencing [sic] abilities to connect them to existing knowledge.” I have argued elsewhere that the instructor must make cognitive development an overall course goal (Payne, 2004). The possibility that there can be developmental change must be an underlying assumption of effective course design. But even given a strong commitment to our students’ cognitive growth, how can we know that the most careful course design and the most thoughtful discussion facilitation are having a positive impact on their thinking abilities? We need some evidence about the impact of our strategies to guide us in improving them. In this chapter, I suggest that the transcripts generated by asynchronous discussion can be more than the objects of quantitative analysis, and that our practice as teachers in any discipline can also benefit by attention to these highly accessible records of our students’ work. Dewey and his heirs, the educational constructivists, set forth certain conditions for significant learning: that students are active, interactive, and reflective, within any particular learning environment (Payne, 2004). In this chapter, one emphasis is on interaction, the social aspect of the construction of knowledge, as it may occur and be fostered in a specific context, asynchronous discussion. The other is on the identification of indicators of development in transcripts of those discussions. In this case, the indicators selected are for interactivity and for inference, one of those higher-order thinking skills considered to be an aspect of reflective thinking.

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