Thursday, October 26, 2006

immersion plus

I wrote about immersion in July:
Another argument used for not learning computing is that the Department should provide inservice time for teachers to learn these new things. The reality however is that only IMMERSION works and no Department can ever provide that. The desire to master computers must come from within.
A recent response from Tony has made me think more about immersion, what it is and whether it alone is sufficient.

I still like the Marshall McLuhan quote, "I don't know who discovered water but it wasn't a fish" - that some things seem effortless in certain environments - but have come to think that it doesn't tell us all we need to know about learning. It is too clever. Immersion is essential for learning, but not enough.

The immersion approach, to say, learning a language is to immerse yourself in the language. To learn French, go and live in France. Failing that, in the wikipedia description of language immersion:
  • In total immersion, almost one hundred percent of class time is spent in the foreign language ...
  • In two-way immersion, at least half of the class time is spent learning subject matter in the second language ...
Seymour Papert had this idea of creating a MathLand using computers and logo where learning maths would become as natural as learning French by living in France. Immersion works. Although Papert didn't succeed in his goal (logo is used less now in schools than it used to be) I still think his idea could have worked if it had been implemented as he had intended. I claim to be a teacher who did use logo as intended and believe I had tremendous success with it (ISDP article). But persuading other teachers or educational systems to go down this path was far more difficult.

I just said, immersion works. But immersion doesn't always work. I've spent time working in factories and knew workers there who had lived in Australia for 20 years and who still spoke poor English. I've seen chess players who play far more regularly than I do and yet their game does not improve much. In both cases the people involved did not participate in effortful study, they did not grasp the importance of deliberate practice in acquiring expertise. Just putting in more hours (immersion) is not the same as effortful study with clear goals to improve ones understanding.

Immersion works provided it is combined with effortful study. I attempted to resolve the contradiction between constructivist learning and guided experiential learning here

In reality people immerse themselves in all sorts of things - yoga, TV, reading, blogs, logo, game making, game playing. But the learning outcomes vary quite a lot, depending on whether there is some intrinsic, self directed learning activity going on in all of this

Harel and Papert (1990) argue that some materials are better with regard to the following criteria:
  • appropriability (some things lend themselves better than others to being made one's own)
  • evocativeness (some materials are more apt than others to precipitate personal thought)
  • integration (some materials are better carriers of multiple meaning and multiple concepts)
I love the power of the combination of these three concepts (appropriability, evocativeness, integration) and how the authors link them to technology. So, the learning materials and the learning environment created by the teacher are vitally important! Some situations are more likely to lead to immersion combined with effortful study than others! This turns pedagogy, the art of teaching, into an art form. It is certainly not simple to create rich learning environments.

Tony also connected immersion to situatedness in his comment:
Only immersion works but we can try to provide immersive PD for teachers. We should try to provide the same kinds of situated, relevant and authentic learning in teacher PD as we are trying to provide for kids.
My understanding of situated learning is that it also involves elements that are culturally significant to the learners. eg. an example from Lave is teaching weight watchers fractions in the kitchen. So, situatedness means relevance, which is likely to increase motivation, which is like to lead to immersion and effortful study.

I'm cherry picking from different learning theories here (constructionism, guided experiential learning, situatedness) but it feels like the right way to go, for now. If the combination leads the learner in the direction of immersion combined with effortful study then that is very likely to end up in good learning.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bill, I think that you have captured in immersion and the sense of appropriability, evocativeness, integration what I have been looking for in my thinking about ludium's rather than conferences and most recently how the 5 principles at Starbuck's

1 Make it your own

2 Everything matters

3 Surprise and delight

4 Embrace resistance

5 Leave your mark

have empowered a diverse group of people to create a Starbuck's learning community/ culture.

If people can "get a little excited" about selling coffee it cannot be unreasonable to seek something similar - something that sings with appropriability, evocativeness, integration for computers/ teaching and learning