Sunday, January 11, 2009

Using Analogies and Modeling in Conjunction With ICT to Enhance Learning

The debate on how ICT must be integrated into the classroom has been on for more than two decades and shows no signs of closure. The teaching community will agree that integration must not be just for the sake of it- it must be meaningful and bring value that no other instructional method can, as efficiently. One of the studies covered here actually demonstrates that using computers or multimedia in isolation can be less effective than traditional classroom pedagogy.

The underlying instructional method when using multimedia or ICT in general is vital. I have considered two instructional methods that are quite amenable to be used in conjunction with computers- analogy and modeling, especially in teaching science.

Multimedia and Analogy
With the objective of improving science education, researchers and educators have explored the use of analogies in teaching. Two types of analogies that find application are ‘conceptual inference’ and ‘schema induced’. In ‘conceptual inference’, analogical reasoning is made on the basis of relationship between key concepts in the base and the target domains. However, this approach has limitations because semantic ambiguity may result in a mismatch in concepts between base and target domains. On the other hand, induced analogical reasoning requires the learner to understand the analogy through activation of prior knowledge. Gick & Holyoak (1983) cited in Zheng, Yang, Garcia & McCadden (2008) assure that schema induction facilitates better comprehension and knowledge transfer.
Zheng, R. Z., Yang, W., Garcia, D., & McCadden, E. P. (2008). Effects of multimedia and schema induced analogical reasoning on science learning. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2729.2008.00282.x

Multimedia can bring more benefits to education provided it is not just passive viewing (such as video). Interactivity brings engagement and contributes to improved learning. Schwartz (1993) cited in Zheng et al. concluded that visuals provide better cues in problem solving reasoning.

As they were using media with high visual impact, the researchers have also taken into account learner cognitive style which has an impact on learner performance. There are two types of cognitive styles- field dependence and independence. Though these cognitive styles are primarily related to visual perceptiveness, they are shown to be correlated with other cognitive abilities such as problem solving and reasoning. The researchers used the Group Embedded Figure Test (GEFT), developed by Witkin et al. (1971) to determine the learning styles of the students.

Field Dependence/ Independence
Field-independents prefer to have a narrow focus and screen additional information in order to be able to process information more efficiently. In the process, they may miss the social context that their field-dependent peers more readily perceive.

Zheng et al. (2008) focused on

Effects of multimedia combined with analogical reasoning on student performance
Influence of field type on learners’ analogical reasoning

They conducted the study with 89 students from Grade 4 in a school in north-eastern USA. The research design involved creation of four groups based on exposure to multimedia and analogy.

Group 1: Multimedia and analogy (MA)
Group 2: Multimedia (as a visual tool) with no analogy (MNA)
Group 3: Analogy and no multimedia (ANM)
Group 4: No multimedia and no analogy (NMNA): traditional classroom style teaching and memorization

The objective was to teach about electrical DC circuits (comprising wires, voltage source and a light bulb) with the water system (comprising pipes, pump and turbine) as an analogy.

Post teaching, the participants of the study undertook recall and transfer tests, considered reliable for measuring comprehension and knowledge application. The research findings indicate that the first group with exposure to both multimedia and analogy outperformed all the other groups. The group with exposure to multimedia with no analogy had the lowest mean scores for both recall and transfer.

Based on the findings, (Zheng et al. 2008 p.8) conclude: “…the instructional function of multimedia can be significantly enhanced when multimedia is integrated with an adequately designed instructional method.” The researchers also observed that interactive multimedia with visual, oral, aural and other cues supports field dependent type learners who resort to multiple cues in learning.

Using Computer Modelling
Simulations have been used in the past to teach scientific models. However, there is a subtle difference between “simulations” and “modelling” and these terms should not be used interchangeably. Li, Law & Lui (2006) make a very clear distinction between the two. Simulations can be explored by manipulating the variables or parameters provided but the underlying rules of operation cannot be changed. Modelling allows you to change the underlying rules themselves.
Li, S. C., Law, N., & Lui, K. F. A. (2006). Cognitive perturbation through dynamic modelling: a pedagogical approach to conceptual change in science Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 22(6), 405-422
This paper highlights an inquiry based, student centered approach and is heavily dependent on interactivity and personalized learning afforded by computers.

Windschitl & Andre (1998) cited in Li et al. (2006, p.406) report “It was argued that computer-supported simulation and modeling tools provide students with richly contextualized environments to theorize and evaluate their own hypothesis”.

Using software called WorldMaker 2000, the researchers allowed students to explore scientific phenomena by formulating and testing their own theories. Students compared results in the software based model with what they observed in reality and modified it until it helped them provide a satisfactory explanation of the observed phenomenon. The researchers conducted the study with a small sample of 20 students of Grade 6 in a local school in Hong Kong.

The study uses the simple phenomenon of evaporation to illustrate the process of conceptual change. The teacher first demonstrated in the classroom how when a tiny vase of alcohol is opened, it disappears while its smell disperses through the room. Students, divided into four groups of 5 each were then asked to create models explaining the observed phenomenon. The research program extended over a few sessions and some preliminary training for the use of software was also required.

No ideas or views by students were suppressed or ignored, encouraging the inquiry process. The teacher intervened periodically by providing “cognitive perturbation” or disturbance so that the students were guided towards making the right decisions in manipulating the model. “The focus of teachers’ facilitation was to work with rather than against, the students’ alternative conceptions in the process of their model building and modification.” Li et al. (2006, p.409)

The evaporation model had to take into account both the processes:

1. Dispersion of the smell of the alcohol into the surrounding
2. Eventual disappearance of alcohol from the vase

Following the progress of each of the groups over the sessions enlightens us how the model gets more sophisticated as students are challenged.

Misconceptions that were mentioned by students included:
- Considering that a gas was being liberated from inside the alcohol
- The two processes of evaporation and disappearance of alcohol are independent of each other
- Considering that the disappearance of alcohol was caused by a suction force generated by the sun
- The “alcohol gas” rose vertically up like steam does on the opening of a rice cooker

With facilitation by the teacher, the students were able to migrate from their original naïve conceptions towards a more scientific one.

The researchers grouped all the comments made by students in the explanation of the model according to the depth of understanding manifested in them. Mere descriptions of the experimental observations were classified as “Surface explanations”. “Shallow or particulate mechanism explanations” included those describing particulate level of interactions, though not necessarily scientifically correct. The highest level included scientifically acceptable, deeper interpretations of the phenomenon, making references to random motion of particulate matter or change of state during evaporation. As the assignment progressed, the number of scientifically acceptable statements increased and the surface and shallow explanations decreased. The progress made by the groups was graphed using scores. The scores were measured by assigning a weight of (+3) for deep, scientifically acceptable statements, (-1) for shallow statements and (-3) for surface statements. However, the key point again, is that the path and the number of stages that each group took to reach the correct theory was not the same. In fact, one of the groups actually experienced conceptual regression before making progress.

“The underlying notion of cognitive perturbation strategy, as we propose in this study, hinges on the understanding that paths of conceptual change for different students are idiosyncratic, diverse and context laden.” Li et al. (2006, p.407).

Getting the students to compare the behavior of the computer models created with the observed physical phenomenon leads to a conflict that guides the conceptual change.

Implementation of this study across more learning situations and with larger sample sizes will provide more insights and make the recommendations more robust.

Both the papers clearly demonstrate the underlying instructional method is fundamental to the integration of ICT into classroom science education. While such implementation (modelling, multimedia) on a daily basis may seem tedious, using them to teach fundamental science concepts can provide a firm grounding for students to build on in subsequent years.


Introduction to Learning Styles (n.d.) Retrieved Sept. 16, 2008, from

Field Dependence/ Independence (n.d.) Retrieved Sept. 16, 2008, from

Li, S. C., Law, N., & Lui, K. F. A. (2006). Cognitive perturbation through dynamic modelling: a pedagogical approach to conceptual change in science Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 22(6), 405-422.

Zheng, R. Z., Yang, W., Garcia, D., & McCadden, E. P. (2008). Effects of multimedia and schema induced analogical reasoning on science learning. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2729.2008.00282.x

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