How people learn: brain, mind, experience, and school. Bransford, J.D., A. L. Brown, and R.R. Cocking, eds.

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Bransford, J.D., A. L. Brown, and R.R. Cocking, eds.  (2000).  How people  learn:  brain, mind, experience, and school.  Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 206-230.

An Annotation by Jeff Ayer

Although this particular chapter, entitled “Technology to Support Learning,” is extremely outdated considering the definition of “new technologies” in the past eight years, there are many pedagogical assertions Bransford makes that are easily applicable, no matter the technological advancements made in the near future.  He also cites two erroneous views on technology in the classroom.  First, there is the “romanticized view of technology. . .that its mere presence in schools will enhance student learning and achievement,” and then the more pessimistic view, that being “money spent on technology, and time spent by students using technology, are money and time wasted” (206).  Bransford argues that technology can be a great tool in the classroom, but that it cannot just exist and thereby positively affect student learning and achievement.  He raves, “Because many new technologies are interactive, it is now easier to create environments in which students can learn by doing, receive feedback, and continually refine their understanding and build new knowledge” (206).

From there, Bransford splits the chapter into what he calls the five ways new technologies can be used, including the following:  “Bringing exciting curricula based on real-world problems into the classroom; providing scaffolds and tools to enhance learning; giving students and teachers more opportunities for feedback, reflection, and revision; building local and global communities that include teachers, administrators, students, parents, practicing scientists, and other interested people; and expanding opportunities for teacher learning” (207).
First, curriculum, using these new technologies, can finally “create an active environment in which students not only solve problems, but also find their own problems” (207).  This makes for a real-world focus, increasing interactivity, both of the individual and collaborative sorts.  Second, Bransford writes, “Like training wheels, computer scaffolding enables learners to do more advanced activities and to engage in more advanced thinking and problem solving than they could without such help” (214).  This also allows students the opportunity to experience of approaching complex tasks and “perform and learn in far more complex ways than ever before” (215).  Third, Bransford highlights how convenient and efficient feedback can be given from teacher to student using new technologies.  In addition, students have a broader opportunity to reflect on their learning, something that can often be overlooked due to lack of time.  Most importantly, Bransford states, “An added advantage of networked technologies for communication is that they help make thinking visible” (220).  Fourth, these technologies can provide teachers to communicate in new ways with parents through the school’s web site in the form of assignments, calendars, etc.  Lastly, the teacher him/herself gets a number of ways to “soften the barrier between what students do and what teachers do” (226).  These technologies, to some degree, redefine the roles of students and teachers alike.  “Often both teachers and students are novices, and the creation of knowledge is a genuinely cooperative endeavor.  Epistemological authority – teachers possessing knowledge and students receiving knowledge – is redefined, which in turn redefines social authority and personal responsibility” (227).  Bransford comments that “[t]his devolution of authority and move toward cooperative participation results directly from, and contributes to, an intense cognitive motivation” (227).

Again, despite the aging content, Bransford’s ideas are still crucial.  “Computer-based technologies hold great promise both for increasing access to knowledge and as a means of promoting learning” (229).  With the student at the center, asking questions, collaborating, and personalizing his/her learning, Bransford proves that those two erroneous perspectives are turned on their collective ears.

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