Thursday, September 15, 2005

Summary: Brown & Cole (1997?)

"CHAT and the Expansion of Opportunities for Learning After School"

In this 13 page paper, Katherine Brown and Michael Cole, in "CHAT and the Expansion of Opportunities for Learning After School" discuss an After-school learning program called "The Fifth Dimension" (5D) which uses the Internet, and video (and traditional) games, to engage the students in an otherworldly place to "externalize, reflect upon and criticize information, to write to someone, to look up information in an encyclopedia, and to teach someone else what one has learned, in addition to the intellectual tasks written into the software or game itself" (p. 2).

ZPD: Additionally, 5D utilizes university students as mentors (and participants) to create an "institutionalized version" of Vygotsky's ZPD -- although Brown and Cole note that, with some technologies, there is some confusion between the age groups in deciding who are the more capable peers (p. 3).

Artifact Creation: Another interesting bit is where they call on Vygotsky's (1987) "the thought is completed in the word" and design their activities accordingly: "Activities which feature artifact creation in the form of auxiliary tools to aid in interaction through computers is central to the process of meaning making" (p. 6).

Adapting: While the implementation of any project will have its share of problems, the lead researcher in this one commented on the one that "overwhelmed the system" noting that while the researchers and children were on board, they didn't communicate their vision to, and have enough cooperation with, the adults controlling the local site. I think that this speaks directly to the importance of designing things (research too) specifically for the target group. I'd argue that one of the best ways to do this is to get (and keep) them involved.

Place: I think it's interesting to note that, although much of the activity could take place online, and much takes place in the imagination of the participants, that 5D was located in a particular physical place is very important.

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