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Formal Learning with Technologies: Opportunities and Challenges
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The classroom is undoubtedly one of the most important and consistent formal learning contexts across the world. Children around the world attend schools, and for many children, especially those in developing nations or in underprivileged homes, schools present the major or only opportunity to become exposed to and interact with technology (e.g., Specht et al., 2002; Wood, Willoughby, Specht, Stern, Cavalcante, & Child, 2002). As computer technology becomes an integrated part of school curricula, it becomes increasingly important to create and evaluate effective software. It also is critical that we understand the interaction between what software designers state their software can do and the corresponding underlying cognitive operations that are actually evoked when software is engaged. Designing effective, well-grounded software and implementing computers into the formal learning context of the classroom are the key foci of the chapters in this section of the book. An important consideration regarding the use of computers in formal learning environments is that the technology provides value-added learning experiences. Specifically, formal learning environments can provide a rich, interesting, and diverse context for learning. Computer technology has the potential to offer learners opportunities that exceed those available through traditional classroom instruction. Specific examples include software that automatically adapts to individual learners needs and multimedia presentations that allow for simulations not possible in classrooms. In addition, the level of youth engagement afforded by computers with well-designed software exceeds that of some traditional formal learning contexts. It is important, however, that software effectively use the technological resources available rather than simply become a poor adaptation of a task that could just as easily be performed within the regular classroom context. To be maximally effective, therefore, software has to match the demands and needs of the learning context, the needs and interests of individual learners, and use the technology well.
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Eileen Wood, Bowen Hui, and Teena Willoughby At present there is an abundance of available software from both commercial and privately generated sources. Some of this software may have tremendous appeal and learning potential; however, there are caveats. One concern with available software is that although claims are made regarding the content, learning goals, and expected outcomes (e.g., promotes memory, creativity, teaches reading, etc.), there is no regulatory body that oversees software production to ensure the veracity of the claims that may be made in the software packaging. Similarly, little formal evaluation may have been conducted prior to releasing the software, leaving the user or educator to determine whether the stated goals or claims are substantiated or how these claims are realized through the software. What is needed is high quality software development that is pedagogically and theoretically sound, adequately evaluated, and technologically sophisticated. In addition, the structural design of the software should be relatively similar across applications, particularly to avoid challenges for young learners. Most importantly, the software design should match the claims made by the designers. The chapters in this section of the text present software and applications that meet these goals. Prior to exploring these software applications, however, we present an example of an analysis we conducted with existing commercial software for very young learners (i.e., preschool and kindergarten age). Our goal was two-fold first, to explore similarities in structural or navigational design across game applications, and second, to examine whether the cognitive components promised as outcomes by the developers (e.g., promotes memory and reading skills) were truly supported by the software. In total, we sampled six games: Disney Winnie the Pooh preschool, Disney Winnie the Pooh kindergarten, Reader Rabbit preschool, Reader Rabbit kindergarten (from The Learning Company), Edmark Trudy s Time and Place House, and Edmark Sammy s Science House. Our goal was to identify a generic canonical navigation structure that might help to map out the commonalities across games, so that the structural path of games would become more evident and more accessible (Hui, Wood, & Willoughby, 2005a). In this structure, we identified three major components: the core, context, and peripheral (see Figure Iii.1) (Hui et al., 2005a, 2005b). The core component consists of the navigation screen leading to various activities. The navigation screen serves to provide a landscape or layout of the activities in the game. From here the user may select an available activity to play from an assortment of options. The user may switch from one activity to another via the navigation screen. The core component is the basis of these games because a user would spend most of the time in individual activities and traveling in the navigation screen. The other components are peripheral to the overall game. 122
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