New Tools for Learners

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Larry L. Stewart

    College of Wooster

  2. 2. Peter L. Havholm

    College of Wooster

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In a recent essay in Salon, Christopher Ott argues that much of educational technology is used in the service of a model of education as "a passive transfer of information ...." As Ott says, "Web sites and CD-ROMs are very good at delivering information, but not so good at teaching what it means or raising difficult questions about it." During the last ten to twelve years, we have assembled a portfolio of technological tools which we believe lead students in the undergraduate classroom to ask those difficult questions and to become active learners rather than passive recipients. We have developed two of these programs, and the others are readily available. This demonstration will allow participants to experiment with several of these tools, to see examples of student work, and to consider how the tools might be used in their own classrooms. Of the tools we use, we propose to have four available for demonstration.

We will demonstrate the two programs we have developed (and, in earlier versions, discussed at ALLC/ACH '98): the Linear Modeling Kit (LMK) and the Stylistic Analysis Kit (SAK). As well, we have also used and will demonstrate a freeware beta version of PennMUSH and SemNet(r), a tool for creating conceptual networks. The Linear Modeling Kit or LMK is an authoring system which allows users to create applications that generate any kind of text according to principles proposed by the user. For example, a student can use the LMK to create a "tragedy generator" by entering what the student perceives to be the parts or elements of a tragedy, any principles of order among those parts, and characteristic text for each part. Depending on the complexity of the input, the generator will produce hundreds, thousands, or millions of different texts. The task of creating a generator calls for students to think abstractly insofar as they are dealing with stories, not simply a story. That is, students must know well a number of tragedies or romance novels or bildungsroman in order to abstract those qualities or elements that the texts share or that seem central to the genre. However, they must also think very precisely in order to translate their understandings into the unforgiving and unambiguous language of what is essentially computer programming. In essays or articles, we, as well as our students, know how to smooth over those things about which we are not quite sure; we know how either to hide ambiguity or to make it a virtue. Obviously, one cannot do that when creating a generator.

In short, students have to work at a level both of abstraction and of detail that may be greater than that forced by a paper. The Stylistic Analysis Kit is a combination concordance and counting program. When a text is opened from within the program, the SAK displays basic statistical information about word, sentence, and paragraph lengths and a word list, which can be arranged by frequency or alphabetically or which can show punctuation. Students can learn to use the SAK with less than five minutes of instruction, a significant factor in undergraduate education. In our classes, students have used the SAK to consider both literary texts and their own essays. In either case, students find themselves having to confront and explain the relationship between the abstract and the specific or concrete. When analyzing their own essays, for example, students constantly are driven back to their own texts to account for the statistics they have discovered. Nearly all find themselves, to return to Ott's phrasing, raising difficult questions about information. SemNet(r), by the SemNet Research Group, allows users to create layered and linked conceptual maps or networks. Our use of SemNet(r) has been primarily in writing courses although, again, students have used it both with professional writing and in the creation or analysis of their own essays. We have found that asking students to create Semnet networks causes them to think deeply about the relationships between concepts either in their own papers or in professional essays we have assigned. Creating a visual map of relationships forces students not only to be explicit about the connections between ideas but to recognize when those connections are missing.

In the demonstration, participants will be able to look at networks created by students and experiment with the program by creating their own networks. Students at our college have also used a MUSH to improvise an on-line serial drama as a laboratory section of an English course in dramatic structure. In the course, students play characters and invent actions on-line, edit the logs of their online sessions into scripts, and then publish a final version on the web. By writing and publishing a play, students in the class are testing the principles of structure they have learned from their reading of a dozen plays and Aristotle's Poetics. They are forced to confront the concrete implications of abstract ideas. While it would be impractical for this demonstration to set up a full-scale MUSH environment (which would require at least two Macintosh machines linked to the internet), we can show samples of student work in our MUSH and the ultimate form of those samples as a drama published on the web. The tools we will demonstrate engage students in making or doing, not in receiving information passively. Using such tools, students learn to use the new technology to explore and test ideas.

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Conference Info

In review


Hosted at University of Glasgow

Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom

July 21, 2000 - July 25, 2000

104 works by 187 authors indexed

Affiliations need to be double-checked.

Conference website:

Series: ALLC/EADH (27), ACH/ICCH (20), ACH/ALLC (12)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None