Our faculty did a book study of Classroom Instruction that Works, so I was quite interested to see that the course textbook for EDUC 6711 was dedicated to supporting those ideas with technology. For me, it has always been a tricky business when selecting appropriate means for students to interact with content. From my vantage point, I can visualize the same concepts via pencil & paper methods as easily as through technology methods. So, if there were no other considerations, I would select whichever is more convenient to create. However, in the role of teacher, I need to be aware of the effectiveness of a particular method from the students' points of view.
Our students are so immersed in technology that it is no longer a special treat to go to the computer lab. Twenty years ago, students would have been excited to use the computers because of the novelty. Now, students carry so much technology with them that schools have had to adopt new policies about technology use to deal with disruptions, cheating, privacy, and security issues. This means that students are often just as reluctant to use the computer as they are to use paper and pencil; they realize that both scenarios indicate that they will need to think-- not just play. For the educator, this is a good thing-- we can focus on the content rather than merely the novelty of using computers.
Concept mapping can easily be done with low-tech solutions such as Post-It (tm) notes on a table or poster board. However, with the invention of software like Inspiration and Kidspiration, the process can easily be automated and even exported in various forms to be used elsewhere. By computerizing tools like this, it frees students' minds to deal with the tasks and concepts at hand, rather than needing to create their own systems of classification and linking. For example, Inspiration has a rapid-fire mode that allows new topic nodes to be created as fast as the user can type. This greatly liberates the brainstorming process, as students are not slowed down by handwriting. Plus, even the most enthusiastic and prolific student will not run out of room for new ideas in a virtual concept map!
However, the classification of ideas and the creation of categories and sub-categories is an important part of the mapping. When students classify information, they must analyze that data in order to place it appropriately. To the cognitive theorist, this is a marvelous means of strengthening those links in the brain, helping to move the ideas from short-term to long-term memory.
Virtual field trips are an enormous cost-saving measure in these tight economic times. Yet instead of using them just as a replacement for costly physical journeys, those same virtual field trips can be a much more common part in the life of a class. By venturing out into the world from a virtual perspective, there are certain benefits for students. For example, students who are shy and reserved when they leave their comfort zone may actually learn more in the virtual trip than the same trip done in a more traditional fashion. That student can take comfort in the familiarity of their usual classroom environment yet still gain the experience that their more extroverted classmates may enjoy.