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Computers, Thinking and Learning

Inspiring students with technology

Computers, Thinking and Learning by David Nettelbeck
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I first came across David Nettelbeck’s work when I was undertaking, with a group of colleagues in the UK and New Zealand, a review of research on the relationship between literature teaching and information and communication technology (ICT). David’s was one of the few pieces of research that got to the heart of the link between research, policy and practice on this topic, and it did so with integrity, verve and validity. Then I met him and heard him speak about the topic at the 2003 International Federation of Teachers of English conference in Melbourne. My initial impression was confirmed: that this was someone whose practice and reflection were cutting edge, and someone whom teachers, researchers and policy-makers ought to follow – just as his students probably do! It is therefore an honour to be asked to write a foreword for Computers, Thinking and Learning. My own thinking about the relationship between new literacies and computers has moved on from the 2003 conference, much inspired by people there and by further reading in the field. In 2003, and in some writing before and after the conference, I wondered whether we needed to resurrect Christine Haas’ notion that the relationship between literacy/literacies and ICT was symbiotic rather than causal and one-way. In other words, the conventional point of view was that most researchers seemed to assume that computers had come along and influenced reading, writing, viewing, speaking and listening in various ways. They did not, on the whole, consider that, in turn, patterns and types of communication might have a backwash effect on interface design and computer use itself. They did not recognise that technologies and literacies develop alongside each other. Whereas Haas enables us to move beyond the one-way vision of the effect or impact of ICT on literacy and literacies, I now think that symbiosis is not the most accurate way to describe what is going on. After discussion with biologists at the University of York, UK, my hunch is that we need a model to describe and explain the relationship between computers and literacies that sees it as reciprocal co-evolution. Symbiosis suggests a conservative relationship: one in which the two parties sustain each other and want to keep it that way. Reciprocal co-evolution is a more accurate descriptor because it accepts that the two parties are continuing to develop. Such a dialogic vision of the way computers and literacies interact is entirely in concert with this book, in which David explores the potential and actualities of thinking and learning in the classroom. The book accepts and promotes the idea that ICT is no monolithic entity, but rather a range of different technologies, media and modes of communication (the biologists will be asking me next to write a phylogeny or genealogy of types of ICT). Furthermore, the book also accepts that literacy is no longer conceivable as a monolithic set of practices, but instead has to be seen as a number of different literacies or sets of social, communicative practice (another phylogeny). How these two phylogenies map onto each other and can inspire teachers and students to explore new ways of expression and communication is the subject of this book. In practice, the transformations that this book has in mind are of the kind that English and humanities teachers have been practising for a long time: the taking of a text or utterance and transforming it in the classroom into something else. For example, the reading of a short story can generate the writing by students of a letter from one character to another, or the creation of some spoken and acted role-play. With the added dimension of ICT, the range and nature of those pedagogic transformations are multiplied. Learning and thinking in such a classroom has the potential to be colourful, varied and highly motivating. Some of the key strategic decisions that teachers and students have to make are: what is the best format for what I want
Australian Council for Educational Research; Read online
Title: Computers, Thinking and Learning
Author: David Nettelbeck

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