Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Artifacts and Learning

Homo faber, homo discens.
Constructivist learning theory predicts that making objects derived from subject matter would enhance retention. ("If they build it, they will learn"?) Nothing new here. Traditional artifacts generated by the teacher/school since ancient times include models, maps, graphics, specimens, photos and media. Objects created by the student have also been around forever: : term papers, reports, presentation slides, drawings, posters, and e-media objects. The classic schooling has required student reconstructions of the knowledge object usually in oral or written form as the ultimate proof of mastery.

"Creative Projects: Medical students at the U of S have an annual art auction and an example illustrating the history of medicine in Saskatchewan is currently hanging in the Westwinds Clinic. Activities like this could be expanded into the classroom to create multi-modal learning resources such as models, illustrations, visual mnemonics and simulations".

Corporate learning events don't exploit this long tradition, and the solid science behind it nearly enough. A durable instance of a group-made artifact could be a powerful trophy for the participants. Overnight book-publishing is now possible, along with 3-d printers. Framed photos, posters, imprinted gear, jump drives ("enchanted crystals"). Artifacts might endure online as well as videos, blog posts and podcasts.

Issues: artifacts would have to be more than mere off-shoots inspired by a topic, but active re-creations or instances of the content itself, as in the model above, which retains the essential geometry of the famed molecule. The work involved, hours of motor and spatial rehearsal of the model, might be expected to leave deep mnemonic traces.

Group projects would have to derive from a process where each individual interacted with the entire object; division-of-labor schemes might be efficient but miss the point of the exercise.

What we know about the power of small groups might suggest not only strong retention effects, but powerful tokening, a high sentimental value placed on the produced object. Just as a trophy may recall the "agony and ecstasy "of a footrace 20 years ago, an attractively bound book, a professionally-finished poster or DVD, or even a custom-imprinted tee shirt might become a valued keepsake long after the learning event.

Delving into participative aspects of learning:

Multi-media from a librarian's perspective:

Sensemaking. Each learner will come away with a different mental model--is that OK, or inevitable? Does this apply in math?
"One of the primary ways of connecting with others in an open course is through creating and sharingartifacts of sensemaking. These artifacts are resources produced by individual learners (diagrams, summary posts, podcasts, videos) that reflect their attempts to make sense of the course from her/his perspective." 

Good discussion and study of role of artifacts in university-level teaching:
Teaching and Learning Artifacts:

Check out anything by Semour Papert on constructivism and Mindstorms application.

Common objects, either material or digital, could enhance individual recall and retention while capitalizing on the peer-learning effects of editing, idea production, and affiliation: examples might include mediated group reports, sticky-note assemblage/pastiche, posters, or physical models  such as soda straw constructs (see Gamestorming for more).

The remembered place as scaffold for retention of exogenous verbal material (memory palaces)
Visualization of abstract material
Tactile and gestural impacts on learning and retention