Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Text Representation and Cognitive Processes: How the Mind Makes Meaning in e-Learning


Since e-learning relies still relies heavily on text-based learning, it is very helpful to have a basic idea of how the mind makes meaning from discourse. Understanding how the various forms of textual representation operate will help one design more effective instructional materials, activities, and assessments. According to discourse theorists, written language has the following aspects or components in the text itself, which consist of Surface Code, Textbase, and Situated Text. It also helps to understand the factors that influence how an individual processes that language. Finally, the mechanisms used for comprehension matter a great deal when one is trying to achieve uniform learning outcomes. Achieving standard outcomes is simply not possible without first understanding when and how to activate relevant knowledge, and then how to guide the learner so that he/she acquires skill in selecting the correct meaning-making processes.

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Regurgitation? Look to Surface Code.

Surface Code. Surface Code preserves and presents the exact wording and syntactical structure of the discourse.

*Surface code is rarely remembered more than a few minutes.
*To remember surface code, the individual must rehearse, repeat, recycle verbatim the text that has been read or identified by its visual appearance. This is often done by means of verbal repetition. The ability to repeat the words does not have any relation whatsoever with comprehension.
*Implications: Avoid quizzes that require verbatim repetition; or, alternatively, when asking students to memorize lists, make certain they are used later as the foundation of categories or classification schemes.

Language Bridges and Glue: Textbase

Textbase. Textbase is made up of propositions that construct "the representation of a particular event, action, state or goal expressed in the text." It consists of predicates (action) and arguments (subject).

The function of textbase is basically twofold, and involves the following two activities:

*help comprehend events, action, etc.
*help link other propositions and force connections, relations, hierarchies

If one thinks of textbase as what glues things together, or what creates bridges from one to another, it makes it perhaps a bit easier to conceptualize the best way(s) to develop instructional materials.

Effective instructional activities could include having students accurately identify the relationships of content (true-false, multiple-choice are useful for this), and to create maps of how the conceptual bridges work (and where they go).

For example, causal relationships, compare-contrast, and extended definitions can help students understand the relations, not just with textbase, but also in more complex aspects, described later.

The connection to life, experience, reality: Situated Text

Situated Text. Situation Model (mental model) is the nonlinguistic, referential context of what the text is about (Graesser, Singer, Trabasso, 1994).

This is where the student applies his or her knowledge of the world to the content. It is also where the instructional activities should map relationships between the content and the outside / external world. This can be done by providing background and history, by taking an interdisciplinary approach, and by incorporating activities to build deeper understanding.

*Interactions and connections between prior world experience and the surface code and textbase
* Critical in e-learning because it forms the foundation of future learning.
*Implications: Develop readings and instructional materials rich in potential connections with lived experience, and maximize resonances. Also, be sure to incorporate essays that build deeper connections and which situate meaning. This includes compare-contrast, extended definition, process, causality, and argumentation.

Levels of Discourse: Author? Genre? Factors that influence how a person assigns weights and categories

Levels of discourse matter because they help students move from the specific to the general, and to develop meta-cognitive awareness and flexibility with the subject.

1. Communication Level. The Communication Level focuses on the audience, and involves adjusting the presentation of the message to meet the needs of the intended audience
*Reader can also try to imagine the author and the author's reasons for the arguments

2. Genre Level. The Genre Level "assigns the text to one or more rhetorical categories" (Graesser)
*Text genres can be narrative, expository, persuasive, descriptive
*If a person believes the narrative to be from a newspaper, they will process it differently than if they think it is a from a work of literature.
*Literature tends to be compared with other novels of the same genre; newspaper articles tend to be read in terms of connections with one's experience or other events in the world.

The Comprehension Mechanism:

Three aspects of the comprehension mechanism:
1. Code: Needs to understand the language and the genre
2. Process: Activate relevant knowledge
3. Skill: be able to identify the appropriate meaning-making strategy

The reader's background is important, and as is his or her experience in problem-solving and interpreting text.

*Knowledge of the world influences text comprehension
Action: Link to outside resources
Action: Relate to what readers are likely to know

Conclusions, Recommendations, and Implications.

*Background knowledge is useful and helps trigger the transfer of information

*Negative transfer can happen when there are no points of contact and students relate things to the wrong items.

*Superficial similarities between things helps speed the data transfer

*Experts will have a different experience with text than novices. Spontaneous connections will be made, whereas novices will need to have pathways defined for them. It is also helpful to provide novices with background material, such as links.

*People prefer causal structures

*Construction-integration occurs in the analytical process, and creates neural networks, or mind-mapping.

*Embodied cognition (Glenberg, 1997) suggests one should limit the meaning of something to what it means in the real world, and not the potential denotative meanings embodied in the language

*Avoid abstract symbols, concepts represented in a way that acknowledges limitations based on real world / real body.

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Useful References

Davidson, J. E., & Sternberg, R. J. (2003) The psychology of problem-solving. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Glenberg, A. M. (1997) What memory is for. Behavior and Brain Sciences, 20, 1-55.

Glenberg, A.M., Wilkinson, A.A., and Epstein, W. (1982) The Illusion of Knowing: Failure in the Assessment of Comprehension. Memory & Cognition, 10, 597-602.

Graesser, A. C., & Clark, L. F. (1985). Structures and procedures of implicit knowledge. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Graesser, A. C., & Millis, K. K., & Zwaan, R. A. (1997). Discourse comprehension. Annual Review of Psychology, 48, 163-189.

Graesser, A. C., McNamara, D., VanLehn, K.. (2005) Scaffolding Deep Comprehension Strategies Through Point&Query, AutoTutor, and iSTART. Educational Psychologist 40:4, 225-234

Graesser, A. C., Singer, M., & Trabasso, T. (1994). Constructing inferences during narrative text comprehension. Psychological Review, 101, 371-395.

Hacker, D.J., Dunlosky, J., and Graesser, A.C. Eds.). (1998). Metacognition in
Educational Theory and Practice. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

van Dijk TA, Kintsch W. (1983). Strategies of discourse comprehension. New York: Academic Press.

Voss JF, Silifies LN. (1996). Learning from history text: the interaction of knowledge and comprehension skill with text structure. Cognit Instruction; 14: 45-68.

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