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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.

Podtrac Player

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.

Take the survey!

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.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Eating Disorders and the Extended Definition Essay for Online Writing Courses


It is an ironic counterpoint to the obesity epidemic. Adult women weighing as little as 56 pounds and so malnourished that their bodies are shutting down continue to starve themselves, continuing to believe that they are fat, or are teetering on the edge of out-of-control weight gain. Any sense that the weight loss was to become more attractive wears away as one looks at the frighteningly skeletal bodies. When one compares "before / after" photos, one finds oneself wanting to blurt out that the anorexia or bulimia-driven woman looked more attractive before, even if she considered herself a bit plump.

Although the quest for thinness may seem admirable, when it spirals out of control, so do the negative health consequences. Among the more common side effects of induced vomiting are extreme tooth decay, ruptured esophagus, seizures, heart arrhythmia, stroke, and even heart attack. Victims who suffered fatal heart attacks include Karen Carpenter. Terry Schiavo, whose case became a flash-point for quality of life and right-to-die debates, fell into a coma as a consequence, according to medical experts, of practices associated with bulimia.

Because eating disorders touch almost all women, either directly or indirectly, it is a topic that is quite engaging for first-year composition classes.

Sample Structure for an Essay

Interest-Engaging Illustrative Scene:
Varieties of eating disorders in action. Scene of a person who suffers from anorexia. Scene of a person who suffers from bulimia. A scene of a person who suffers from pica.

Eating Disorders Overview: What are they?
What are eating disorders? What are common types of eating disorders? Anorexia, bulimia, pica, etc. Who suffers from them? Where and why? This should be a brief overview.

Types of Eating Disorders:

Type 1: Anorexia (long paragraph - 125 words or so)
What is it? What are the most common behaviors? How common is it? Which well-known people have suffered from it? What happens to people with this kind of eating disorder? What are the physical and psychological consequences? What are some of the reasons for it? What are possible treatments? Are they successful?

Type 2: Bulimia (long paragraph - 125 words or so)
What is it? What are the most common behaviors? How common is it? Which well-known people have suffered from it? What happens to people with this kind of eating disorder? What are the physical and psychological consequences? What are some of the reasons for it? What are possible treatments? Are they successful?

Type 3: Pica (long paragraph - 125 words or so)
What is it? What are the most common behaviors? How common is it? Which well-known people have suffered from it? What happens to people with this kind of eating disorder? What are the physical and psychological consequences? What are some of the reasons for it? What are possible treatments? Are they successful?

Aspects of Eating Disorders

Aspect 1: Psychological Aspects
What are they? How do they manifest themselves? Are there connections between depression and eating disorders? Anxiety and eating disorders? Affiliation needs?

Aspect 2: Sociological Aspects
Do individuals acquire eating disorders as a response to social pressures? Is it a behavior that is both condemned and condoned by one's peer group? How might sociological pressures present themselves? How does the media influence perceptions? What can one say about the eating disorder (anorexia, in particular) websites that seem to encourage and promote eating disorders?

Discussion and Analysis
What are some of the trends? What are your opinions? What do eating disorders reveal about our society or our ideas about ourselves?

E-Learning Resources on Composition (Blogs, etc.)

The Shifted Librarian has excellent resources which can help any composition student conduct effective online research.

Weblogg-ed's discussion in defense of Wikipedia is indispensable for anyone who wonders how and when to use Wikipedia, given recent scandals, such as the "punk'd" bio of Sagenthaler. What better place to virtually "punk" a person than a respected resource? No one would have believed it if the fake bio had appeared on The Onion (!)

The Online Learning Update discusses the latest developments and attitudes toward online learning. The links and articles are quite valuable for instructional designers and instructors.

Alan Levine's Cogdogblog has interesting discussions about e-commerce techniques and carefully considered responses to the wikipedia debate, as well as lively exchanges on current e-learning practices.

Burks On Learning contains useful links and insights into the highly user-friendly software for podcasting and blogging. The focus is on adding media-rich content, and engaging readers. Students and instructors alike will find his blog very helpful.

Stephen Downes' OL Daily is a treasure trove of articles and insights, ranging from news you can use today, to thought-provoking research and e-learning articles.

Jane Knight's e-Learning Centre contains extensive resources of use for individuals in every phase of e-learning course and program design and administration. The "Showcase" of e-learning courses provides access to examples of best practices in action.

Key Words for Searches:

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Karen Carpenter
Margaux Hemingway
Princess Diana, Diana Spencer
DSM-IV Handbook
Eating Disorder Treatment centers
Eating Disorder Information centers

Useful Websites:

ANRED: Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders

Facts About Eating Disorders.

Speech Given by Diana, Princess of Wales, on Eating Disorders.

Anorexia and Hollywood (photos of a woman who weighs around 56 pounds. I wonder if she is still alive...)

Dangerous Extremes: 48 Hours Investigates

"Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self" by Lori Gottlieb
"Wasted: A Memoir" by Marya Hornbacher
"Inner Hunger: A Young Woman's Struggle through Anorexia & Bulimia" by Marianne Apostolides
"My Life as a Male Anorexic" by Michael Krasnow
"Starving for Attention" by Cherry Boone-O'Neill
"Solitaire" by Aimee Liu
"The Art of Starvation" by Sheila McLeod
"My Name is Caroline" by Caroline Adams-Miller
"The Monster Within: Overcoming Bulimia" by Cynthia Rowland
"Diary of an Eating Disorder: A Mother and Daughter Share their Healing Journey" by Chelsea Brown Smith & Beverly Runton
"Dying to Please: Anorexia Nervosa and Its Cure" by Avis Rumney
"Dark Marathon: The Mary Wazeter Story; The Ongoing Struggles of a World-Class Runner" by Mary Wazeter (Mannhardt) with Gregg Lewis


"The Best Little Girl in the World" by Steven Levenkron
"Kessa" by Steven Levenkron
"Hunger Point: A Novel" by Jillian Medoff
"The Passion of Alice" by Stephanie Grant
"Eve's Apple: A Novel" by Jonathan Rosen
"Perk" by Liza Hall
"Life Size" by Jenefer Shute
"My Sister's Bones" by Cathi Hanauer

Friday, December 09, 2005

Diverse Teams: Key to Effective Online Collaborations


Diverse groups experience higher levels of interaction, and thus performance, resulting in higher persistence, satisfaction, and retention. This applies to e-learning as well as face-to-face settings, and is reinforced by work I recently rediscovered which was published more than ten years ago by teams investigating the impact of diversity on team performance.

Comparing task performance of homogeneous groups against the performance of diverse groups revealed a number of rather surprising things about how diverse groups interact with each other and achieve defined outcomes.

Performance was measured in two separate categories:

1- Problem-solving;
2- Quality of interaction between group members.

The researchers, W. Watson, K. Kumar, and L. Michaelsen (1993), found that the level of diversity of a team did have a measurable impact. Within the confines of their research, a "diverse" team was one that contained at least two or more nationalities and three or more ethnic backgrounds.

In this case, heterogeneous groups out-performed homogeneous groups in interaction, and in problem-solving (where the tasks were not complex) when the groups were short-term.

Group heterogeneity

1- Stimulated productive discussions
2- Increased the number of strategies employed in problem-solving.

Other findings included that

1- Small tasks are more effectively performed than complex ones;
2- Short-term groups are dynamic and characterized by high levels of productive interaction.

While these findings may seem self-evident, upon close examination, one sees that the results are almost counter-intuitive. Instead of creating confusion or miscommunication, there is a new level of clarity. The is attributable to the fact that diverse groups interact more and are solution-centered. The higher the level of diversity, the more solution-focused the interaction.

The implications for online collaborations are multiple:

1- Encourage diverse groupings
2- Assign tasks with simple structure, which can be accomplished rapidly
3- Avoid complex tasks and problems and create building-block structures
4- Ground tasks and activities in a real-life situation that has an objective correlative in the phenomenal world, which is to say, make it something the group members can relate to, and which can help them in their lives.

There are many implications for future research, both in terms of workplace virtual collaborations and online learning. It might be interesting to see if there is a relationship between the level of communication and interaction in a diverse group with satisfaction and persistence.

Clearly, collaborations that frustrate team members lead to a failure to persist and such demotivating collaborative activities negatively affect completion, satisfaction and retention rates. If the converse is true, it would be very useful to take a close look into how diverse groups experience higher levels of interaction, and thus performance, resulting in persistence, satisfaction, and retention.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Goal-Setting and Self-Regulation in Online Courses: The Basics


Goal-setting, which is an aspect of self-regulation, can be a vital part of an adult student's success in online learning. It increases motivation dramatically, not only by building in rewards, but also by increasing skill levels and perceived self-efficacy.

In 1979, Locke and Latham published a landmark paper that presented their research on self-regulation and motivation, which involved logging industry workers in the American South and the West. The findings suggested that when individuals are able to set their own goals, and if they are provided the support and resources they need to achieve the goals, productivity increases. This article proposes a goal-setting model that includes the following components: input sources, achieving goal commitment, overcoming resistance to goal acceptance, goal attributes, support elements, and performance. Benefits include high performance, role clarity, and pride in achievement. It also identifies possible dangers of implementing goal-setting. Employees may become dissatisfied by the failures, may be tempted to take short cuts, and may ignore non-goal areas.

Later, Locke and Latham published research that established connections between goal-setting, self-regulation and job satisfaction. It grew out of Locke and Latham's original research, as well as from the Wurzburg school on intention, task and set, Lewin on aspiration, and Ryan on intentions. The results are that goal specificity is key to developing motivating goals. Commitment to goals is also seen as a key element if performance is to be impacted in a positive way. The connections between goal-setting and work satisfaction are revealed to have a direct connection to expectancy theory. High expectancy and specific, high goals will lead to satisfaction when mediating mechanisms such as effort, persistence, direction, and plans lead to contingent and non-contingent rewards.

Further building on earlier research, White developed an evaluation instrument designed to determine how goal-setting relates to the actual performance of university students. The instrument measured the both the goal-setting attitudes and behaviors. Findings found correlations between specific and clear short-term goal-setting and academic performance.

Definitions and Key Concepts

Self-regulation is the way an individual monitors, controls, and directs aspects of his or her cognitive processes and behavior for themselves.

Self-regulation involves the following cognitive processes:

1. Planning: organized steps, includes goal-setting, developing a strategy, and identifying obstacles;
2. Monitoring: involves the ability to observe, acknowledge, and measure progress toward one's objectives;
3. Evaluating: involves assessing outcomes, gauging progress;
4. Reinforcing: reflection and recognition of success, involves reward.
Goal-setting involves self-regulation and is very task and outcome-oriented. It also requires one to develop cognitive abilities and skills.

Application to Adult Online Learners

Self-regulation: Adult learners are beneficiaries of self-regulation because it allows them to create order out of an often chaotic existence, and it helps them organize time, energies, and resources. This is a vital element as adults seek to balance career, family, travel, goals, dreams, and responsibilities.

The following are steps that will help the adult learner build skills needed for self-regulation:

1. Planning.
Set goals => must identify goals
Develop a strategy => analyze the task, describe the desired outcome
Prior experience and knowledge => identify useful knowledge or experience

2. Monitoring
Determine progress => observe and measure
Fine-tuning => identify needed adjustments
Re-assess desired outcomes => Propose changes in order to attain goal

3. Evaluating
Assess strategy => was desired outcome achieved? was it done easily? efficiently?
Lessons learned => Is there anything to modify or incorporate in future attempts?

One of the most widely used approaches to goal-setting is the SMART model, which was developed and popularized by Stephen Covey. The SMART model below includes adaptations for adult learners.

S = Specific - Make the goal very specific, both in terms of time and tasks
M = Measurable - Monitor progress, and recognize when the goals have been achieved
A = Achievable - Impossible goals are very demotivating
R = Resourced - Adult students should always invest in resources needed
T = Time-based - Realistic time frames, with short-term and long-term goals

Useful Articles

Assor, A., Kaplan, H, & Roth, G. (2002). Choice is good, but relevance is excellent: Autonomy-enhancing and suppressing teacher behaviors predicting students’ engagement in schoolwork. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 72, 261-278.

This article reports the results of a study to determine how teacher behavior, and self-regulation affects the level to which students engage in their schoolwork. The findings suggested that teachers who were able to explain the relevance of the schoolwork to the students and to model self-regulation had more success in encouraging students to engage with the schoolwork.

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: Freeman.

Boekaerts, M., Pintrich, P. R., & Zeidner, M. (Eds.) (2000). Handbook of self-regulation. San Diego: Academic Press.

Dweck, C. S. (1999). Self-theories: Their role in motivation, personality, and development. Philadelphia: Taylor & Francis.

Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (1990). A theory of goal setting and task performance. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2002). Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: A 35-year odyssey. American Psychologist. 57, 701-717.

Locke E A, Saari L M, Shaw K N & Latham G P. (1981) Goal setting and task performance: 1969-1980. Psychol. Bull. 90, 125-52.

Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P (1979). Goal setting – A motivational technique that works. Organizational Dynamics, Autumn 1979, 68-80.

Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (1990). Work motivation and satisfaction: Light at the end of the tunnel. Psychological Science, 1, 240-246.

Pervin, L.A. (1992). The rational mind and the problem of volition. Psychological Science, 3, 162-164.

Schunk, D. H. (1995). Self-efficacy and education and instruction. In J. E. Maddux (Ed.), Self-efficacy, adaptation, and adjustment: Theory, research, and application (pp. 281-303). New York: Plenum Press.

Schunk, D. H., & Zimmerman, B. J. (1997). Social origins of self-regulatory competence. Educational Psychologist, 32, 195-208.

White, F. (2002). A cognitive-behavioural measure of student goal setting in a tertiary educational context. Educational Pscyhology, 22, 285-304.

Zimmerman, B. J. (1998). Developing self-fulfilling cycles of academic regulation: An analysis of exemplary instructional models. In D. H. Schunk & B. J. Zimmerman (Eds.), Self- regulated learning: From teaching to self-reflective practice (pp. 1-19). New York: Guilford Press.

Zimmerman, B. J. (2000). Attaining self-regulation: A social cognitive perspective. In M. Boekaerts, P. R. Pintrich, & M. Zeidner (Eds.), Handbook of self-regulation (pp. 13-39). San Diego: Academic Press.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Starbucks vs. Dunkin Donuts: Compare-Contrast Essay Writing Guide


Writing a comparison-contrast essay can be fun if you can find engaging items, concepts, or issues to write about. One good topic is coffee. Starbucks commercialized drinking upscale coffee drinks, but even before Starbucks became an international presence, boutique coffee had already significantly shifted the coffee-enjoyment experience. Coffee is much more than a drink, it is a flavor, a way of life, a fashion statement, and an endorsement of an ideology or worldview. To think of another large purveyor of coffee, one often points to Dunkin Donuts, once anchored by its core product (donuts, of course) but now sought after for its coffee. Dunkin Donuts coffee used to be the usual "cup of Joe," but has that changed in recent years? One might be able to gain insight by writing about it.

Here is a flowchart that helps students find manageable topics to write about, in which they can incorporate concrete details from experience. It also provides a point of departure for more universal items and issues. The form can also be modified for use with other topics one might want to compare and contrast.

Before we get started, here are a few questions that came to my mind: Should Dunkin' Donuts follow Starbucks and update their offerings again? Note that Dunkin Donuts now has a dark roast offering. How about food? In airports, Starbucks stores have nice ready-to-go turkey, veggie, and other sandwiches. Perhaps Dunkin' Donuts could build sandwiches from their in-house super-fresh bagels and expand their lunch or dinner business. Should they continue to diversify? With a core business of donuts, will Dunkin Donuts go the Krispy Kreme way?

A good comparison-contrast exercise can help unravel these questions. Time to enter the "java shack" ...

Begin enticing the reader into the world of coffee. Start with illustrative scenes.

Part I:
Step inside each world. An imaginative adventure, a journey for your reader.
Step into Dunkin Donuts. What is it like? What does it look like? Sound like? Smell like? Who is there? Where is it? Is it a franchise, or are these company-run stores?

Step into Starbucks. What is it like? What does it look like? Sound like? Smell like? Who is there? Where is it? Is it a franchise, or are these company-run stores?
Part II:
The general and the specific.

The general: What does each store offer? Describe the full array of products and some of the salient characteristics of Dunkin Donuts and of Starbucks, with emphasis on the coffee, the packaging.

How does each store, either Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks, establish brand identity? What is the identity of each?

The specific: The showdown: The taste test.
Describe the coffee. What do you like? What do you not like?

Analysis and observations: Insights about the world we live in, developed by thinking about both things.

What does Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks make me realize about the community it serves?

What makes the Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks popular? Is it more than the coffee?

What are the assumptions Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks makes about the clients?

How does a careful analysis of commercial products, marketing, and brand image tell me about what businesses believe about the clientele?

When I go into Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks, do I feel like I "fit in" more than in the other? Why?

Am I being subtly "programmed" by the commercial enterprises to "be" a certain type of person, or act a certain way?

Ideas this gives me for the future.
Thoughts, etc.

Useful Websites
Dunkin Donuts Nutritional Facts and Calorie Information:
Dunkin Donuts:
Starbucks Nutritional Facts and Calorie Information:
Corporate Ethics and Accountability: contains discussion in the body of the article about Starbucks, and the fact that it receives awards for being environmentally friendly, while paying Guatemalan coffee workers exploitively low wages.

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