Wolfson, L. & Willinsky, J. (1998). The situated learning of Information Technology Management. Journal of Research on Computing in Education, 31(1), 96-110.

The Situated Learning of Information Technology Management

 

Larry Wolfson and John Willinsky

University of British Columbia

Contact: willinsk@unixg.ubc.ca


 

This paper assesses the degree to which students using new information technologies to provide service to others can be said to be engaged in “situated learning” (Lave & Wenger 1991). The literature on situated learning, under which we group a number of related concepts such as cognitive apprenticeships and situated cognition, provides a framework for analyzing various qualities of learning that relate to how people acquire new skills and become members of communities of practice (Greeno, 1997). We find this emphasis on the situation of learning, and the social practices that support learning, to be particularly salient when assessing the value of students’ work with information technologies, especially when that work entails projects that support the technology needs of the school and community as an instance of “service learning” (Olszewski & Bussler, 1993).

In a previous theory-building paper, we developed the range of parallels between situated and service learning, developing a research framework for assessing the degree to which the elements of situated learning were present in a service learning setting (Wolfson & Willinsky, 1998). This paper represents an application of the combined model (Table 1). It reports on a study of  the qualities of learning present in an Information Technology Management (ITM) course conducted within the computer studies program in a high school. The ITM program is the product of a partnership between education and Information Technology professionals, including one of the authors, that has come together to develop a program in which students learn the skills needed to successfully manage IT projects which support the technology needs of members of the school and community.1  In this, the ITM program was felt to work within the intersecting model of service learning and situated learning which holds that students learn best when involved in meaningful, real-life, co-operative, problem-solving, service-oriented work.


Table 1 Situated Learning Criteria in a Service Learning Setting

SITUATED LEARNING

Learning results from…

SERVICE LEARNING

Possible instances…

A. Situated Contexts

 1. Communities of Practice (Brown & Duguid, 1993; Lave & Wenger, 1991)

 2. Artifacts as Mediating Devices (Engestrom, 1990; Moll, 1990)

 3. Multiple Resources (Goldman, 1992; Lave & Wenger, 1991)

 

Students form project teams to offer their new technology and project management skills to the local community center where they will interact with, learn from, and utilise the resources of the center and local businesses to help the center achieve its mission.

B. Authentic Contexts

 1. Authentic Projects (Engestrom, 1990; Lave & Wenger, 1991)

 2. Problem Solving Scenarios (Rogoff, 1990)

 3. Intrinsic Motivation and Student Responsibility (Volpert, 1989; Collins, 1994)

 4. Dynamic Assessment (Lunt, 1993)

 

Students engage in development of the community centre’s web page which serves as an educational/ advertising tool for the center. Students design web page representative of the community center and accessible for all. Ongoing monitoring of page’s utilisation and value, while transferring skills to center staff.

C. Collaborative Contexts

 1. Small Group Interactions (Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989; Saxe, Gearhart, Note & Paduano, 1993)

 2. Skilled Peer Guidance (Rogoff, 1990; Tudge, 1990)

 3. Community Expert Guidance (Lave & Wenger, 1991)

 

Students divide responsibilities among components of the project while working in close consultation with center staff, with community professionals for provide services necessary to achieve success, and other students peers who have related experience in this type of task.

D. Reflective Contexts *

 1. Goal Setting (Collins, 1994)

 2. Formative Assessment (McLellan, 1993)

 3. Teacher Modelling & Scaffolding (Collins, Brown & Newman, 1989)

 4. Cognitive Apprenticeship (Brown et al., 1989; Collins, Brown & Holum, 1991)

 

Students engage in individual and project-team meetings in the classroom with their teachers. They review goal-setting and skill-assessment, while teacher poses critical questions on their work and that of the community center, while preparing them to report on the scope of their learning.

 

Note: We use “reflective contexts” instead of the related “situated cognition” used by Brown et al. (1989), because not only does this eliminate confusion with “situated learning” but also finds resonance with service learning’s criterion of time for reflection on the meaning and processes of service (National School-To-Work Learning and Information Centre, 1996).


     

            In our earlier paper, we develop the idea that service learning, and in turn the ITM program, would do well to find its theoretical grounding in situated learning to complement both its citizenship and employability components. Our concern had been that while service learning had a strong commitment to reconnecting youth to the community, it did not display a strong notion of learning, outside of placing some importance on reflection (Kinsley, 1993; National School-To-Work Learning and Information Centre, 1996). Situated learning appeared to offer a way of focusing greater attention on the potential learning claims of these programs. Developed from the work of Vygotsky (Moll, 1990), and extended primarily by Lave and Wenger (1991), Engestrom (1990), Brown, Collins, & Duguid (1989), and Billet (1994), situated learning posits learning to be the “product of socioculturally evolved means of mediation and modes of activity” (Vygotsky cited in Harley, 1993, p. 47) in which “cognitive development is dependent upon participation in cultural activities with the guidance of more skilled partners” (Rogoff, 1990, p. 11), and thus is “the product of a collaborative construction of understanding between two individuals that results in it being appropriated by the learner” (Vygotsky cited in Billett, 1994, p. 7). ITM, then, through its emphasis on 1) communities of practice, 2) project authenticity, 3) small group interactions, and 4) cognitive apprenticeship, conforms to the theoretical demands of both situated learning and service learning.

Implicit within these parameters is the desire to decrease the disparity between school and work cultures (with work often conceived in professional non-bureaucratic terms). Thus teachers are encouraged to leave off direct instruction in favor of modeling their learning strategies through authentic activities, by teachers and colleagues supporting students’ task attempts, and through the empowerment of students to continue independently, authentic tasks may be simulated within the confines of the classroom.2 In other words, as it is neither possible to always allow students the full community participation, nor desirable to do so without adequate classroom preparation, advocates of situated learning seek to be provide an appropriate and reliable substitute while also providing a forum for student critical reflection upon their involvement. Consistent with this position, earlier work has established how students’ work with computers allows teachers to become facilitators, encourages greater degree of classroom collegiality, allows students to become experts, decreases teacher-centeredness and facilitates extra school communication (Schofield 1995; Duin, Lammers, Mason & Graves, 1994). The ITM program takes this one step farther by making the focus of the class finding ways of providing service and support for the IT needs of the school and community, thereby placing greater emphasis on student initiative, responsibility, and school-community communications, even as it encourages students to develop their existing skills and learn new ones to meet new situations.

This study examines the performance of a single ITM class to determine the ways in which this program manages to provide situated, authentic, collaborative, and reflective contexts that can be said to support student learning. Our aim here is not to determine what precisely the students have learning, although aspects of this become clear, but to assess the learning environment as a basis of comparison with more traditional programs, as it relates to the claims of the situated learning literature, and as it provides a more complete description than is typically available in the work done on service learning.

 

The Site

The Information Management Technology (ITM) class that participated in this study was located at in a relatively homogeneously Caucasian, mixed blue and white collar, two-income neighborhood in the outlying suburbs of large urban community. The ITM classroom is on the second floor of the relatively new and technology-rich grade 8-12 school that houses fifteen hundred students and seventy-five teachers. The ITM class meets for one hour and 15 minutes, three times a week in a large double room fitted with 24 computers in banks and other computer related technologies like a printer, telephone and modem, and connection to the Internet. The students engaged in year-long projects born of, and developed through a synthesis of student skills and interests, and community (including the school community) needs. This meant that the students were to be found in the offices of one the ITM teachers, or in other parts of the school or out in the community during some or all of class time.

 The class is composed of three female and 20 male, grade 11 and 12 students who generally have considerably more interest and experience with computers than has the general student body. Two teachers, one male and one female share responsibility for the class though they are not necessarily in the room at the same time. Formally, Jacqueline “took” the class for the first two-thirds of the year, and Robert was the teacher for the last four months of the year. Only the eight students (two females) who returned their “informed consent” forms were interviewed. Also interviewed were the two ITM teachers, two other teachers in the school who served as resource persons/clients for the Web Page Team, and one community client.

Data was collected through participant observations, individual semi-structured interviews, document reviews, and verbal surveys. During the school year, one of the authors visited the class 15 times where he spent most of my time generally moving around the room, observing and talking to students and Jacqueline, the teacher then handling the class. He also participated, relatively unobtrusively, in a couple of project team meetings with Jacqueline and small groups of students, and was on hand for some relatively formal presentations that different teams gave for their teachers, fellow students, and visitors to the classroom. Interviews were held with eight students, the two class teachers, two teacher-clients, and one community client.

All through the study, observations and interviews were loosely directed by the four well-defined but not always mutually exclusive parameters — (a) situated contexts, (b) authentic contexts, (c) collaborative contexts, and (d) reflective contexts — and the findings of the study are reported under these headings.

 

The Findings

(a) Situated Contexts

Here the emphasis is on locating students in “real-life” communities of practice that provide a multiplicity of resources including the artifacts or tools that mediate the relationship between the individual and society as a whole. Resulting from class-focus on the yearlong projects and service contracts, the ITM students are enabled participation two different understandings of communities of practice.3 First, through ongoing project-team dialogue facilitated by student freedom of choice and mobility within and without the school, the ITM class itself has become a community of practice as students talk and act “shared beliefs about what is of interest or import, ways to work, and some consensus about which tools, procedures, and representations are employed" (Goldman, 1992, p. 5). Thus, for example, the discussion among the Computer-Building Team initiated by their project manager with “do you want to know what we are doing?” not only was reminiscent of the stereotypical exchange near the office water cooler, but was as important and genuine as that experienced by any group of adults within a “real” work community.

Second, students became involved with familiar communities in new ways as they gathered information from the teachers in the school English and Science Departments to place on the school web page. Through these interactions with teachers and other staff, students gained enough of an understanding to design and implement a web site that was representative of the school as a whole and each department in particular. In a similar manner, students in the Technology Fair Team, the Computer-Building Team, and the CD ROM Team had to learn about and interact with various members of relevant “real world” and school communities. The Technology Fair Team, which was going to mount a fair for local vendors, developed and mailed out a call-for-presenters form and then followed up with individual responses to personal inquiries; the Computer-Building Team, which sought to build low-cost machines for the school, spent time working in computer stores and pricing computer parts at different venues, and the CD ROM Team, which was looking at a yearbook alternative, negotiated with the science teacher as to the extent of their involvement in the science classes and made a presentation to certain school board members to be allowed to purchase the necessary equipment.

The interviews with students indicated that not only did they consider community involvement a uniquely defining attribute of the course, but also one that heightened their learning and sense of accomplishment. Specifically, tasks such as a presentation for the School Board to “kind of show off our project [and phoning] a bunch of different schools to talk to teachers who made multimedia in the past about tips and stuff” (Sam); “a survey . . . at Fraser Family Services” (Chris), and “having to phone people up from businesses” (Susan) helped to “bring you out into the public eye” (Jeffery) and to “get to know the community more and . . . meet a lot of new people” (Deborah). From a different perspective, Rich suggested that “because teachers might not know what you are looking for, I get answers [from] a library or someone who works in that field.”

Thus, though students were often generally “kind of shy to the concept of trying to approach professionals” (Mitch) and thought that “one of the biggest challenges was getting over that fear of talking to people outside the school environment” (Susan), they seemed appreciative of the opportunity and proud of the results. Mitch, for example was particularly happy that his experience offered the opportunities to counteract the way “the business community and the adults within the business community have kind of viewed . . . youth and teenagers in the community as kind of delinquents [and] to educate the educators around the Lower Mainland.”

Interviews with the classroom teachers yielded similar results. Robert, for instance, cognizant that the students’ need to access a variety of extra-classroom and community resources was at cross purposes with the traditional concept that schooling was something that happened within the walls of the classroom, was quick to mention his newly initiated sign-in system that allowed students to wander the school and community while maintaining teacher accountability. Equally importantly, he also described the process of using his project management expertise to bring together students and clients into groups with common goals that will meet the needs of both the students and community-centered clients: “The client from social services and the students sit down in a meeting with me chairing and guiding the discussion so that it’s productive, and through modelling of effective management skills that I have, the students can gain that experience themselves, and then usually after the initial two or three meetings I step back and say to the client and to the students, this is yours.”

Jacqueline also treated community involvement as a benefit for all concerned. On the one hand, it allows the school to offer the expertise of students to do something back for those organizations “which have been very good to the school,” and on the other, it offers the students an introduction to the world of work and possible job opportunities. She also went on to say that, though not all the students are involved in the larger scale interactions with community institutions, there are those whom through their service contracts are performing services for specific individuals. Thus, while ”the web page team obviously is interacting with the entire school," Mitch’s smaller scale service contract “figuring out how to get the printer in the office to talk to the computer in the counselling centre,” still involved finding out from the Vice Principal the correct process for writing a requisition for service, writing it up, and testing the new cable. Jacqueline also mentioned a newly initiated project for the Holocaust Education Center that she hoped would be the “first of what we hope will be a series of ongoing things we do for [and with] non-profit organizations.”

Meanwhile, my interviews with the ITM clients are in themselves indicative that community involvement is an integral aspect of the course. Thus, while Mr. Richmond of Fraser Family Services, who had contracted to have a survey done, and Rachel Simon of the school’s English Department, who was working on the school’s web-page, were both dissatisfied with the level of service they received, due to communication problems and school time constraints, neither questioned the potential of a greater degree of school-community and student-teacher interactions. Conversely, Roberta Kramer, head of the school’s Science Department, was more than happy with all aspects of her involvement in the web page design and was particularly impressed with the manner in which she and Sean (the student) could integrate both their needs and those of the school as a whole while learning from each other.4 So, too, did she have positive words about a Web Page Team presentation to the Science Department that not only introduced previously unconsidered possibilities but initiated serious reflection and debate.

Concurrently, in a fashion similar to involvement with any community of practice, the ITM students had the opportunity to gain expertise with relevant artifacts or tools that mediate their engagement with society, especially as they demonstrate a valuable expertise with these tools (Engestrom, 1990; Moll, 1990). Specifically, computer technologies formed the basis of all class projects, and became a primary means by which students related to the world around them. Thus, as suggested by the student perceptions that technology allows them “to get information on the stuff I wanted to learn” (Rich), and “contact people” (Chris), and teacher insights that technology is a “way into their psyche” (Robert) and what “keeps them motivated” (Jacqueline), it seems that students are not only continuing to increase their proficiency in the field, but also coming to understand the attributes and parameters of technology (Ihde 1979; Bowers,1988). Still, it was obvious that more could be done to make the situation of technology in people’s lives, in a point of reflection, in a point we return to below.

 

(b) Authentic Contexts

Advocates of situated learning point to the value of authentic contexts when it comes to learning. That is, practical and applied project-oriented, problem-solving scenarios are seen as more likely to lead to self-motivated and independent engagement in learning, just as this form of learning supports forms of dynamic assessment (by teachers, peers, clients and selves) that focuses on ongoing individual development and project achievement. The ITM program’s involvement of students in school and community service assures a certain level of authenticity to the work, as opposed to teacher-generated activities. This proved an important point for the teachers.

            Jacqueline, for example, asserts that as task authenticity “gives them a totally different level of commitment than something I have made up . . . there is never anything done in that class that is not absolutely usable.” Similarly, Robert, with his “whole focus . . . on independence of learning and individual endeavour,” emphasizes that students learn and experience “real accountability” by working for real clients in real world scenarios in which excuses for failure are not accepted. Thus the bottom line, rather than simply being a mark on a report card, becomes attuned to “you have to deliver if you want the job or [want to] keep the job.”

In the Macdonald ITM program, the planning, execution, and evaluation of service contracts and long term projects all appeared to be distinguished by a degree of authenticity, in the sense that hte students continually made references to the consequences of their work outside the classroom and program. Class “lessons,” rather than being determined by the teachers, were an outgrowth of the individual project demands and goals as each student, usually in consultation with his/her team members, first decides how best to allocate his/her time and then proceeds accordingly with the requisite planning, execution, and evaluation. Thus, the class can be seen to resemble a conglomeration of workshops or artists’ studios in which teams “marched to the tune of their own drummer.” Even the class presentations, one of the few instances when students’ attention was diverted from their projects and toward the class as a whole, were treated as practical opportunities for information sharing and peer evaluation

The assessment of students in the ITM program tended to be integrated into learning and project development. The assessment techniques ranged from informal to structured and included 1) self, teacher, and team member assessment and feedback garnered during the project team meetings, 2) negotiations between teachers and individual students, 3) oral and written feedback from clients offered to students and to teachers, and 4) ongoing teacher assessment during all aspects of the class. The client assessment presented another authentic context. Though the topic of evaluation was not a significant topic of conversation in our observations, some students mentioned that “a lot of the time you are evaluating yourself” (Jeffery), the presentations “get some feedback from your peers on how you’re doing and how you could improve and what you should be doing differently” (Chris), and “they like your input” (Rich).

Another indication of authenticity was the students’ satisfaction with the practical value of the course which they saw could be applied in the life to come. Specifically, Jeffery felt that he was “making a couple of good business contacts out of all of that for when I get out of high school”; Chris thought that “these are great experiences that will definitely help me further on in life”; Rich was happy that “things . . . are useful as well, not just doing a project for the sake of it;” Mitch said that “it kind of prepares us for business,” and Deborah pronounced that “I am learning a lot of business management and how to keep a team together and how to present a project.” Sean, on the other hand, “because of my experience in business” thought that he already knew a lot about what the course had to offer and thus was disappointed that he had not learned as much as he would have wished.

 Seemingly aware of the relationship between authenticity and themes of individual responsibility and self-motivation, the students emphatically praised the freedom that they felt the course offered. Thus, Chris’s “you almost decide what you want to learn and what you want to do in this course;” Sam’s “it’s quite different because we call the shots here kinda on the project; they don’t tell us how we gotta do it,” and Deborah’s, “in this class you choose what team you want to be in and what you want to learn” were generally representative of all eight interviewees. As a result, whether specifically articulated or not, I think all students would probably agree with Susan that as result of this freedom, the ITM class is a highly productive learning experience: “I think people learn a lot more when they’re doing something that they are really interested in because if you try to make someone learn something by using an example or using a project that they are really not interested in they’re not going to put their all their effort into it.”

One consequence of authenticity was the dissatisfaction of the two clients. They had seen the promise of this program as real and built their expectations accordingly. While the program has built in structures and supports, such as Status Reports to be used as the project progresses, that are intended to avoid or minimize such problems, the students obviously have more to learn about being accountable and responsible. They did better with the challenge of reaching out to these other communities of practice than they did at sustaining that participation. This becomes a point of challenge and caution, which was certainly recognized by Robert, for the teachers in working with the elements of authenticity and independence in this program. Having a structure, such as Status Report templates, is clearly not enough, and why this aspect of self-evaluation did not prevent the failure to deliver will need to be examined as a result of this study.

 

(c) Collaborative Contexts

The ITM class is marked by through co-operative, small group interactions that often include teachers and community and peer experts. It was the exception for any student to work alone as almost all class activities emphasized group work and co-operation between teachers and students. Teachers applied their interpersonal, project management, and general teaching skills while deferring to student technological expertise while students shared knowledge and proficiency with each other and looked to school and community experts (including those on the Internet) to guide them through the intricacies of novel tasks. Problems tended to be solved through consensus, as students and teachers came to a greater understanding of their environment. This amounted to a synthesis of individualized skills rather than competitiveness among the students.

The teachers took a facilitative rather than expert role in the case of both Jacqueline (“I could not figure out what Rich is doing with that web server, we would take me a very long time to equal his knowledge”), and Robert (“I am a facilitator in here, not a teacher”). Accordingly, as opposed to giving formalized instruction, most of their class time was spent meeting with the small groups, wandering around the class interacting with individuals and small groups, and performing their own teaching related tasks or particular jobs (photocopying, for example) which were requested by specific teams. Thus, it was more common for teachers to ask “is there anything further you need from me?” rather than to give orders.

Both teachers highlighted the co-operative nature of the class. Robert, for example, suggested that it was not uncommon for students to help each other through service contracts and to share expertise regarding different types of software such as 3D Studio or Visual Basic. He also stressed the effects of the co-operative nature of the projects as the student come to realize the “impact upon them when their actions effect the other members of the group because they are working as a team on a project.”

Similarly, Jacqueline, saw the ITM environment as one of co-operation and sharing, though, she elaborates, “one must first get past the largest collection of egos . . . my computer is faster than your computer . . . so it is an ongoing focus to walk around that and try to get them focused on pulling together.” This accomplished however, “there is a lot of sharing that goes on” as students realize that it is usually quicker to learn from one of their colleagues, than from the teacher: “so it very quickly became why are you asking me, ask her she’s the one who has got the answer; if you want the answer ask the expert.” Jacqueline goes on to say, “that is why Robert and I team teach, to model; two people who aren’t alike and don’t agree about some things are still better as a team than we are separately.”

Like the teachers, all the students accentuated the interactive component of the course. Jeffery, for example, suggested that “every class is a group activity,” with the results being, according to Deborah, “you get ideas from everyone instead of just one person [as] you get to work faster and more efficiently; just more ideas come in.” More specifically, Chris thought that as a result of the team work “you learn a lot of group skills like working together, . . . making sure everybody gets whatever their job is assigned done, and coming together and brainstorming ideas and stuff like that,” while Susan added, “I think you learn from working with different people; you learn different things about how other people work; it tends to make you have to change the way you work.” Rich, on the other hand, began with “I don’t really like group work but I think it’s important” and later in the interview went on to state, “I am getting more used to working with a group than working on my own.”

Not unexpectedly, the “teaching” of interactive and co-operative skills seemed to offer a number of special challenges, most noticeable were those related to the community-centered projects. Although the time constraints of the school timetable played a factor, Rachel Simon found her experience with the Web Page Team lacked the degree of collaboration between her and the students she felt was necessary for her to understand the ITM program and what it offered.

The in-class cooperative component also appeared to present special problems. Sometimes, for example, student presentations were less than complete due to “missing” team members or apparent misunderstandings regarding individual expectations. Furthermore, three or four times, individual students indicated to me that they could not proceed with their project as they hoped because other team members were missing or unprepared. Specifically, Sean suggested that one of the reasons that he dropped out of the class was that there were problems with group work such as “things being disorganized, there were certain immaturities.” Perhaps, these feelings were mirrored in Jacqueline’s frustration with the team from which Sean dropped out when she exclaimed “you are not working as a team!”

Collaboration is a given for the team work required to provide service on the scale that requires a project, such as setting up the web pages required for the whole school. Again, the structures are in place to give students experience in this important feature of work today, but more needs to be done in team building strategies and in reviewing team performances. In just this way, this situated learning framework is intended to highlight those areas of real accomplishment and particular challenge.

 

(d) Reflective Context

Our framework’s final component combines situated learning’s situated cognition with service learning’s time for critical reflection upon the meaning and process of service. Accordingly, project goal setting and ongoing evaluation (including evaluation of the service itself) are interrelated within cognitive apprenticeship’s concepts of expert modelling, scaffolding, support, and empowerment (Brown et al., 1989). In the Macdonald ITM classroom, the reflective context is potentially manifest through four different sets of activities: informal student-teacher discussions, team presentations, student-client interactions, and project team meetings.

Informal student-teacher interactions are the single most common facet of the class. Both Robert and Jacqueline were often available to offer individual help and encouragement. However, as the timing of personal interactions are limited by, and dependent upon, Robert and Jacqueline’s participation in other classes and school activities, this communication often regarded telephone or photocopier availability, and/or task-specific details. Still , the teachers sought opportunities to model such behaviors as teamwork. They also sought to have the learners reflect on their ways of working (for example, when Robert asked a student if in her particular situation there not might be a more appropriate way than e-mail of communicating with a client).5

Student presentations focused on sharing and feedback, which added a reflective context to this element of the program. Yet, despite the fact that a number of students identified developing their presentation skills as one of the most useful aspects of the course, during the presentations there was little or no discussion or reflection on the meaning of projects or how projects might be improved. Certainly, the evaluation forms which class members complete and return to presenters offer an additional reflective potential but it appeared that most students do not take these particularly seriously.

Student-client interactions, another forum for expert guidance and reflection, showed potentially rewarding but generally inconsistent results. In one situation, the student and teacher were able to work together in a manner which benefited both them and the school as whole, while two others were at least partially unsuccessful due to communications problems and time constraints. There appeared to be a real need for discussions of project expectations among students, teachers, and clients, and among the benefits of this sort of discussion would have been the basis it provided for reflecting on the successes and limits of the work.

On the other hand, the ongoing team meetings involving one or more teachers and individual project team provided excellent points for reflection. Scheduled for every two weeks for each team, and run slightly differently depending on whether they were led by Robert or Jacqueline, the purpose of these meetings was to allow teachers to keep track of each team’s progress, and for team member to set goals for themselves. Through the use of leading questions, teacher coaching, modeling, scaffolding, and support giving, and team interactions, each team member articulated what he/she had accomplished over the last two weeks and what he/she hoped to achieve over the coming weeks. Both formative and summative assessment were highlighted as student evaluation was combined with the ongoing appraisal demanded of authentic, real world tasks. However, these ruminations did not appear to respect service learning’s demand that students reflect upon the purposes, meaning and processes of service, nor was there reflection on the impact of information technologies on the school or the people within it. The limits of reflection needs to be addressed in any consideration of the scope of learning within the ITM program. Again there were structures to be found within the program, such as the Think Tank that addressed numerous social issues involving IT, but the focus on service clearly had a tendency to keep the students focused on the immediate situation. Expanding that situation, encouraging a critical regard for the nature of the service and the technology, and enriching the exchange of ideas become features that await development in improving the learning environment afforded by the ITM program.

 

Conclusion

Assuming that the conceptual framework is a valid and helpful instrument of analysis, there is little doubt that the Macdonald ITM classroom offers a valid illustration of situated learning. For not only are all of the criteria at least minimally met, but the evidence also suggests that many are integral to the course itself. Concomitantly, service learning, too, is generally embodied with only the reflective component being significantly under represented. Classroom productivity and student purposefulness indicated interest and self-motivation, and seven of the eight interviewed students suggested that they had gained a great deal of personally relevant knowledge and expertise. So too, did one student who had dropped out of the class and yet continued to attend regularly, who stated that he thought that there was a lot of learning occurring. Additionally, the scope and maturity of many of the student projects and tasks, including the need to interrelate with school and community members, suggested learning and student recognition far beyond the scope of the “normal” classroom.     

At the same time, there are also a number of accompanying caveats that can be used to advance the qualities of learning in this and related service learning program. Most obviously, perhaps, is that specific teacher and student knowledge and expertise seem to be instrumental to successful implementation of the ITM-situated learning model. For, it is imperative that the teacher be prepared and able to relinquish his/her traditional dual expert role in favor of that of facilitator, while the ITM students, if not at least originally self-directed and responsible, must be capable of quickly developing in the appropriate manner. Furthermore, both teachers and students must have not only the inclination and ability, but also the sometimes considerable extra time needed to continue ongoing communication with their school and community clients. Similarly, communities of practice must not only be apprised of the demands of the program but also be sufficiently committed to, and capable of meeting its needs.

We also have concerns about how to encourage greater participation by young women and other students in this program who do not already count themselves among the computer culture. Although the lack of communication with some of the extra-class clients is not particularly surprising considering the already overwhelming demands on teachers’ time, the situation must be rectified to ensure project success and positive community relations. Finally, while there were advantages to having two teachers informally responsible for the class the whole year and formally responsible for portions each, there seemed to be communication and expectation problems which resulted in inconsistencies and lower degree of productivity than might otherwise have been the case.

The ITM program, in the excellent hands of Robert and Jacqueline, goes a long way in achieving a situation for learning that instills a sense of community and individual responsibility and commitment. Not only does this attest to their own personal beliefs and values but also adds to the growing body of research which suggests that, although technology on its own is incapable of engendering significant educational change, when implemented in conjunction with progressive attitudes, results can be profound. We would also hold that utilizing the principles of situated learning in a systematic assessment can provide the basis for improving the quality of learning for this and other service learning programs by focusing attention on features that can actively engage the learner in the positive experience of acquiring a wide range of valuable skills. The work that remains to be done with this convergence of situated and service models is to document the levels and distribution of skill and knowledge acquisition that can be said to result from working in these enhanced contexts.


Endnotes

1.     “The Information Technology Management (ITM) program… is focused on making students active contributors to their education through a wide range of technical, presentation, teaching, writing activities, it is equally intent on introducing them to the project management standards used in the service industry and information economy. The ITM program sees its goal to provide students with skills and problem-solving experiences demanded by technology environments in both industry and post-secondary education [best facilitated by combining] technical content, in-school work-experience and an exploration of the social and workplace issues of Information Technology” (Forssman & Willinsky, 1995, p. 5).

2.     As described by Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989, and Collins, Brown, & Hollim, 1991, cognitive apprenticeship refers to the process of making thinking visible to facilitate the teaching of thinking skills. Our model adds service learning’s demand for student reflexivity.

3.     Service contracts are the shorter duration and less ambitious service-oriented projects carried out by individual class members.  Examples include installing a computer program for a teacher or department, and teaching a friend or acquaintance about the Internet.

4.     Roberta Kramer stated that  “we just think about the audience and about what we should put in there . . . and so he has been doing the work and sort of runs it by me” and “I am actually quite a bit more excited than I was initially about having a web page for the science department . . Sean has learned a little bit about the whole science curricula as defined by the Ministry.”

5.     Common statements from the teachers also included, “I have no idea where you are going.” they often modeled, scaffolded, and coached by explaining how they had accomplished something, gave helpful hints on means to attack future tasks, and offered a lot of positive support and feedback.


 

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[2].  As described by Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989, and Collins, Brown, & Hollim, 1991, cognitive apprenticeship refers to the process of making thinking visible to facilitate the teaching of thinking skills.  Our model adds service learning’s demand for student reflexivity.

 

[3].  Service contracts are the shorter duration and less ambitious service-oriented projects carried out by individual class members.  Examples include installing a computer program for a teacher or department, and teaching a friend or acquaintance about the Internet

 

[4].  One project was to build, service, and maintain a web page for the school.

 

[5].  The technology fair group’s project was to stage a “fair” in the school gym so that a variety of community members involved with different aspects of technology could present their wares.

 

[6].  The build-a-computer group was attempting to build a basic, low cost computer that could be put to use in the school.

 

[7].  When students enter the room at the beginning of class, they sign in and indicate where they can be contacted, if not in the classroom.

 

[8].  For Mr.  MacNamara, the students were working on a neighbourhood survey and with Kim Robinson, the English Department aspect of the school web page.

 

[9].  During my visits to site, I witnessed three sets of class presentations.  Generally they involved groups giving a presentation on the content and process of their projects.  After each was completed, class members completed evaluation forms which were shared with the presenters and the teachers.  Presenters also completed self-evaluation forms

 

[10].  During the project group meetings, each group met with one or both of the teachers to assess the past two weeks progress and plan for the coming weeks.  Student evaluation is based upon the extent to which each student accomplished her or her biweekly tasks.

 

[11].  Sean had begun the course but had dropped out after a few months because he found some of the other students immature and unproductive in their group projects.  Also, as he had experience working in the computer field, he felt he was not learning anything new about business.  However, Sean was also in the ITM class during class time working very hard on his own project and often interacting with a number of other students.

 

[12].  Sue stated that  “we just think about the audience and about what we should put in there . . . and so he has been doing the work and sort of runs it by me” and “I am actually quite a bit more excited than I was initially about having a web page for the science department . . Sean has learned a little bit about the whole science curricula as defined by the Ministry.”

 

[13]. Common statements from the teachers included, “I have no idea where you are going.” they often modeled, scaffolded, and coached by explaining how they had accomplished something, gave helpful hints on means to attack future tasks, and offered a lot of positive support and feedback.

 

[14].  And certainly to the support of other staff and the principal without whom Jacqueline told me it would not have been possible to either begin or continue the course.