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Technology and teaching thinking: Why a dialogic approach is needed for the
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Technology and teaching thinking
Why a dialogic approach is needed
for the twenty-first century
Rupert Wegerif
UNIVERSITY OF EXETER, UK
Introduction
It is common to think of technology as a tool system where a tool is something used by people
to get things done. So I might use a hammer to x a loose nail in a fence. The ontological gram-
mar behind this common sense view is that of a subject (me) using a tool (the hammer) to achieve
an objective (xing the fence). This ontology implies that the tools we use make no real dier-
ence to who we are and to the objectives we set ourselves. This common sense understanding
of what a tool is lies behind the claim that technology in education is just about how we deliver
educational goals and should not be thought of as any more than that (Clark, 1994).
An alternative view is that the use of tools changes who we are and what our educational objec-
tives should be. A person with a hammer is likely to be looking for nails, or things that can be hit
with the hammer, and might not notice other features of the environment. A person equipped
with a smart mobile device and Internet connection acts differently and thinks differently from
a person without such tools. On this view new communications technology is not just seen as a
means to deliver educational goals, but as something that ought to be taken into account in shap-
ing those goals (Swan et al., 2008). A prominent example of this view is the Partnership for 21st
Century Skills (www.p21.org), a group of educationalists and leading new technology companies
lobbying the teaching and assessment of skills associated with the use of new technology. Here
the tools – new digital technologies – have become an objective of education as well as being a
means to achieve educational objectives. Marshall McLuhan’s famous dictum: ‘the medium is the
messagedramatizes this very different view of the role of technology in education (McLuhan,
1962, 1964).
The same two alternative ontologies or alternative grammars for organizing reality, apply to
the issue of the relationship between thinking and technology. Is technology just the product of
thinking or does it shape thinking from within? I am going to argue that there are good reasons,
supported by compelling empirical evidence, to claim that technology shapes thinking from
within. In order to make that argument I start with brief discussions of how we should use the
words ‘thinking’ and ‘technology’.
Pre-Print Draft of Wegerif, R. (2015) Technology and teaching thinking: Why a
dialogic approach is needed for the twenty-first century. In Wegerif, Li and Kaufman
(eds) The Routledge International Handbook of Research on Teaching Thinking.
Routledge: New York and London
Rupert Wegerif
428
Thinking?
The word ‘thinking’ in the phrase ‘teaching thinking’ does not just refer to any thinking but
more precisely to the kind of thinking that we value and want to see more of. Lauren Resnick
once asked many people in the teaching thinking movement what they meant by ‘Higher
Order Thinking’, which I think means the same as ‘good thinking’ or the kind of thinking that
they wanted to promote in education. The answer was that it cannot be dened in advance
but that you can recognize it when you see it. Higher Order Thinking is complex, involves
competing sets of criteria (i.e. multiple ‘frames’ or voices, not just one), and the results are often
surprising while being always insightful in that they make better sense of the initial problem or
question. (Resnick, 1987).
Resnick’s list of the characteristics of ‘Higher Order Thinking’ reflected the dominant
assumption in psychology that thinking is an attribute of individuals. However, it is noticeable
that every criterion in her list could also refer to the kind of thinking that we experience in
dialogues. Resnick stresses the uncertainty involved in good thinking, that it is not ‘algorith-
mic’ and involves more than one perspective. I interpret this as meaning that it is ‘dialogic’
as opposed to ‘monologic’. Dialogic simply means that more that one voice or perspective is
implicated in the meaning and that there is no prospect of a simple reduction to a single per-
spective or single voice (for an extended discussion and definition of the term ‘dialogic’ see
Wegerif, 2013, Chapter 2). Dialogic thinking is a property of dialogues and although individu-
als engage in dialogic thinking or internal dialogue, dialogues are more commonly associated
with groups. So should we think about thinking as primarily an activity of individuals or as an
activity of groups and collectives?
If we define thinking in terms of outcomes such as new scientific or artistic products then
it has always been clear that it has a distributed and collective dimension (Surowiecki, 2004).
There has been disagreement, however, on the location of the process of thinking. It is still
commonly argued that only individual brains can really ‘think’ but when those brains commu-
nicate together and share their thinking, often mediated by technology, then there are group
thinking effects which can enhance or augment individual thinking. This is probably the default
assumption of most neuro-cognitive psychology. The dialogic alternative view is that thinking
is social in its origins and remains social or dialogic in its essential nature even when it is appar-
ently ‘internalised’ or ‘appropriated’ by individuals (Fernyhough, 1996: Gallagher, 2012).
The separate reality of group thinking has recently been a focus of experimental activity. Just
as some individuals do better than others on a range of thinking tasks so some groups do better
than other groups at solving a range of different kinds of problems (Woolley et al., 2010). This
research has found that the effectiveness of group thinking correlates more with the presence of
social sensitivity than with the individual cognitive abilities of group members. Social sensitivity
is about an ability to understand how other people feel and was measured in this research by
asking participants to identify feelings just by looking at pictures of other people’s eyes. Similarly
research, research that I have been involved with, suggests that individuals can learn to do better
on Raven’s reasoning tests after participating in groups that are taught how to talk together in a
more productive way (Wegerif, Mercer and Dawes, 1999). This suggests the working hypoth-
esis that the process of thinking is dialogic in form and has both a social external and visible
aspect as well as an individual internal and invisible aspect.
By the term ‘thinking’, as used in the phrase ‘teaching thinking’, I am not referring to all
forms of cognition but to the surprising and complex chains of insight that can arise between
voices and perspectives in dialogue, whether that dialogue is external and visible, internal and
invisible, or, more commonly, a combination of the two.
Technology and teaching thinking
429
Technology?
The word technology is most commonly used to refer to very tangible machines that enhance
human physical abilities. Aeroplanes, fridges and computers are all obviously forms of technol-
ogy in everyday spoken English. However the Greek word techné, from which technology
derives, referred to the techniques used in the material arts such as weaving or pottery. By
etymology technology refers not just to physical artifacts like fridges, but also to the language
and cultural practices that make these objects possible. A fridge, for example, is not just a stand
alone machine but is part of a larger network that includes scientic theories about chemical
heat exchange, factory plans, electricity supply, the conversations of designers and repairers and
much more (Latour, 2005).
The Internet with its complex combination of protocols, languages, servers and fibre optic
cables is obviously a technology or, perhaps, a nexus of technologies. As a medium of com-
munication, it does not only have an ‘outside’ but also an ‘inside’. By the term ‘inside’ I am
referring to the experience that arises from participating in the dialogues and exchanges that the
Internet makes possible.
Written language is now widely referred to as a technology (Preiss and Sternberg, 2005)
but what about spoken language? Written language is always an artefact, it is always found in a
constructed material form, but speech seems to come more naturally to us, almost as naturally as
the bodies which we use to make expressions with our faces and gestures with our hands. Just as
it would be odd to refer to our bodies as a ‘technology’ it seems odd to refer to everyday oracy
as a technology. However, the idea that all words are cognitive tools and language is ‘the tool of
tools’ is widely shared amongst researchers in a Vygotskian tradition (Wells, 1999; Mercer and
Littleton, 2007; Kozulin, 1986).
When we use the term technology in schools now, it is only to refer to new digital tools and
new digital media. Whiteboards, marker pens, pencils, exercise books and so on are not thought
of as technology because they have become naturalized. In harmony with this normal usage the
focus of this chapter is on new communications technologies, especially the Internet and related
digital tools. However, I also follow Vygotsky in extending the idea of technology to all means of
communication but I only do so in order to be able to compare the impact of earlier communica-
tions technologies with digital technology. I follow Simondon in understanding that technology
always has two sides, a phenomenological side as well as an apparently objective or material side.
The ‘thinking’ part of ‘teaching thinking’ changes over time
Few people should be surprised to learn that technology change impacts on the kind of think-
ing that we value. As technology takes over once prized aspects of cognition such as memory
and formal logic, other aspects such as social sensitivity and creativity, inevitably move for-
ward in our estimation. But what is perhaps more surprising is that there is also evidence that
changing technology use impacts on how we actually think. ‘The Flynn eect’ is the label
given to empirical evidence that how most people think has changed signicantly over the last
hundred years. There is good reason to think that this change in thinking has been brought
about by changing technology in the form of education and literacy practices.
James Flynn, looked back at records of raw scores of IQ tests before they were standardized.
This data shows, for example, that, in just 30 years between 1952 and 1982, the average IQ of
18 year olds in the Netherlands went up by over 20 points. (Flynn, 2009) Similar rises in IQ
have been found throughout the world since the beginning of the use of such tests about one
hundred years ago.
Rupert Wegerif
430
So what caused this rapid rise in IQ test scores? Many competing explanations have been put
forward but most commentators give a prominent role to increased formal schooling and often
related changes in the use of communications technologies (Neisser, 1998; Greenfield, 2009).
In his book What is Intelligence? Flynn looks for an explanation in the data gathered by Luria
and Vygotsky in Uzbekistan reflecting the differences between the thinking of schooled literate
people and non-schooled non-literate people. He quotes this example of an interview with a
non-literate (Flynn, 2009, p. 27):
White bears and Novaya Zemlya (Luria, 1976, pp. 108–109)
Q: All bears are white where there is always snow; in Novaya Zemlya there is always
snow; what color are the bears there?
A: I have seen only black bears and I do not talk of what I have not seen.
Q: What do my words imply?
A: If a person has not been there he cannot say anything on the basis of words. If a
man was 60 or 80 and had seen a white bear there and told me about it, he could be
believed.
Flynn writes in commentary on this and other extracts from Luria, that ‘If the everyday world is
your cognitive home, it is not natural to detach abstractions and logic and the hypothetical from
their concrete referents’ (Flynn, 2009, p 24). His point is that the unschooled thinking is not
worse than schooled thinking, it is a product of a dierent life-world. Non-literate thinking is
based on experience and is often more useful in the non-literate life-world than thinking medi-
ated by abstract concepts. However in the modern world much experience is already mediated
by symbolic abstractions. Where the Uzbek peasants interviewed by Luria lived by planting,
digging, herding and hunting many modern people have to earn their living by manipulating
symbols in oces.
From oracy to print literacy: communication technology
on the inside of thinking
When Walter Ong read the Luria data he interpreted it in terms of a contrast between oral ways
of thinking and literate ways of thinking (Ong, 1982, p. 50; Lieberman, 2008). In oral cultures,
he claimed, thinking is situated in contexts and in relationships. The meanings of words cannot
be removed from those situations and considered in abstraction. In many cases this is quite liter-
ally true since oral people are aware of language only as audible utterances from which it is not
always possible to extract separate words. Those who have been literature from early childhood
tend to be able to see words as well as hear them even as they listen to them. This makes it much
easier for literates to separate out words and consider their meanings in abstraction from specic
contexts of speech between people (Dehaene, 2009).
In the Phaedrus Socrates argued that logos (reason) is never abstract but is always reasoning in
the context of relationships. Inspired by Socrates, Bakhtin coined the term ‘dialogic’ as a con-
trast to more formal abstract logics. These formal abstract logics and models of reason of every
kind are only possible because of literacy. Plato’s famous invention of ‘dialectic’ for example, is
a product of writing down dialogues after the event and focusing only on one successful strand
of reasoning to the exclusion of all the contingent pathways and uncertainty of a living dialogue
(Nikulin, 2010). Dialogic is different from written down argument because it always implies the
creative co-presence of multiple voices. Bakhtin expands on Socrates’ initial argument:
Technology and teaching thinking
431
The idea begins to live, that is, to take shape, to develop, to find and renew its verbal
expression, to give birth to new ideas, only when it enters into genuine dialogic rela-
tionships with other ideas, with the ideas of others. Human thought becomes genuine
thought, that is, an idea, only under conditions of living contact with another and alien
thought, a thought embodied in someone else’s voice, that is, in someone else’s conscious-
ness expressed in discourse. At that point of contact between voices-consciousnesses the
idea is born and lives.
(Bakhtin, 1984, p. 88)
Socrates’ critique of the danger of monologism that is inherent in writing appears especially
relevant to us now because of the new kind of writing-thinking that is aorded by the Internet.
Oracy supports a dialogic view of thinking as situated in contexts where language is used within
relationships. This is dierent from the kind of unsituated abstract logical kind of thinking that
has become privileged by the combination of print literacy with modern schooling and that is
embodied in the similarities and dierence component of a standard IQ test.
The Internet, which is rapidly replacing print as what could be called ‘the dominant medium
of communication’ (Poster, 1995), offers a return to some of the dialogic affordances of oracy.
The ideal of truth as an unsituated representation makes sense when all we have are books, but
on the Internet there is always also the potential of a living relationships with multiple voices
and there is no way of stepping outside of this dialogue into a position of certainty. That is why
Wikipedia is more changeable and uncertain than traditional print encyclopedias whilst being
both more accurate and more up-to-date (Giles, 2005). Anyone using Wikipedia needs to learn
how to check sources and therefore how to participate, if only in a small way, in producing
knowledge as well as passively consuming the knowledge that has already been produced and
written down by others.
Teaching thinking for the twenty-first century
IQ tests were designed at the beginning of the twentieth century to measure a highly valued
kind of thinking correlated with success in education. The specic contents of IQ tests, the
similarities test for example, suggest that one aspect of this kind of thinking is mediation by
abstract concepts understood as universal and unsituated. Walter Ong implies that this kind of
thinking is related to print literacy. The Flynn eect suggests that throughout the twentieth
century people became increasingly habituated to a specic model of ‘good thinking’ linked a
specic aordance of print-literacy. They did not just value this way of thinking more, they also
became much better at doing it.
But now we are in the twenty-first century and our dominant means of communication is in
the process of change from print to the Internet. Is this change in the way that we communicate
leading to changes in the kind of thinking that we value and that we want to teach? Is it also
leading to actual changes in the way that we think?
Ways of relating technology to teaching thinking
So far I have used a discussion of the implications of the Flynn eect to argue that technology
use, especially widely used forms of communications technology, inuences not only what
kind of thinking is valued but also how people actually think. Using ideas from Socrates, Ong
and Bakhtin I have focused on the signicance of moving from oracy to print literacy (plus
formal schooling). But of course the impact of technology is more complex and nuanced than
Rupert Wegerif
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this simple story implies. The highest gains in the Flynn eect are found in the test of which
words are similar or dierent and in non-verbal reasoning using Raven’s progressive matrices
(puzzles requiring visual-spatial thinking) but there has been only a small gain in the vocabulary
component. While expanding education remains a likely explanation (Ceci, 1991) Greeneld
also relates specic changes in visual reasoning to the spread of TV and, more recently, video
games (Greeneld, 2009). My hypothesis is that moving to the dominance of multi-modal and
dialogic communication via the Internet may have cognitive consequences that are just as great
as those found in the shift from oracy to literacy (Wegerif, 2013). One of these consequences
is the increasing demand for dialogic thinking skills. But, of course, the technology itself does
not determine these changes, what determines them is the way that the technology is used.
When I reviewed this relationship between technology and teaching thinking for Nesta
FutureLab in 2003 (Wegerif, 2003) I referred to three main ways of conceptualizing this rela-
tionship: technology as tutor, technology as tool and technology as medium for collaborative
thinking. Now I would like to elaborate on that same schema, expanding it a little:
1 Technology as a tutor of thinking
2 Technology as a tool for thinking (instrumentalization)
3 Technology as an environment for developing thinking (constructionism and epistemic
frames)
4 Technology as opening, expanding and resourcing dialogic spaces.
These four conceptualizations are not mutually exclusive. In particular I will go on to show
how the fourth one, a dialogic conceptualization of the role of technology in teaching and
learning thinking, can provide a useful umbrella framework for understanding the other three.
Technology as a direct tutor of thinking
If the role of a teacher of thinking is understood as inducting students into dialogue then tech-
nology can and does play this role. Even asking simple open questions like ‘why?’ can be an
eective stimulus to reective dialogic thought. Many tutorial systems incorporate such open
prompts for reection. In one project where the focus was on students talking together with
technology I designed what I called a ‘talking bug’ to sit on top of a physics simulation on the
screen. Whenever the students, working together, tried to run an experiment, the bug would
intervene and ask them to make a prediction about what would happen. After the experiment
was done the bug would re-appear to ask if their prediction was right and if so then why and
if not then why not? In groups that had been given some education in how to talk together
eectively (Dawes, Mercer and Wegerif, 2004) this simple direct tutoring strategy stimulated a
lot of eective educational talk.
Similar approaches are in use to stimulate reflection in online Personal Learning Environments
(PLEs) (Vazquez, 2013) Online ‘chatterbots’, agents who text chat to others as if they were
people, are now commonly used in online environments for a variety of purposes. Agents
whose role is to stimulate thinking in online environments are being experimented with (Soller
et al., 2005).
In the EC funded Argunaut project (www.argunaut.org/) I worked with a multi-national
team to develop indicators of the quality of discussion in online graphically mediated dialogues
(see Figure 35.1). With a machine learning algorithm based on pattern matching from initially
hand coded examples, we managed to accurately recognize chains of reasoning and creativity.
This fed back to a display intended for moderators but also available to students. These indicators
1 should experiments on
animals be allowed?
4 I think we shouldn’t do it
because we have no right to
hurt animals like this!
5 You give more details
this?
8 But do you agree that if this is
the best way to save lives, we
2 It’s also not always useful
because what works on
animals won’t necessarity
work on people and vice versa!
7 There is the option to have
simulations, the option to
6 you are wrong we do
have another choice!
3 I think they should be
allowed because we don’t
have another choice and
they contributed a lot to
science and medicine.
Figure 35.1 Argunaut map and user interface.
Rupert Wegerif
434
of the educational quality of dialogues could serve as a support for the thinking of moderators and
students. An exciting feature of this software is that indicators of the quality of dialogue are able
to evolve. Comments to moderators indicating the presence of creativity, or the lack of this, for
example, can be rated for usefulness and that information fed back to inform the machine learning
algorithm. By picking up and reflecting back to the group, indications of reasoning and of creativ-
ity, the technology was also teaching reasoning and creativity (Wegerif et al., 2010).
Technology as tool for thinking (instrumentalisation)
Vygotsky argued that thinking is rst found socially in the use of language and other ‘cultural
tools’ and that individuals learn to think through internalizing the use of these cultural tools which
then become cognitive tools or tools to think with (Vygosky, 1987). In an article provocatively
titled ‘We have met technology and it is us’ Michael Cole and Jan Derry illustrate Vygotsky’s
thesis with the example of the use of the Abacus for arithmetic. The Abacus does not only help
students do calculations it also changes the way in which they think arithmetically. The dier-
ences in the mental arithmetic of skilled abacus users in comparison with students who do not use
an abacus can be picked out by dierences found in FMRI brain scans (Cole and Derry, 2005).
‘Instrumentalization theory’ is a more recent version of this Vygotskian view stemming from
a unique French tradition and currently found mostly in mathematics education. Simondon
(1989) distinguished between the tool in itself and the ‘instrument’, which is the tool as it used
by people to shape attention and make distinctions. The process by which the tool becomes an
instrument is called instrumental genesis. Instrumental genesis changes the tool at the same time
as it changes the person using the tool. In mathematics several studies have explored how the
instrumentalization process, forms the way in which students see problems and shapes the way
that they think (e.g. Leung, Chan and Lopez-Real, 2006).
Various ways of visually mapping thinking are widely used in education for thinking (Okado
et al., 2008; Hyerle, 2009). Instrumentation theory offers one way of approaching an understand-
ing of how maps help support thinking. Learning to work with the maps, students learn to see
key structures of thought more clearly, such as figure-ground (Hyerle’s ‘circle map’) and causality
(Hyerle’s ‘flow map’). In the multi-national Metafora EU project I worked with others to develop
a visual language to support the complex essential twenty-first century competence of learning
to learn together (L2L2). This language took the form of icons in a map that enabled students to
reflect on the process and component parts of L2L2.
The visual language was developed through extensive literature review and design work-
shops. Table 35.1 summarizes the six categories of the visual language. The categories of ‘Activity
Stage’, ‘Activity Process’, ‘Resource’ and ‘Connector’ are used to represent the dimension of
task management. The categories of ‘Role’ and ‘Attitude’ are used to represent the dimension
of social relationships.
The use of this visual language in the planning and reflection space of the Metafora system
is illustrated in Figure 35.2. This is a snap-shot of part of a ‘map’ developed by a group of sec-
ondary students working on a mathematics challenge using a mathematical micro-world. The
L2L2 visual language map integrated with the micro-worlds that they used to help work on the
problems. It is interesting to note the icons that represent the micro-world they are using and
even different states of that micro-world. Each of these icons act as dynamic portals, opening
up the micro-world when clicked.
Simply by looking through the options available to them students got ideas on how to proceed
with their shared enquiries. Thinking together about how to locate icons like ‘explore’, ‘build
model’ and ‘test’, helped students to understand the process of shared enquiry. Pre-post testing
Technology and teaching thinking
435
Table 35.1 Categories of icons in the visual language for L2L2 (Metafora)
Component Explanation Visual
Activity stage Key stages of dialogic enquiry-based learning process, e.g. Explore, Reflect on
process
Activity process Key activities to concretize the process of each activity stage, e.g. Report,
Anticipate
Attitude Key intersubjective orientations to specify the group attitudes during activity
stage and process, characterized as colored glasses e.g. Ethical
Role Key roles to manage and mediate collaboration and cooperation between
learners and groups, e.g. Manager, Evaluator
Resource Available resources for activity stages and processes, e.g. Group discussion map,
Microworld artefact, etc.
PiKI
PiKi
Connector Key relationships between all the components, e.g. causal relationship,
temporal relationship
allocate roles
expresser
The Imaqinatives
expresser
brainstorm
What we are going to do to build the
model
note taker
HIK
manager blank role
ZOH Maths Checker Sry
Shk
expresser
Plato Eienstein
build model
Simple build the model
evaluator
Figure 35.2 Example of a planning and reflection map
Rupert Wegerif
436
suggested that working with this tool helped students understand how to learn together more
effectively with others (Yang and Wegerif, 2013). This process of learning with a dedicated tool
is an example of how instrumentalisation, or converting an artifact into an instrument of thinking,
can help to teach general thinking and learning skills and competences.
Technology as an environment for thinking (constructionism and
epistemic frames)
Seymour Papert, who once worked with Piaget, coined the term constructionism, which he explains
as follows:
From constructivist theories of psychology we take a view of learning as a reconstruction
rather than as a transmission of knowledge. Then we extend the idea of manipulative mate-
rials to the idea that learning is most effective when part of an activity the learner experi-
ences as constructing is a meaningful product.
(Sabelli, 2008)
While this idea could apply to modelling with traditional materials such as pen and paper, or
chalk and blackboard, it has mostly been applied to the use of new technology. Constructionism
claims that students learn to think using the logic of a domain area such as mathematics, by
programming simulations modelling relationships in that domain. Papert raised the exciting
prospect that computer programming could mean that the sort of abstract logical thinking that
many children nd so dicult to learn in school, becomes easy to learn in a more experiential
way simply by working and playing in a micro-world. This view lay behind the implementation
of the logic programming language logo in many primary classrooms. The idea is that simply by
using logo to build programmes that do things children will learn abstract logical thinking. Here
the technology is not seen as a language to support reection but more as an environment that
supports understanding through building models.
Perhaps because of its origins in Piagetian theory, constructionism has tended not to focus on
social interaction. However, evaluations have not indicated that the logical thinking required to
program computers with logo automatically transfers to thinking in new context. In other words
children can learn to use LOGO without learning more general and transferable thinking skills. For
learning that can transfer it seems that reflection is needed and for reflection, peer interaction helps as
does structured teaching that intentionally builds bridges between the strategies used in LOGO and
logically similar strategies applied in other contexts. (Wegerif, 2003)
The combination of building models with talking and reflecting about those models, is a way
forward for constructionism that we explored in the Metafora project. (Kynigos and Moustaki,
2013) Metafora included micro-worlds such as ‘Expresser’, referred to by icon in Figure 35.2,
a micro-world designed to support students’ transition from the ‘specific’ to the ‘general’ by
constructing figural patterns of square tiles. However, in Metafora these micro-worlds were
integrated with the visual language for planning and reflection described above and also with
a further space for graphical dialogue called LASAD (similar in many ways to the Argunaut
dialogue map shown in Figure 35.1 but without the moderators dashboard of awareness tools).
Our idea was that discussing and reflecting would help students generalize more explicitly.
Evaluative research showed many occasions where this can be seen to be happening in the
interactions around the software. (Yang and Wegerif, 2013)
Epistemic games offer a similar approach to metafora in that they combine some construc-
tionist learning principles with reflection and dialogue. David Williamson Shaffer developed the
Technology and teaching thinking
437
idea of epistemic games to reflect a socio-cultural theory of education as learning a culture. It is
similar to Papert’s ideas in that learning occurs naturally through participation within an envi-
ronment that is prestructured to reflect the rules of a knowledge area. Papert’s constructionist
learning environments mostly taught mathematics but Shaffer’s games are broader, including
learning how to be a journalist or a bio-chemist (Shaffer, 2007). The structure that is learnt can
be broken down into:
Skills: the things people within the community do
Knowledge: the community’s shared understandings
Identity: how members of the community see themselves
Values: the beliefs held by community members
Epistemology: how community members make decisions and justify their choices
Shaer calls this structure an ‘epistemic frame’. With epistemic frames skills are not abstract but
are linked to practice in contexts over time. In epistemic games, players learn to make connec-
tions through the cycle of action and reection on action with peers and mentors. Epistemic games
include ‘Digital Zoo’, where players learn physics and engineering by working as biomechanical
engineers and ‘Science.net’ where players learn about ecology, genetics, communications technolo-
gies, and other current issues through working as journalists. This approach is relevant to the enter-
prise of teaching thinking because the focus of learning is on learning thinking in the situated and
cultural form or acquiring ‘epistemic frames’ (Shaer, 2012; Shaer and Gee, 2012).
Technology as expanding and resourcing dialogic space
Dialogic theory draws upon the philosophy of Bakhtin, mentioned above, as well as the ndings of
developmental cognitive psychology and research on classroom talk in order to argue that learning
to think is about being drawn into a dialogue with multiple perspectives (Wegerif, 2013). Thinking
implies seeing as if through the perspective of another which is only possible through dialogic rela-
tions with outside voices and outside perspectives. Dialogic theory agrees with Shaer that we always
see the world through a frame but rather than focusing on teaching frames the focus is on teaching
how to go forward when frames clash. Richard Paul made an important distinction between teach-
ing critical thinking in the weak sense, teaching a set of rules of good thinking, and teaching critical
thinking in the strong sense, which requires engagement between dierent worldviews (Paul, 1994).
Teaching just one ‘epistemic frame’ can be like teaching critical thinking in the weak sense. A dia-
logic approach to teaching thinking advocates learning how to see the same problem or situation
from multiple frames simultaneously within the dynamic tension of a dialogue.
Dialogic theory claims that thinking is an aspect of dialogues. This gives communications
technology a role on the inside of thinking. Technology enables dialogues to take on an exter-
nal form and that enables more than one person or a collective to reflect on ideas. Collective
thinking combines the external visible technological moment of thinking with the apparently
‘internal’, invisible and uniquely human moment of reflection. Technology is essential to think-
ing because it carries the dialogues that unite diverse voices whilst maintaining their separation.
Technology also resources those dialogues with sign-tools, such as Avatars or message icons,
that stand-in for voices/perspectives and allow us to invoke them and to keep them in play in
a dialogue thus providing continuity. Successful dialogues in science display a dialectical (i.e. a
progressive) oscillation between dialogues and artefacts such as models or ‘maps’ that capture
and encapsulate the fruits of those dialogues in a new perspective upon which the next dialogue
can build (Wegerif 2007, pp. 278–280).
Rupert Wegerif
438
For dialogic theory thinking is primarily a collective achievement and is only secondar-
ily individual. Individuals provide a temporary space within which collective dialogues play.
The collective nature of thinking can only be realized through the artefacts of culture, espe-
cially communications technology. The Internet has the potential to support a vastly expanded
dialogic space by bringing more voices into productive relationship with each other and this
can result in improved collective thinking. Improved collective thinking inevitably leads to
improved individual thinking (Wegerif, Mercer and Dawes, 1999). On this dialogic model,
teaching thinking means teaching collective thinking through changing the shared culture and
through providing technological support in the form of spaces and resources.
Individuals appropriate collective thinking and participate in it through participating in dia-
logues. The key complex competence or ‘21st Century Skill’ required to help individuals par-
ticipate in collective thinking can be characterized as ‘Learning to Learn Together’ (L2L2) with
digital technology. Learning and thinking with the aide of the Internet is not just working with
tools it is learning and thinking together with others mediated by technology. L2L2 refers to
the skills and dispositions needed to be able to listen to others and learn from them, to be both
teachable and learnable, and also to be able to work together with others on more open-ended
enquiry-based learning projects.
Conclusions
The claim that technology use can shape thinking on the inside has some truth to it but it also
has limitations. Technology, on its own, does not think. Just working with technology on its
own does not always lead to thinking. It is in the combination of technology with reection and
dialogue that students learn to think.
The limitations of technology as tool and technology as environment models of teaching
and learning thinking, point to the need for a dialogic theory. Dialogic theory combines an
understanding of the role of technology with an understanding of the importance of maintain-
ing different voices in tension. Dialogic theory is not however a replacement for all the other
theories but rather, as befits a dialogic approach, it is an augmentation of them, expanding the
field of debate with a new voice that does not occlude the other voices but actually allows
them to speak more clearly. This new dialogic theory suggests that we learn through taking
the perspectives of others and that teaching thinking is about inducting learners into dialogue
and then expanding the dialogic space, which means expanding the range and the depth of
perspectives that can be brought to bear on any given problem. Illustrations of how the com-
plex competence of learning to learn together with technology could be taught were taken
from recent projects especially Argunaut and Metafora. These demonstrated ways in which
technological supports could be used to expand and sustain dialogic space in order to teach
collective thinking in the context of understanding knowledge domain areas and solving real
world problems. Although students tended to work together in classrooms with Metafora and
Argunaut, their interaction was mediated by online tools so there is no reason why a similar
approach to learning and teaching could not be incorporated into distance education courses.
In the emerging Internet Age our greatest challenge is teaching better collective thinking. A
dialogic approach addresses this challenge with the claim that thinking is dialogue and that teaching
thinking is using technology and pedagogy to both expand and deepen the space of dialogue.
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Dialogic: Education for the Internet Age argues that despite rapid advances in communications technology, most teaching still relies on traditional approaches to education, built upon the logic of print, and dependent on the notion that there is a single true representation of reality. In practice, the use of the Internet disrupts this traditional logic of education by offering an experience of knowledge as participatory and multiple. This new logic of education is dialogic and characterises education as learning to learn, think and thrive in the context of working with multiple perspectives and ultimate uncertainty. The book builds upon the simple contrast between observing dialogue from an outside point of view, and participating in a dialogue from the inside, before pinpointing an essential feature of dialogic: the gap or difference between voices in dialogue which is understood as an irreducible source of meaning. Each chapter of the book applies this dialogic thinking to a specific challenge facing education, re-thinking the challenge and revealing a new theory of education. Areas covered in the book include: • dialogical learning and cognition. • dialogical learning and emotional intelligence. • educational technology, dialogic 'spaces' and consciousness. • global dialogue and global citizenship. • dialogic theories of science and maths education. The challenge identified in Wegerif's text is the growing need to develop a new understanding of education that holds the potential to transform educational policy and pedagogy in order to meet the realities of the digital age. Dialogic: Education for the Internet Age draws upon the latest research in dialogic theory, creativity and technology, and is essential reading for advanced students and researchers in educational psychology, technology and policy.
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One key feature of scientific community is collaborative shared enquiry and problem solving mediated by electronic networks. We report on the development and evaluation of an ICT tool to support learning how to learn together (L2L2) in Science Education as part of an EC funded project called ‘Metafora’ (FP7-ICT-2009.4.2/257872). Through literature review we isolated some key features of L2L2 and inquiry science processes. We turned these into icons within an ICT environment to support planning and reflection of inquiries stimulated by real-world challenges. In this paper we report the design-based research study carried out in secondary schools in Spain in order to gain understanding about the Metafora’s technological and pedagogical affordances to support students’ awareness of the key aspects of learning together and the key scientific inquiry processes. Our findings suggest that the ICT environment may help rise students’ awareness of key collaborative scientific processes. These findings may contribute to the development of tools to support more web-mediated collaborative learning.
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