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Stefanopoulou, S., & Kechagias, C-T. (2018). Improving the educational practice using simulations in science education. The contribution of Althusser's theory on the cognitive procedure. European Journal of Education Studies, 4(3), 61-78.

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Abstract

This article discusses the relationship between the theory of Louis Althusser concerning the subjectivity of knowledge and the cognitive process and the effective use of educational computer simulations during Science Education and Science Teaching. Our first aim is to highlight the aspects of the cognitive process-according to Louis Althusser's theory-that should be considered by teachers when they opt to utilize computer simulations in their classroom teaching in the subject of Science and Physics. Our second aim is to suggest ways in order to overcome the conceptual ambiguity, the misunderstandings and the misconceptions that sometimes students form while using simulation models on the computer. The research question being investigated here is the following: "What kind of learning outcomes might the use of computer simulations have concerning the acquisition and construction knowledge by students in the course of Science and Physics in the light of L.
European Journal of Education Studies
ISSN: 2501 - 1111
ISSN-L: 2501 - 1111
Available on-line at: www.oapub.org/edu
Copyright © The Author(s). All Rights Reserved.
© 2015 2018 Open Access Publishing Group 61
doi: 10.5281/zenodo.1189418
Volume 4 Issue 3 2018
IMPROVING THE EDUCATIONAL PRACTICE USING
SIMULATIONS IN SCIENCE EDUCATION: THE CONTRIBUTION OF
ALTHUSSER’S THEORY ON THE COGNITIVE PROCEDURE
Stefanopoulou Sofia1
i
,
Kechagias Christos-Thomas2
1Postgraduate student at Postgraduate Program: Social Neurosciences,
Social Pedagogy and Education, Department of Primary Education,
National and Kapodistrian University of Athens,
1 E. Athanasiadi str, 173 42, Athens, Greece,
2PhD., M.A. Sociology and Philosophy, Teaching Philosophy of Education;
Epistemology of Social Sciences, Τutor, Τeaching Αssistant,
Department of Primary Education,
National and Kapodistrian University of Athens,
20 Ippokratous str, 104 33, Athens, Greece
Abstract:
This article discusses the relationship between the theory of Louis Althusser concerning
the subjectivity of knowledge and the cognitive process and the effective use of
educational computer simulations during Science Education and Science Teaching. Our
first aim is to highlight the aspects of the cognitive process according to Louis
Althusser’s theory – that should be considered by teachers when they opt to utilize
computer simulations in their classroom teaching in the subject of Science and Physics.
Our second aim is to suggest ways in order to overcome the conceptual ambiguity, the
misunderstandings and the misconceptions that sometimes students form while using
simulation models on the computer. The research question being investigated here is
the following: “What kind of learning outcomes might the use of computer simulations
have concerning the acquisition and construction knowledge by students in the course
of Science and Physics in the light of L. Althusser’s theory and what could teachers do
so as to eliminate the potential risks of their use and to achieve better outcomes in the
learning procedure?”. The utilization of computer simulations in Science Teaching
sometimes make students think that the simulated object or phenomenon is identical in
nature with the real one. However, the simulations do not constitute the “real objects”
themselves; in contrary, they are the means to come closer to reality in order to study it
thoroughly.
Stefanopoulou Sofia, Kechagias Christos-Thomas
IMPROVING THE EDUCATIONAL PRACTICE USING SIMULATIONS IN SCIENCE EDUCATION:
THE CONTRIBUTION OF ALTHUSSER’S THEORY ON THE COGNITIVE PROCEDURE
European Journal of Education Studies - Volume 4 Issue 3 2018 62
Keywords: cognitive process, theory of education, Althusser, simulations, Science
Education-Teaching, educational practice, learning procedure
1. Introduction
The utilization of computer simulations in classroom within Science Education has
come to a great development the last decades (Chandler, 2004· Mnguni, 2014· Thisgaard
& Makransky, 2017· Thurman, 1993); now also in Greece (Jimoyiannis & Komis, 2000·
Kalkanis, 2010· Komis, 2004). However, there is little research on an international and
national level investigating the effects of utilization of computer based simulations
during Science Education and Science Teaching to the personal construction of
knowledge (Chandler, 2004· Jimoyiannis & Komis, 2000· Mnguni, 2014· Thisgaard &
Makransky, 2017); even smaller is the amount of research that is concerned of the
philosophical aspect of idea development as regards to the acquisition of knowledge,
the subjective perception and the complex nature of cognitive processing of information
which relates to the field of cognitive psychology (Dunnington, 2014· McKinney, 1997).
This paper is being constituted under the framework of Louis Althusser’s theory
concerning knowledge and cognitive process (Althusser, 1996). The first purpose of this
paper is to point out the aspects of the cognitive procedure according to the theory of
Louis Althusser- that teachers have to take in consideration during the use of computer
simulations in the classroom and, particularly, in Science Education. The second
purpose is to suggest educational solutions so as to overcome the obstacles that
simulations sometimes have. The total overview of Althusser’s theory concerning
knowledge and cognitive procedure results in certain conclusions that are discussed.
The way by which Althusser’s theory is applicated in Science Teaching and, especially,
while utilizing computer simulations is analyzed; particularly, we focus on the
interplay between simulations as educational tools and educational-learning process, on
the interpretation and the subjective perception of students concerning what
simulations represent. This paper does not present primary data but having an
interdisciplinary approach between Cognitive Psychology, Pedagogy, Science, Science
Education and Philosophy of Science; it combines the recent and older data leading to a
multilevel understanding of the issue. The research question that arises is: “What kind
of learning outcomes it is possible that the computer simulations have on students’
knowledge acquisition and construction of knowledge in the lesson of Science in the
light of Louis Althusser’s theory and what can be done to eliminate the danger of their
use in order to lead to better learning outcomes?”.
2. Louis Althusser theory about knowledge and cognitive procedure
The theory that was developed by Louis Althusser regarding the cognitive procedure is
referred to the relationships that are developed between the individual and the real
object which is under processing. Althusser claims that the “possession” of a real idea,
namely a belief by an individual brings on the following outcomes:
Stefanopoulou Sofia, Kechagias Christos-Thomas
IMPROVING THE EDUCATIONAL PRACTICE USING SIMULATIONS IN SCIENCE EDUCATION:
THE CONTRIBUTION OF ALTHUSSER’S THEORY ON THE COGNITIVE PROCEDURE
European Journal of Education Studies - Volume 4 Issue 3 2018 63
a) The production of other ideas (according to the rule of the first one);
b) The certainty of the real being of this idea;
Consequently, the idea itself constitutes a drive lever and a generating force that
determines what it may follow: the idea is the starting point so as to put forward other
assertions (Althusser, 1996). The individuals are already ready subjects to acquire
knowledge before they understand the subjectivity of their perception, because their
formation as individuals is former to their perception (Bazzul, 2014: 425· Middleton,
2005). Afterwards, the individuals acquire knowledge for themselves (Batens, 1996).
In order to elaborate on the nature of knowledge, Althusser uses part of Marx’s
theory about knowledge “production”, proposing as such the “idea of knowledge as
production” (Althusser, 1996: 465). According to Marx, knowledge moves on from
abstraction to specificity and in no ways conversely, because knowledge resides “in
thought”, whereas the real object that gives the stimulus is outside of the thinking
process (Lewis, 2014· Vratsalis, 2002: 210). The real object has a precedence comparing
to the object of knowledge and “the *cognitive+ procedure from abstraction to specificity
does not produce the real object”; instead, it produces knowledge about the real object
(Althusser, 1996· Makrakis, 2014). Based on Marx, Althusser concludes to a segregation
of great importance, namely between “real object” and “object of knowledge” (Hirst,
1976· Makrakis, 2014· Sotiris, 2006). This segregation comes to an agreement with the
perception of imaginary-symbolic function of being, according to which, man started to
express a new world, differentiated from the “real” one that is perceived with senses:
the world of fantasy, this one of the “object of knowledge”, which has been transformed
into it after the real object has been processed by the subject (Kechagias, 2009: 88·
Makrakis, 2014).
The fact that the real object exists regardless to the thinking process, namely the
conceptual procedure of knowledge production (Garagounis, 2013: 92), is opposite to
the “special feature of learning procedure”, where while it is being processed, there is a
production of ideas, drawing on representations and senses (Makrakis, 2014· Vratsalis,
2002). The result of this cognitive procedure is the “knowledge of the specific real
object” (Althusser, 1996), therefore there is a clear distinction between the real object
and the cognitive procedure (Hirst, 1976). Althusser deduces that the produced
knowledge concerning the real object remains independent of the spirit (the knowledge
is embedded in a transformation that is not related to the real objet but to the subjective
experience) and the thinking process “before and after”, namely the cognitive
procedure. The produced knowledge which is originates from the human mind,
therefore the spirit, cannot be characterized as natural, it does not exist, that is “the
meaning is not identical to the referenced objects but refers (potentially) to them”
(Kechagias, 2009: 88). This point of view contradicts that one of the existence of
“ideal/mental/imaginable objects” (the objects of knowledge); the second one claims
that the objects of knowledge possess their own existence and participate into the
formation of the world (Kechagias, 2009). In conclusion, since the cognitive procedure
does not change the real object, and since it is done entirely in the thinking process and
not in the real object- this means that the thought of the individual is working on
Stefanopoulou Sofia, Kechagias Christos-Thomas
IMPROVING THE EDUCATIONAL PRACTICE USING SIMULATIONS IN SCIENCE EDUCATION:
THE CONTRIBUTION OF ALTHUSSER’S THEORY ON THE COGNITIVE PROCEDURE
European Journal of Education Studies - Volume 4 Issue 3 2018 64
another “raw material”, the real object itself. The cognitive procedure and its subject
influence the real object that is under investigation (Kechagias, 2009: 215), incorporating
the produced knowledge, resulting in a newly real object that “radiates this
incorporated knowledge as it is actually its own” (Garagounis, 2013).
It is rather obvious that the cognitive procedure is not characterized by passivity;
instead, it is an active relationship (Batens, 1996: 14). Since the individual interacts with
the real object so as to produce knowledge and it acts inducing changes in the reality, a
relationship is formed between them that affects the individual’s perception of reality,
which of course ends up being subjective (Batens, 1996· Vratsalis, 2002). In this way, the
concepts are formed (“the specific of the thinking process”, namely the object of
knowledge that is not related to the real one) (Kechagias, 2009· Kokkotas, 1998). The
“object of knowledge” is formed by the way that the individual makes their own the
real object (Makrakis, 2014: 69). Althusser claims that the cognitive procedure is a living
organism in a perpetual cyclical procedure (Vratsalis, 2002: 208), only if it is
continuously reproduced, seeing that “only the production of new knowledge keeps the
old knowledge alive” and only in this way we come closer and closer to the objective
reality as exactly it is (Kokkotas, 1998), without ever being able to reach it completely
(Batens, 1996). Finally, it is obvious that the relationship between the individual-
observator and the real observed object is dynamic and under continuous
transfiguration and evolution (Kechagias, 2009: 119).
2.1 Use of simulations in Science Education
Before we deal with the utilization of simulations, it would be useful to make a
distinction between the terms: visualization, simulation and modeling. The term
“visualization” is used to generally state the development and use of media (e.g.
graphic representation, images) in order to make something visually understandable
(Komis, 2004· Mikropoulos, 2011). An is widely used example of visualization is Google
Maps. Essentially, within visualization, the data we want to be transmitted are
represented in pictures through which comprehension is easier (Komis, 2004). The
noticeable difference between visualization and simulation is that, in the first one, it is
possible to represent data through images, but it is not possible to manipulate and
change these data, as it is possible is simulations. (Kalkanis, 2010· Komis, 2004).
According to Kokkotas (2004), simulations are the result of man’s attempt to
interpret their environment, but also to be able to predict the evolution of phenomena
being studied, especially when he cannot gain direct access to them (Mnguni, 2014·
Komis, 2004). In this way, man creates mental representations or mental models, whose
fundamental characteristic is that they are artificial but simultaneously realistic
(Dunnington, 2014: 15· Husain, 2010: 2) and they visualize the reality approximately.
Simulation models’ main purpose is the ideal imitation or representation of aspects of
reality with the greatest proximity that can be given to it (Burbules & Linn, 1991· Crapo,
Waisel, Wallace & Willemain, 2000· Komis, 2004). The static character that simulations
initially had is avoided by creating and using more dynamic and interactive simulation
models, broadening the educational potential for their use (Chandler, 2004· Jimoyiannis
Stefanopoulou Sofia, Kechagias Christos-Thomas
IMPROVING THE EDUCATIONAL PRACTICE USING SIMULATIONS IN SCIENCE EDUCATION:
THE CONTRIBUTION OF ALTHUSSER’S THEORY ON THE COGNITIVE PROCEDURE
European Journal of Education Studies - Volume 4 Issue 3 2018 65
& Komis, 2000: 185· Mikropoulos, 2011). The noticeable difference between simulation
and modeling even though sometimes they get confused (Jacobson & Wilensky, 2009:
21)- is that, in the first one, there are some variables of a constructed model which can
be handled and modified, whereas in the second one, the individual creates the model
on its own (Eskrootchi & Oskrochi, 2010: 238· Komis, 2004· Komis et al., 2011).
Consequently, the term “simulation model” comprises of the constructed models on
which the student-user is urged to act by using lots of possibilities and choices on offer
(e.g., see Huppert, 2002).
As new and open educational environments (Jimoyiannis & Komis, 2000: 185),
simulations enable the user to understand the functions of the system which is studied,
to discover new aspects and to study the gradual evolution of a phenomenon, to apply
measurements of from real experimental data and see the results, to change the
variables and make comparison between different situations but also to evaluate their
effects in comparison with reality, and to develop initiatives for the evolution of the
simulated system, not by responding to a set of closed-type questions but to their own
questions (De Jong & Van Joolingen, 1998· Eskrootchi & Oskrochi, 2010· Huppert, 2002:
803· Husain, 2010· Jacobson & Wilensky, 2009· Kalkanis, 2010· Kokkotas, 2004· Komis,
2004). Simulations’ basic characteristic is the possibility of the individual who learns to
use the model to interact with the system (e.g. device, process) under study
(Mikropoulos, 2011). Computer simulation models of the natural world constitute
methods of studying a system (Komis, 2004), support exploratory and discovery
learning (Eskrootchi & Oskrochi, 2010· McKinney, 1997· Komis et al., 2011· Soulios &
Psillos, 2013) and help the student understand functions of the world that which are not
accessible through direct experience and observation but only using computer (Husain,
2010· Jacobson & Wilensky, 2009: 21· Komis, 2004· Mikropoulos, 2011: 290· Chalkia,
2008: 165), for example, the composition of matter at microscopic level or are very
complex, time-consuming or expensive for a laboratory environment (Dunnington,
2014· Husain, 2010· Moore & Thomas, 1983). The above advantages contribute to the
connection of the educational tool of simulations with the constructivist approach,
which sees the student as an active individual during the process of building their
personal knowledge (Husain, 2010).
In addition, we have to point out the inherent advantage of simulations as
regards to the safety they offer to the user, which in a real system is not fully assured,
for example in chemical experiments, in the learning of handling an airplane (Husain,
2010· Komis, 2004· Mikropoulos, 2011: 286) or during the familiarization with the
human body under clinical conditions (Dunnington, 2014: 16). Apart from the cognitive
content, educational simulations enable the user to acquire specific skills such as
academic and scientific skills, 21sr century skills and visual literacy skills (Mnguni,
2014). Computer simulations enrich the educational procedure and allow the user to
experiment on a system or phenomenon which approaches the real world without
actually having real contact with it (Thurman, 1993· Komis, 2004· Chalkia, 2008).
Simulation programs have two possible versions (Kalkanis, 2010· Chalkia, 2008):
Stefanopoulou Sofia, Kechagias Christos-Thomas
IMPROVING THE EDUCATIONAL PRACTICE USING SIMULATIONS IN SCIENCE EDUCATION:
THE CONTRIBUTION OF ALTHUSSER’S THEORY ON THE COGNITIVE PROCEDURE
European Journal of Education Studies - Volume 4 Issue 3 2018 66
a) Reproduction: Using animation techniques, procedures and phenomena (whose
evolution is determined randomly on the basis of the natural laws that have been
defined in the program and is statistically predicted) of the natural world are
reproduced on the computer (reflective processes-relationships, see Kalkanis,
2010: 113· Komis, 2004). The result is the creation of a “virtual reality” (Kalkanis,
2010) which approximates the objective reality. The reproduction version of the
simulations is often referred to as a “model” (Komis, 2004).
b) Representation: Again, using animation techniques, processes are represented
through the copying of the reality, as it is introduced in the computer program
(non-reflective processes-relationships, since they are simple visualizations).
2.2 Cognitive procedure and use of simulations in Science Education
According to Vratsalis (2002), sometimes the use of simulations in Science Education
brings on students’ impression that what is simulated as real (the “homonym”) is
identical in nature and importance to the real object itself, resulting in a kind of
regeneration of the reality or the creation of another, new, hardly questionable reality
(Dunnington, 2014· Turkle, 2009). Moreover, students may consider that the simulation
is the reality on a much smaller scale (Chalkia, 2008). Such a belief can make students
believe that the simulation has the ability to accurately reflect the reality and that, since
they can alter the variables of the simulation (Komis et al., 2011: 120), they can therefore
control and possibly reconstruct the real, natural data (Vratsalis, 2002). By focusing on
the identification of variables and the relationships created between them, the student is
disoriented from the educational purpose and fails to construct the concept of the
simulation model as an exploratory learning tool (Soulios & Psillos, 2013). Under these
circumstances, the student identifies the real object with the object of knowledge
(namely, the simulated object that is processed by the student). The simulation model
ends up in being the real object-target of knowledge that is simulated and constitutes
the main scheme of the formed experience (Baudrillard, 1983: 149· Dunnington, 2014:
16· Chalkia, 2008: 165). Thus, the process of acquiring knowledge is hindered, since
students have difficulty in accurately interpreting and evaluating the various
simulation models presented to them (Kuriakopoulou & Vosniadou, 2013). The result of
this process for students is the difficulty in understanding, the superficial
comprehension which also disorientates the teacher, as they think that the student has
acquired the required knowledge, and the creation of misconceptions which do not
correspond to objective reality (Mnguni, 2014). In the long run, the student
consequently goes away from real knowledge; the simulation model is established in
the individual’s perception as a “fait accompli” (Turkle, 2009).
However, the simulation is ultimately just one the more reliable and
approximate to reality- controlled representation of the real object to which students
have to focus (Eskrootchi & Oskrochi, 2010· Husain, 2010· Kalkanis, 2010· Chalkia, 2008).
Simulations simplify reality as much as possible, omitting or changing details of the real
object (Husain, 2010: 3). This is obviously the case, because we necessarily have to focus
pupils’ attention on some key concepts of the knowledge, which we want them to
Stefanopoulou Sofia, Kechagias Christos-Thomas
IMPROVING THE EDUCATIONAL PRACTICE USING SIMULATIONS IN SCIENCE EDUCATION:
THE CONTRIBUTION OF ALTHUSSER’S THEORY ON THE COGNITIVE PROCEDURE
European Journal of Education Studies - Volume 4 Issue 3 2018 67
acquire and are clearly and adequately presented (i.e. as a “good condition”
ii
) in the
simulation model. Yet, while the fidelity of human body simulations has increased
significantly (Zygogianni et al., 2012), the complexity and authenticity of human
reactions that are qualitatively different from the simulation system cannot be
presented totally and reliably (Turkle, 2009 in Dunnington, 2014). The manipulations
the student can make on the simulated human body and the representation of its
reactions are subject to mathematical laws; they are the product of predetermined and
mechanical feedback and they do not correspond sufficiently to the more unpredictable
and demanding reality (Dunnington, 2014· McKinney, 1997: 600). Automatized
reactions reduce the sensitivity and flexibility required so that the simulation model
corresponds to reality (Waks, 2001). In addition, when students handle the variables of
the simulation model, they manipulate the model itself and the “potential” world it
contains, but not the real object (Komis et al., 2011: 120· McKinney, 1997: 600). The fact
that a simulation may not accurately describe the situation studied (and this is logical
because reality is always at least a bit short) and that no simulation model can be totally
concise (Komis, 2004· Komis et al., 2011) should be taken into account by the teacher
who has to try various methods in order to inform students about the nature of the
simulation, so as to avoid confusion with the reality (Mikropoulos, 2011: 291).
According to Batens (1996: 220), the place of interest in the educational procedure
is the mental process the student followed to get to a certain result. This mental process
is of major importance (Tzani & Kechagias, 2009: 37), because only if we understand it,
we will approach the personal knowledge construction of the individual, to which we
will aim in order to achieve the desirable cognitive change (Chalkia, 2008).
Furthermore, if students come to understand their own learning process, then they
develop their metacognitive skills, and therefore they are introduced in the learning
pillar of “learning how to learn” (Tzani & Kechagias, 2009: 41). Thus, we cannot justify
(and evaluate) the cognitive process based on the result produced; in contrast, we
should justify the outcome, looking back on the cognitive process.
However, what kind of knowledge is constructed when during the cognitive
process there is a misidentification of the individual and what kind of results in their
perception of reality, thus what kind of relationships do individuals finally build when
they have embraced this distorted perception of reality (Baudrillard, 1983· Dunnington,
2014: 17)? If students perceives the simulation as an absolute reflection of real object
(surreal, according to Baudrillard, 1983), that is, as if seeing the real one, it is possible
that any desire to approach the real object of knowledge during life course be reduced,
because they consider they have acquired it through the presented simulation. It is also
equally likely that the student form misconceptions for the real object of knowledge
and, especially, for these features that were not of great importance in the lesson,
because they were not key-concepts so as to understand the phenomenon (Chalkia,
2008: 166). In this case, the teacher and the student have to look back on the cognitive
ii
Kechagias C., 2016.
Stefanopoulou Sofia, Kechagias Christos-Thomas
IMPROVING THE EDUCATIONAL PRACTICE USING SIMULATIONS IN SCIENCE EDUCATION:
THE CONTRIBUTION OF ALTHUSSER’S THEORY ON THE COGNITIVE PROCEDURE
European Journal of Education Studies - Volume 4 Issue 3 2018 68
process that the second one followed in order to reflect on the ways the simulation
relates to reality.
The learning procedure is not just a mental process where the individual
processes their original ideas, based on reality, and aims at the conceptual formation of
this reality. On the contrary, the learning process involves an increased degree of
complexity displaying the “production of the object of knowledge” (Vratsalis, 2002), the
building of communication relations between individuals and material learning objects
as well as the redefinition of the individual itself after the production of new knowledge
and the adoption of new ideas that differentiate the individual’s cognitive state from its
previous one. Therefore, the subjective perception of the individual as a complex
biopsychosocial system (Mylonakou & Kekes, 2011)- is co-transformed by the
communication relations that develops with the other individuals who possess the
knowledge and the other elements of the learning environment each time (Batens,
1996). The individual generates the required knowledge but also produces social
relations that inevitably determine it in a way unique (Charlot, 1999˙ Vratsalis, 2002).
The fact that we do not perceive reality –in our case, what is said to be the “real object”
is the simulation- all in the same way creates this momentum in the cognitive process
(Batens, 1996).
Finally, according to the categorization of kinds of mixed” reality by
Mylonakou & Kekes (2011: 308), we could say that the computer simulation models
belong in the category of absolute “virtuality”, where “physical reality assigns its place
to a fictitious state” in which the student-user submerges. That is, simulation models
posses a potential (virtual) character, since they are placed within a “potential”
environment. In the light of a historical-philosophical approach, we could say that the
nature of the simulation models is closely linked to the Aristotelian but also the exactly
opposite Platonic approach concerning the representation of the reality (Dunnington,
2014: 16· Mylonakou & Kekes, 2011). Just like in the Platonic myth of the cave, as in the
context of a simulation model, students can plunge into an adequate and misleading
reality experience, whereas they actually experience the reflection of the reality
(Dunnington, 2014: 16). On the contrary, Aristotle’s
iii
point of view is that the
representation is an absolute expression of the process of mimesis, which leads to the
acquisition of the true knowledge and experience of the reality (Dunnington, 2014: 16).
2.4 Suggestions for an effective educational procedure in the use of computer
simulations in Science Teaching/Education
It is evident from the above that the design of suitable dynamic computer simulations
can only be carried out by examining closely the knowledge process that takes place in
human mind (Chandler, 2004). Research has shown that an overly interactive
environment can ultimately be dissuasive for the learner because the cognitive load that
needs to be acquired is too much (for working memory and as well as the transport and
iii
The Aristotelian approach is the main philosophical influence that led to the creation of simulation models
(Dunnington, 2014: 16).
Stefanopoulou Sofia, Kechagias Christos-Thomas
IMPROVING THE EDUCATIONAL PRACTICE USING SIMULATIONS IN SCIENCE EDUCATION:
THE CONTRIBUTION OF ALTHUSSER’S THEORY ON THE COGNITIVE PROCEDURE
European Journal of Education Studies - Volume 4 Issue 3 2018 69
storage of information in the long-term memory). Thus, when selecting a simulation to
be utilized in the classroom, the teacher should consider whether it meets the following
conditions (Chandler, 2004):
having a specific target, a skill the student needs to acquire
taking into account the student’s previous knowledge and build on it gradually
enabling the user to control the amount of information (cognitive load), being
flexible
taking into account the normal limitations of working memory (Crapo et al.,
2000), especially for students with weak working memory (Papadatou-Pastou,
2015)
taking into account and integrating the findings and research data of cognitive
psychology, according to which computer simulations in the classroom are
suggested to be used in combination with other teaching methods and
educational tools. A starting point for this should be the need to develop critical
skills and the ability to understand the reality, with the ultimate goal of holistic
approach to knowledge through a dynamically evolving cognitive process (Tzani
& Kechagias, 2009: 41).
Of course, we do not claim that the use of simulations in the educational
procedure and, especially in Science Education, has no benefits for students. Instead, we
argue that their utilization can enrich traditional teaching (Thisgaard & Makransky,
2017· Rutten, van Joolingen, & van der Veen, 2012) and bring on better learning
outcomes (Akpan, 2001· Dunnington, 2014: 19) and a better understanding of reality,
helping students to overcome their cognitive barriers and change constructively their
misconceptions (Jimoyiannis & Komis, 2000), as long as their role, purpose and nature
are determined and their use is clarified to students from the beginning in order to
avoid misunderstandings (Kokkotas, 2004). In particular, students’ interaction with
simulations regarding complex phenomena may reveal any misconceptions and
misbelieves created and, thus, multiply the opportunities to modify and cope with these
misconceptions (Jacobson & Wilensky, 2009· Rutten et al., 2012). Therefore, the teacher
has to focus on students’ epistemological awareness of simulation models (Dunnington,
2014· Snir, Smith & Grosslight, 1993· Soulios & Psillos, 2013).
The comprehension of a phenomenon can be supported by simulation models
(e.g. the microcosm model for teaching the concept of matter, see Gkikopoulou et al.,
2016), provided that the teacher explains to students that each model and every
simulation is characterized by some conventions, such as the fact that it does not fully
reflect reality; it simply approaches it in a much more complete way than the use of
traditional methods such as static representations, and that it is an effective method in
order to develop their critical skills (Chalkia, 2008· Soulios & Psillos, 2013). Science
Education can be substantially supported when the teacher uses simulations as
educational equipment or as a means of verification of a phenomenon the class is
studying, allowing for additional interaction with the teacher and direct feedback
(Komis, 2004). The use of a single educational medium for the study of a variety of
different phenomena is not a one-way course: depending on the phenomenon being
Stefanopoulou Sofia, Kechagias Christos-Thomas
IMPROVING THE EDUCATIONAL PRACTICE USING SIMULATIONS IN SCIENCE EDUCATION:
THE CONTRIBUTION OF ALTHUSSER’S THEORY ON THE COGNITIVE PROCEDURE
European Journal of Education Studies - Volume 4 Issue 3 2018 70
studied, the simulation might or may be the appropriate or inappropriate way for its
investigation (Komis, ibid).
Educational computer simulations should not replace or substitute direct
observation of the reality and experimentation, where possible (Eskrootchi & Oskrochi,
2010: 243· Kalkanis, 2010· McKinney, 1997· Tzani & Kechagias, 2009: 42). Simulation
models are not the actual “real objects” we want to know but only the means to come
closer to them so that we can study them thoroughly (Chalkia, 2008). The way scientists
perceive models is very different from the way models are perceived by students, who
have not yet developed totally their ability to visualize abstract concepts; students -due
to age and maturation- think more statically and concretely, while they have not yet
developed their critical skill so as to evaluate alternative approaches (Dunnington, 2014:
18). That’s why children possess alternative ideas (misconceptions) concerning natural
phenomena that are inconsistent with scientific principles and current scientific
knowledge (Jimoyiannis & Komis, 2000). Children sometimes ignore the feasibility of a
simulation namely, the fact that it serves the human need for discovery- and the
probability of reversion and change of the simulation model if new research data arise
or even the possibility of simultaneous existence of two different models for the same
phenomenon due to different views within the scientific community (Chalkia, 2008·
Kuriakopoulou & Vosniadou, 2013· Soulios & Psillos, 2013).
Teachers have reevaluated their role so as to continue to constitute an
irreplaceable factor in the educational process (Tzani & Kechagias, 2009). Consequently,
teachers have to ensure that they do not put their faith in only the use of computer
simulations for effective teaching and learning (Eskrootchi & Oskrochi, 2010). On the
contrary, they have to utilize them logically with certain educational purposes,
designing structured students’ interactions (Eskrootchi & Oskrochi, 2010) and also
utilizing other various educational media and teaching methods to ensure that
knowledge is acquired by the students and to get as closer as possible to reality (e.g.
through experiments, see Kokkotas, 2004).
The clear description of a natural phenomenon or a process is more familiar to
the student when the teacher has the ability to approach gradually the issue of Science
the classroom is studying without having set from the beginning as an 100% positive
answers to everything” (Batens, 1996), because not all the students have the same
starting points concerning their conceptions or misconceptions (Chalkia, 2008).
Contrarily, it is suggested that the teacher use a variety of frames and media so as the
students get to the desirable educational goal and the knowledge is not fragmentary
and detached from reality (Dunnington, 2014: 20). In this way, the clarity and
preciseness as regards to the explanation and the mental representation of a
phenomenon are increased. Additionally, the teacher can incorporate in the educational
procedure hands-on activities which offer direct feedback in relation to the learning
outcome (Chandler, 2004). The incorporation of hands-on activities keeps up to the
need of experiential learning which has to be enhanced (Stefanopoulou, Tsatiri,
Koumzis, 2017: 47) in all school lessons. During the use of simulations, the teacher
Stefanopoulou Sofia, Kechagias Christos-Thomas
IMPROVING THE EDUCATIONAL PRACTICE USING SIMULATIONS IN SCIENCE EDUCATION:
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European Journal of Education Studies - Volume 4 Issue 3 2018 71
could become the facilitator who encourages the constant effort of the student to get a
little bit closer to the real knowledge (Tzani & Kechagias, 2009: 36).
Furthermore, the teacher has to ensure that students have adequately
understood the differentiation between:
a) objective reality (“real object” according to Althusser’s theory);
b) simulation that seems to incarnate the “real object” (reproduction or
representation) but by all means it is not, it just approaches it;
c) conceptual framework with which we result in constructing so as to reach true
knowledge (cognitive procedure according to Althusser’s theory).
In the end, what is qualified concerning the learning outcome is that the students
have appropriate experiences in order to build concepts rather than just the use of
computer simulation (Soulios & Psillos, 2013). That is, the production of substantial
learning experience is not due to the simulation itself but due to the critical and
analytical thinking, the advent of cognitive conflict in students’ minds and the
discussion guided by the teacher who uses the appropriate teaching questions
(Chandler, 2004). In order to surpass the reservations regarding the uses of computer
simulations in Science Education, the teacher may take into account the guidelines
proposed in the international literature concerning their effective use (Chalkia, 2008·
Kiriakopoulou & Vosniadou, 2013· Soulios & Psillos, 2013):
emphasis on the limitations of the simulation model used in the classroom
a holistic approach to knowledge
enhancement of students’ ability to reflect on different scientific beliefs about the
same phenomenon or the same situation
utilization of the historic-genetic method in Science Teaching
conscious development of reflective and metacognitive skills of students
According to the above, it is suggested that the teacher should pay particular
attention during the educational procedure in teaching the “strengths and weaknesses”
of the simulation model used when pupils study a natural phenomenon (McKinney,
1997: 599· Soulios & Psillos, 2013: 724· Turkle, 2009). Epistemologically informing
students about the limitations as well as the perspectives of the simulation model will
help them fully understand that the simulation simply duplicates reality and is not
identical to it. In addition, the use of various and/or alternative models, each of which
presents and focuses on different aspects of the same phenomenon, reflects the holistic
approach of the knowledge we want students to acquire and enables them to address
the whole issue under study (McKinney, 1997: 599). The integration of the historic-
genetic method during Science Teaching involves the contact of students with the
development and evolution of all theories, interpretations or mental models (simulated
or not) that are proposed to date so as to explain a phenomenon (Soulios & Psillos,
2013). More specifically, the utilization of History of Science in Science Teaching has
already given positive results so that students achieve the learning objectives and be
aware of the fact that a scientifically acceptable theory about a natural phenomenon is
apt to change if new research data that overturn the older scientific assumptions arise
(Bliss, 1994· Skordoulis, 2008). In conclusion, the teaching methods concerning the
Stefanopoulou Sofia, Kechagias Christos-Thomas
IMPROVING THE EDUCATIONAL PRACTICE USING SIMULATIONS IN SCIENCE EDUCATION:
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European Journal of Education Studies - Volume 4 Issue 3 2018 72
development of metacognition and skills of cognitive regulation of students, for
example the observation and evaluation of the practices used by simulations and are
related to their nature, function and purpose, contribute to the conscious development
of reflective and metacognitive skills (Komis et al., 2011: 122). These metacognitive skills
will also help students to comprehend the theoretical nature of simulations
(Kiriakopoulou & Vosniadou, 2013). Stimuli for the development of metacognitive skills
can be discussions through teaching questions like “How do we know that this is a
good model?” (a model that corresponds adequately the reality), “What if the model
*the Newtonian force laws+ is finally incorrect?” and “Are there alternative competing
models?” (McKinney, 1997: 598). In this way, students develop their critical thinking,
using information from the field of Philosophy of Science and Epistemology
(McKinney, 1997).
3. Discussion
The conjunction of the suggestions for integrating the computer simulations in Science
Teaching with Althusser’s theory as regards to how knowledge is acquired, how it is
subjectivised through the ideas, as well as the possibility to use the research data of the
cognitive information processing (from the field of psychology) can have extraordinary
learning outcomes to the acquisition and construction of knowledge by students in
Science Education. The “production” of the knowledge for the “real object” is radically
separated from the cognitive procedure, since this process is dynamic, potent and
energetic through constant interaction with the individual. Teachers’ contribution is
crucial since they firstly have to intervene during the learning procedure by clearly
distinguishing the simulated model from the “real object”; secondly, they have to
control “what” and “how” students understand contributing in this way in the
clarification of their interpretative approaches. We suggested specific criteria of
utilization (or not) of simulations in the educational procedure, as well as milestones
which can practically help teachers be effective in their educative function in Science
Teaching. In order to actually achieve a substantial educational outcome, we have to
take into consideration many further elements, as there is a need for an appropriate
content regulation and adaptation to the cognitive ability of students of each class,
appropriate teacher training and careful designation of a program that will give clear
directions through structured, creative and critical activities that will frame the
simulation techniques used in the classroom.
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... Recent research reveal that pre-service and in-service science teachers are not informed about the cultural component of science (Brush, 1989;Stefanidou & Skordoulis, 2014), while they adopt a positivistic view that permeates science curricula as a result of the influence of philosophical positivism (DeBoer, 1991). Science teachers' difficulty to perceive science philosophically (Stefanopoulou & Kechagias, 2018) and their tendency to use a rather empiricist reasoning is also mentioned (Abd-El-Khalick & Lederman, 2000). ...
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