Collaboration demonstrated a situated cognitive approach to statistics
September 24th, 2008 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I gave a statistics assignment over the past week to my students which challenged them to assimilate most of the course content and explain it in an applied assignment requiring both visual and written interpretation.  Basically, they took their data set that they had generated in a previous assignment, and analyzed it descriptively:  means, medians, modes, standard deviations, interquartiles, box-and-whiskers, and the like.

But this post isn’t about what the students had to do, it’s about my impression of how they did it.  I received many emails from students expressing how they worked hard, collaboratively.  Together they were able to figure out how to complete the assignment.  They repeatedly told me about the groups that met up together at the University lab, to work, share frustrations, successes and, struggles, and ultimately create tangible products, based on authentic data.

I can’t think of a better example of situated cognition in action.  They were socially constructing knowledge together.  It was in their social interactions that learning took place.  What is interesting, is that they chose to learn this way. 

They were using the authentic tools of the practicing educational researcher:  student achievement data, SPSS software.  Of course, to most, they are new (neophytes) to the field of educational research so they are on a peripheral trajectory to the community of practice. 

Seeing this type of learning in practice makes me think that I must continue to strive to provide cognitive apprenticeship opportunities for the students, both in class, and in the “homework” opportunities to make the experiences as authentic as possible.  I think these homework assignments should represent the most meaningful learning that takes place for the course.  Kind of interesting to consider the role of an “in class test” in a situated learning model.  Doesn’t really fit so well.  But, as most know, a doctoral class in statistics, complete with objective in-class assessments is a right of passage towards the letters that are earned after your name. 

So how do I reconcile the the two? 

  • Make the assessment as authentic as possible. 
  • Use the tools of the community of practice. 
  • Allow students to have the necessary resources to solve problems. 
  • Evaluate on concepts, not isolated facts. 

Any other suggestions?

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