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Hypermedia and improved literacy

Introduction My teaching experience extends over 24 years. For the past 5-7 years, I have been using the Internet to teach Science. My professional experience shows that the students learn science better and more eagerly when hypermedia tools are used. Also, test scores prove that the student’s reading comprehension and creativity improve significantly. However, there was no research to substantiate my direct observations.

This piqued my interest to examine more closely the point of hypermedia resources improving the student’s knowledge of related science concepts within the realm of comprehension. To reinforce my direct observations of students learning in the constructive hypermedia environment, the action research was conducted in the school-based Computer Laboratory. I chose the hypermedia environment of the Discovery Channel “Pompeii: The Last Day” (2006) to evaluate students’ comprehension of Plate Tectonics topic.

My hypothesis was that through this hypermedia learning tool the students would utilize major scientific concepts related to the topic and operate them more freely acknowledging direct links within the specific theme of Plate Tectonics as well as establishing direct and salient conceptual connections with the themes from human history and environmental science. The final assessment involved a creative student-made Power Point project using two or more forms of hypermedia.

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From qualitative observation of students working in the laboratory it was clear that their motivation and enthusiasm in regard to Science highly increased. Besides the result of improved attendance, the hypermedia learning environment produced and outcome of better academic achievement. This paper is formatted into 5 main sections. In the current Introduction I explained my research interests and made a hypothesis. In the Literature Review section the most significant ideas on general comprehension, reading comprehension and hypermedia as an authentic learning environment are discussed.

In the Method section the Discovery Channel “Pompeii: The Last Day” site is analyzed as the research material and the general design framework for the current investigation is clarified. In the Results section the most significant outcomes of the action research are investigated. The final section provides a summary of the research and some implications for further investigation on the matter of the hypermedia environment used as the learning tool to provide the improved students’ comprehension in Science. Literature Review Due to space and time limitations, there is no discussion of the optimal learning environment.

It is agreed here that constructive paradigm (Dewey, 1884, 1916; Vygotsky, 1962, 1978; Piaget, 1955; 1962; Bruner, 1957, 1963, 1996; Jaworski, 1993) explains a student linking his personal and learning experience more easily when the learning goal is clearly defined and may be constructed in the mind of a learner and utilized for his/her practical purposes. Judging from research, hypermedia seems to be a genuinely constructivist learning resource in application to science teaching. As Drumgold et al. stated, hypermedia consisted of “multiple meaning-based symbol systems,” the latter comprised text, graphics, audio, and video clips (2003, p.2).

The aforesaid systems are manipulated and interconnected by hyperconnections, or programmed electronic links. The various elements (text, graphics, audio, and video) create “a powerful electronic environment through which literacy expression can be facilitated” (Drumgold et al. , 2003, p. 2). Riesland based her understanding of hypermedia on the concept of hypertext. The latter is the system of symbols “where the word or media is a link that can be navigated to explore the idea behind the link further” (2005, p. 2). The researcher noted that hypermedia broadened the concept of text adding audio-visual media to the textual one.

In Riesland’s understanding, hypermedia is non-linear in structure and more natural, or multidirectional, in terms of cognitive and explorative processes (ibid. ). There is a large collection of research on the matter of hypermedia being used for teaching and learning purposes. The scholars’ and practitioners’ reactions were generally positive. For example, Ronen & Eliahu (2000, p. 15) underlined that in science education, hypermedia represents “a means for students to use discovery learning” and serves “an alternative to expository instruction or hands-on laboratory exploration” (Gredler, 2004, p.

577). Spicer & Stratford (2001) cited students who solicited quickness and effectiveness of learning through hypermedia tools and environments (p. 351, discussed in Gredler, 2004, p. 577). Recker et al. (1998) stated that hypermedia simulations when teaching science provide “both epistemic (structure of knowledge) fidelity and fidelity of interaction” (p. 134, discussed ibid. ). However, de Jong & van Joolingen (1996) sounded irresolute on the absolute effectiveness of hypermedia resources in the learning environment without traditional linear resources (textbooks) and teacher’s instruction.

The authors pointed out that there is “the high cognitive load imposed on students by learning about implementing the processes of scientific discovery learning while also attempting to learn about a relationship among two variables” (discussed in Gredler, 2004, p. 578). Evidently, they meant that in some cases the hypermedia environment, where no explanations for some basic concepts or variables were given, a student might be at a loss, as if he was trying to solve an equation in two or more unknowns. In scientific discussion, the aforesaid constructive process is usually referred to as literacy, competency or comprehension.

As Pearson & Hamm pointed out with reference to Johnston (1984) and Pearson & Johnson (1978), this phenomenon “can only be assessed, examined, or observed indirectly” (2004, p. 14). Kintsch & Kintsch also underlined that “comprehension is not a single unitary process” (2004, p. 71). We agree here to build our assumptions about students’ literacy or comprehension in an evaluation of science learning within the general theoretical framework of the “schema theory” (Anderson & Pearson, 1984; Rumelhart, 1981).

We also build our hypotheses after the Kintsch & Kintsch’s (2004) three-level model of comprehension comprised of decoding and conceptual construction, constructing of hierarchies within the body of information, and using personal background. To back up the aforestated theoretical model, we also grounded on Dimitroff, Wolfram, and Volz’s (1995) statement that the specifics of a learner’s “mental model” (Kintsch & Kintsch’s first level of comprehension) affects the type of his/her comprehension of a hypertext system which is the basis for hypermedia environment (Orrill et al., 2004, p. 340).

Besides, to research the second level of Kintsch & Kintsch’s model of comprehension in regard to reading, we utilized Shapiro’s (1999) finding that people, when structuring information within the hypermedia environment, adopted the hierarchy eagerly when being provided with it and constructed their own hierarchies when being allowed to progress through the body of information without rigid instruction. However, this is not the question of teaching tools and methods, e.g. intelligent tutoring systems to assist students in the learning process, which should be discussed here.

This is the question of conceptual construction in regard to science which should be performed through hypermedia resources and evaluated within the curriculum framework. Grounding on previous research (Johnston, 1984; Pearson & Johnson, 1978), Pearson & Hamm stated that comprehension “is a phenomenon that can only be assessed, examined, or observed indirectly” (2004, p. 14).

Duke warned about the challenges of “coordinat[ing] different assessments,” as well as “real-time and monetary demands” for educators (2004, p. 101). Despite arguments unreeling in educational community about the best evaluative tool for comprehension in general, reading comprehension in particular, and hypermedia literacy as a separate set of skills, the main ideas of evaluation in regard to any learning environment are still “merit and worth” (Guba & Lincoln, 1981, discussed in Oliver, 2004, p. 120).

In the current testing of our hypothesis about the positive change in students’ comprehension due to the hypermedia environment in regard to science teaching, we have utilized the principles of “action research” (Lewin, 1952; Kemmis, 1996; McNiff, 1988) where “evaluation should not be something done to subjects, but done with participants” (Oliver, 2004, p. 120) in the classroom setting. Within the general paradigm of the action research the preference was given to an experimental design because different conditions (students studying in the hypermedia environment and students learning from non-hypermedia) (Oliver, 2004, p. 132).

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