ATHENS, Ohio -- The World Wide Web and other types of hypermedia offer learning opportunities unavailable in a traditional classroom setting and, when used by students working as a team, allow a pooling of knowledge and enhanced learning, according to a new study of middle school students.
"Ideas and concepts -- whether represented as text, sound or images -- can be linked to related ideas and concepts," said Sandra Turner, professor of education at Ohio University and author of the study. "Different people exploring the same body of information are likely to follow different paths, depending on their interests and objectives."
The research was presented at the Second International Conference on Entertainment-Education and Social Change held in Athens, Ohio May 7-10. The conference was co-hosted by Ohio University and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Hypertext refers to a computer environment in which users can jump around electronically within large amounts of text. Hypermedia extends this concept to include other forms of media, such as pictures, sound, animation and video.
"In print media such as books and magazines, text and pictures are organized sequentially with one topic following another," Turner said. "In hypermedia, information can be organized the way most people think, by association and context."
Turner observed students in a "Hypermedia Zoo," an ongoing curriculum project integrating technology into the science curriculum of a seventh grade science classroom. Over a 10-week period, students spent 45 minutes three times a week working in a Macintosh lab designing research reports about mammals. During the project, the students consulted with each other, sharing information they learned.
"By exploring on their own, the middle school students in this study learned that knowledge gave them prestige among their peers," Turner said. "Knowledge became a commodity to be exchanged and shared. And since that knowledge was fairly evenly distributed among the students, it contributed to their sense of the group as a community of learners."
The exploratory nature of hypermedia enhances learning and empowers students to learn on their own, according to Turner.
"As hypermedia authors, students are empowered to construct their understanding of the content and to communicate it to others. Students become ?novice epistemologists' -- young scientists, young historians -- not simply consumers of the analysis of the work of such people," Turner said. "Learning results from the interactions as students accomplish a meaningful task. The role of the teacher is to assist students in understanding how to conduct research, what constitutes evidence and knowledge, and how to communicate it effectively."
The combination of hypermedia and collaboration among peers produced an enhanced learning environment, according to Turner.
"Design experiences provide students an opportunity to develop complex cognitive skills such as decomposing a topic into subtopics, organizing diverse information and formulating a point of view," Turner said. "And when the teacher explicitly encourages a collaborative environment and becomes a co-learner with students, students not only construct their own understanding, they also learn to take charge of their own learning."
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