CREATIVE LEARNING IN THE CONTEXT OF ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATION NETWORKS
Patarakin Evgeny D.
Published: Collected research articles, Bulletin of Russian Communication Association "THEORY OF COMMUNICATION AND APPLIED COMMUNICATION", Issue 1 / Edited by I.N. Rozina, Rostov-on-Don: Institute of Management, Business and Law Publishing, 2002. - 168 p. P. 79-88
This paper presents and discusses creativity and creative learning in the context of four main theses:
- Modern time demands more creative persons;
- Thinking and learning are closely linked with a creative function of communication;
- A key question in the analysis of communicational tools: is it possible for students to create new meaning and shared it the common space (newspaper, network, CD).
This paper has considered the ideas of creativity and creative learning mediated by electronic networks in the context of these theses. In exploring this further, illustrative examples of the implementation of specific electronic networked projects in the Russian context were presented.
The process of creativity is an integral part of human interaction with social and ecological systems. Interestingly, the speed of social evolution has soared over the past decades. Cultural character itself has changed greatly as a result. The process of scientific data accumulation, inventive activity, and the speed of elaboration of new technological approaches have quickened. The world has entered a new stage of its evolution where cultural phenomena are regarded as a process of communication and knowledge acquisition. The fact that scientific work and creativity are no longer possible without considerable changes in the ways of communication and thinking was made evident in the works of the founders of the cybernetics movement toward the middle of the last century. Bush describes new possible way of thinking with the help mechanical aids [Bush V. 1945].
According to Flusser new digital technology may freed our brain for more creative tasks and we may expect a varitable explosion of human creativity, once we have freed ourselves from all mechanizable aspects of thinking [Flusser V. 1988]
Turchin sees creativity as a metasystem transition and also hope that machine transfer human activity to a new creative level. [Turchin V., 1993]
Since the beginning of the 1990s, the discussion of social consequences of the development of media became of relevance due to the appearance of the world wide web, a networked communication system creating the possibility for exchanging and generating knowledge by people throughout the world. As social processes for growth and development have changed in response to the advent of an increasingly complex and ubiquitous role of technology in social systems, new challenges and opportunities have arisen for creative interaction with a changing world.
Recognizing the dynamic and networked nature of the modern society, researchers are considering a number of different ways in which the social ecology can be represented and understood in a systemic manner. One such framework presents the human society as a single whole superorganism [Heylighen F. & Bollen J., 1996]. In this context, society can be thought of as resembling a complex organism, comprised of cells, organs, and tissues. Within such a superorganism, social organs and cells are functionally autonomous, but they are intimately integrated into a self-regulated network. Organizations and individuals are thus increasingly dependent on the social environment. This new lifestyle demands more independence, responsibility, and creativity. The situation requires a person with a highly developed and highly flexible disposition toward creativity and creative increase. Formal education systems throughout the world are now charged with an integral role in the development of members of society who have such a creative disposition. As such, it is the role of education to support the development of the creative mind, and to enable the development of the critical skills and desires to creatively engage with an increasingly complex and networked society. Most changes in the goals and values of modern education are linked with the development of a creative individual who is willing and able to constructively interact with members of networked groups. Nowadays, successful creativity - where it is defined as the activity of producing new, unique and effective results - is rarely possible outside of the context of networked communities that use telecommunications and involve intellectual agents providing an opportunity for creativity on a higher level.
Creativity and learning as a parts of communication
A simplest act of communication is usually described like a model of information delivery from the sender to a recipient [Jakobson R., 1964]. In this model, the process of communication supposes that the sender and the recipient use the same code (symbol systems), and that all interference is regarded as negative, and that text of message have only one function - a transmission of meaning. According to Estonian semiologist Y. Lotman [Lotman Y. 1977] a text has not only the function of transmission of its meaning. Reflecting on the conditions necessary for creativity, Lotman generated the idea of a cybernetic model [Lotman Y. 1988]. Within the framework of this model, creative perception is seen as an intellectual tool, able to produce new messages and new meanings. Messages are reckoned as new if there were no possible ways to deduce them with the help of an algorithm given in another message. From this perspective, the classical communication model where the text T1 is transmitted through the code K to the text T2, does not give way to creativity.An adequate, literal translation within an act of communication between two different people speaking a natural language is not possible just if they have used the same language. Such a situation proposes that both people use the same code. But this is impossible because they have different history, different experience of life.
In the situation of artistic translation, the translator and the reader (the sender/transmitter and the recipient) use related but not identical codes K1 and K2. In a real situation, any communication does not only have to communicate the meaning intended by the sender, but it must also generate new knowledge. The sender has a set of codes k1, k2, ..., kn, each of them being a complex range of tools, engendering a variety of texts which are more or less appropriate to the original intent of communication.
For Lotman, the "truly" act of cultural communication is not a simple transmission, but a translation of some text from language of my "I" to language of your "You" [Lotman Y. 1977]. Lotman shows that even when talking to ourselves, taking notes, or writing in a diary, we have a dual orientation. It is in fact this dual orientation that helps us to clarify what we mean. According to Lotman any thinking device with only one language is impossible.
Lotman's model regards creativity and sense-formation as a phenomenon of communication; it proposes that the process of translating from one genre to another and from one area of expertise to another generates a very fruitful knowledge increase. Within the framework of this model different types of human thought (resulting from the generating of different meanings in the interpretation of communication) are seen as an integral source of cultural evolution.
As we consider that any text not only communicates information but also has a creative function, we may distinguish two types of education:
Education as information transmission/communication activity. In this case a considerable amount of attention is paid to adequate translation and narration of information acquired by students. Every modification of the information is regarded as distortion.
Education as creative translation. The student's ability to make new contents out of original text is highly regarded and central to the purpose of the learning process. It must be emphasis battery of codes k1, k2, ..., kn, each of them being a complex range of tools, either individual, or related to education.
Theorists and researchers in the areas of human development and learning have often recognized the key role of communication in the development of the human personality. Lev Vygotsky mentioned that we remain ourselves with the help of others, showing them what we have, first of all our ability to creatively translate information obtained from outward things by available methods [Vygotsky, L.S. 1962].
This perspective of education as creativity - where the focus is on cognition and the building of thought structures - emphasizes the role of creative learning. The literature in educational research provides examples that evidence creative translation as a ubiquitous and integral aspect of meaningful learning. Most noteworthy is Perkins' approach, where knowledge is regarded as design [Perkins, D. N. 1986]. Perkins asserts that meaningful learning comes about by penetrating deep within the essentials of knowledge, translating that knowledge into one's own notions, and present the understanding to others.
It is vital for humans to not only consume information but to be actively involved in an activity and to reap the fruits of their labor. This necessity was noticed by Henri Laborit [Laborit H., 1974] in his model of a semiotic bubble surrounding everyone as a personal semioshere. When people are drawn into the worldwide communication space, their consumption sphere widens, but the sphere where they can successfully perform creative operations shrinks.
A work by Ivan Illich is wholly devoted to proving the necessity of convivial tools. According to Illich, people need to have an opportunity to use tools in the way they choose to, and to transform these tools according to their tastes and needs. Illich refers to this as conviviality.
Consider radio, cinema, telephone and television as examples of the conviviality of different kinds of media. Within the framework of Illich's classification the telephone will be more convivial than the radio. It is always difficult to foresee consequences of choice of that or this community support tool. On their own these tools could be used for good or evil purposes. Illich developed the principles of construction of a learning web, and detailed the resources that are necessary for its functioning. Analyzing the construction of dataways in Mexico, he flayed state investments in public television channels. It would be possible to organize for a much less sum of money a system of training cassettes recording in regional centers. Rural population could exchange videocassettes and in that way maintain local learning network, which would be much more efficient than the centralized one. A few years later Jean Baudrillard described a real system of videotapes exchange similar to that conceived by Illich as an example of telecommunication project failure [Baudrillard, J. 1994]. Propagation of knowledge about rational land tenure in arid regions was planned within the framework of this project. Videotapes were used as a basic method. All the participants of the projects got video recorders. The local mafia immediately took advantage of the opportunity to open a new market and began to use the network for spreading videotapes with obscene contents. This example confirms the "conviviality" of the means, everyone could use it in the way one liked.
The first attempts to analyze the pedagogical value of media within an educational network were made by Celestin Freinet, who developed and organized a school press network where learners shared their texts and pictures [Freinet C. 1949]. To make learners elaborate their own language for communication with other people, Freinet proposed the use of the communicational potential of music records, photographs, phone calls, radio, films, and television broadcasts. Freinet paid particular attention to the ways a tool could be used for presentation of information, rather than for the reception of information. There is a key question in his analysis of communicational tools: is possible for students to create new message with the help of this tool and present this message in the school press network. According to Freinet a typewriter, a tape recorder, or a camcorder are valuable tools for students' independent research and creativity. With the help of a tape recorder, for example, learners can independently record voices of their classmates. Interestingly, radio and cinema do not meet Freinet's requirements, because in his time they do not allow students to work on their own and there was no ways to converge such different medias within framework of the common shared space toward the middle of the last century.
The development of telecommunications provided a common platform for human interaction. Computers and computer networks integrate all possible kinds of media. Modern computer tools allow for the integration of a number of different techniques for creativity and expression within the context of a single project. These technologies easily facilitate the integration of texts, graphic, animation, sounds and video. Furthermore, a multimedia network project is able to integrate numerous activities not related to computers, such as dance, performance, and artistic modeling. While the notion of multimedia does not often extend beyond the framework of the computer, such activities can also become important elements and expressive tools of a creative project.
Case studies of creative networked learning projects
Creative network projects support those types of joint student activity in which the goal is the creation of a new common electronic object, such as a multimedia presentation or common web-site. The rules of the contests framed around creative network projects (ThinkQuest and Virtual Classroom as examples) will often include a list of conditions such as:
- the members of a team should be students of different schools and cities;
- communication between the members of the teams takes place via the Internet or via the Intranet;
- the result of the team work is a new product which is subsequently placed on the shared computer space (Internet) or shared web-space (Internet).To illustrate this further, let us consider the case study of the building of hypermedia conceptions in children in a summer computer school program in 1990. This will serve as a good context for the comparison of the creative potential of different environments. During the summer school program, students worked in LogoWriter - a special microworld environment. The inner structure of the microworld is described at length elsewhere [Patarakin E., Travina L., 1994] In the context of this article we are interested in the application of the microworld to the children's efforts at translation from plain narrative text into animated cartoon films. Working inside this environment, each student was responsible for constructing a story about one of the characters in the microworld. In advance, it was mentioned to students that the characters being developed by other students would have an opportunity to visit the web-pages each student was developing on their assigned character. Through the initial implementation of this activity it was found that students developed more interesting and profound content on their LogoWriter pages at those instances when other characters from the microworlds were mentioned. On the other hand, in the instances where the LogoWriter page was dedicated to only the description on the assigned character - without connection to other characters - the LogoWriter pages tended to result in a kind of deadlock with no way out. Later on, students' attitude to texts changed. Each participant tried to make his or her story more rich by integrating contents of the common project. As a result, students became more attentive to their peers' activities.
A theatrical project "Prince Arthur's Horse" is an interesting example of this extended notion of multimedia within the context of creative networked projects. This project took place in Pereslavl-Zalessky in 1991. It is an example of integration and possibility of subsequent translation from one expressive tool to another. 16 students between the ages of 8 and 14 years participated in the project. The students in this project organized a theatrical community that created and performed plays. Each of the students chose a role that he or she would like to play in the production. Next, the students each described his or her hero. Every character chosen by the students had to be connected with other characters in the production. The intrigue and interest of the students built before their very eyes as they defined and described their roles. The process took place as follows:
- "I will play the part of the prince Arthur" said the first student.
- "I will play the king, his father" responded the next student.
- The next students added "I will be the king of a hostile kingdom"
That was a role chat where separate dialogues were mediated by computer program "talk". The dialogues were subsequently transformed to actions and illustrated with computer scenery. In the process, the scenario was assembled in the Quide environment and transformed to multimedia format. Multimedia presentation mechanisms were used as decoration of the stage where the creators of the performance played. Thus, text, graphics and multimedia were transformed to a new genre .
Each participant was asked to range all the characters with the assistance of a computer version of the Repertory Greed Test. The students were told to complete this activity by looking at the world through the eyes of the characters that they played in the performance. These models are much more open for discussions, and they are more personal since the students were not responsible for their choice.
Thus, within the framework of one learning project we could see a number of passages from one expressive tool to another.
A next example of the creative learning application is the summer computer schools teaching projects [Patarakin E. 1993]. In these projects, students created animation programs illustrating things such as the behavior of ants of the origin of Japanese hieroglyphics. Through these activities, students not only mastered new tools; they were continuously engaged in negotiating their understanding of the subject matter.
In particular, it should be noted that network contests suppose only two ways of communication between the members of a team.To share information, the participants can use electronic mail, chat rooms, and dedicated chat programs such as ICQ. However, in the course of international projects, especially those where participants do not share a common language, communication is based on changes that are made by participants on the shared computer-space.
The project "Our common island" (Virtual Classroom Contest'98) is an example of multipass translation. Within the framework of the project, students of an elementary school of Pereslavl constructed a web-site together with students in the United States and Japan. The goal of the project was to populate an empty island according to a legend (key) that was provided. It is noteworthy that the students didn't speak each other's language, nor did they share a common language for communication, and couldn't therefore efficiently communicate though emails.
The creative learning process that took place as a result of these conditions is worthwhile considering in more detail. After American and Japanese students decorated their island with photos of plants and animals from their homeland, the Russian participants used the pictures that had been added to the project to make paintbrushes for the graphics editor Gimp so that all the participants could draw with the help of new tools. Working on the project, children did not limit their exchange to messages, images, and animated graphics. They also shared, for example, different artistic techniques. To make inhabitants of the island, Russian children scanned their drawings and made collages of different vegetables. When the Japanese students put animals on the island by using the same artistic techniques, we understood that we had been working with real partners. A similar technique of passage from plain text to drawings, from drawings to sculpture, from sculpture to digital pictures and animation was used in the project "Ten" (1994-1996). The participants created animals to form a stable community in a limited space - an island, a desk, or a computer screen. The children used written texts, watercolors, clay models, photos, computer graphics and animations in the LogoWriter environment. The main idea of Project-10 is to create a community of imaginary animals. The students are learning to work with different media and to develop a better understanding of the biological properties of living creatures. Through creative activities children acquire basic notions of ecological balance and intricate interconnections between different species. Every participant has done the following:
- he or she drew an imaginary living organism (plant or animal);
- made a plasticine sculpture of the animal or plant ;
- wrote a story about the relations between the different non-existent species.
Another project "Takeda San's Letters" was carried out in 1995. In this project Russian, English and Japanese languages were. Takeda San corresponded with Russian students. In his letters he told them that he had been in Soviet captivity for several years. His letters were written in English and were translated into Russian. The project supported the communication between people of different ages, nationalities and attitudes toward war. Common ground and creativeness appeared when children drew pictures to illustrate Takeda's stories. The project was not one of an exclusively informative nature, because students did not only read letters and ask questions through an interpreter. Instead, they reflected on the information they were learning, and expressed their interpretations and reactions through artistic expression. Most of the pictures were made with pencils and watercolors and were scanned onto a web site. Thus, the project was not a translation from Japanese into Russian but a passage from plain text to graphics and computer graphics and a common multimedia web-site.
The project "Granny's Tales" (Virtual Classroom Contest '99) was devoted to enabling cooperation and mutual understanding of people separated by time rather than by distance. Pupils of elementary schools from Russia, USA and Japan got photos and stories from their grandparents, and used these an input for drawing computer pictures and cartoons to illustrate the stories. Texts, photos, students' drawings and animation were transformed to a multimedia format to give a sense of wholeness within the community of participants. The joint Russian-Irish project on foreign language learning [O'Laoghaire O, Patarakin E., 1996] didn't follow the framework of the projects described above. Instead of translating text to graphics, students in this project translated maps to text, and then the text back to maps again, thereby collaborating on a creative activity for sharing and generating new knowledge and understandings. Learners were involved in translating news and stories received from their partners (located in the other country) and in filling a schematic map of their partners' city with new details.
An interesting illustrative project with passages from one genre to another in the context of dance is the joint French-Russian project IMUTE (1997). While the initial phases of this project were carried out through an electronic network, the completion of the project took place on the stage of an Italian theatre. The rehearsals for the production resembled a structure of a "samba school" as described by Papert [Papert S., 1980] as the most indicative model of future learning communities. It is important to note that a community built in terms of dance has a definite purpose. Communication in the community takes place in order to achieve a common goal - the goal being a successful performance. Within the framework of a learning project the very dance technique makes participants dispose themselves to a more convivial way of communication, which exerts influence upon their interaction. The classes and training sessions with professional dancer Kitsou Dubois in the course of the project IMUTE are very illustrative of this phenomenon. Trainings were organized for all the participants in the project, irrespective of their role and functions within the production. The classes contributed to the creation of further mutual understanding and successful cooperation among the members of the network. Permanent dance, control on robots, video fragments, computer graphics, network dialogues, and chats were part of the stage and environment during the performance.
The project "Network and Internet Projects for Summer Schools 2000" focused on regional ecology and culture. The projects were conducted in different forms. The participants of the project "Springs and Rivers" (which took place in Pereslavl and Mikhalenino), didn't limit themselves to exploring the rites and customs related to the local rivers and springs. Instead, the participants also carried out descriptive activities and research work. As a result of their work, they made a web site representing photos and descriptions of rivers and brooks of Pereslavl region. The activities of the same summer school program in Gorintsy can be likened to a film shooting program where children and adults made an ecological and ethnographical slide-film. Young explorers didn't only make their film, they also sang for the inhabitants of the village. A digital movie was the result of their expedition. The project conducted in Staraya Pustyn is of interest, too, as it was a unique experience in which the metaphor of theatrical production merged together with the process of conducting research. In this project, students had to confirm or disprove the hypothesis that there were "active spirits" around the biological station. In doing so, the students conducted research work by gathering information about the Svyato lake, surveying the region day and night, and by drawing up schemes, tables, graphs, and reports. Interestingly, every new school that became involved in the project started their work with the analysis of the results that had been completed by the previous group. As such, the activities of all the groups was focused on the translation of prior findings into a new form, thereby constantly creating new knowledge and understandings by building on the achievements of earlier efforts.
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About the author
Patarakin Evgeny D.
Ph.D. Head of the Laboratory for Communication Studies,
Program Systems Institute RAS,
home page: http://www.osi.nnov.ru/~pat/
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