Appendix C
Cognitive and Social Foundations of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Fluency

Philip Bell


Since the publication of the Being Fluent with Information Technology report (National Research Council,1999), the importance of the topic has only increased in societal importance—even with the dramatic decline and reconstitution of the associated ICT industries. K–12 schools have continued efforts to expand access to ICT, provide the necessary computer network infrastructure, and engage teachers in relevant professional development and curricular integration activities. Also, research focused on exploring the unique affordances of ICT in formal education settings still seems to be on the rise, as evidenced, in part, by the concentrated focus on ICT in the learning sciences community in terms of research activities and scholarship. And importantly, specific ICTs have become cornerstones of the everyday activities and culture of youth—ICTs have become fully integrated into the texture of their routine daily activities (e.g., Ito, 2004; Lenhart, Rainie and Lewis, 2001).

In this paper I briefly consider two facets of a contemporary understanding of information technology fluency. First, I consider the existing FITness framework from the perspective of the research literature on cognition and learning. Second, I develop what might be considered a new framework dimension consisting of FIT social practices that enable, contribute to, or in some cases fully constitute ICT fluencies in the 21st century.

There seems to be a tension in the Being Fluent report (National Research Council, 1999) related to how FITness was bounded. This tension can perhaps be summarized by two framing questions:



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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary Appendix C Cognitive and Social Foundations of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Fluency Philip Bell Since the publication of the Being Fluent with Information Technology report (National Research Council,1999), the importance of the topic has only increased in societal importance—even with the dramatic decline and reconstitution of the associated ICT industries. K–12 schools have continued efforts to expand access to ICT, provide the necessary computer network infrastructure, and engage teachers in relevant professional development and curricular integration activities. Also, research focused on exploring the unique affordances of ICT in formal education settings still seems to be on the rise, as evidenced, in part, by the concentrated focus on ICT in the learning sciences community in terms of research activities and scholarship. And importantly, specific ICTs have become cornerstones of the everyday activities and culture of youth—ICTs have become fully integrated into the texture of their routine daily activities (e.g., Ito, 2004; Lenhart, Rainie and Lewis, 2001). In this paper I briefly consider two facets of a contemporary understanding of information technology fluency. First, I consider the existing FITness framework from the perspective of the research literature on cognition and learning. Second, I develop what might be considered a new framework dimension consisting of FIT social practices that enable, contribute to, or in some cases fully constitute ICT fluencies in the 21st century. There seems to be a tension in the Being Fluent report (National Research Council, 1999) related to how FITness was bounded. This tension can perhaps be summarized by two framing questions:

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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary What aspects of computer science should citizens understand with regard to ICTs? What understanding of and competencies with ICTs should citizens possess? Although some people may see these as equivalent questions, I take them to be overlapping and somewhat divergent ways of being fluent. I take the second one as being more inclusive of a range of sophisticated everyday activities associated with ICT that do not necessarily connect to an understanding of computer science (e.g., being able to participate in a variety of ICT modes of communication, using ICT to inform personal decisions). In this paper, I consider both frames on FITness to be important, given the set of rationales enumerated in the report and ICT trends in society.1 THE COGNITIVE AND LEARNING FOUNDATIONS OF FITNESS The Being Fluent report presents a tripartite FITness framework consisting of intellectual capabilities, concepts, and skills associated with ICT fluency. To date, the cognitive and learning sciences have only focused on specific segments of the ICT domain. In order to explore select aspects of the cognitive and learning foundations of the FITness framework, I begin by asserting some connections to general principles or characteristics of cognition and learning and then describe some areas of specific research on FITness components. It should be noted that having to rely on general principles is less than ideal; below I also detail a research agenda that would help advance the field. Problem Solving As one might expect, there are many connections to be made between accounts of problem solving and many of the components of FITness—from principled and disciplinary identification and specification of a problem (see Box 2-1, intellectual capabilities #1), to the decomposition of problems and the sequencing of corresponding components of a problem solution (intellectual capabilities #2), and to the broader utility of more abstract domain knowledge (intellectual capabilities #10). It 1 I do see evidence of both fluency frames in the 1999 report, although there is more of the first than of the second. Perhaps it was a natural result of working within the constraints of the 30 components of FITness.

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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary is worth noting that beyond the relevance of these general features of problem solving associated with ICT fluency, many features of ICT expertise involve domain-specific problem solving. For example, the details of quality debugging procedures while programming (cf. intellectual capabilities #4) are best understood through direct empirical studies of programmers rather than relying on general principles. Metacognition, Learning, and Trouble Shooting A broad range of research has highlighted the benefits of metacognition when learning— about concepts and inquiry—and when engaging in problem solving (National Research Council, 2000, for a summary of much of this research). Similar benefits of reflection are referenced in that report with regard to the cultivation of more abstract knowledge about technology. Beyond this one explicit reference, there is likely an important role to be played by metacognition associated with the intellectual capabilities associated with “testing a solution” (see intellectual capabilities #3) and “managing problems in faulty solutions” (intellectual capabilities #4) (e.g., during fault identification as part of troubleshooting; Frederiksen and White, 1998) as well as with the cultivation of technological concepts (cf. the conceptual change in science research of White and Frederiksen, 1998). It is also useful to note the central importance of using a mental model for the system in question during associated reasoning processes. Frederiksen and White (1998) argue for the benefits of functional models in particular, which reveal the device-centered propagation of system effects, to aid in troubleshooting complex technical systems. Organizing, Navigating, and Evaluating Information There is extensive literature on how people process and manage information, and the 1999 report gives a fair amount of attention to the matter (see intellectual capabilities #5 and the section on “information literacy”). Since the publication of the report, learning scientists have continued to document how ICTs can be used in educational settings to support students in disciplinary learning and inquiry. For example, Web-based Inquiry Science Environment (WISE) Project has explored how to support students in important epistemic practices associated with the natural sciences (e.g., forms of scientific argumentation, critique, and design) as they critically engage with scientific information from the Web (Bell and Linn, 2000; see Linn, Davis and Bell, 2004, for a summary of a decade of such research). This project is similar in kind to the Kids as Global Scientists effort discussed in the NRC report. More generally, there are a range of similarly motivated research

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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary projects that have explored such things as scaffolding students’ explanation of complex scientific data sets (Edelson, Gordin, and Pea, 1999; Sandoval and Reiser, 2004) and engaging students in scientific modeling linked to complex data sets over the network (Horowitz, 1996). One aspect of these efforts that sets them apart from “information literacy” approaches to information evaluation has to do with the discipline-specific focus of how students are supported in working with the information at hand—the epistemological criteria used for information and data, the nature of the “theory work” at hand, and the underlying conceptual details that are implicated in the analysis. In other words, one would not want to have students interpret a piece of historical information in the same way as information derived from a scientific experiment (see Stevens, Wineburg, Herrenkohl, and Bell, 2005, for a relevant description of a research agenda associated with developing a comparative understanding of school subjects). FIT Research Priorities My own sense is that there are significant gaps in the FITness literature, especially when one takes a more “whole cloth” approach to understanding the associated learning phenomena— across cognitive, affective, social, and cultural dimensions. This is particularly the case in the context of rapidly evolving technologies. Let me briefly detail one example to highlight this kind of gap. Consider the proliferation of chat and instant messaging technologies in youth cultures over the past 5 years—involving synchronous, multistranded textual exchanges among groups.2 Such exchanges involve arguably new forms of social interaction mediated by specific technological implementations (e.g., intermixed strands of discourse from a variety of participants who may or may not know each other), as well as significant linguistic stylization (see Crystal, 2001). An understanding of the cognitive and learning phenomena at play within such technological environments might consider dimensions of text comprehension, working memory, specialized linguistic registers, novel interactional processes, and related microcultural processes (e.g., establishing participation norms). And, frequently, youth are engaged in chat or IM (instant messaging) activities while “time cycling” with one or more other 2 The National Research Council report makes reference to chat communication technologies, but it is not a central feature of the existing FITness framework relative to its prevalence among youth in the workforce.

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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary activities or parallel communication sessions. It should also be noted that workers are also frequently instant messaging with collaborators these days as constituent parts of larger, collective work efforts. Some of the foundational research of the kind I am describing exists for chat and instant messaging (e.g., Schönfeldt and Golato, 2003), but much remains to be done— especially with appropriate attention given to FITness. With this kind of “whole cloth” orientation, let me discuss a couple of research directions that need to be pursued more systematically. First, many youth communities are vigorously adopting and customizing ICTs for their own purposes (e.g., social networking, multimedia journaling, entertainment). These uses in many cases represent sophisticated and authentic ICT fluency, and we need to directly observe and systematically understand how such activities are accomplished in the naturalistic settings where they occur.. This everyday cognition ICT agenda would allow us to do the following: (a) confirm the ecological validity of specific FITness components; (b) investigate how FITness components are coordinated in action and more generally interrelated; (c) potentially identify important, “missing” components of ICT fluency associated with contemporary fluency with a range of quickly evolving technologies (e.g., blogs, wiki, IM, gaming engines, podcasting); and project domains (e.g., civic engagement, open source development, family communication), and (d) document the learning ecologies associated with sophisticated ICT fluency (see Barron, 2004). A second research priority naturally follows from the products of the first. After documenting the range of ICT fluencies associated with a specific population (e.g., high school students) for a particular kind of project, educational research could then be mounted to learn how to bring such fluencies to broader populations. This sequencing of research should serve to enhance the ecological grounding of educational ICT efforts. A related kind of ecological grounding might also be accomplished by systematically observing students learning about FITness in their projects that take place outside of the bounds of the original course.3 A third research agenda—already enumerated above—might focus on developing a comparative understanding of how ICTs can support 3 Versions of the first two of these research priorities are currently being pursued in the learning in informal and formal environments (LIFE) science of learning center funded by the National Science Foundation: for more details on this effort see http://life-slc.org/ as well as Bransford et al. (in press).

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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary disciplinary-specific learning and accomplishment (e.g., how it can support a student in thinking more like a mathematician versus thinking more like a scientist). FIT SOCIAL PRACTICES The existing FITness framework is predominantly framed around an individual-mentalistic construct of ICT fluency—as evidenced by this quote from the Being Fluent report, (National Research Council, 1999): FITness is a body of knowledge and understanding that enables individuals to use information technology effectively in a variety of different contexts. (p. 40) I believe it is fruitful to leverage the “practice turn” associated with recent research on human learning and development (see Jessor, 1996; Schatzki, Knorr Cetina, and von Savigny, 2001) in order to consider social practices that seem to be important components of FITness. In this section I highlight two candidate social practices documented in sociocultural research on sophisticated ICT use. Taken together, these components can be used to argue for a new framework dimension consisting of FIT social practices that enable, contribute to, or in some cases fully constitute ICT fluencies. Cultivating and Participating in a FIT Learning Community Governed by Shared Norms Associated with Distributed Expertise Solutions to ICT problems sometimes reside in distributed communities—not in the mind of an individual who encounters a given problem. It is an important form of ICT fluency to be able to locate or broker a solution from individuals in such a community. Generally, individuals routinely leverage their social networks to identify useful knowledge and relevant learning resources as part of their day-to-day dealings. For those immersed in what could be characterized as an ICT learning community,4 they may learn about new technological systems and approaches from others in their social network. They consult individuals with different kinds of expertise to aid in solving problems being encountered. Networked forums and other forms of electronic communication allow for these ICT learning communities to be geographically distributed and inclusive of diverse forms of expertise. Simi- 4 An ICT learning community can be considered a specialized form of what Engelbart has referred to as a “networked improvement community.”

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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary larly, Barron’s research on the development of technological fluencies has identified how individuals navigate their “learning ecologies” to best effect during their technology design and development work—which includes tapping others with different knowledge (Barron, 2004). In our ethnographic research on the technological fluencies of undergraduate engineers (Bell and Zimmerman, 2005), we have documented an interesting social norm associated with an ICT learning communities. These undergraduates have established sets of blogs to share various kinds of information about their technological activities. Through our observations and interviews it has become apparent that this distributed, informal learning community maintains its vibrancy—its growing information database and hence its utility—through a shared social expectation of individuals systematically contributing newly acquired information to the community through their personal blogs as a routine course of daily affairs (i.e., before anyone expresses a need for that particular information). By routinely documenting their problems and associated solutions in these on-line information spaces, the community is facilitating the future ICT problem solving of others and making the distributed expertise of the group more readily available. I am arguing that being able to participate in these kinds of informal learning communities—where distributed expertise is the norm and collective practices are in place to share expertise and “hard won” practical knowledge—is an important, and perhaps even a foundational, form of ICT fluency. I fully expect to find similarly constituted ICT learning communities in the workplace as well as in education. Storytelling as a Means of Bridging the Abstract to the Concrete and Vice Versa Occupational communities make central use of storytelling in order to function. In his ethnographic research studying the social and technical activities of photocopier technicians, Orr (1996) documented how the routine production and exchange of technology-related narratives serve to (a) describe the “ill structured” problems encountered in the field: (b) convey relevant information and past solutions among technicians, customers, and management; (c) situate information for use in a given context (i.e., to bridge from the abstract to the concrete); and (d) diagnose issues in order to make problems soluble.5 5 Other social functions of narratives, further afield from FITness, include demonstrating competence to colleagues and customers, maintaining social bonds among clients and technicians, demonstrating organizational hierarchy, and group memberships and defining boundaries (see Orr, 1996, for details).

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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary The nature of human development prepares people to engage in sophisticated forms of narrative cognition and communication (Bruner, 1987). Being able to engage in ICT storytelling—to construct and interpret narratives that map onto problems and projects—can then be thought of as a foundational practice associated with information technology fluency. Interpreted from the perspective of this social practice, sustained reasoning (see intellectual capability #1) is often a social process. Educational Implications of FIT Social Practices I believe the two aforementioned social practices serve to exemplify a possible way to elaborate the FITness framework. They also provide insight into ICT education. As is more generally the case, social practices provide relatively concrete images of how students can be engaged in activity as part of educational experiences. In this case, students learning about information technology could be systematically brought into the two sets of practices outlined above. First, they could form (or join) an ICT learning community and learn the social norms associated with operating as a distributed expertise community. Second, through appropriate modeling and scaffolding, students could learn how to engage in productive ICT storytelling related to their own projects and problems. In the process, students would likely be learning relevant intellectual capabilities, fundamental concepts, and contemporary skills. It is possible that through team-based courses, many students likely are being brought into such practices—but I believe it would be helpful to more explicitly focus on these social practices as fluency outcomes to be cultivated through educational efforts. REFERENCES Barron, B. (2004). Learning ecologies for technological fluency: Gender and experience differences. Journal Educational Computing Research, 31(1), 1–36. Bell, P., and Linn, M.C. (2000). Scientific arguments as learning artifacts: Designing for learning from the web with KIE. International Journal of Science Education, 22(8), 797–817. Bell, P., and Zimmerman, H.T. (2005). The informal learning processes of expert technologists learning about technology. Unpublished paper, University of Washington, Seattle. Bransford, J., Vye, N., Stevens, R., Kuhl, P., Schwartz, D., Bell, P., Meltzoff, A., Barron, B., Pea, R., Reeves, B., Roschelle, J., and Sabelli, N. (in press). Learning theories and education: Toward a decade of synergy. In P. Alexander and P. Winne (Eds.), Handbook of educational psychology (Second Edition). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. Bruner, J. (1987). Two modes of thought. In Actual minds, possible worlds (pp. 11-43). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary Crystal, D. (2001). Language and the Internet. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. Edelson, D.C., Gordin, D.N., and Pea, R.D. (1999). Addressing the challenges of inquiry-based learning through technology and curriculum design. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 8(3-4), 391–450. Frederiksen, J., and White, B. (1998). Teaching and learning generic modeling and reasoning skills. Journal of Interactive Learning Environments, 5, 33–51. Horwitz, P. (1996). Linking models to data: Hypermodels for science education. The High School Journal, 79(2), 148–156. Ito, M. (2004). Personal portable pedestrian: Lessons from Japanese mobile phone use. Paper presented at the Mobile Communication and Social Change: The 2004 International Conference on Mobile Communication, Seoul, Korea. Jessor, R. (1996). Ethnographic methods in contemporary perspective. In R. Jessor, A. Colby, and R.A. Shweder (Eds.), Ethnography and human development (pp. 3–14). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Lenhart, A., Rainie, L., and Lewis, O. (2001). Teenage life online: The rise of the instant-message generation and the Internet’s impact on friendships and family relationships. Washington, DC: Pew Internet and American Life Project. Linn, M.C., Davis, E.A., and Bell, P. (2004). Internet environments for science education. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. National Research Council. (1999). Being fluent with information technology. Committee on Information Technology Literacy. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. National Research Council. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. J.D. Bransford, A.L. Brown, and R.R. Cocking (Eds.). Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning with additional material from the Committee on Learning Research and Educational Practice. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. Orr, J.E. (1996). Talking about machines: An ethnography of a modern job. Ithaca, NY: ILR Press. Sandoval, W.A., and Reiser, B.J. (2004). Explanation-driven inquiry: Integrating conceptual and epistemic scaffolds for scientific inquiry. Science Education, 88, 345–372. Schatzki, T., Knorr Cetina, K., and von Savigny, E. (Eds.). (2001). The practice turn in contemporary theory. London, England: Routledge. Schönfeldt, J., and Golato, A. (2003). Repair in chats: A conversation analytic approach. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 36(3), 241–284. Stevens, R., Wineburg, S., Herrenkohl, L. R., and Bell, P. (2005). The comparative understanding of school subjects: Past, present, and future research agenda. Review of Educational Research, 75(2), 125–157. White, B.Y., and Frederiksen, J.R. (1998). Inquiry, modeling, and metacognition: Making science accessible to all students. Cognition and Instruction, 16(1), 3–118.