Sep 18, 1994
Sep 22, 1994
Abstract - This paper describes the design criteria, development and evaluation
in trials of software called "Making Choices". This application is designed to
support the debate between groups of students when discussing "difficult"
subjective issues, by enabling them to model a decision.
There has been a range of software designed to support this kind of activity,
such as the UK Computers in the Curriculum Project Geography program "Choosing
Sites" (1987), The UK Careers and Occupational Information Centre's "Resolve"
software (1986) and the UK Open University Institute of Educational
Technology's software "WOMBAT" (1991) which are reviewed in this paper.
Educational software can be classified in many ways, but briefly, "Making
Choices" is concerned with modelling in a "conjectural" learning paradigm as
defined by McDonald et al in the UK National Development Programme for Computer
Assisted Learning final report (1977) . It permits a group of students to
model a specific decision-making problem within a framework of choices, factors
and viewpoints - the computer's role is to calculate an overall ranking of the
choices based on the student's valuations and relationships.
Modelling undertaken by engineers, scientists or planners usually leads to
predictions and hard decisions. In "Making Choices" the actual decision to be
taken is not the main focus but it acts as a stimulus to understanding and
research. It is the examination of choices and factors, discussion within the
group, compromise and resolution of arguments encountered in the process of
modelling which matters. Indeed Montgomery (1983) suggests that decision-
making can be defined as "a search for good arguments".
Usually, modelling is quantitative in nature with numerical values associated
with variables and algebraic equations relating these variables. "Making
Choices" belongs to the qualitative modelling category, where the elements of
the model (choices) are ordinal data (in the statistical sense) and the
relationships between them (factors) are based on orderings. Unlike other
similar software, "Making Choices" offers direct manipulation of these elements
in a way which is faithful to the ordinal nature of the data. The analysis
performed by the software, by a modified weighted objectives method as
described by Cross (1989), provides an outcome to the modelling activity. This
outcome is not objectively decisive in a strong sense, but provides focus to
the real learning activity of debating the model.
Trials using such software in the context of the professional development of
teachers and with secondary school students has led the authors to believe that
it can underpin a valuable learning activity in a range of subject disciplines.
The software is translated into Bulgarian and issues of East-West cooperation
to develop and translate the software are also addressed.
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