learning landscapes in southern africa


The Role of Complex Software in Cognitive Development

Alan Amory, Nhlanganiso Biyela and Thato Foko, Centre for IT in Higher Education, University of KwaZulu Natal, Durban
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While the hole-in-the-wall experiences show that groups of children are able to understand and gain insights into the use of technology through the use of public computers, the relationship between access to computer technology and cognitive development is not clearly understood. In addition, the evaluation of the usefulness of computer-based tools as viable learning devices requires a systematic approach to measure the influences of such tools on cognitive developments. The aim of this research is to evaluate the role of complex software (Graphical Information Systems [ArcView GIS] and education game software [γKhozi]) on cognitive development using an appropriate evaluation instrument. The Persona Object Model (POM), previously developed to describe a typical computer game player in terms of the Game Object Model that is based on contemporary educational theories, forms the basis of the evaluation instrument developed to measure literacy (visual, logic and mathematics) and communication (reading and writing) skills. A number of different groups were selected to participate in the project that included science undergraduates, humanities undergraduates, geography undergraduates (2 groups of which one group completed the instrument after a semester using GIS) and two groups of senior school children (where one grouped played γKhozi). These groups were selected to cover a wide range of ability from school children with no experience in using complex software to participants that required higher school results to enter University (science undergraduates). Results indicate that science undergraduates performed better than those from the humanities except for those learners who had exposure to GIS. Similarly, school children playing γKhozi outperformed those that had no exposure to this educational game. Also university undergraduate participants performed better than the groups of senior school children. Results suggest that participants working in teams were able to solve complex problems with greater ease that those who worked alone. It is argued that complex software that requires active engagement and present challenges leads to improved cognitive skills. This might be specifically relevant when participants become "active viewers/participants" and make their own meaning.