April 2005

Cocom@Projects

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As a contribution to the improvement of the basic learning of sciences in Colombia, the group of investigation in Educative Computer Science of University EAFIT – Colombia, has implemented a set of collaborative projects in the context of a fictitious island called the Cocom@ Island. These projects are offered to the educative community at national level by the scholastic network Conexiones and try to develop in the participant students abilities for the analysis of real problems and the oriented investigation to the search of solutions to problems of the near surroundings. Cocom@ projects articulates the use of the concept maps like strategy of knowledge representation and the collaborative learning supported in the ICTs, allowing the development of basic competitions for the handling of the ICTs like mediators of individual and collective learning.

Background
In Colombia, the education system has identified a great weakness in the learning of science. It is marked by a scarce implementation of didactic strategies promoting the construction of new scenarios which can enable an adequate access of the students to scientific information and to criteria building for them to have their own views regarding theories, concepts and the relations between the two. In line with this concern,  the students in Colombia have taken the SABER (Since 1991 ICFES-COLOMBIA began a new work stage to assess basic education resulting in the development and application of the tests known in the country as SABER ) tests, and they have reported an insufficient academic achievement in science by the students in basic and middle education processes, and this has generated great concern in government agencies and in the education centres.   

Teaching science is not only a matter of renewing the goals, but also the contents, the methodologies and the strategies that support the teaching and learning processes seeking an appropriate learning environment.  In this sense, the Model 'Conexiones' – a proposal to include ICTs in classroom activities promoting the development of collaborative projects, is considered as a didactic strategy giving sense to the use of the ICTs. It helps the students to develop research and building skills and to share their learning experiences, proposes the development of collaborative activities derived from Collaborative Projects. The purpose is motivating the students to acquire and build knowledge in a collective manner, involving contextual actions related to the learning environment and offering the students a structured content related to science by means of concept maps as a valid source of information where access is achieved through technologic tools.

As an alternative to contribute with specific solutions to this problem of organising knowledge, 'Conexiones' has articulated all required dimensions of organising knowledge through the strategy of Collaborative Projects, as a didactic strategy to capitalise meaningful learning. The National Education Ministry has provided the Colombian citizens with standards to achieve skills in natural, which help directly the learning processes, the achievements expected from the students and the matters that have been reconsidered in order to provide possible alternatives for solutions to the problem set forth.  

While including Information and Communication Technology (ICT), the model 'Conexiones' proposes with a national coverage, the innovation of education in classrooms, by working with collaborative projects based on the students' specific interests and on the problems they identify in the contexts around them.  Dynamism is provided to this strategy by using different activities following constructive and collaborative learning lines, and they are based on the strategy of concept maps as an alternative to represent knowledge and to provide access to structured information.    

Each collaborative project defines its purpose, based on the intention to achieve the students' competences and skills, and each student has some scientific information (including productions from experts), that help him/her approach knowledge and to have an understanding of the concepts related to the space of the problem set forth by means of knowledge systems represented in concept maps.

The concept maps, due to their contribution to learning, have become a very valuable tool for students and teachers, since with only one strategy representing knowledge, they can gain access to information from experts, identify previous knowledge, validate knowledge, identify gaps and inaccurate conceptions on the relationship between concepts, validate learning and use a concept map as an excellent hypermedia application with computer tools. 'Conexiones' uses the CMapTools, a free use computer tool to build knowledge systems based on concept maps, by means of a cooperation agreement between the EAFIT University from Medell

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