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This chapter reviews the literature on comprehension of media-based presentations to develop mental models of physical systems. It examines the representations and cognitive processes involved in understanding media-based presentations, the abilities and skills on which this understanding depends, and the effectiveness of different media for communicating different types of content. In reviewing how people construct mental models from media, it considers how people learn about the structure and functioning of physical systems from visual-spatial representations alone, including static and animated diagrams, and later reviews how they learn from combinations of visual-spatial and verbal representations. Iconic static diagrams can be effective for communicating the static structure of a system and can also be the basis for mental animation. Traditional print media, that is, static diagrams accompanied by text, can provide highly effective external representations to aid the development of mental models of dynamic systems.
Our chapter relates to an ongoing and continuously evolving research and development project that has as its goal the design of a socio-technical system (a technical environment and related social structures and activities) that will constitute a good model for distributed teacher professional development programs conceptualized as knowledge-building communities. We focus primarily on a part of our work that is situated within the Secondary Teacher Education Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. We begin by describing the original ambitious vision for this program that we set out to implement, including its theoretical basis. Then we discuss how both our initial failures and the theoretical framework itself led us to more carefully consider how the historical and institutional contexts of such community-building efforts might influence the social processes of learning and teaching within the community. To illuminate this idea, we present a contextual analysis of the program as a prelude to an interaction analysis of a representative discourse from a group learning activity within the program. Throughout this chapter, we consider lessons learned from studies such as these and from our immersion in the experience of designing a socio-technical environment for supporting community-based teacher education. Drawing on these lessons, we describe our modified goal and the latest results of our efforts to develop an online system for structuring and supporting group learning, including the online mentoring of such learning, within teacher education programs.
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