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Scaffolding and Sequencing


Like training wheels, computer scaffolding enables learners to do more advanced activities and to engage in more advanced thinking and problem solving than they could without such help. - NRC, 2000

Like its namesake in the construction industry, scaffolding in education is a temporary support mechanism. Students receive assistance early on to complete tasks, then as their proficiency increases, that support is gradually removed. In this fashion the student takes on more and more responsibility for their own learning.

According to Jamie McKenzie, author of Beyond Technology: Questioning, Research and the information Literate School Community, there are eight characteristics of web-based educational scaffolding: (from Scaffolding for Success (more info) )

A clock tower surrounded by construction scaffolding.
Scaffolding provides clear directions
Step-by-step instructions are necessary to let students know what they need to accomplish to successfully meet the requirements of the task. Care should be taken by designers so that instructions produce as little confusion for students as possible.
Scaffolding clarifies purpose
The objective of the activity is made clear at the outset and a "big-picture" point of view dominates in each individual activity.
Scaffolding keeps student on task
The structure provided helps keep students from getting distracted and "wandering off." McKenzie makes the analogy of a garden where each web page is a stepping stone. There may be more than one path winding through the garden, but none of them leads to "a jungle or a swamp or a tiger pit."
Scaffolding offers assessment to clarify expectations
Rubrics and standards of performance are defined up front. This avoids confusion about what will be assessed at the end of an activity.
Scaffolding points students to worthy sources
Scaffolding can reduce wasted time and keep students on task because faculty can identify "quality" sources on the web for students to use. Depending on the instructor, this list of sites could be exclusive or simply a starting point for further digging.
Scaffolding reduces uncertainty, surprise and disappointment
All distracting frustrations with site design should be eliminated. This is what McKenzie calls the "Teflon lesson - no stick, no burn, no problem."
Scaffolding delivers efficiency
By eliminating boredom and irrelevance, scaffolding grants a sense that a larger amount of work can be completed in a shorter time.
Scaffolding creates momentum
Rather than dissipating, the energy and focus of the class is channeled and concentrated. This accumulation of insight and understanding becomes a driving force for further study and research.

Other Resources

Schools, Skills, and Scaffolding on the Web (more info)
Module Maker (more info)
A Scaffolding Approach to Media Education (more info)
Teaching the American Revolution: Scaffolding to Success (more info)

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