Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dr. Allan Collins Visits UT- UTeach Lecture Series

The following article appeared in The Daily Texan and was written by Vidushi Shrimali. Dr. Collins work has made significant impacts on education, artifical intelligence, and cognitive psychology. In addition to his lecture, Dr. Collins visited Dr. Joan Hughes Instructional Technology graduate course, met with numerous faculty members, and had wonderful interactions with some of our students. Please see his full bio at the end of this article. -Dr. Petrosino

In an age where adults blame new gadgets and social networking sites as the cause for students’ misconduct and poor educational performance, Allan Collins, a professor at Northwestern University, is encouraging students and teachers to use iPhones and Web sites, including Facebook, not only as entertainment, but also in the classroom.

Anthony Petrosino, a professor in the College of Education, asked Collins to speak at UT after he saw a posting on Collins’ Facebook page about his tour for “Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology,” a book Collins co-authored with peer Richard Halverson. Collins spoke at the University on Tuesday as part of UTeach’s Lecture Series.

“[His book] spoke [about] a lot of issues and topics we are grappling with,” said Petrosino.

“Collins’ work already has a huge influence on our graduate and undergraduate program. There are very few classes we offer in which an article by Dr. Collins is not present.”

Collins spoke on the benefits of what he calls new education, a growing internal movement that turns to technology to provide individualized instruction.

“We don’t let [students] use books, calculators or the Web when taking a test. But what matters in the real world is how well you can mobilize different sources like the Web to try to solve problems,” Collins said.

Collins summarized the history of education in three eras.

“In the apprenticeship era, education was personal, resource intensive, and engaging,” Collins said. “In the schooling era, education was mass-oriented, efficient and bureaucratic. In the lifelong-learning era, education is becoming customized, highly interactive and learner-controlled.” 

In new education and virtual and online high schools and colleges like the University of Phoenix, books are at least supplemented, if not replaced, with the Web, and students are given more freedom to choose what they learn.

Children as young as three or four years old use hand-held devices similar to the Kindle or iPhone, with stories, animations and voice recordings to practice reading skills, and students of all levels and ages have access to Web tutors and computer-based learning software that will allow them to work at their own pace and pursue individual interests.

Collins suggested questioning the current education systems, including the system of a high school, and replacing them with home schooling or a form of more individualized education.

“One of the problems with school is that we teach these things that in no context are relevant to real life,” Collins said. “Most students learn calculus and have no clue why they are going to use that in real life. I certainly didn’t and most teachers don’t.”

Brad Armosky, an employee at the Texas Advanced Computing Center at the University, pointed out that university professors have the opportunity to pursue alternative teaching methods that elementary education teachers cannot.

“At university, if a faculty member wants to try something new, if it works, great. If it doesn’t, faculty and students can make up for it, no harm done. K-12 teachers can’t afford to take such a risk. They can’t say, let me try something totally new, using a level of technology we can’t use. If it doesn’t work, the two, three days you invested in the present topic, the kids didn’t learn what they needed to learn. What are the repercussions of missing that piece of information?” Armosky said.


Dr. Collins Bio: 

Allan M. Collins is an American cognitive scientist and Professor Emeritus of Learning Sciences at Northwestern University's School of Education and Social Policy. Collins' research is recognized as having broad impact on the fields of cognitive psychologyartificial intelligence, and education.


Collins is most well known in psychology for his foundational research on human semantic memory and cognition. Collins and colleagues, most notably M.R. Quillian and Elizabeth Loftus, developed the position that semantic knowledge is represented in stored category representations, linked together in a taxonomically organized processing hierarchy (see semantic networks). Support for their models came from a classic series of reaction-time experiments on human question answering.[1][2][3]

Artificial Intelligence

In artificial intelligence, Collins has been recognized for his work on intelligent tutoring systems and plausible reasoning. With collaborator Jaime Carbonell, Collins produced the first documented example of an intelligent tutor system called SCHOLAR CAI (computer-assisted instruction).[4]Knowledge in SCHOLAR was structured analogously to the then theorized organization of human semantic memory as to afford a variety of meaningful interactions with the system. Collins' extensive research program pioneered discourse analysis methods to study the strategies human tutors use to adapt their teaching to learners. In addition, Collins studied and developed a formal theory characterizing the variety of plausible inferences people use to ask questions about which their knowledge is incomplete. Importantly, Collins developed methods to embed lessons learned from such research into the SCHOLAR system, improving system usability and effectiveness. Subsequently, Collins developed WHY, an intelligent tutoring system that used the Socratic method for tutoring causal knowledge and reasoning. In conjunction with this project he developed a formal computational theory of Socratic tutoring, derived from analyses of inquiry teaching dialogues.


As a cognitive scientist and foundational member of the field of the learning sciences, Collins has influenced several strands of educational research and development. Building upon his work on intelligent tutoring systems, Collins has conducted numerous projects investigating the use of technology in schools and developing educational technologies for assessing and improving student learning. Collins has gradually shifted towards the situated cognition view of knowledge being embedded in the activity, context, and culture in which it is developed and used. In response to conventional practices that often ignore the influence of culture and activity, Collins and colleagues have developed and studied cognitive apprenticeship as a effective alternative educational practice. In addition, Collins was among the first to advocate for and outline design-based research methodologies in education.

Education and Professional Appointments

Academic Honors and Service

Noted and Representative Publications

  • Collins, A. M., & Quillian, M. R. (1969). Retrieval Time from Semantic Memory. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 8, 240-247. (citation classic)
  • Collins, A. M., & Loftus, E. F. (1975). A Spreading Activation Theory of Semantic Processing. Psychological Review, 82, 407-428. (citation classic)
  • Collins, A. M., & Michalski, R. S. (1989). The logic of plausible reasoning: A core theory. Cognitive Science, 13, 1-49.
  • Collins A. M., Brown J. S., & Newman S. (1989). Cognitive Apprenticeship: Teaching the Craft of Reading, Writing, and Mathematics, in Knowing, Learning and Instruction: Essays in Honor of Robert Glaser, edited by LB Resnick, Lawrence Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJ.
  • Brown, J. S., Collins, A.M., & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher, 18 (1), 32–42.
  • Collins, A. M. (1992). Towards a design science of education. In E. Scanlon & T. O’Shea (Eds.), New directions in educational technology (pp. 15-22). Berlin: Springer.
  • Collins, A. M., & Ferguson, W. (1993). Epistemic forms and epistemic games: Structures and strategies to guide inquiry. Educational Psychologist, 28(1), 25-42.
  • Greeno, J., Collins, A. M., & Resnick, L. (1996). Cognition and learning. (pp. 15-46) In D. Berliner and R. Calfee (Eds.), Handbook of Educational Psychology. New York: Macmillan.
  • Bielaczyc, K. & Collins, A. M. (1999). Learning communities in classrooms: A reconceptualization of educational practice. In Reigeluth, C. M. (Ed), Instructional-design Theories and Models: A New Paradigm of Instructional Theory : 269-292.
  • Collins, A.M.; Joseph, D., & Bielaczyc, K. (2004). "Design research: Theoretical and methodological issues". Journal of the Learning Sciences13 (1): 15–42.

Picture: Sara Young

Allan Collins, professor emeritus at Northwestern University, spoke Tuesday about restructuring educational approaches to include current technologies in his “Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology” tour.

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