A. Toom

Touro College (UNITED STATES)
Fiction stories have been successfully used for psychological education for a long time (Freud, 1933, Berne, 1972; Pitts, 1978; Bettelheim, 1989; Boyatzis, 1992, Toom, 2008). However, attempts to create computerized versions of such instructional methodology have been scarce until now. The most popular computerized tools for teaching/learning the subject that can be found on the American market today do not deal with works of fiction. This paper represents a virtual practicum for studying cognitive psychology, specifically, object permanence (OP), one of the most complicated cognitive phenomena of childhood. The practicum is based on the use of Anton Chekhov’s short story Grisha (Chekhov, 1979). This story, penned by an internationally renowned master of psychological prose, is an exceptionally profound insight into a 2 years 8 months boy’s mental functioning and behavior. An interactive computer program has being developed. While working with it, the online students analyze the story’s episodes and study the main character’s OP. The computer program is written with the use of ASP.NET platform and MSSQL data base. The program’s algorithm is built in accordance with the psychological theory of stage by stage formation of mental acts (Galperin, 1969). A typical dialogue between the student and the program in the course of analyzing the text episodes is described in detail. A pilot study has been conducted with 42 online students who took Dr. Toom’s online course of Child Development and Learning in Cultural Context. On the basis of the results received, the author concluded: if the interactive computer program serving as an instructional tool is organized comfortably and with enough clarity to accomplish the workflow, it opens up the opportunity for enhancing students’ goal-oriented and formal thinking. It also provides conditions for learning to recognize OP in various episodes of the text and distinguish different degrees of OP’s development in young children. Finally, it fosters students’ interest in psychology and, consequently, their educational advancement.