The Learning Revolution

Twelve years and one hundred online courses ago, the Learning Revolution got my full attention.  It is apparent in early 2000 that this is just the start; more inventions and combinations appear daily.  My thinking and online teaching as a professor of art and culture [we need to insert the correct title here] were affected by five major changes as I continue offering courses over NAUNet across Arizona, plus national and international extensions.

First was interactive television.  We built a microwave system linking our Flagstaff mountain campus with the Yuma desert campus, three hundred miles away.  I saw opportunities to go beyond lecture/test by printing essays and questions so we could discuss ideas in our two-site classroom.  Yearly we added new classrooms around Arizona; of 36 now, I have taught with 18 simultaneously, plus community cable.     

Second: I developed learning tools adding analysis of complex context factors to the prior focus upon linear content.   Some were models on:

(1)       how culture and the arts evolve
(2)       how to examine arts on several levels and from several viewpoints
(3)       how to deal with the many types and natures of bias in authors as well as the self
(4)       how to evaluate information resources from external evidence and internal clues
(5)       how development of schools of thought have affected the ways we react, consider, think and interpret. 

Another facet was a learning stairway of ever-more complex steps for exploring subject matter.  I gave the tools names like Escalator, Hexadigm, Ladder, Bias, etc.  All course materials were printed in a textbook by a local copy shop and made available at cost to the students.

Step three came when Northern Arizona University decided to add Virtual Conferencing to our many cybertools.  The choice was Caucus (by Screen Porch) [you need to explain what Caucus and Screen Porch; you can use a link to provide a detailed explanation], allowing all writing assignments to be asynchronous interactions.  Caucus made it possible for learners to post assignments, read each others work, and develop thinking, criticism, writing and computer skills along with weekly growth in sophistication in handling academic topics.  We moved all course materials to Caucus so students could access them without buying a text. [can you provide an example of how this looks? We can link to the example.]

Next came webcasting and webstreaming, allowing students to watch live class sessions at home on their computer screens or call them up whenever they wanted to.  These steps took us beyond state and national boundaries, opening additional options for study of arts, culture and interaction.  One direction allowed work on a student-selected topic in their own community, using local sources of information.  Each became a resource person on that topic and help other learn about it --- we were co-teachers/co-learners. [can you provide an example of how this looks? We can link to the example.]

The fifth step is happening as I find ways to integrate multiple technologies into a comprehensive system of interactive learning.  The acquisition curves of each person have increased: there is more learning motivation, more time on task, greater frequency of interaction, and more taking of ownership over his or her topic.  The stairway is a long-range development tool, with exit grading. We have moved from total focus on vertical interaction (teacher to student and back) by adding peer-to-peer input and critical commentary.  Frequent interaction evokes daily incremental growth as each learner constructs learning and increased awareness through the term.

Conversely, few now come to the classroom!  Why should they?  They can save gasoline, time, struggle for parking, take care of their home and work needs first, and fit in the learning and interaction when they are ready and able.  Enough still come to the classroom for interactive discussion, but once I used my hand puppets in order to have a discussion--am I now a "Dr. Rogers, I presume ?" 

I tell my students that multiple technologies allow asynchronous participation, facilitate interactive collaboration with frequency, time-on-task and depth of learning. All students are awarded an "A" at the beginning of the course and must satisfy four requirements to maintain that grade:
(1) write responses to assignments, post them online each week and stay current
(2) read postings by others, engage them in dialogue and comment substantively upon several each week
(3) demonstrate growth: writing, vocabulary, concept integration, critical analysis, creative thinking and online computer skills
(4) help and support each other with encouragement, information, ideas and suggestions through tough transitions from traditional methods over to peer-to-peer interactive cyber-learning

Students work in their respective virtual conference spaces (at any time from any place), and are encouraged to return to earlier assignments to rethink, augment and revise their visions while also learning by observing their own growth.

I read new posts daily, comment individually where appropriate, pose ideas and questions for all, and allow growth to occur with learner interaction. Learning curves rise slightly until about week four, and then shoot up when a personal threshold is crossed. All required readings are online.

Students are required to complete the following fifteen steps:

1. DESCRIBE the six-part Cultural Evolution Model [let's link to this model] after reading the essay.

2. APPLY model to a selected topic using existing knowledge and imagination

3. CONSULT with each other on common cultural ground and individual topic diversity

4. VERIFY with research information from several diverse sources of different types (book, practitioner, website)

5. EXPLAIN the vertical levels analysis model after reading the essay, extending and applying it to the topic

6. CONTEXTUALIZE the topic, dynamics and information providers

7. ANALYZE the biases/slants of authors, times and locations after reading the essay

8. SUBSTANTIATE your views from internal textual evidence

9. COMPARE AND CONTRAST the schools of thought from three online essays, selecting twelve that are most germane to interpret the topic

10. CREATE dialogue among six representatives of different Schools showing interpretation positions

11. CONSOLIDATE findings and conclusions from ten prior weeks

12. PRESENT a concise report covering all the above subtopics

13. CRITIQUE the presentation of the peer who critiques yours

14. RESPOND point by point to the critique

15. REFLECT AND EVALUATE as instructed in Assignment #15.

I am highly pleased with the results, and last semester, 140 learners joined me in Humanities 370 (Popular Arts), exploring the love tragedy of Carmen and Jose in fifteen art forms.  They reached insight and expression far beyond what I have seen in the twenty five previous times I offered the course.  Part of this is due to the methods and asynchronous opportunities for continuity and frequency of learning, while it is also clear that the registrar dealt me a Royal Flush!

Student evaluations are enthusiastic, though space allows only one, from a 73 year old Summa Cum Laude graduate:

Eliminating COMPETITION eliminates pressure; we are able to be more thoughtful with responses, without fear of being compared to others.  We are judged on improvement, not by a score that does not measure real growth or learning.   Lateral learning is a most meaningful exercise.  Every time we read a response from a co-learner we get another point of view about what we have written.  Sometimes that leads us to new ideas that we would not have thought of on our own. We are continually sharing ideas and opinions. 

Our minds are really pried open when we discuss BIASES and schools of thought. Some prying is done through lateral learning, when we discuss subjects with learners who have come from different places and have had different life experiences, while some of it comes from realizing our own biases.  I made a huge leap in my ability to think, evaluate and write; it came after discussing adoption.  I had seen an issue from a very strong biased viewpoint, and suddenly realized that I was making a judgment --- that I couldn't possibly KNOW how someone else feels, so how could I judge their feelings?  It is now easier for me to see beyond my bias and appreciate other people's points of view. 

Everybody's writing improves because we practice it daily.  While we are practicing, we try to find the best way to express what we mean. That also helps improve writing.  This is the most writing intensive course I've ever attended!! 

Professors in sciences, business and health professions have adapted these methods to their courses.  Some are in cyber-classrooms, others in traditional settings. The Escalator is workable if learners can get together more than once a week, can exchange their writings, are willing to work peer-to-peer and want to develop multiple viewpoint perceptions on topic interpretations.  Many internationals have helped me keep an open mind and refrain from hovering while their learning simmers.

I still cannot find the words to express how or why I feel empowered, but I do.  Part of it may be because of the positive feedback I get from helpful, encouraging, classmates. They don't always agree with me, but they listen and respond to what I say.  I spend more time in Caucus.  I go there because it is wonderful to have meaningful discourses with co-learners.  I spend time there because I enjoy it and because there is always something stimulating to read and respond to.