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Editor’s Note: This is one of Dr. Guy Bensusan’s milestone
articles that details the theory behind the successful “Bensusan Method” used
in distance learning at Northern Arizona University.
A Design For Learning: The Escalator
PART ONE: INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND
An escalator is a moving set of stairs. Metaphorically, I picked this name
for the twelve-step assignment stairway I use in my courses because ESCALATOR
implies two things; one can be carried up by the mechanism or also exert an
effort to climb. In considering the analogy of being carried upward, each learning
activity, experience and subsequent written report is based on what was done
before while anticipating what is coming next.
This connection is consciously cultivated through all twelve steps; the very
act of DOING each assignment lifts the learner level by level into higher planes
of understanding. If the learner chooses actively to climb, he or she can ascend
to the top faster, with better connective understanding and greater personal
This year, 1997, the Escalator has clearly been a most central and meaningful
portion of my teaching-to-learning strategy, which I call A DESIGN FOR LEARNING.
As a conscious system, it began in 1993, when the American Association on Higher
Education gave us seven principles central to any transformation from a focus
upon teaching and content to a design that emphasizes Learning:
- Focus on individual-learning while providing constant feedback on progress
- Offer study materials that appeal, stimulate, motivate and are relevant
- Appeal to the technology consumer as well as non-technical learners
- Provide rigor in successful progress from simple to hard concepts
- Allow students enough time to progress, while continuing to move along
- Emphasize problem-solving while providing solid learning preparation
- Use a grading system which allows students to persevere without penalty
These coincided with my experimentation and learning in courses taught over
NAU's young Interactive Instructional Television system that began in 1989.
But while these seven AAHE points helped my personal transformation from content-centered
teaching into learning-centered teaching via multi-classroom television, they
emphasized much more about WHAT should be done rather than HOW a teacher might
develop plans and activities to implement the ideas.
Inspecting Learning Literature showed me a similar focus, while colleagues
said what they needed was specific advice on techniques. I began to concentrate
on what learners needed to do to be able to advance on their own, while I remained
more as a coach than an encyclopedia. The process continues to develop, and
is clearly not completed yet; it evolves with each new group of learners, with
the arrival of new technologies, and from the many important lessons that learners
The heart of this method is a blend of structures, procedures, activities and
policies which forge a novice group of learners into a community which shares
in a holistic, developmental process of learning. Engaging in this means that
a teacher needs to be willing to alter some key educational axioms, oppose traditions
and the pedagogical creeds of some colleagues and administrators, exercise positive
encouragement and patience with learners, and even resist some traditional institutional
patterns, policies and paperwork.
A parallel situation exists with learners, since self-direction and making
choices is contrary to their long years of conditioning. Many are "dependent,"
unaware that their own learning is possible. The ESCALATOR is also unfamiliar
and an anxiety-producing process, especially if the learners already feel successful
with lectures, tests, 4.0 averages, and are thus apprehensive about this new,
different, and to them, untried process.
Many struggle when they must unlearn old habits and build new ones. At first
they agonize and worry, complaining as they go, but also working at it and helping
each other along. After three or four weeks, they suddenly gain those illuminating
"AHA's," which come ever more frequently in the subsequent successes
I think eight considerations are necessary in helping a teacher make the shift
from traditional teacher-centered and content-centered teaching over to teaching
that is centered on learning and learners. These are not a linear structure
of components but rather a collection of inter-connected patterns and policies:
- A connected triad of learning-tool models
- Multiple resources for seeking-securing information
- Structured stairway of sequenced assignments
- Constant collaborative writing, feedback and revision
- Extended time for individual learning development
- Time to soak, argue, simmer, assist and cooperate
- Focus on individual growth, exit grading, and no curve
- Teacher as a non-hovering coach, guide and co-inquirer
Clearly, each of these is different. The first involves a triangle of learning
models providing tools to take the learner beyond factual information and reaction
into a variety of exploratory perspectives on whatever topic is under examination.
(These models are all in the textbook as well as on my home page: http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~hgb/drguy.html)
One model (Hexadigm) deals with six separate and interrelating considerations
about how cultures change and grow over time.
Another model (Ladder) explores different rungs or levels of inquiry and comprehension
intrinsic to the topic, including how it is structured, what its parts are,
how it has meaning, who informs us about it, and how that may be evaluated.
Yet another model (Bias) reveals physical, mental, social, economic, academic,
religious and conceptual filters which authors, informants, and we ourselves
bring to the examination and assessment table.
The second consideration deals with course information. By convention, this
comes from a standard textbook, library resources, and classtime delivery of
the professor's lectures, with students taking notes to study for a later test.
With the advent of photocopy-shops, web-sites for museums, experts and other
resources, plus topic-oriented internet lists, e-mail to scholars, professors'
home-pages, and the like, learners may now access information from many resources.
This learning network which links them, allows them to learn from and give
help to each other. The potential resource base (plus the responsibility for
learning to evaluate the data) is vastly expanded, while their very existence
opens the use of class time so that a professor may lead conversations inquiring
into areas of meaning, interpretations, controversies and arguments for and
against various positions.
The third consideration is the ESCALATOR: a set of twelve questions learners
must engage in sequence, respond to and discuss with other course members.
All learners are told to begin with what they already know or believe: studying
a cultural-change model, describing it and how its parts interact, applying
it in an imagined description of a course topic they have each chosen, comparing
notes, and refining the statements. (These will be described in greater detail
in PART THREE.)
The learners venture into phases of inquiry that rise in level of complexity
each week, leading them to evaluate their sources of information, frame the
topic in cultural context, compare types and reliability of information providers,
examine external and intrinsic elements of bias visible in the authors and their
writings, seek out the authors' mindsets and apparent purposes, and look into
schools-of-thought that seem implicit in the authors' assumptions. The final
stage asks for a description and definition of how they now perceive their topic,
and for a reflection on what was gained or not gained in the overall learning
The fourth feature is cooperation and collaboration. Learners are peers; lateral
sharing of information, asking questions and helping each other is a productive
and palatable exchange. Course information is available in several places as
well as the text prepared by the teacher. Each relates the information to his
or her selected topic, while also working with ideas and patterns from the course
As the learners post their writings into the computer conference, reading what
each other has written, they begin to see what they may not have understood,
overlooked or not processed well. Improvement comes through recognizing that
there are always more parts and perspectives which can be added. Learning in
this way reinforces, sustains and endures. There is no shame or discouragement;
the emphasis is on growth, cultivating knowledge and building understanding.
As the learners read each others' work, a community is born, reflected in the
television classroom interaction. Hesitant at first, they gain confidence and
begin to offer ideas with ease. Cooperation becomes a helpful habit as they
see how their respective topics are linked and arise from the same cultural
base, sequences and conditions; it becomes natural for learners to contribute
ideas, evidence and bibliographic citations. The more they help each other out-of-class
on the computers, the more they seem willing to discuss with each other in-class.
The remaining four elements are more procedural than structural, though each
is pertinent to the working-ease of the whole mechanism. Allowing weeks for
development is vital, because individual topic inquiry requires time and repetition.
Time to soak, argue, simmer and cooperate is important, because emphasis then
goes beyond facts into higher levels of structures, ideas, context and meanings,
all of which need to be defined, debated, consolidated and polished.
Going back to revisit what was previously thought and believed strengthens
and expands the vision when revisitation is done from the higher rungs on the
ladder. Since learners pursue similar activities in developing their respective
topics, a holistic synergy appears as they become aware of how their topics
interweave, have similarity, and reflect comparable historico-cultural foundations.
Individual growth, exit grading and "no grade curve" are equally
indispensable. When we consider that the playing field is never level, the
players always unequal, their acquisition rates and skills unalike, the procedures
unfamiliar and demanding, and the goal one of fostering success in individual
and group learning, it becomes obvious that GROWTH and DEVELOPMENT are paramount.
I encourage all learners to go beyond their previous positions toward additional,
meaningful levels of understanding.
Success in small steps leads to success in bigger steps; many learners must
overcome hindrances accumulated from previous failures and deficiencies. Some
do not know there are levels beyond facts, or that they are capable of learning.
By seeing and collaborating with peers who succeed, their own zeal for achievement
is stimulated to the point of being willing to work hard for it. Having all
semester to improve earlier work promotes this, in part by minimizing anxiety
and doubt produced by frequent tests over part of the content, graded by competitive
The "no-curve-for-grades-principle" is preeminent. Since sharing,
cooperation and collaboration are important, learners and their learning need
cultivation. Competitive classroom conditions do not reward cooperation, which
is clearly an essential element of the future of work and home. In the win-lose
limitation schemes of curves and percentages, it is self-defeating to share
ideas and information with someone who might thereby attain a higher score and
diminish the grade of the helper!
With an emphasis upon individual development, everyone has a chance for the
top grades; the reward opens up new options to so many who have previously been
on the outside, excluded from the rewards of learning. Moreover, ever increasing-
numbers of older learners, from thirty to eighty, open up even more the values
of sharing experiences and perspectives.
When the professor does their thinking for them, students seem to memorize
much, practice little and rarely engage in training new skills for future use.
It is far better to ask the kinds of questions which lead learners through linear
loops and into lateral leaps and then around again to help them practice what
they must do to enter a world of critical-creative thinking and problem-solving.
It is most worthwhile to their achievement when the professor works as co-learner
and inquirer, is available to encourage and commiserate, smile and support,
make suggestions, and most importantly, stay near, though out-of-the-way until
asked. Even then it is better to suggest alternative courses of action or thought
from which the learners may examine and make choices, rather than to answer
their questions in detail every time.
To offer an analogy from long-ago days as swimmer and swim coach, it would
not have helped the swimmers for them to stand on the deck and watch me demonstrate
the various strokes in the water. MY swimming teaches ME and not them, just
as MY lecturing powerfully reinforces the knowledge and connections in ME.
Nor would it have helped much had I stood on the deck with them to watch a lone
swimmer perform while I narrated, though it might have been slightly more useful,
since they would be focusing their attention on a lesson.
Each swimmer has to understand the task, but also must engage in the actual
doing; they have to get into the water, get wet, immerse their faces and venture.
They must try, make mistakes, feel what they cannot see, and step-by-step, overcome
their errors, fine-tune their body positions and strokes, and improve their
mental and physical performance. The analytical coaching emphasis helps them
become aware of self, and consider what the self is doing in comparison to what
needs to be done.
PART TWO: THE ESCALATOR
During the school year of 1995-1996, many ideas from my experiences in both
the traditional and the interactive television classroom came together into
an integrated learning system under the title of "The Twelve Pillars of
Learning." Four aspects: teacher as coach and co-learner, content acquisition
through projects, stages and cooperation, growth through sequences of steps,
and classroom discussion are central.
- Course content is transferred outside of and before class
- Questions denote and explore relationships to help guide learning
- Visual models serve as tools to awaken ideas and connections
- Class sessions unite content, questions and models in learning experiences
- Weekly engagement is with individualized exercises and writing assignments
- Each writing builds on the previous and ascends to the next level
- Feedback comes weekly in class and from collaboration among class members
- Semester portfolios build from writings, feedback and revisions
- Development is from frequent revisiting, rethinking and stretching
- Grading is on effort, persistence, frequency, evolution, enlightenment
- Exit evaluation: take the entire semester to improve without competition
- Goals: build many levels of knowledge, awareness, options & alternatives
In the spring of 1997, I expanded on point number six and developed the next
structural tool. I called this The Escalator, implying one could ride up the
mechanism, plus climb voluntarily by one's own effort. Originally a six-step
writing and growth program, it was intended to serve as a central learning activity
in all my Humanities courses. As the original approach drew many questions,
I divided each step, creating the current twelve-writings version which was
published on three Internet distance learning lists this year, and is accepted
by the United States Distance Learning Association for appearance this fall.
The Escalator (as used in my regional arts and culture courses) has the following
twelve parts calculated to evoke growth in learning:
- Cultural Model: Describe and explain how this cultural model works
- Imagined application: Tell your chosen topic's story through the model
- Consult: Compare yours with what others did: ideas, sub-parts, etc.
- Verify: Find data in many places (but NOT TOO MUCH or many!)
- Ladder: Explain this model and the several levels in general
- Frame: Apply those concepts specifically to your topic
- Probe: Examine Bias Model; compare/contrast your information sources
- Refine: Discuss authors' styles, words, tactics, slants, biases
- Schools: Show how some different schools might interpret your topic
- Recast: Invent a simulation dialogue applying some of these views
- Resolve: Describe how you see your topic at this point
- Reflect: Evaluate your growth, best successes, challenges remaining
These constitute one writing assignment per week: meaning that all writing
is completed by week thirteen. This leaves two weeks for polishing and revising
by the learners, while giving me time to read and evaluate growth at many levels:
content, timeliness, expression, critical thinking, lateral comparisons, ability
to handle vocabulary and concepts, and similar features.
Completing the assignments diminishes end-of-semester pressures, and provides
each learner with exercises, in depth, on each topic (we share the ideas in
class and read the essays), accompanied by greater breadth gained from becoming
familiar with so many varied subjects.
PART THREE: CAUCUS
It is also clear that the Escalator is one-among-many devices which combine
to help create the ever-more rapid spiral of learning which I see taking place
in my courses. The most recent and, I think, most-exceptionally valuable constituent
is called CAUCUS, a virtual-conferencing program made available this semester
by the Virtual Conference Center Director, Mauri Collins. Her help in training
me to use this new tool effectively has made the Escalator even more valuable
than in previous semesters, due to the increase in collaborative interaction.
Escalator essays used to be turned in to class folders each week, to be read
by learners of that location, and occasionally by others if FAXed. Now on CAUCUS
every student has direct and instant access to everyone's essays, can comment
at will, which may then be read by all participants. Doing this is much easier
and faster than the old way, since writings from all over the state can be accessed
from any web-browser and from all campus computer centers, even if a bit of
cyber-anxiety is in the picture at the beginning.
The consequences of this broadened mix of techniques, ingredients and technologies
have appeared immediately. Based on my long-range observations (eight courses
over two semesters and two summer sessions), I have observed an unusually accelerated
and rapid progression of learners' capabilities and thinking due to weekly use
of this new technology and its conjunction with the Escalator and our interactive
television classroom discussions. Supporting this awareness are not only the
new students in my classes, but also the ones who have taken courses with me
before, under the "old-system," and who can make comparisons from
It is natural that claims of classroom success with new methods are suspect.
Genuine evidence needs to be provided and analytical/comparative studies need
to made and published. In past times, even as little as two years ago, the
data was not easily accessible. When the first study of my courses was made
by Dr. Arnolda Hilgert in 1995-1996, she needed to use the files of typed essays
and conduct her interviews over Interactive Television during class time (with
me absent). These were clearly not the best way to get total and open response
from all learners.
The several current technologies afford a much more complete opportunity to
enter into thorough inquiry. Learners have made their personal permissions
and email addresses available to a group of professors (under the direction
of Dr. Brian Taylor) who are going to interview them individually and in groups.
Videotapes from every class session during the current semester have been archived
for use in this project, allowing viewers to observe on tape the visible verbal
growth shown by the learners through the semester.
Every learner work-file on CAUCUS contains twelve writings in response to the
Escalator questions, along with the feedback from each learner who commented.
These are already indexed in the internal mechanisms of the system. In other
words, the combined technologies being used now provide a rather substantial
amount of evidence for analysis by scholars. One such venture is currently
under the direction of Dr. Brian Taylor and involves professors from many nations.
On the anecdotal side of things, which is where we are at the time of this
writing, student comments are invariably positive, even though there is a lot
of good-humored grousing and satirical story-telling about the hard work of
the course and the discomfort that accompanies self-examination and stretching.
The participants suggest that the increased asynchronous contact time with each
other helps them come to know each other better, which makes it easier for them
to respond to ideas and to make verbal contributions in class.
They say that the mutual feedback from each other opens their thinking even
more than when it comes from the teacher, that the lack of a grade-curve promotes
greater cooperation while lessening tension, and that they get many ideas from
each other, which helps to expand and improve their overall comprehension, and
diversify their viewpoints.
They also say:
- they like the chance to pursue their own thoughts while following
the idea and spirit of the parameters of the Escalator
- they can expand upon the sense of growth which comes from interaction
of listening to each other in class. Their sense of knowing each other
develops through the interaction between listening, reading and responding
to each other
- that the posting frequency is helpful to growth and retention, that
they cannot stop thinking about the debates they are having (which develops
their argumentation), and often come to the next class with expanded
- that when men and women in the course read and respond on issues
which may be viewed diversely by each gender, they are more able to
reflect upon ideas and points of view than in verbal conversation, and
that this allows them to be more considerate and thorough in their synchronous
discussions on interactive television
- that the ability to rethink and revise throughout the semester, and
thereby improve knowledge, understanding at many levels, eliminates
the tensions and counterproductivity of testing
- that revisiting several times on different dates, the ideas and challenges
that have been talked about before (but doing it in retrospect), and
considering other levels of perceptions, adds greatly to the sense of
feeling competent about the topic
- that their frustration with contradictions and unanswered questions
diminishes as they dialogue, define and sort out which of the many levels
of comprehension have greater importance for them individually.
Many of these learners report that their personal academic confidence has risen
greatly -- they feel secure they will succeed and can devote their energies
to genuine work on the subject, even though they see they will not be "done"
with learning by the end of the term. Finally, a general statement by most
is that they see the emphasis on critical thinking and application of principles
as well as their practice with interactive computer conferencing as a useful,
relevant and meaningful preparation for their future employment and personal
The ongoing development of ideas, technologies and applicable systems, along
with the ever-evolving audience of learners with whom we interact, plus the
development in our own professorial thinking and practice suggest that a description
of this type is merely a "work in progress," or an "update report
from the scene." Ten years ago I knew that the forthcoming semester would
be the same as the current one, though with different students. I do not have
that sense anymore, since with each of the past four semesters, a significant
portion of the course and HOW the learners participate is quite different.
It is elating to watch the flowering of abilities in so many young people:
their growth in consideration for each other in the debate over difficult and
emotion-filled topics. I am also aware of how extensive is the challenge for
I used to revise the textbook and instructions every semester, and I prided
myself on being up-to-date. Now we have moved to home-pages, and only need
to rewrite and upload individual essays. But I am also spending my time in
a different way than ever before. Previously my work came in three stages ---
pre-course set-up, preparing presentations and/or discussions for classes each
week, and the crunch of reading projects during finals' week.
Now I must set up computer conferencing programs and post the questions before
the semester begins; I moderate discussion in class based upon what the learners
bring up as the challenges or questions THEY encounter. I no longer prepare
anything specific (though I am always prepared with plans A, B and C), but rather,
read the assigned chapter, read the CAUCUS entries, and go to class with the
current steps of the Escalator in mind (as well as a hard-copy for the Pad Camera).
Each class session becomes an adventure as I moderate by letting them lead the
way, yet questioning their comments, or offering alternatives to their assumptions,
or posing further possibilities to their discussions, facilitating a constant
surge of thought-provoking interaction from the learners. I also refer frequently
to the models, encouraging a wide array of voices and viewpoints.
I go into CAUCUS to read Escalator entries two or three times a day, and once
on Saturdays and Sundays. It is interesting to note that they come in at any
and every hour of the day and night. There is something going on all the time,
and while I do not evaluate each item I read, I often will ask questions on
CAUCUS or click onto an email for the student who seems to need help with ideas
to choose from. It is not like anything I have previously done. No longer
must learners wait for feedback --- it is there immediately, to propel the learning.
Perhaps forthcoming semesters will bring even more additions and dimensions.
There is a positive attitude in all of this, because I see it in the faces
and eyes of the learners more than ever before. They are excited --- they are
working and helping each other. I can truthfully say that what is happening
in class is now at a much higher and more collaborative level. I feel very
good about it, and while I also know that newness carries a halo which wears
off, I also see effort, concentration and growth coming from the vast majority.
I think their accomplishments come from being given useful tools, being asked
to respond to relevant questions and construct their knowledge through dialogue
and mutual assistance. They have attainable goals, time for practice, and open
opportunity to succeed at their own pace and learning metabolism, plus being
involved with productive technology combinations that train them for an electronic
future. I believe this will continue to evolve and improve as we reach out
and are responded to from all directions.
PART FOUR: LOOKING AHEAD
Next year will bring yet another addition. The live television broadcasts
of our interactivity moderated by me will be archived and made available in
a process called "VIDEO-STREAMING," which can be called up from the
Web on a browser from students' homes or workplaces. This delivery is being
added to extend the outreach of courses offered at a particular time and day,
thereby making it possible for learners who work or have other commitments to
participate in the course. Four years ago, this was begun by duplicating course
videotapes and sending them each week to groups of learners who either did not
have an on-line classroom, or were unavailable at the specific time the class
Success with those programs, plus the evolving electronics offers a step beyond
where we are now. Synergy flourishes as learners engage with each other through
the systems and synchronicities, generating a powerful innovation for learning.
The ownership is shifting, with learners playing an ever-greater participatory
role in shaping what happens. And next year, learners will participate live
on interactive television while others, previously out of NAUNet's reach, will
come home from work and call up the video-streamed class-session tape on their
Both groups, in other words, will have access to the same visual materials
and discussions, one live and one taped. They may watch these repeatedly, when
and as needed, since the master tapes will be available at the sites and libraries,
while the video-streamed programs on computers may be accessed on demand. This
self-propelled learning can use the course discussions and materials in whatever
manners are most appropriate to their ways and times of learning.
Each learner will benefit from what might be called a "spiral of learning
that comes from the sequence of synchronicities: induction-deduction-retroduction."
The Escalator, with its stairway of precepts, will serve as the central core
for the learning, while CAUCUS will be the electronic repository and hub where
both groups place their assignments and then interact with each other. That
is, they will have time for instant response to issues in live class dialogue
over television, time for more reflective response in their writings on Caucus,
and further time to access necessary information from the course home-page,
and additional sources on the web, as well as from emailing each other for help,
and using yet other interactive systems for small group work.
The learning operation will ascend accordingly, reaching out to include additional
and diverse voices who will share their ideas and feedback on these arts and
culture topics. I will have more essays to read and comment on, and will also
have to face up to the clear challenges of "when is too many." But
one possible solution to that is to train others (perhaps even the learners
themselves?) to help in providing the feedback and questioning which I now do
myself. Certainly the institution must consider defining and formulating policies
on loads, duties, evaluations and rewards.
Almost a half-century ago, I would daily enter a classroom, close the door,
write vocabulary on the "blackboard" (which had not yet turned green
and white - even though I have), step up to the rostrum and, after the bell
finished ringing, make announcements and start reading my well-researched, carefully-prepared,
typewritten lecture. Nearly all of the faces before me were in their late 'teens
or early twenties, but I rarely saw them, since only the tops of heads were
visible when I would look up from my lecture notes.
Every three weeks I would give a test which was part objective and part short-answer
plus one essay. It would take all weekend to read them all, score them, log
them in the gradebook, and turn them back the following Monday --- when everyone
would look to each neighbor and ask, "wadjaget?"
The grade and the class standing appeared to be more important than learning.
When I would talk with students out of class about the subject matter, it was
clear they knew a few facts, but little geography and fewer ideas --- if I wanted
academic conversation, I needed to talk with campus colleagues and graduate
I remember that except for one or two, faces were white. No matter how hard
I worked on emphasizing ideas and connections in lecture, on providing meaningful
examples, on designing clear tests, or how many times I gave pre-test reviews,
the results were always the same. A basic bell curve of winners and losers
appeared every time. Some were elated, some crestfallen, some dropped out.
There seemed to be no way to avoid that --- not then.
New developments for learning in ideas and infrastructures, as well as systems
and accesses have surfaced rapidly during the past decade and I have been fortunate
to be among early adopters. As I engaged, I also learned, by watching the multi-camera
videotapes of my class sessions, that the lectures which I worked to hard to
create and deliver, were obviously not as enthralling to the audience which
was sitting and taking notes as they were to me. I could not ignore that.
I realized I had to go beyond the kind of teaching which I previously had done
(rather well, I thought), and move toward a focus on learning. It was a major
shift in paradigms. It was clear to me that while I had gained expertise in
my field, had published original contributions, wrote well and delivered presentations
which drew applause, that my mission as a teacher was less to provide information,
and more to help learners take charge of their own learning by giving them tools
and practice which would serve them and help them grow for the rest of their
Ten years ago I started turning my class lectures into written essays, creating
textbook (printed inexpensively and locally at a copy shop) for each of my courses.
I assigned chapters to be read before class. To stimulate thought and practice
in analysis, comparison and critical-creative thinking, I wrote statements and
questions which focused on ideas and relationships. I turned class into a discussion
on the materials which had been read, and developed inquiry techniques which
would allow us over time to become more productive and inclusive in expressing
and comparing ideas and many levels.
I also saw a need to create visual displays to help give structure to course
concepts and principles, keeping these models in front of the class continuously
for instant reference and reinforcement, and later printing them on the back
cover of the textbook. I became a moderator of discussion, trying to find ways
to build conversation: whatever a learner stated was accepted as a point of
view with potential validity, and explored for its implications, assumptions
and possible application.
As we did this, classroom conversation grew and became more open, while those
who offered ideas which seemed less productive often would modify them or express
how their minds had changed on that point. In my view, this was productive
discovery and also useful as group learning practice, since it demonstrated
the whole field of trial and error, followed by reflection, redirection and
The transition was enjoyable, since I felt myself to be always on the outer
edge of learning new ideas and methods, but it was not all that easy to put
aside the lectures and classroom performances which had given me such good feelings
from my creative accomplishments --- my sense of self was a powerful force that
I had to contend, as was the strong professional conditioning which made me
feel that only when I was "doing something for the students" was I
fulfilling the requirement of being a professor.
However, I found alternatives which became integral to my new approach. I learned
one could videotape or audiotape a presentation, and put it into the Media Center
for learners to access. They could also be duplicated for all statewide classroom
sites and libraries. That way I could do both: present and perform, and at
the same time, do it in a way that would free class time so that we could talk
about how the material had meaning. Instead of doing something for them, I was
giving them the tools to help them learn to do something for themselves.
In conjunction with the library I developed a project which digitized and scanned
many of my course visuals on to a server which could be accessed on the web.
Media Services duplicated the audiotapes which I had developed for the teaching
of the musical portion of my courses, while help from Educational Systems Programming
provided the expertise necessary to put course materials as well as essays about
learning-development into my homepage, giving access to anyone who clicked into
the NAU Web page.
We are light years beyond where we were when I really began to feel at home
on interactive television, as recently as five years ago. We are thinking now
in terms of what learners must to do learn, how they must do the learning in
ways which are most appropriate to them, and therefore considering what teachers
must do in designing activities and sequences for learning to take place while
not insisting that everyone do the same thing at the same time in lock-step.
It is not and has not been an easy shift, but it is one which is accomplishable
when one becomes convinced that the results warrant the effort.
This is not just learning theory, however. The material electronic devices
which now inhabit our world, and create some anxieties in those of us who are
older, have already transformed our young children who point and click "almost
innately." I envision a type of Pied Piper who has been at work, and we
adults must take heed if we are to provide any type of useful leadership. Based
on an observation of how I learn new things, I am convinced that the new technologies
make it possible through computers and the web for learners to tap into the
sources which they need, and that they will do it from their homes at times
which are convenient to them.
THIS factor, I believe, is the big switch we must face and cope with. It used
to be that "learning" occurred from eight and eight-fifty on Mondays,
Wednesdays and Fridays for one course, and in a different time-slot for another,
period. Now, it happens at that time and also can and does occur anytime during
the rest of the day and night, at the initiative of the learner. What an opportunity
this is for the teacher to establish a new program to "teach" less
and assist learning more by organizing class conversations. Thinking the subject
through necessary structure and meaning stages allows the teacher greater latitude
to establish the step-by-step exercises of dealing with the subjects at the
pace and time of the learner.
The learner is more involved, has more invested, and goes farther: beyond the
facts, experiencing the ideas, processes and levels of analysis, purposes and
meaning. This also means that in class discussion the teacher be sensitive
to what the learners are saying and implying, and following those leads, and
building the class discussion around their responses, while always commenting
in ways which connect to and maneuver toward the longer-range course content
In one way, of course, this learning seems more decentralized, and perhaps
even chaotic, in comparison to the other mechanisms of strong control over assignments
and dates for testing which have been in the hands of the teacher. But actually,
it works very well. Learners who want to do the work do, while those not ready
yet go away --- without the former penalties of flunking, and without filling
the classroom with negativity. A new form of community self-management becomes
apparent, and this is even more visible on CAUCUS where the learners get deeply
involved with each others work, helping and pulling, encouraging each other,
and asking for clarifications where they are needed. They do this on their
own time --- before class, after class, on the weekends.
There is greater depth in understanding and interest in the courses now than
I have ever seen before, and while there are many reasons for this (more adults
in the audience, more classroom interaction, diverse groups linked, useful and
accessible technologies, and so on), I think it is also due in great part to
the frequency, constancy and intensity with which learners may now engage.
Another aspect is that as teacher, I selected times to teach which were convenient
for me, and which fit into the classroom or broadcast schedule. Learners had
to be able to meet those times.
Now the course is on interactive television and videotape. Next year it will
be on the Web. Learners can access individual lessons at THEIR convenience,
when THEY are ready, and they may peruse the materials for as long as they wish.
The Web and home pages are like a shopping mall where the learners may access
what they want, and then go back in with their essays and their comments. It
is a type of learning which allows the learner to devote him or herself as THEY
wish and have time for. I may still be an "expert" in the subject,
but I serve the clients as a guide and helper. The emphasis is on the learner
and the learning.
My joys of yesterday remain, but come now from the uncommon elation of knowing,
experiencing and sharing in the weekly, growing wisdom and wit as written by
the learners in their essays and their comments upon the work of others.
It also comes frequently from classroom sessions in which the exchange among
the men and women of various ages and races examine thoughts and themes that
amaze me. I have always believed in the potential of humans to aspire and learn.
Now I see it daily.
It was there all along, but I had not organized in a way to tap into it, nor
did I earlier have access to the tools and electronic procedures which would
encourage it. It is an exciting, hopeful and rewarding time to be in the classroom
and afterwards to continue the discussion with computer conferencing --- watching
and participating as it all comes together. Not only are we traversing new
ground, we are composing and drawing new maps.
TWO OR THREE ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS: Since the courses
I teach are videotaped, and assignments plus commentary from learners and from
me are on CAUCUS, it is possible for interested teachers and scholars to contact
me to arrange access to both. In addition, textbooks are available as illustrations
of the kind of help that a professor can provide with what formerly might have
been lectures during class time.
Secondly --- this "system" evolved over several years based upon
the Distance Learning system which NAUNet created in Arizona, under the leadership
of Vice-Provost Ed Groenhout and Television Services Director Paul Neuman.
Beginning in 1989 I worked in close proximity with both of them as their "faculty"
person, becoming contracted in 1991 with distance learning to multiple sites
as my only duty, year round. I have now taught some 75 courses to multiple
sites over this system, and have experimented with many alternative combinations
of learning activities.
It becomes very clear that the Distance Learning Delivery System used by an
institution is VERY important in the decision making about what methods and
combinations might be used. ANY DL system may be learner centered --- it is
up to the teacher; some DL systems are more flexible than others. NAUNet is
the, or one of the, most flexible.
"The Bensusan Method," and others, Ed Journal October and November,
"The Twelve Pillars of Learning," DEOS-L, AEDNET, H-TEACH, July 1,
1996; short version, "Total Learning Quality Management," Ed Journal,
"Lecture and Beyond," DEOS-L, AEDNET, H-TEACH, February 17, 1997;
Ed Journal, March,1997.
"The Escalator," DEOS-L, AEDNET, H-TEACH, May 27, 1997.
About the Author
Dr. Guy Bensusan was a practitioner-scholar who continues to make significant
contributions to the art and science of teaching and learning. He was Professor
of Humanities and Religious Studies and Senior Faculty Associate for Interactive
Instructional Television at Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ, 86011.
He made regular contributions to the USDLA Journal from 1995 to the time of
his death in October 2001. His contributions continue be celebrated through
unpublished and previously published articles in this Journal.