Vol. 15 : No. 7
Editor's Note: This paper evolved from Dr. Bensusan's comments made to emailed questions from Professor Vera Mello, Ed Tech, Sao Paulo, BR. Professor Mello questions: Why are learners in these classes more open to help each other? Could this show a change in the students' view of the learning process? Are there changes in what they (the learners) now believe learning really is? Dr. Bensusan's answers provide as accurate a description of the anatomy of a Paradigm Shift within the education arena as any we have researched
In Praise of Learners
Enrollments in my courses grow each semester.... I have 415 now and a couple of helpers... and the learners are learning from each other, asking questions of each other, giving each other citations, encouraging those who get a bit of panic, helping with suggestions on technical matters, offering ideas to help extend the outlines, and in general being very enthusiastic with each other.
If I knew why for sure, I would bottle it, sell it and lease franchises... but some good solid research is needed so that we may go farther.
I have taught this way for seven years (interactive Web) and have watched it improve, feel sure it has substance.... but also think the Halo effect has been and is still with us, plus the rise and fall of tides. I am cautious and hopeful. AND --- having said that... I would offer a baker's dozen considerations (other than the obvious excellence of program components and its modest teacher!).
1. It is THEIR (the learners) program, not mine... I set up the process, Lori puts it in the WebCT, and the learners do the work, while I read, watch, and respond or nudge when my instinct says to... otherwise, I leave them alone to enjoy interaction with the ten steps.
2. It is individualized, no common testing ... each one selects a topic and pursues it, asking and getting help from each other in formulating the questions. We go one step at a time. All are asked to contribute to developing elements further.
3. It is equalized in opportunity... there is no grade curve. All start with an A and can keep it or lose it based on their personal growth from where they start to where they finish. They work HARD to keep what they have been given.
4. There is no competition. They are encouraged to interact, and helping others gives GREAT rewards to both helpers and 'helpees', creates a super community atmosphere where the learners make sure they all are moving ahead, offering websites and articles, suggestions, and constant, chatty, social feedback.
5. It is DIFFERENT from what they are used to in traditional courses, and many learners REVEL in that, enjoy the freedom, and because they enjoy it, they spend LOTS of time on their work. But even that helps them with the personal discipline balance act of keeping all their courses moving ahead rather than focusing on the fun-one.
6. There is a Tom Sawyer Whitewashing of the Fence quality here too... work as an enjoyable investment of their efforts, with care to do it well. Plus a recognition that they are not being given a fish for one semester, but learning how to fish effectively across many disciplines for the rest of their lives.
7. They are allowed to explore with little risk, knowing that the academic lifeguard will not let them drown. They can look on each other's papers without being accused of cheating, and no proctors look over their shoulders. They can "come to class" when THEY are ready, and they don't have to drive, park, walk to the room and sit in rows. They have access to talk via messages with others or me 24-7.
8. The programs have a history and positive reputation from seven years around the calendar -- fall, spring, summer. The enrollees KNOW from friends who have gone before and from the grapevine that they will succeed if they work at it.
9. Students love the applicability of the principles to other courses they take in Humanities, Social Sciences, and Sciences. The five models (Hexadigm, Ladder, Bias, Source Evaluation and Schools of Thought) make sense to them, and they transfer what they learned into other courses.
10. The courses are open to all who want to enter (computer takes up to 999, but no single course has enrolled more than two hundred yet). There is always room at the Inn.
11. As the senior professor -- I have been here at NAU (Northern Arizona University) for 39 years-- I am known as experimenter and developer of new ways of learning, and also for enthusiasm, enjoyment of learners, and passion for learning -- that is a marketable product. I was fortunate to be assigned with NAUNet at the inauguration in 1989, and will continue to work with NAUNet from my new home in Kingman, AZ.
12. A Revolution is going on... Students know it even if many professors do not, or refuse to participate in the new ways. Learners seek professors who follow new paths, use new technologies, reach out to draw upon what they already know and help everyone win, so there are no losers. They know they are building for their own tomorrow and helping construct improvements in the programs for learners who will follow.
13. The support system is TOP NOTCH.... WebCT is handled by Holly Coast who is both dedicated and highly competent. Course manager, Lori Couture, has worked with me since 97, having been trained by Mauri Collins (now at RIT, and moderator for DEOS and E-Mod), and is a most considerate, knowledgeable, helpful and gentle guide both for the learners and me. NAUNet is a premier statewide interactive system (with national and global connections via University House on Starband and the Internet) ... The directors and staff say, " we WILL make it happen!!!" Each year it gets better... I can no longer see any difference between streaming and live...!
There may be many more reasons. If there are, these will be found in postings of the learners.