Which Word is Emphasized in “Active Learning”?

This week in our Teaching, Learning and Technology course, GRAD-602, we will explore active learning.  I was delighted that one of our students jumped in to the topic early with her post, “Educators Against Active Learning.” Now, EvoAcademic is not against active learning herself.  Rather, she is commenting about Kevin Mattson‘s 2005 article, “Why ‘Active Learning’ Can Be Perilous To The Profession.”

Mattson’s article appeared to be a rallying cry against administrators for pushing changes in how the professoriate teaches while blaming faculty for poor student performance, particularly when administration does not provide faculty with the resources needed to make substantive change.  He seemed to suggest that calls for active learning such as those by Dee Fink or John Tagg “…illustrates how the burden of active learning is clearly placed on the shoulders of the professoriate.”

The Burden of Active Learning?

Wow!

.

I always thought the whole point of active learning was to shift the focus of activity off of the professor and on to the students.  Active learning is about having students solve problems, answer questions, formulate questions of their own, discuss, explain, debate, or brainstorm during class – thereby increasing their engagement with learning.  I certainly saw active learning being modeled when we met at the Future of Education conference and created the poster to the left.  We were “doing”…and the focus was on the learning!  This is just one active learning technique, and Richard Felder illustrates many more in his excellent resources at his website on Student-Centered Teaching and Learning.

I am looking forward to the discussion in class, as I hope to bridge Jeff Nugent’s exploration of How People Learn in the last class with Dee Fink’s concept of Significant Learning.  As EvoAcademic points out:

“[Felder's definition of active learning as] “…anything course-related that all students in a class session are called upon to do other than simply watching, listening and taking notes.”  So… active learning is anything EXCEPT what many higher education classrooms are currently doing…” 

Linking HPL to Active Learning may help keep the focus off “active” and on to where it belongs, “learning.”  We shall see.

I am wondering if any of you have good advice for new faculty on active learning?

{Photo Credit: NMC}

 

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Happy Pi Day Once Again

One of my favorite non-holidays.  The date 3.14 reminds us of that irrational number Pi, or π, though I have to admit that my favorite irrational number is i, the square root of negative one.

With all the changes occurring in both the digital world and education in general, if might be nice if we tried some irrational things for a change.  Continuing to design our education processes as if we were in an agricultural or factory society no longer makes sense, but neither does willy nilly recordings of talking heads to replace lectures.  What would be irrational is to toss out the old model and try a new model that does not bolt on the web, but actually integrates it into learning.

So to celebrate irrationality, here are the first few thousand digits of Pi (if you want a million digits, go here):

3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510582097494459230781640628620899862803482534211706798214808651 32823066470938446095505822317253594081284811174502841027019385211055596446229489549303819644288109756659334461 28475648233786783165271201909145648566923460348610454326648213393607260249141273724587006606315588174881520920 96282925409171536436789259036001133053054882046652138414695194151160943305727036575959195309218611738193261179 31051185480744623799627495673518857527248912279381830119491298336733624406566430860213949463952247371907021798 60943702770539217176293176752384674818467669405132000568127145263560827785771342757789609173637178721468440901 22495343014654958537105079227968925892354201995611212902196086403441815981362977477130996051870721134999999837 29780499510597317328160963185950244594553469083026425223082533446850352619311881710100031378387528865875332083 81420617177669147303598253490428755468731159562863882353787593751957781857780532171226806613001927876611195909 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Online Learning Theory

I have just finished reading (and enjoying)  Linda Harasim‘s book, Learning Theory and Online Technology (Routledge Publishing, 2011).  She postulates that the learning theories of the past centuries need updating for the networked learning era in which we find ourselves.  Linda frames a new theory by taking us on a historical journey through the development of previous theories of learning.

Linda harkens back to Thomas Kuhn‘s work on paradigms to note that theories influence, shape and determine our actions.  She suggests the human race has had four major socio-technological paridigm shifts:

  • “Speech (40,000 BCE): the development of speech and intertribal communication in hunter-gatherer communities produces recognizable civilizations based on informal learning with characteristic crafts and symbolic art;
  • Writing (10,000 BCE): agricultural revolution interacts with the massing of populations in fertile regions to produce state structures and cumulative knowledge growth based on the invention of writing and the formalization of learning;
  • Printing (CE 1600): machine technology and the printing press interact with the development of global trade and communication, to expand the dissemination and specialization of knowledge and science;
  • Internet (CE 2000): advanced network technology interacts with powerful new models of education and training that offer the potential to produce knowledge-based economies and the democratization of knowledge production (p.17).”

Marshall McLuhan might have added radio and television to this mix, as we do live in a mediated environment.  That said, it would be hard to argue that the internet has not profoundly influenced, shaped and determined our actions in the past decade.  Linda uses this historical context to map out the history of the internet, and then in parallel to lay out the historical development of learning theories.  She starts with behaviorist theories of Pavlov and Skinner, which in a stimulus – response mode, are seen as too rigid.  She then moved into the cognitivist learning theory, with its mind as a computer model.  She suggests that this was instructor-centered and transmission focused.  She then reviewed the next evolution – constructivist learning theory, with active learning and knowledge scaffolding.

To Linda, the introduction of the internet profoundly shifted how knowledge is created and shared.  The previous three theories were based on scarcity of knowledge and experts.  The internet allowed for the social development of knowledge.  Linda therefore proposed a new theory – Online Collaborative Learning (OCL) Theory, which emphasizes active engagement by groups for idea generation, idea organizing, and intellectual convergence.

A weakness in Linda’s book is that she never mentions connectivism as a theory, and yet many of the characteristics of her OCL theory align with networked learning and the connectivism theory of Stephen Downes and George Siemens.  Like connectivism, Linda sees learning as a process that builds on connections inside and outside the classroom.  An interesting point Linda makes is that the role of teacher/faculty is neither “Sage on the Stage” nor “Guide on the Side”, but rather the connection between the students and her network within her discipline.

Linda provides three chapters of cases illustrating her Online Collaborative Learning theory, which I found useful.  She ends her book by noting the amazing growth of the internet over the past twenty years, from a total of 623 websites in 1993 to the present world of Google, Facebook, Wikipedia, and Amazon.  The internet has become a familiar and common aspect of life, yet its impact on education does not mirror this growth outside education.  Linda sees the internet as still an “add-on” and not an integrated aspect of teaching.  I might argue that this is less true of students than teachers, but I understand where Linda is coming from.  She is holding up the promise of online learning.

Having just finished Linda’s book, I am now starting David Weinberger‘s new book, Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room .  In many ways, David picks up where Linda leaves off.  David’s previous book, Everything is Miscellaneous, is one of my favorites and very useful in understanding tagging and social bookmarking.  In this book, David notes that society has been bemoaning information overload for thousands of years.  Yet we continue to survive (and thrive).  He quotes Clay Shirky‘s famous “It’s not information overload. It’s filter failure,” but adds an interesting nuance.  Filters in the past removed information.  In choosing which books to place on a shelf, libraries filtered out thousands of other published works.  You only saw the books they selected.  In this digital era, he uses as an example Mary Spiro’s list in the Baltimore Science News Examiner of eight podcasts one should not miss.  While she has filtered out thousands of podcasts, those podcasts can still be found on the internet if one chooses.  In other words, today’s filters remove clicks, but not the content itself.  So filters no longer filter out, they filter forward.  When we use a Google search, the fact that our search returns millions of hits no longer seems overwhelming.  We accept it and usually use the first ten hits.  In Weinberger’s view, the filters themselves have become content, making our network smarter.

I am only through the first chapter of David’s book, but it is a timely piece that continues to nudge my thinking.  If you have read either of these books, I would be interested in your thoughts.

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