Capturing the Visible Evidence of Invisible Learning

by Randy Bass and Bret Eynon

Randy Bass is Assistant Provost for Teaching and Learning Initiatives at Georgetown University, where he is also Executive Director of Georgetown’s Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship (CNDLS) and an associate professor of English at Georgetown. In 1998-99, he was a Pew Scholar in the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, and from 2000-2008, he served as a consulting scholar with the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Dr. Bret Eynon is Assistant Dean for Teaching and Learning at LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) and the executive director of the LaGuardia Center for Teaching & Learning. With CUNY’s American Social History Project from 1983-2000, he wrote acclaimed textbooks, produced award-winning documentary videos, and founded and led for 6 years ASHP’s national New Media Classroom program. A national faculty member for the Association of American Colleges & Universities, he recently founded LaGuardia’s new, FIPSE-funded initiative: the Making Connections National Resource Center on Inquiry, Reflection, and Integrative Education.

Originally Posted January 7th, 2009

Note: This is a synthesis essay for the Visible Knowledge Project (VKP), a collaborative project engaging seventy faculty at twenty-one institutions in an investigation of the impact on technology on learning, primarily in the humanities. As a matter of formatting to the Academic Commons space, this essay is divided in three parts: Part I (Overview of project, areas of inquiry, introduction to findings);Part II  (Discussion of findings with a focus on Adaptive Expertise and Embodied Learning);Part III (Discussion of findings continued with a focus on Socially Situated learning, Conclusion). A full-text version of this essay is available as a pdf document here

Here, in this forum as part of Academic Commons, the essay complements eighteen case  teaching, learning, and new media technologies. Together the essay and studies constitute the digital volume “The Difference that Inquiry Makes: A Collaborative Case Study of Learning and Technology, from the Visible Knowledge Project.” For more information about VKP, see https://digitalcommons.georgetown.edu/blogs/vkp/

Déjà 2.0 
Facebook. Twitter. Social media. YouTube. Viral marketing. Mashups. Second Life. PBWikis. Digital Marketeers. FriendFeed. Flickr. Web 2.0. Approaching the second decade of the twenty-first century, we’re riding an unstoppable wave of digital innovation and excitement. New products and paradigms surface daily. New forms of language, communication, and style are shaping emerging generations. The effect on culture, politics, economics and education will be transformative. As educators, we have to scramble to get on board, before it’s too late.
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Shaping a Culture of Conversation: The Discussion Board and Beyond

by Edward J. Gallagher, Lehigh University. Edward J. Gallagher is Professor of English and former Lehigh Lab Fellow at Lehigh University. Five of his web sites have recently been published under the general title of History on Trial by the Lehigh University Digital Library. He is currently exploring the educational uses of Second Life.

Originally Posted January 7th, 2009

The Backstory: Discovering Community1
I can still remember the exhilaration with which in 1997 (before Blackboard and WebCT) I approached my first discussion board as part of the Lehigh English Department’s participation in the groundbreaking Epiphany Project. I had long used such methods as “reaction cards” to engage student involvement, so the move to discussion boards was a natural evolution. But evolution to what? Today the discussion board signifies class community for me. But that was not overtly so in the beginning. Influenced greatly by a seminal College English article by Marilyn Cooper and Cindy Selfe (I had attended Selfe’s Computers in the Writing-Intensive Classroom workshop at Michigan Tech in 1996), my statement of goals for the Epiphany project discussion board had a “radical” tinge to it, with rather stentorian claims about a free space for students and liberation from the teacher’s agenda or ideas. But that approach was a mistake. It led to using the discussion board as a bulletin board (I am tempted to say soap box) on which students posted individual, discrete messages that others were supposed to read but, by and large, didn’t, at least with much palpable impact. There was no “epiphany” that I can remember, just a gradual awareness over time as VKP approached that there was no meaningful “discussion” on my discussion board and that, without interaction, I was not fully tapping the potential of the new technology.

That potential was to create a community of learners, and gradually “community” replaced rebellion and resistance–that is, the cultivation of the individual voice–as my signifier. In fact, the most important thing I discovered (or uncovered) through this VKP project on discussion boards was the depths of my passion for community, a passion that has quite visibly informed my pedagogy ever since, especially in a second experimental course that I will talk about later. Achieving community is the continual worry in the personal blog that I kept during the VKP course–indeed, causing two serious blow-outs with the students midway through. In my VKP final report I frankly admitted that I sometimes felt “obsessed with the need for community,” felt embarrassed by the ranting way I talked about it, but felt more and more “the pressing need for people to talk with each other, to get beyond difference, to work together, to get along.” The “Improving the Discussion Board” VKP project, then, would in reality be about the creation of community.

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Blended Learning: The “Hazards & Risks”

 

GawronskiVincent T. Gawronski is associate professor of political science at Birmingham-Southern College in Alabama. He received his B.A. in history and Spanish from the University of Texas at Austin (1987) and his M.A. (1993) and Ph.D. (1998) in political science from Arizona State University. He is currently the coordinator of the Latin American Studies program at Birmingham-Southern and chair of the Teaching Committee of the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs. Dr. Gawronski’s area of expertise is Mexico and Central America, where he has maintained primarily four research tracks: 1) political and socioeconomic development, 2) disaster risk reduction, 3) “politics of disaster,” and 4) push-pull migration factors. Dr. Gawronski has contributed to several sponsored projects focusing on disasters and political change in the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Dr. Gawronski has authored or co-authored publications in International Studies Perspectives, Peace Review, Hemisphere, International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos, Cambridge Journal of International Affairs, and Latin American Politics and Society. vgawrons@bsc.edu

HoltWilliam G. Holt, Ph.D./J.D., is coordinator of the Urban Environmental Studies Program at Birmingham-Southern College. Holt received his B.A. in geography from the University of Georgia where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa. Holt has a Master’s in city planning from Georgia Tech where he worked on the 1996 Summer Olympics planning efforts. Holt was a community planner with the National Capital Planning Commission in Washington, D.C., working on the 2050 Monumental Core Plan update of the 1791 L’Enfant Plan. Holt received his Ph.D. in sociology from Yale University and his J.D. from Vermont Law School specializing in energy law. He edited two books: Urban Areas and Global Climate Change (Emerald 2012) and From Sustainable to Resilient Cities: Urban Efforts/Global Solutions (Emerald, forthcoming 2014).

Executive Summary

Birmingham-Southern College (BSC)’s Exploration Term in January affords instructors and students opportunities to create innovative projects that might be developed into semester-long courses. Drawing on BSC’s Urban Environmental Studies Program (UES), we planned this course to cross our traditional subject boundaries in political science and sociology with the natural sciences. The course focused on environmental hazards (tectonic-earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes, weather extremes, hydrological flood and droughts as well as disease epidemics) and urban social risks (poverty, war, starvation, and crime). We employed blended and flipped learning strategies as well as games and simulations. We conducted several field activities in the Birmingham metropolitan area as well as a three-night trip to New Orleans to examine post-Katrina redevelopment. The project drew upon academic publications, resources from local, national, and international governmental and nongovernmental organizations, and guest experts; we also relied heavily on Internet resources. The compressed January Exploration Term created some scheduling and pedagogical challenges. For example, it was not always possible to schedule remote class visits. Students had shorter times for class preparation and reflections, and we had little time to overcome technological problems. We realized our goals were too ambitious for a four-week session. We plan to offer the course again as full-summer term course to address time constraints and make use of better weather for field excursions. Indeed, there was a learning curve for both the professors and the students, but we are confident we successfully introduced and reinforced the course learning outcomes.

I would definitely take a blended learning course again. I learn best by watching, listening, and interacting. Blended learning almost seemed to cater to my ability to focus and learn.
–Student Comment

This course was different from many other classes that I have taken so far since our learning came from many different sources, trips, guest speakers, simulations, and lectures.
–Student Comment

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Teaching with Twitter: Extending the conversation beyond the classroom walls

by David R. Wessner, professor of biology, Davidson College

photograph of David R. Wessner, author of "Teaching with Twitter: Extending the conversation beyond the classroom walls"

Executive Summary

Robust classroom discussions augment the learning process greatly and improve the critical thinking skills of our students. Our discussions, however, necessarily are limited. We are limited to the knowledge, experiences, and perspectives of the members of the course. With the use of social networking platforms like Twitter, we can overcome this limitation. We can extend the conversation beyond the members of the class, beyond the classroom walls, and the beyond the appointed class hours. In this case study, I describe how I incorporated Twitter into my class with the express goal of having my students interact with a broader audience. The results were encouraging. First, several non-class members regularly tweeted using our class hashtag. Each of them provided an expertise that augmented our class discussions and furthered our understanding of the material. Second, the use of Twitter allowed me to more intentionally integrate information literacy into my class. The students thought more critically about sources of information. Finally, this approach to broadening the classroom conversation may allow students at different institutions to interact with each other. Separate classes, at separate institutions, could partner to form a larger virtual community, thereby providing our students with a richer educational experience.

Rationale

Many studies have shown that various forms of active learning improve student outcomes (Ebert-May et al. 1997; Freeman et al., 2007; Knight and Wood, 2005). While active learning can take many forms, most examples involve some form of discussion. In the think-pair-share model, for example, instructors ask students to contemplate a particular question or problem, talk about the issue with a fellow student, and then present a synthesized answer to the larger group (Lyman, 1981; Tanner and Allen, 2002). The success of this approach seems quite obvious. Each student needs to clearly articulate his or her viewpoints to his or her partner. Both students then must evaluate each other’s answer. Finally, together, the students must synthesize a new answer that may or may not perfectly reflect either of their original answers.

While the benefits of discussion-based learning may be obvious, the approach is necessarily limited. Whether we have a class with twelve students, twenty students, or fifty students, our discussions ultimately will be confined to the knowledge, viewpoints, expertise, and experiences of the class members.

So how do we overcome this limitation? How do we increase the viewpoints, expertise, and experiences brought to our discussion? We could make our classes infinitely large. Obviously, that solution is not feasible. Social media platforms like Twitter, however, may allow us to solve this problem. By using social networking in our classes, we can create an infinitely large, and presumably more knowledgeable and informed, virtual discussion group. Moreover, by involving actual practitioners, we can create for students a community of practice (Lave and Wenger, 1991).

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