Create useful tools and models to stimulate learning
When professors invent formulas, recipes, and catch-words which are instantly recognized by the student, it helps in practicing learning and encouraging students to make their own applications which they subsequently share in class. The models provide students with tools that will help them think about a subject and put it into a reasonable construct, rather than just receiving and memorizing information given to them. Ten years ago I developed a six-part paradigm about how human expressions evolve and grow. I called it the Hexadigm:
Cultural Sequences Mutual Influences Regional Diversities Modernizing Technologies Expanding Comprehensions Revised Interpretations
It has been an incredibly valuable tool for assisting learning, and is clearly applicable far beyond my initial intent to develop a device for dealing with the evolution of culture in the Americas. At first I was interested more in how music, art, dance, architecture, religion, history and language had developed as resident natives met arriving Europeans, plus the Africans they transported to the New World during the Colonial Era. Cultural sequences clearly evoked mutual influences, which varied regionally for topographic and demographic reasons.
Modernizing technologies began about the time of Independence, around 1800, when new inventions in mining, transportation, manufacturing and agriculture created an acceleration of activities. The general rule became "More and Faster," and as American nations became independent from former mother countries, additional cultural sequences of peoples (Irish, Germans, Italians, etc.) arrived to settle in both older and younger locations, thus speeding up as well as adding to the mutuality of influences. Those in turn evolved differently, depending on their local history, elevation, ethnic ratios and location. The velocity of cultural change accelerated decade by decade as more ethnic groups came together into the mix, and as new products dictated the need for additional resources, often found in places that had not been as important during the older, pre-industrial economies of colonial times.
Thus nitrates for fertilizer, copper for electrification, rubber for tires, petroleum for kerosene, natural gas and gasoline led to struggles for control of the extraction and harvesting of those resources. Wars were fought which redefined boundaries and reshaped nations. New inventions such as motion pictures, recorded sound, aviation and tourism, continued to expand information as well as the methods for studying the present and the past. The speedup also continued to bring more and different people together faster, and they influenced each other ever more rapidly and in ever more diverse ways, again depending upon regional location.
Fresh inventions, continually opened up new economic and life opportunities --- dynamics which created stress and strain, leading to breakdowns in earlier systems, and struggles between nations and intra-national groups. In turn, this leads to the need for institutions to adapt to the newer conditions. Dependable past ideologies became undependable, because they were predicated on ideas which were no longer truly visible, while new ways of thinking emerged, challenging old ideas and offering new ones.
Increased quantities of information, more globally acquired, expanded comprehensions and changed academic study and perceptions, forcing revision of dictionaries and encyclopedias, and creating ever more disputes and factions claiming ownership of truth. And it continues today --- people still move, creating more cultural sequences, in turn more rapidly influencing each other with the new technologies, and altering regional diversities while furthering them in other ways. We look ahead and cannot see clearly where we are going, and we look back and see that the principles that brought us to this place may no longer function tomorrow. Our future interpretations of the past may well become revised by what we learn as we revise our thinking in the present.
My initial application of this cultural model also evolved. The first step came in class one day when a Zoology student challenged the Hexadigm by saying he was a scientist and the model would clearly not be applicable to his field of study. I paused, hoping that I was not showing any reaction, and leaped to the defense of my invention by asking a simple question: "Did all the animals now residing in the Western Hemisphere arrive there at the same time? And if not, would that constitute anything like Cultural Sequences in Zoology?" When he agreed, I followed by asking how he thought the introduction of new animals might have affected those already here
Next, did he agree that all animals would not have been alike in all parts of the Americas? Gaining his assent, we moved through the rest of the model without difficulty, and from that time on, having learned something useful, I have included the history of all the sciences and engineering in the list of topics which students might choose to learn about and develop their course projects on. Some extraordinary projects have resulted since then, and it clearly is useful to allow students to select what they are comfortable with rather than force something upon them.
The next stage in my learning about the value of this tool came when a group of international students enrolled in my course during the summer. One was from India, another from the Ukraine and a third from Israel. They studied the Hexadigm and immediately pointed out in class that it was a valid way to briefly describe the history of their respective nations and cultures to Americans without bogging down in an overwhelming barrage of national dates and details.
This international application had not been my original intention when I created the tool, but the fact that it works for many, if not all parts of the world makes me wonder if it is not a "basic truth." Many additional experiences with students in fields across the curriculum have now led me to the conclusion that the Hexadigm works with any Human Construct; whatever humans have put together into a field of study or academic discipline can be investigated through the six steps.
One major advantage over traditional methods of study that focus on nationality or principles or significant leaders, is that all aspects of the construct are involved. We deal with long epochs of time, and the inexorable change that derives from contact among peoples affecting their lives on a daily basis. The approach by location, by discipline, or by multiculturality is inclusive rather than exclusive; instead of a political construct that sees things from the top down and keeps out the powerless, this is a cultural construct of layers that has impact upon all segments of society from the top to the bottom. We consider and examine all rather than just some of the people. Through the Hexadigm students can as easily learn a history of epistemology as a history of clothing, dance, foods, festivals, religion or weaving. And they can just as easily study the evolution of political systems, epidemics, architecture or dentistry practices.
The Hexadigm worked beautifully, but needed some other considerations in order to go farther. I added a second model called The Ladder. It began as sixteen different levels of comprehension, beginning at the bottom and working upward, but that was too many parts for students to remember effectively. I condensed things to a model of eight stages, each "rung" as an aid to examining a topic, though not necessarily in the order I had written them. The lowest or first rung of The Ladder is "Reactive Response."
With this model, I try to help students become aware that regardless of what they decide about something in their first impression, other approaches to the subject exist, and that with practice they can rapidly climb the ladder from reaction to educated response by going through the rungs. For instance, in one course, Popular Arts, we study the love tragedy of Carmen and Jose by examining how the story is told through fifteen different art forms. Thinking about the story through the Hexadigm will lead the students through a series of awarenesses in the direction of cultural evolution, and is clearly useful to their sense of history and culture. By examining each story and art form through a different model they can educate themselves by asking and responding to their own questions, thereby taking charge of their learning.
When we switch to The Ladder we move from culture and evolution to analysis and comparison on multiple levels. Thus, the first rung, or reactive response, allows the students to love Carmen and hate Jose (or vice-versa) --- based upon the conditioning, gender and mindset of each student. But we cannot allow them to stay in mere reaction; they don't pay tuition for that; they must climb the ladder beyond their knee-jerk responses and feelings.
We go to the second rung of components and techniques in which it is obvious that any story will have an introduction, development and conclusion, each of which will have sub-parts, such as setting, mood, character and contrast for the introduction. Then too, as we examine those sub-parts, it is clear that each character is not a real human but a fictional being, possessing qualities and attributes bestowed by the author, and for a purpose or goal. Similarly, the interaction of characters has been made to happen through the use of devices, props and other techniques calculated to get the audience to take sides in one way or another.
Then we move to the cultural context to learn that Josť was Basque, that Carmen was a Gypsy, and therefore not part of the mainstream culture in Spain. Moreover, the author of the novel was a French man writing about a Spanish Gypsy woman for an audience of French men, and that we who are the teacher and students are North American and examining this story a century and a half after it was written! It is immediately obvious that several national and cultural points of view must be considered in any analysis of meaning: examination of the causes of behavior or evaluation of the literary criteria in determining how "good" the artform is.
The next level takes us to our sources of information, where there are many Carmens, written by authors from several nations at varying times --- each with its special essence. Which Carmen are we looking at ? The novel was written in 1845; the opera in 1875. Both of them were in France in contrast to the first silent movies, which were made in the USA in 1916. There was a Russian ballet, a Spike Jones musical parody, a puppet show, Carmen on Ice, a Black-Face Musical, a stage play, and so on. ("Will the Real Carmen please stand up?") Each Carmen gives us different information about culture, behavior, gender roles and issues, political and social ideologies, as well as the art of storytelling. Each Carmen has a different author --- each author a different slant on the story. How should we relate each to time and place?
As we get into purposes and schools of thought, it is clear that author-Merimee had his own, while the musician, Bizet, was thinking in another manner. Obviously one wrote a novel and the other an opera; the former had only one woman in the story with no one to compare her to, while the latter contrasted a pure, rather uninteresting girl with a "sexy devilish temptress!" The first story was more about the demise of a man falling from grace in the tragic tradition, while caught between cultures. The latter was more about the art of Grand Opera, contrasting female and male types, and the violent end of a man who could not simply sigh, blow her a kiss and walk away. The amount of material for learning is infinite.
Related is another model, a red stop sign entitled Bias. It shows the ideal of point-of-view in the physical sense of where one is when something is observed --- that is, the angle of vision --- including that which one cannot see because of location. It also shows our mental and emotional bias, directing our attention to other aspects that relate to how we grew up: matters of parental training, religion, ethnicity, social conditioning, nationality, gender, and which academic field one's professional training is in. While one aspect of bias obviously relates to each student, it also relates to the professor as well as to various authors and sources of information that the student will use. Therefore, these models help us look into where we are in our thinking at any given time, and how we can come to see patterns in how people are going to react as we watch them over time.
Another model that relates to this Bias is called Evaluating Sources of Information. It is somewhat similar to the ladder, but here we are asking questions about the validity and slant of a book or article, museum display or interview. Naturally we are interested in the information itself, but not without some guidelines as to where it is coming from. I divide the book-article validation discussion into two parts, called "internal" and "external."
The internal side has to do with the book itself, what it says, how it says it, how the ideas are presented, and so on, thus leading us into evaluating what the author says and seems to think. The external part is more a matter of establishing the context; when was the book written and published, where did the publication occur, what kind of information resources did the author have access to and how thoroughly has s/he substantiated any statements or findings. Another side of this lies in comparing what the book says to what other books say --- who quotes who ? Or, if it is a journal article, what is the editorial policy, who writes for it, how does one get an article accepted, and so on? It is interesting that many students start off with more emphasis on the external validation and gradually shift to the internal as they become more attuned to the nuances of word usage.
Other models are more for helping us keep track of the questions and areas we have to think about when we are talking about rung two on The Ladder, that is, components and techniques. One model is called Tragic Formula, and shows the components of Noble Hero, Tragic Flaw, Moral Choice, Wrong Choice, Reversal Opportunities, Point of No Return, Catastrophe and Realization. By having a model in front of the students, we can constantly go back to examine where each of the model parts are to be found in a story, after the students have read or seen each version.
With the Characterization Devices Model, there are fourteen points that provide attributes or ascribe qualities to any character in a story or movie. Such factors as what the characters look like, what they wear, the way they move, how they talk and what they say, their non-verbal behavior, props and backgrounds, as well as the sets, lighting, foreshadowing, juxtapositions, use of the sound track, proxemics, blocking, camera position, movement and angle, along with how all these are fed to us, relate to the art of creating effects which will influence audience response. Yet another model is the one called Visual Study. It is set up in rungs also, though one less than The Ladder:
Once again, each rung leads us to a specific idea, component or consideration about what happens when an artist assembles a visual "something" for us to look at. Likewise, what happens when we as viewers look at it and attempt to go beyond our initial and reactive response? Each level can be examined at length, and the consequence of doing so allows us to explore similar ideas and layers in a written essay, as well as in a musical composition, dance, or any other art form.
The intent, just as with the other displays, is to keep the students focused upon the concept as well as the example; the ubiquitous display stares them in the face even if their eyes do not clearly focus on it. It is there and it is obviously important; osmosis is a valuable technique for learning and for learner-helping.
These models, and several others which I have developed for specific uses, have proven over the years to be extremely valuable, even VITAL, in my continuing effort to turn the learning over to the students. To let them talk, define, and argue, make their respective cases by balancing ideas, historical factors and arts techniques, to ask where the information came from, how the concepts were portrayed or conveyed, what they might mean, and how they are explained, is paramount to learning.
"What does it mean?" We always must deal with the question of meaning, and argument over what constitutes the "proper" interpretation is endless. While I will occasionally reveal my own views on the subject, the most important development comes from students making their own choices based on factors that they have learned, reflected on, balanced and articulated. Students return years afterwards to tell me that while they still remember the course subject matter, their greatest gain came from learning the tools and being able later to apply them in real life.