Develop activities so
by Guy Bensusan
Learning after class has been going on much longer than learning before class. The protracted prototype has been that students have listened to the lecture, taken notes, and go elsewhere to review, read the text and otherwise prepare for the quiz or examination. This certainly constitutes "learning after class," while the interaction part can easily have occurred when everyone got together to study. I would classify this process as being teacher-centered and content-centered, however, and not learning-centered.
The purpose of this chapter is to consider how student interaction and learning after class can be shifted over being both learner-centered and collaborative, as well as to become a rehearsal for lifelong learning-to-learn behavior. Two important aspects of this learning transformation have already been examined. One is that students will obtain information before class, and the other that they will engage in planned learning experiences during class. A ping-pong effect occurs when students read about part A out of class, and then discuss it in class; subsequently they read part B out of class, and then discuss that in class, and so on with C, D, E and the rest.
Going one step farther, the experienced teacher is well aware of what is coming next in the course and with planning can put it to use for the learning process by pointing out to students what some of the next steps will be and how they relate. One consequence is that students will begin to see connections that are not obvious when each element is separated from the others. In class, meanwhile, during the part A conversation, the teacher can introduce the connecting elements which will look ahead to part B, and foreshadow sessions even farther ahead. The ping-pong effect would have even more impact because students would be encouraged to anticipate the next step.
When we think along these lines, the learning-centered teacher can assemble the activities for class discussion A in three parts: (1) preparatory readings, (2) moderated interaction in the classroom and (3) subsequent after-class assignments which follow up on and reinforce what was done in class --- as well as a fourth part which constitute planning the readings in preparation for the next moderated class discussion. The idea behind this is for the teacher to create a continuous and lengthy flow of learning activities which will have a long-term effect on the students by having them practice the activities which train them for lifelong learning.
Three considerations appear in this process: the activities selected must all be relevant and useful, they must be placed in an order constructing the learning, and the purposes of those tasks in sequence must be clearly explained to the learners. Otherwise, the lesson remains factual rather than productive, that is, it appears to be more for the purpose of preparing for a test than for the sake of comprehending the larger subject-matter picture. This is significant because it relates directly to whether the reason for engaging in the learning is short-term or long-term.
Let us look at this as if it were part of the Hexadigm process discussed in Chapter A-2, where we have a six part model which functions to awaken ideas and connections. Let us imagine that students have read the chapter explaining the Hexadigm and its component parts of Cultural Sequences, Mutual Influences, and the rest. That was their homework, their pre-class preparation so that when they came to class they would know the parts, know how each was defined, where each part fit in the pattern, and how they functioned as a continuing spiral of cultural evolution.
The teacher must choose activities that are relevant and useful to the development of the students thinking. Each segment must help in building a new step, either by going deeper into the information or laterally into other significant connections.
Teacher centered vs learner centered
It is apparent to me that the learning done before class contributes to the learning taking place during class, where we talk about and explore the ideas in the readings as well as discuss applications relating to the models and displays constantly in front of the room. As long as we were limited in our access to computers, to chat groups and group systems software, about the only thing I could assign to do after class was read the next assignment and work on essays and projects. But things do not stay the same, and the dynamics of our age plus the efforts of our campus learner support groups now are making it possible for students to interact and learn after class, too. And changes for after class will influence during class activities.
Learning comes from doing, from hands-on manipulation of information, its ideas, meanings, contexts and all the rest we have repeatedly mentioned (almost as if the chapters of this book were calculatedly an exercise in the learning process). In addition to the learning that can go on from the experiences that have been organized for the classroom, superior learning can also occur in other time frames and blocks. Learning comes from frequency as well as intensity; thereby implying what happens outside of class is also vital. Whether we call it homework, or workbook exercises, or reading the chapter for the next class discussion and answering the questions in advance, there is always the possibility for keeping the learning-pot on simmer in-between the actual class meetings.
Of course, a different way of looking at it has to do with what a three-hour course is worth in terms of hours per week. How many hours should we expect a student to spend in order to get three hours of credit. If we take the normal formula we can suggest two hours outside of class for each hour in class, which can actually be put in to the learning.
With current technologies proliferating rapidly, many other options are opened. If students can be on electronic mail, they can interact with me within the convenience of their own time schedules, fit in around work. They send me an email discussing their ideas and questions when they are able to, which often will be late at night, and when I log on early in the morning when I wake up and can read it, I can reply. That is one way to do it. With Group Systems or other listserver and chat-group software, I can continue class discussion after class by putting questions out for students to consider and respond to. Moreover, they can do that by signing their names, or we can interact anonymously, where the ideational content becomes more important that the identification of who-said-what. Both are actually important and necessary: the former emphasizes the evaluative style in which we always consider ideas in the perspective of their authors, while the latter allows us to concentrate on the concepts themselves in terms of idea components, conceptual rationales, and schools of interpretation.
Most important is the habit of self-direction. Rather than being dependent upon teacher and class time for the initiation of learning, the student engages at will, based on personal needs and time allocations. Diurnal and nocturnal types can thus come together by computer. Group work can do the same thing when all parties have each other's electronic mail addresses. Individual students can summarize accomplishments and seek responses from peers. Multi-classroom projects can develop electronically, with their participants in many different locations, while peer assessment and evaluation can also take place. Many opportunities become possible, especially for students who have not had access before.
Still, a hazard exists when all students do not have access to the same facilities --- an overly legalistic approach may fear lawsuits and not allow any students to do such things until everyone is "equal." I personally do not think equity can be reached as we grow and expand, and I see no evidence that we are slowing down. I therefore do not want to wait, but rather will encourage use of all possibilities for as many students as have them and try to find additional learning mechanisms for those students who must function in places which are technologically less advanced. I have seen inter-site groups work just as effectively with FAX as with e-mail. The key here is continuity; learners need to keep the components and concepts of learning in motion as frequently as possible.
Think here also about the web courses; the various deliveries options, such as tapes, that can be used by groups who cannot meet the classes; and ways to use self pacing and self administered courses to the advantage of the student. We can also use videos (Carmen, plus others) by distributing videotapes to local centers, or on the web --- gradually making them accessible to all sites. We can place audiotapes, plus slides, into the Library, accessible for after class use. With the advent of more powerful technologies, and clarification of copyright issues, all of these media can be delivered electronically through the World Wide Web.
About the Author:
Dr. Guy Bensusan is Senior Faculty Associate for Interactive Instructional Television and Professor of Humanities and Religious Studies at Northern Arizona University. Dr. Bensusan may be reached may be reached via email at: email@example.com.