Presentation to the Annual Meeting of the National Learning Infrastructure Initiative, New Orleans, LA, Jan.2000

Patterns and Practices for Transformation

By David G. Brown

As of 1/17/00

Indulge me to be with you as member of a not-so-small band of believers, believers that ---

Iíd like to start us rethinking how we might effectively infect the entire world with our ambitious dream, the dream that computer enhanced learning will transform the practice of education in all countries, at all levels--and that the world will be a better place for it!

An unanticipated responsibility of the President of Transylvania University was to give Sunday morning sermons in Disciples of Christ churches throughout the South. My economics training at Princeton had somehow skipped over "sermon writing and delivering." I had no clue what to do... until a religion professor took pity on me and urged: "Start with a text. Pick a passage from the Bible that summarizes what you want to say. Then, even if the congregation doesnít understand anything else you say, they will know what you wished you had said."

My text for this morning is a course I teach with technology, my First Year Seminar on the Economistsí Way of Thinking. Fourteen students, face-to-face twice a week, with every studentís laptop computer connected to our high-speed campus network during and often between classes. Itís an introduction to the liberal arts. The idea behind the class is that a college student meets 40 people who speak 40 different languages. ...take off my mask an economist maintains a 40 year marriage, listens to a symphony, ...I teach 9 concepts.

Thereís nothing unique about my course. In two books I have just edited (the first is just out under the title of INTERACTIVE LEARNING by Anker Publishing at reports of students in 150 courses in 45 universities in 30 different disciplines reaffirm that computer enhanced learning is effective, efficient, and enjoyable. The only surprise in my course is that this 60-year old professor, who had barely touched a computer until his strategy planning committee put a laptop in the hands of every Wake Forest student, is teaching with technology and loving doing it.

I cite this course to emphasize 3 major themes about the transformation of the teaching process, a transformation that seems to be starting at the two ends of the age spectrum among the pre-schoolers and the adult learners and is rapidly closing in on the middle age groups as well.

Theme 1: Technology works! The jury is in! Students are learning more because of the technology add on.

50 years of research has clearly established that students learn more when they collaborate. My students are collaborating!

Students learn more when they receive prompt, trusted feedback. My15 students are receiving prompt feedback, before & during & after class. As professor Iím receiving equally prompt feedback from them. When I counted several semester ago, the exchange was 1247 individual emails between myself and 15 students or 9 per student per week. I know my students are learning more because I can observe and prove that they are collaborating more, and the research shows that more collaboration means more learning.

Another shelf full of research studies at all levels of education demonstrates time and again that different students learn in different ways at different paces--i.e. different strokes for different folks. The computer is allowing my students to learn on their own, to learn in groups, to learn by reading, to learn by seeing, to learn by hearing, to learn by studying alternate materials identified by fellow students on the web, to rerun my lectures if necessary. I know and can prove that my students have more options for learning the material, and the research shows that all of us learn more when we have the option of learning our best way.

Research also demonstrates that learning increases when there is more contact between student and faculty. My students are in my office, in my computer, and in my ear more than they have ever been. I know that my students are learning more because I can prove that weíre spending more time interacting with each other, and that they are spending more learning time interacting with their fellow students.

So, the benefits are clear and demonstrable: more collaboration, more customization, more interaction, more learning. What about the costs?

It surprised me that my students spent almost no time learning how to use the computer in my class. We in fact live in a culture that has become dependent upon the computer. The explosion of e-commerce has plummeted the marginal cost of using computers in education.

Skeptics are asking for proof that investment in technology pays with increased learning. Itís too early to have reliable studies. What we do have however is hard evidence that computers increase active learning, student faculty contact, the immediacy of feedback, collaboration. If computers increase activities that are proven to increase learning, then computers increase learning. The jury is in!!! Technology works!!!

Theme 2: The Big Thing is Interactivity and Communication. By off-loading lecture repetition needed by some of my slower-to-catch-on students and thereby shortening my lectures, my class time is available for discussion of complex issues. My contact with students is now essentially continuous, 7x24. No longer is it confined to two class meetings per week plus an occasional office visit by a single student. Much of the content of our exchange can be preserved, and when appropriate shared with other class members.

As perhaps NLII leaders know better than anyone, itís too early to expect big dividends from new course materials enabled by computers. These wonderful materials will become available over time, but they havenít yet been developed. It takes massive amounts of time and money!

But we donít need to wait for results. The early benefits from computerization have already arrived. They are, by and large, not yet in the domain of better materials. Nor are they better presentations: we havenít yet sorted out the fancier from the more effective. The early benefits are from a more powerful communication system.

Data from Wake Forest students and faculty vividly underline where the gains are realized!

This Wake Forest result is reconfirmed by the 93 essayists in Interactive Learning. 91/93 stressed interactive learning when asked why they introduced computers into their teaching.

For now, the computer gains are from a "more powerful telephone-like communication system." As advocates we had wisely claim the advantages of increased communication and, for now, acknowledge that the gains that are to come from more sophisticated and motivating materials are specific and somewhat limited.

Theme 3: KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid). Itís time for the advocates and early adopters to focus their "campaign of persuasion" on "middle America" and the "mid adopters." Now that e-commerce has assured the universality of computer access and elementary computer fluency, itís time to enlist 75% of teachers and professors at all levels of education in the use of computers.

This can be done in three easy steps: (1) emphasize that the jury is in because the computer is supporting activities that have been proven to increase learning, (2) stress the uses of computers to increase the quality and quantity of communication between students and faculty and among students, and (3) encourage teachers to use the computer tools that are easily learned and well understood such as email, internet citations, and the posting of course materials to the web.

Our transformation of teaching practice, our revolution in learning effectiveness, will ultimately be carried forward by the masses of students and faculty who care about each other. The engagement of the masses will occur if, and only if, we Keep It Simple!

Putting It All Together

In conclusion, let me draw together the major themes. With me you have been asking: What are the patterns and practices for transformation? Our answer: Motivate, Educate, Focus.

First, motivate! Stress that "the jury is in." Technology works! More collaboration and more customization means more learning. Teach with technology because it brings results!

Second, educate! Stress that the big gains come from communication--communication thatís faster, more frequent, less costly, better organized, more timely, more face to face, more virtual. Steer mid-adopters away from the still largely unrealized hopes for big payoffs from huge efforts with fancy multimedia.

Third, focus! Focus upon simple, widely available, easily learned technology.

Motivate. Educate. Focus. Transformation will follow. Itís happening in my course. Computer enhanced learning will transform the practice of education in all countries, at all levels--- and the world will be a better place for it!