The Graduate Manifesto of George Cassutto

The Impact of On-line Learning on Traditional Teaching

 

Ultimately, the level to which knowledge is acquired, retained, and utilized in a meaningful way all depends on the quality and depth by which a person thinks. 

The processes of learning and teaching are linked in that teachers must think creatively and critically in order to help their students develop creative and critical thinking skills. Teachers must reflect on the subjects they teach and how they are going to best communicate their content with the least amount of resistance on the part of the student. Students are immature thinkers, who, as they gain knowledge and skills, must develop and refine their ability to think critically about any given topic. Ultimately, the level to which knowledge is acquired, retained, and utilized in a meaningful way all depends on the quality and depth by which a person thinks. This was the essential theme in the book The Thinking Classroom. 
The Thinking Classroom was the medium through which the TOAT modules would lead us, the on-line student-teachers, to an understanding of how to incorporate thinking strategies into the process of teaching on-line. The book and modules worked together to help us, as both teachers and on-line learners, to become more effective thinkers. The TOAT modules also provided insight into the role of the mentor  in developing a meaningful on-line experience for younger e-learner. We read the material in the book, examined the TOAT modules, and executed the activities, engaging in the same processes that our high-school counterparts versions would in their high school content-based modules. We teacher-students had to engage in the process of thinking about thinking, commonly known as metacognition.

The first module provided opportunities for us as teachers to brainstorm about other strategies might you use to help learners grasp a variety of  thinking processes. I wrote to my mentor that combining visual language and the language of thinking is a powerful tool for teaching because it appeals to a variety of learning styles. Accompanying pictures such as symbols, diagrams, and icons may assist students who might not be proficient in the verbal learning mode. In the virtual world, such imagery can be used to supplement verbal directives and can be placed imaginatively on web pages.

 

Combining visual language and the language of thinking is a powerful tool for teaching because it appeals to a variety of learning styles.

Rollovers, pop-ups, and alternative text tags can be used to provide additional direction and information for on-line learners. Course designers and mentors must be aware of all of the tricks of the trade that can provide another source of information for their on-line students, who need all the help they can get since their teachers are not looking over their shoulder as they might be doing in the traditional brick-and-mortar classroom. These visual aides have application in the traditional classroom as well, since some students may be better learners in a visual modality rather than verbal, auditory, or kinesthetic. The visual cues can be used in electronic presentations or inserted into static material such as worksheets.

Our next module led us to examine our view on "thinking dispositions." In our hypothetical mentoring situation, we had to respond to a student who was getting flustered because he was not making progress with the resources he was using. I wrote to my mentor:

I will emphasize the importance of thinking creatively and with adventure because there may not be a specific answer to the problems at hand. The historical issues are too far in the past to have set answers, so hypothetical thinking can lead to a number of responses, all of which are as correct as the supports that are provided to bolster the argument. I will be getting Nick out of the textbook because the answers may not be there. But the supports to an answer may be found in the empirical data.

The TOAT exercises helped me think about the thinking processes students experience as they move through their own lessons, both on-line and in the traditional classroom. The Thinking Classroom led me to shape my own activities and discussion questions in such a way that I challenged the students in my classroom to become more effective thinkers. Developing strategies for mental management helped students as they neared the SOL exam in Civics and their final exam.

The situations and solutions my mentor and I discussed helped shape my thinking about on-line learning. Reading between the lines of student's message, developing positive methods for course correction, thinking "out of the box" on the subject matter, these were all ways we engaged in mental management throughout the module. I found it interesting how these strategies carried over to the process of helping students succeed in the traditional classroom as well.

I teach Civics to 8th graders, so there must be a balance between the teaching of  informational content and the teaching of thinking processes. All students, in the traditional and on-line settings, need to develop a  Strategic Spirit. They must ask themselves what strategies work for me?
For example, one very important process my students must deal with is how to approach a multiple choice question, one that they might encounter on the Virginia SOL Exam or on their final exams. We practice using a variety of resources, and we often discuss each otherís thinking. I will often display one or more questions on the overhead. I will have students read it silently on their own. I ask them to evaluate each possible answer. They must eliminate any responses that lack logic, donít make sense, or that they know is wrong. If there are two competing answers, I have them make their best educated guess. We will then reveal the answer and try to understand why a given response is the correct response. The idea is to approach each question with a step-by-step strategy to arriving at the right response. Students must be able to explain why an answer is right or wrong. They may not get it right every time, but if they have an approach to their thinking, they may just be able to raise their test score. 

I shared this idea with my mentor. She wasn't thrilled with the idea of using multiple choice questions as an example of the strategic spirit, but we consider the role of standardized testing in modern education, the value of having a strategy in mind when taking a test becomes evident. The process of strategy development can be applied to reading comprehension, note-taking, getting the most from lectures, web-based material, and the writing process.

The process of strategy development can be applied to reading comprehension, note-taking, getting the most from lectures, web-based material, and the writing process.

Three Strategies of Higher Order Knowledge  

The method of historical inquiry is a major tool within my discipline, which could be US Government, or it could be US History. In fact, the two disciplines help determine what type of higher order thinking takes place in the other. In other words, modern day public policy is largely informed by what has preceded it. In turn, understanding why a certain course of events took place in the past requires a careful examination of where we stand today.  

Teaching for Transfer 

As a teacher or as a student, it is not unusual to find yourself asking the question, "What is the actual purpose of education?" In a more informal way, our students invariably pose the question in different terms when they ask "why do we have to learn this stuff?" We hope that the subject we teach will be interesting and compelling to our students, but not every student that we encounter in our careers will be highly motivated by the same intrinsic love of the subject that motivates us. Somehow, we have to help our students realize the value in the content we are teaching. 

Somehow, we have to help our students realize the value in the content we are teaching. 

One way this miracle can be achieved is by helping students apply what we are teaching to another context.

One way this miracle can be achieved is by helping students apply what we are teaching to another context. More likely than not, our subject area will have some role to play in the adult lives of our students. This axiom finds greater significance if the chosen career path of our hypothetical student comes close to the subject we teach. I don't know how many of my students have gone on to be college-level historians or museum curators. Maybe my students took an interest in local or national politics and now hold elective office. It is my hope that my students have become active citizens who recognize their role in a dynamic society and who exercise their right to vote in an informed, participatory democracy. On a basic level, the content being taught in my eight grade classroom does find later application in 11th Grade US History, in 12 Grade Government, in college-level political science and history courses, and later in life as students learn to exercise and protect their rights as citizens. 

Content knowledge is not the only aspect of education that is transferred to another context. Students must learn how to apply learning skills that will help them survive in society as well. Certainly, these skills will make our present students more valuable as employees in whatever career fields they may find themselves in the future. Reading comprehension, analysis, critical thinking, creative synthesis, and the ability to evaluate a given set of data are all aspects of thinking and learning that we want our students to demonstrate in every context they encounter. Our students may not go into the same field as we do, but they will undoubtedly need to use the same learning and thinking skills that we used to become productive citizens.

 Final Thoughts