Virtual Community Project: Learning Model
The Information Artist Model
The Information Artist model is a learning framework collectively designed, and implemented by my class of thirty-two grade seven students in 1994-1995. Through brainstorming and on-going refinement we arrived at The Information Artist model (the term "Information Artist" is not my own but instead a decision the class made).
The model consists of four parts:
a) The Ecology of Learning
b) Strategic Exploration of Information
c) Theatre of the Mind
d) Pioneering New Media...
a) The Ecology Of Learning
"The teacher, particularly the teacher dedicated to liberal education, must constantly try to look toward the goal of human completeness and back at the natures of his students here and now, ever seeking to understand the former and to assess the capacities of the latter to approach itů For there is no real education that does not respond to felt need; anything else acquired is trifling display." (Allan Bloom, The Closing Of The American Mind, 1987)
We decided that the center of everything is the ecology of learning. This focused on developing approaches to learning that foster well being, community, teams, responsibility, respect and trust. Our Ecology Of Learning sought to provide a place where we could explore learning from both an individual and collective perspective. Differences in ability were viewed as an advantage not a disadvantage. Capacities and abilities in others not normally encouraged by traditional curriculum were seen as an opportunity to grow. Standardized tests were deemed obsolete. The success of each individual student was deemed more important than imposed standards. Interestingly enough, the students would often develop goals that often pushed me pretty hard as well. It was an odd feeling standing in front of a group of thirty-two twelve and thirteen year-olds knowing full well that I could no longer fall back on my own expertise.
There were a wide variety of personalities and needs in the class. According to the educational jargon of the day, approximately one-fifth of the students were gifted one-quarter what were called special education or behavioral students, and the rest fell within that zone referred to as normal (although I've tried to understand them, the precise meaning of these labels still elude me to this day). In behind all of this was their life outside of school complete with happy families and families in pain. The complete emotional range from contentment through to depression was present.
We had three key questions that we focused on in developing this ecology of learning: a) How can each of us develop our own individual and unique potential?; b) How can we use all of our different abilities together?; and c) How will both the design and assessment of our learning experiences be inclusive and interactive?
In many ways what this really meant was that open dialogue had to be safe. We focused on developing the three R's: a) rights; b) respect; and c) responsibility. This did not often take the form of formal talk sessions, but instead was encouraged throughout the normal activities of the day when the opportunity presented itself. They were also allowed to doubt the teacher (me). I can recall the day I was asked a question in front of the class and responded, "I don't know." There was a hush and some startled looks before I then asked them, "So what do we do now?" It was from this point on that I believe they saw me as a kind of student as well. Not only were they allowed to doubt me, but they were allowed to doubt their schooling as well. Of course this may sound like an ode to open rebellion, but the exact opposite occurred. Once we vented the doubts we quickly moved on to deciding what we would do about it. We were all allowed to make mistakes and then try to figure out what to do about them. There certainly were disputes and conflicts along the way, but overall their underlying optimism and desire to learn was far beyond what I had imagined it might be.
b) Strategic Exploration of Information
"And it is only in those terms, standing aside from any structure or medium, that its principle lines of force can be discerned. For any medium has the power of imposing its own assumption on the unwary." (Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1967)
Strategic exploration outlined how we could best use information resources available. More importantly, we wanted to create information for ourselves. The students gained a clear understanding of the difference between primary (information created on your own) and secondary information resources (information created by someone else). Our default was to create our own information and then check it against secondary resources. We talked about the ways in which information can be created and decided there would be four areas we would need to develop. In order of importance they were:
i) Real World - People, Places and Things: Finding and interviewing outside experts, conducting interviews, making presentations, collecting data from field work, and site visitations
ii) Digital World - The World Wide Web and Digital Media: how to use the email, websites, sarch engines, video conferencing and online communities.
iii) Other Media - Television, Telephone, Video: Ways to develop better interpretive skills, using media as actively as possible.
iv) Traditional Media - Books, Newspapers, Magazines: the development of literacy, numeracy and visual skills.
The development of reading skills, writing skills, math skills, listening skills, viewing skills and presentation skills were a natural part of creating and using information. But information, even if original, was not enough.
c) Theatre of the Mind
"The main difficulty of thinking is confusion. We try to do too much all at once. Emotions, information, logic, hope and creativity all crowd in on us. It's like juggling with too many balls." (Edward de Bono, Six Thinking Hats, 1985)
Once we had the information we wanted we then had to figure out what to do with it. At the time, I was heavily immersed in Edward de Bono's work and this was a dominant influence. There were three parts to the Theatre Of The Mind: a) Thinking Tools; b) Thinking Strategies; and c) Thinking Paradigms.
I decided to introduce Edward de Bono's CoRT Program - essentially a vast collection of thinking tools each designed with a specific purpose. A thinking tool provides a means to direct our attention on something in a particular way. One of the thinking tools the students liked in particular was, "Be A Famous Person."
A Sample Thinking Tool: Be A Famous Person
Get in the habit of studying famous people you like that are known for being creative. For example, Leonardo da Vinci is a very famous artist and inventor. Have you ever seen how he used rough sketches to develop his ideas? Beethoven did something similar in composing his music. He would wander in the woods carrying his sketch and recording the sounds he heard in notation. Pretend you are that famous person and try to handle the situation just as they would have.
Thinking Strategies was a means to collect various kinds of thinking tools in some kind of coordinated plan. Our base model of a thinking strategy that all students learned to apply was The Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono. Our goal was to develop enough facility with the six hats that any one person could use them effectively on their own or in a team setting. Sometimes the six hats fed back into the Ecology Of Learning as a means to resolve conflicts and disputes.
Finally, Thinking Paradigms was a way for us to think laterally and was a direct application of Edward de Bono's Lateral Thinking. We wanted to think like a Ludwig von Einstein or an Alfred Beethoven. While we attempted to learn as much as we could from the individual disciplines, another important goal was to try and find connections across them. The notion of developing a viable community of the future offered a natural place to apply lateral thinking skills.
d) Pioneering New Media
"For a number of years I've wanted to become an experience designer rather than just a musician and this new technology is one of the things that is going to allow us to take a first step in that direction. Interactivity is exciting because it helps us not just to be artists but to provide a lot of material for the audience to participate in - so that eventually they become artists themselves and we can use what we create, in a sense as collage material, as stuff to explore and learn about from the inside. It's the opposite of being a passive consumer." (Peter Gabriel, San Francisco, 1993)
Pioneering media not only focused on developing the skill sets required for using a variety of technology, but is also focused on finding new and interesting ways to communicate their work. We discussed the problem that technology has a way of making communication look impressive but sometimes have very little to say. The media that they used, in this case a multimedia CD ROM, became the object of design rather than the source of design. In other words, we tried to communicate our work as authentically as possible. While I never shared this statement with the students, I was constantly thinking about McLuhan's statement that, text, graphics, sound and music were all elements that needed to somehow communicate the students' learning experiences in ways that made sense to them.
From a technical perspective we used HyperCard as our multimedia authoring tool while other software tools like ClarisWorks, SuperPaint, Adobe Premiere, MasterTracks Pro, Sound Edit 16 and others provided support. The students also made use of laptop computers, scanners, and music synthesizers. What was most important from our perspective was that these tools were the last consideration in the model for without all the up front work we knew that what we had to say by way of the technology would be lacking.
Navigating the Virtual Community Entries
2) Information Artist Learning Model
3) Description of the Information Artist Learning Environment
4) The Skin of Culture