In the rush to online education, schools and colleges appear to expect instant transference of their on-campus programs to new media such as Zoom and Moodle.
Anyone who has observed the implementation of online education knows that this is a recipe for disaster, one that will lead to little meaningful learning and much angst on the part of students, teachers, parents, and administrators.
In this context, it’s worth taking a look at what has contributed to the success of some online learning.
The LEEP online masters program
In 1996, the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (now the iSchool) at the University of Illinois began offering master’s degrees over the Internet, with only brief periods of on-campus learning.
This program, actually just a scheduling option for the traditional degree, is called LEEP. It has a 24-year record of success from the perspectives of students, faculty, staff, employers, researchers evaluating the program, and formal accreditation bodies.
Upon graduation, one student said that it
has truly been a marvelous, exhilarating experience. I have met and learned from a wonderful group of students and teachers. At times overwhelming, but always challenging, the GSLIS classes have taught me far more than I could have imagined. I have gained insights and confidence, knowledge and skills, and friends for a lifetime. The virtual community of LEEP3 continues to develop and thrive. [Quoted in a 1999 paper by Dean Leigh Estabrook, “New Forms of Distance Education”]
Why has LEEP been so successful, especially in contrast with what many are doing today? This is worthy of a longer discussion, but it’s useful to list a few of the characteristics of LEEP that have helped it to succeed:
Voluntary participation: Faculty were invited to participate, but were not required to do so. Although some were eager to give the new modality a try, others needed to see how their colleagues fared first.
Planning and preparation: Through course releases and other mechanisms, faculty were given time to prepare new courses or new versions of existing courses that reflected the affordances and constraints off the new medium.
Match to available resources: There was detailed consideration of the background knowledge needed by students, and of the necessary technical features such as bandwidth, computer and operating system platforms, or microphones and speakers.
Technical support: There was substantial technical support for both students and faculty, so that they could concentrate on the course content.
Reflection: There was an annual retreat to discuss successes, surprises, and challenges.
Analysis and ongoing revision: The program was regularly and systematically studied through surveys, interviews, and analyses of course interactions. This has led to books, articles, conference presentations, and other publications, which contributed to the program’s continuing development.
Collaboration: The program was developed in collaboration with other units within the university and with similar programs at other institutions.
What schools are doing instead
All too often today, participation in online education is mandated, with little participatory planning, little support, and no opportunity for reflection or revision. This will not work. Perhaps the only thing worse is the equally haphazard approach being taken to new forms of on-campus instruction, necessitated by covid times.
Few things are more important now than education and support for young people’s development. Having safe and successful schooling is also critical for the economy. But none of that can happen without more investment of resources and more thoughtful implementation.
The photo below shows our brush with fame in 2005. It was a lovely Paris evening in her home near the Bois de Boulogne. There was too much champagne and the cocktail hour extended from 7-10.
The second photo is a closeup of Susan’s mother with Olivia. They had attended the same tiny grade school in Saratoga, CA; Rhoda was in the grade with Joan Fontaine, Olivia’s younger sister. But Olivia is the sister she maintained the most contact with.
At the cocktail party they agreed that the shade of paint used on the recent high school renovation was far too garish.
For our family, any movie starring Olivia De Havilland is special. In case you don’t know, we go way back.
In grammar school, Olivia was just a year ahead of Susan’s mother, Rhoda, who was in the same grade as Jane Eyre, aka Olivia’s sister, Joan Fontaine. They maintained a connection ever after.
On the other side, my mother felt a special connection to Olivia, because she had attended college in Milledgeville, Georgia, the home of Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone with the Wind. The movie version (1939) featured Olivia as Melanie.
Both the book and the movie romanticize the antebellum South, the “Lost Cause,” and the horrors of slavery. Although Olivia was acclaimed for her role and made no protest at the time, I like to think that she would have later recognized and agreed with many of the current critiques of the movie.
Olivia’s son Benjamin was my age, and in graduate school at the University of Texas when I was. He was in Mathematics while I was in Computer Science. I don’t remember him, but it’s possible that we were in some classes together.
Benjamin died at age 42. Once Olivia realized that he and I had even a tenuous connection it seemed that she and I had suddenly become close friends.
Commitment to justice
Throughout her career, Olivia exemplified both excellent acting and a commitment to helping others. She sought roles that expanded artistic limits, but also promoted social good.
Although she was acclaimed for her role as Melanie, co-starring with Errol Flynn, and her Oscars for “To Each His Own” (1946) and “The Heiress” (1949), she was critical of the social impact of filmmaking in the Hollywood star system and sought to break out of the racism and sexism in both the industry and the movies themselves.
She was successful in a lawsuit to secure greater creative freedom for performers. This led to the De Havilland law, which imposes a seven-year limit on contracts for service.
Among Olivia’s many civic contributions in Paris were her devotion to the American Library and to Les Arts George V at the American Cathedral. Later, she gave us tickets to concerts there. I especially remember a Harold Arlen retrospective.
Olivia was a good and generous person, in addition to her notable talents as actor and entertainer. I’m glad that I got to know her at least a little.
Like other races, the Wellfleet Road Race is still happening, still raising money for a good cause. In this case, that cause is the Wellfleet Recreation Department summer program.
But it’s no longer a gathering of 300 or so people at Mayo Beach, and running for five miles, breathing hard at close quarters. Instead, participants register as usual, pick up a cool, new t-shirt, select a route for the required distance, run or walk, and record their times online.
Chances of winning go up since there are fewer participants. The race also has ample categories for gender, age, running versus walking, and Wellfleet residents. I’m fairly sure that I’m the only one in the male walker, Wellfleet resident, over 70 category, so I have a good shot at winning!
Today, our family entered this great race. I wanted to deduct some time for including Snake Creek Road in our route, since it’s become rough and overgrown.
In these locked-up times we miss large gatherings, concerts, dining out, and social visits. Many of us have lost jobs and contact with loved ones. It’s easy to assume that all our social interactions must be through Zoom, our meditations guided by YouTube, and our thinking trapped in endless narratives of the end-of-times.
However, the natural world remains to explore and enjoy. We can still watch the unceasing but ever-changing waves at the beach, walk through forests, listen to birds, check out the bees in the new bee house, and watch adorable rabbits eating our recently planted vegetables. With fewer cars and trucks travelling long distances the air is cleaner and living things are flourishing.
In his book, Confessions, Jean-Jacques Rousseau says, “I can only meditate when I am walking. When I stop, I cease to think; my mind works only with my legs.” Rousseau’s walking was in the woods, not on a treadmill or in a shopping mall. His journeys remind us that our life cannot be separated from the natural world.
Walking in nature can be a social activity as well (six feet apart, of course). Informal connection can be deeper and more attuned to the needs we all feel in these times. We may still feel lost, but we have a chance to find both others and ourselves when we remember our role in nature.
The Trust asked supporters, trustees, and other lovers of nature what particular consolation from nature they are finding during these Covid times. You can see some of the responses in the June 2020 newsletter.
This book offers a new perspective on learning that is integrated and connected to lived experience. It presents a model for salient characteristics of both biological and pedagogical ecosystems, involving diversity, interaction, emergence, construction, and interpretation.
Examples from around the world show how learning can be made more whole and relevant. The book should be valuable to educators, parents, policy makers, and anyone interested in democratic education.
Foreword by John Pecore, University of West Florida
For the 17th year, Wellfleet hosted its State of the Harbor Conference. It was held at the Wellfleet Elementary School on a beautiful, sunny, fall day––Saturday, November 2, 2019.
Participants included ordinary citizens, fishermen, students from K-12 through graduate school, town officials, and staff of the Mass Audubon, the National Park Service, the Center for Coastal Studies, Wellfleet Conservation Trust, and other organizations. They came to report on what they are learning about the ecosystem of the harbor.
There was coffee, snacks, and ample time for informal discussions as well. Americorps workers focusing on the environment helped with the organization, logistics, and even serving Mac’s clam chowder for the lunch.
Q/A with Martha Craig and Kirk Bozma on Herring River restoration
On Sunday, there was a follow-up field trip to look at Wellfleet Harbor’s history and its “black mayonnaise”.
Interactions Within Ecosystems
As was the case in previous years, this was a learning event throughout.
Continuing what’s now a 17-year tradition, the conference showed the complex connections between humans and other living things including phytoplankton, striped bass, menhaden, horseshoe crabs, oysters, quahogs, seals, terrapins, molas (sunfish), phragmites, bacteria, protozoa, resident and migrating birds, as well as the land, sea, and air.
Presenters discussed ideas that went beyond the everyday understanding of harbor ecosystems. These ideas included bioturbation––the disturbance of soil, especially on the sea floor by organisms such as crabs and other invertebrates. There was talk of organism lipid levels as a measure of their nutrient value for predators. One poster emphasized the rise in Mola mola population attributable to increased numbers of jellyfish.
John Brault with Krill Carson’s poster on the Mola explosion
One presentation discussed a major meta-analysis of ocean phenology studies. This research looks at when significant events such as spawning, migration, or molting, occur in an organism’s life cycle. Those times are shifting as a result of global heating, changes in ocean currents and nutrient availability. In some cases there are critical mismatches between the cycle for a predator species and its prey, which has major consequences for both and for the larger ecosystem. A population may increase earlier than in the past, but its food source doesn’t necessarily match up with that.
Correlating sightings of right whales with copepod density
Most notably, the Conference considered the impact of these diverse aspects of nature on people and vice versa. In every presentation or poster, one could see major ways in which human activity affects other aspects of nature.
The Harbor Conference is a good example of how to improve what Doug Schuler calls civic intelligence, becoming more aware of the resources in our community, learning of its problems, finding ways to work together, and developing civic responsibility.
In any locality, civic intelligence is inseparable from the nature all around. But in Wellfleet this connection is more evident than in most. Every issue––transportation, affordable housing, employment, health care, fishing and shellfishing, waste management, history, and more––affects and is affected by our capacity to live sustainably. The harbor and the surrounding ocean, rivers, and uplands are deeply embedded with that.
There is a depressing theme through much of the Conference. The studies reported in detail on the many ways that humans damage the beautiful world we inhabit, through greenhouse gas emissions causing global heating and higher acidity, increased storm activity, and sea level rise. There is pollution of many kinds, black mayonnaise, and habitat destruction.
Mark Faherty offered a promising note for the horseshoe crab population. But even it has a downside: As the whelk population falls there will be less call on horseshoe crabs as bait, so that may help their recovery.
Nevertheless, it is inspiring to see the dedication of people trying to preserve what we can, and to learn so much about the ecology of the unique region of Wellfleet Harbor.
Maps for Learning
A striking feature of every presentation and poster was the use of maps. These included maps showing tidal flows, migration patterns, seasonal variations, sediment accumulation, human-made structures, and much more.
Maps of process and monitoring
If we extend the idea of maps to visual displays of information, then it evident that even more maps were used. These included flowcharts for processes such as the one for adaptive management shown above, organization charts, and timelines for events in temporal sequences.
1887 Map of Wellfleet
The maps are not only for communication of results. They are also a useful tool for the research itself. The most useful applications involved overlays of maps or comparisons of maps from different situations or times.
As an example, the population of horseshoe crabs could be compared with the management practices in a given area. Is the harvest restricted to avoiding the days around the new and full moon? Can they be harvested for medical purposes? For bait? The impact of different regulatory practices across time and place could easily be seen in graphical displays.
The Conference as a Site for Learning
You would find similar activities at many conferences. But the Harbor Conference stands out in terms of the cross-professional dialogue, the collaborative spirit among presenters and audience, and the ways that knowledge creation is so integrated with daily experience and action in the world.
This learning is not in a school or a university; there are no grades or certificates of completion. There are no “teachers” or “students” per se. However, by engaging with nature along with our fellow community members, conference attendees explore disciplines of history, statistics, politics, commerce, geology, biology, physics, chemistry, meteorology, oceanography, and more.
Nature itself is the curriculum guide. It is also the ultimate examiner.
[Note: This text will be cross-posted on the Wellfleet Conservation Trust blog.]
Jane Addams’s Democracy and Social Ethics is a fascinating book. Although it was written in 1902, it has a surprising relevance for today.
A major contribution to philosophy, the book develops a theory of social ethics, which extends classical theories oriented toward individual virtues and actions. For social policy it offers ways to think about issues such as racism, immigration, economic injustice, democracy, and social improvement. The abstract ideas are linked to Addams’s own concrete work with Hull-House in Chicago.
Unfortunately, her work is not nearly as well known within the US as it should be. Speakers of languages other than English rarely encounter her work.
Bernard Jung and Céline Jung have gone a long way to remedy that situation, with a translation of Democracy and Social Ethics into French. It has just been issued by Editions Raison et Passions (Dijon, France) as Démocratie et éthique sociale. Céline and I added an introduction discussing the relevance of the book to France and French readers today.
My evening flight from Kathmandu to Delhi was canceled, so I had to take one five hours earlier. Although I wasn’t happy about the resulting extra layover time, flying earlier in the day meant that I had a glorious panorama of the Himalayas most of the way. Since Delhi is directly west of Kathmandu the 500-mile flight path was as if made to order for the view.
The Himalayas are a feature of our world that call for silent awe, and need no supporting adjectives, such as “stunning” or “snow-covered.” They’re the antithesis of another, also beautiful, feature of our world, Cape Cod. Its glacial drift formations are a gentle lullaby to the Himalayan symphony.
However, as we flew along the southern edge of the grand plateau, I took my eyes, or ears, away from that symphony from time to time because I couldn’t put down the book I was reading. In The Path: A One-Mile Walk through the Universe. In the book, Chet Raymo describes the path he took for 37 years from his house in North Easton, Massachusetts to the Stonehill College campus where he taught physics and astronomy.
Just as we were passing from Nepal into India, I read this:
Millions of years ago India, drifting northward on the mobile surface of the earth, nudged into Asia and began pushing upward a double-thickness slab of the Earth’s crust known as the Tibetan plateau, the front range of which are the towering Himalayas.
Raymo goes on to explain how sunlight beating down on the plateau produces warm air. As it rises, moist air from the Indian Ocean takes its place. This creates the Indian monsoon cycle. Heavy rainwater combines chemically with the Himalayan rock. The weathering takes carbon dioxide out of the air.
As the mountains rose and eroded, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere decreased and Earth began to cool. On Northern continents ice sheets formed and moved across the land, grinding, abrading.
Thus, mountains in Asia caused glaciers in New England and those in turn built the Cape Cod beaches where we swim every summer. The symphony is magnificent, but it needs the lullaby to follow.
India continues its journey northward; the Himalayas continue to rise; the sun still beats down; the monsoons cycle onward, and the rains take carbon dioxide out of the air.
But don’t look for the glaciers to return anytime soon to build up more places to plant your beach umbrella. Our technologies are now overwhelming these natural processes. Combustion of fossil fuels is adding far more greenhouse gases to the air, warming the world and covering up those glacial sands with rising sea water.
The restaurant is a little hard to find at first. It’s about 300 meters east of Patan Durbar Square. The best route there is a walk through small alleyways.
Raithaane serves tasty, inexpensive, local food from many regions of Nepal. It’s all fresh and organic. As our waiter explained they use tomatoes only where it’s appropriate to the particular dish, not tomato sauce on everything.