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Interactively Rich and Informationally Diverse Techniques

T. R. Young,
The Red Feather Institute

Summer, 1998

A. I would like to lay out the basic elements of a syllabus which embodies the advantages of hypertext and the format of www as grounding for a postmodern pedagogy.

This syllabus was developed in 1992 when Cornelia Flora, then Chair of the Sociology Department at Virginia Tech invited me to teach a super large section of Intro Sociology. I had, previously, declined all offers/requests to teach any class over 40 students...taking the position that I could not provide interactionally rich and individualized teaching in classes much larger than that.

But I wanted to visit Virginia Tech...as part of my game plan to visit as many campuses as possible these final years of my teaching career.

So I gave it a bit of thought and agreed with the proviso that Neal Flora would give me enough graduate student help to deal with a special syllabus.

B. The Great Flying Chaos Learning Circus. I had been/have been working in the theory and practice of non-linear social dynamics for the past ten years...in those semesters when I stayed home.

It occured to me that, with five grad TA's, I could set up five learning circles...called Learning Attractors...in the new and strange language of Chaos/Complexity Theory.

Each Attractor would, a. share much of the same content of the course as other attractors but, b. have its own unique approach to the course material. The attractors followed, roughly, the major orientations in sociology itself...

C. Pathways through the Knowledge Process With such a syllabus, it was technically possible to have 580 different pathways through the knowedge process. The bookkeeping for this sylabus was difficult but 'Neal' Flora gave me a very competent grad student, Ania Zajicek, who became my Senior TA, and senior co-author of the article we six prepared and published.

In most large courses, there is one and only one pathway through the knowledge process...that taken by those in the Point Attractor above. One size fits all. Not good pedagogy.

D. Non-Linear Learning. One of the features of WWW is that one can 'visit' web sites anywhere in the world. That pathway/route is both unique for each person who 'surfs' the web and most of all it is non-linear. In the first embodiments of the GFCLC, most of the pathways through the knowledge process were confined to the small world of the course...one could 'jump' non- linearily to different menu items and thus diverse learning modalities. A typical menu includes:

These pathways did permit a much more informationally rich knowledge process than found in most courses but still it was parochial compared to the current versions used here at U/Vermont.

E. Hyper-textualized Learning. The essence of hyper-text is that one can jump, skip, hop and bounce around from one text/file/source to another.





F. Spending Points. In order to give the student in a mass class more control over the knowledge process, I 'give' each student generic 200 points to spend on the menu items. Usually it 'costs' 20 pts to push a menu button.

G. Class Lists. I set up mail lists for each class at U/Vermont, TWU and elsewhere.

The lists were used to notify students of new field assignments; to give review sheets for tests; to schedule movie labs and to provide a set of key terms which would be used in analysing movies. I post exemplary reports with which to help other students improve their own work...as well as other items of general interest to students.

Students could contact me any time from any where on campus or, if they have access, any where while on Spring Break.

I check my mail at 7am and a 3pm; thus any student can be sure that I respond in timely fashion to any query/menu item/button they wish to access.

Conclusion. With this syllabus, one can de-massify large classes; can provide informationally diverse and interactionally rich pathways through the knowledge process.

It is a lot more work than linear teaching/learning processes but well worth it...if one would gladly learn and gladly teach.

TR Young

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