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Higher Levels of Learning

Donald G. Perrin

Industry uses a process called Quality Function Deployment to develop new ideas and structures in engineering and science. It involves creative processes such as brainstorming, mind mapping, and affinity grouping, to generate lists of elements related to the focus of study. These items are organized, usually on Post-Its, into groups and hierarchies that look like pyramids of knowledge. There may be more than one pyramid, and the ultimate goal may reach beyond the top of a pyramid. This is where the process becomes really interesting.

The engineers and scientists strive to determine what is beyond the top. Perhaps there is a cap that joins two pyramids? Are the tops of the two pyramids at the same level or is one or more levels missing? Are other pyramids involved? They build them. The walls are filled with these growing structures, infinitely flexible, puzzling and mysterious. The team strives for days and nights. Days expand to weeks until the mystery is solved. The result is a new science or discipline or innovation for deeper exploration and research. A new product. A new beginning.

Learning communities in education use critical thinking to expand the knowledge base. Critical thinking goes beyond problem solving because its scope invariably reaches into different disciplines and requires innovative thinking - “thinking outside the box!” The surge of interest in Kelly Bruning’s article, The Role of Critical Thinking in the Online Learning Environment in the May issue of this Journal is expanded by two more excellent articles on this topic: Insights into Promoting Critical Thinking in Online Classes by Daithí Ó Murchú and Brent Muirhead, and Critical Thinking in Asynchronous Discussions by Greg Walker. Each of these articles makes unique contributions to this important aspect of learning. Kelly also has an article on Mid Course Feedback. Also, read new articles on research, theory and practice from Newfoundland, Ireland, Turkey and Cyprus, Sri Lanka, and USA that comprise the remainder of this issue.

If you are not familiar with earlier structures for developing and organizing knowledge, such as Bloom’s Taxonomy of Behavioral Objectives, read the Tutorial paper on Creative Online Learning Environments in the April 2005 issue.

And here is a parting thought to challenge agreement and disagreement among your colleagues about the fundamental nature of online interactions. It comes from a 1999 listserve dialog between S. Gray and Stephen Downes:

Good – even great – online teaching will not be – will never be built – because you can not build interaction. You enter into it, like a warm bath (shades of McLuhan) like a familiar suit, like a comfortable home. The online materials are only the tools and components of online instruction – hammers and screwdrivers and saws and doorframes and kitchen cupboards and furnaces and wall-to-wall carpeting. They do not – cannot – constitute a home. The pausing, the pacing, the pushing, the pulling, the selection, maybe of this movie, that online resource project, such-and-such project – all of these occur in a dynamic fashion in the classroom, and indeed even to a large degree in online learning. Great teaching adapts and flows. The more personalized, the more context-sensitive such adaptations become, the more full the educational experience becomes, the more like a home, the less like a pile of tools.

Reference: Gray, S. (1999). Message. ListServ WWW Courseware Development. Retrieved December 16, 2004 from http://listserv.unb.ca/bin/wa?A2=ind9907&L=wwwdev&T=0&F=&S=&P=2146

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