The LMS as an aspect of the post-modern turn

Use one of the following questions as your writing prompt for this week. Compose a thoughtful and complete opinion piece to post.

  1. Recall a learning experience that you found personally effective and identify the underlying methodology. Describe ways in which behaviorist, cognitivist, or constructivist techniques were employed.

My “moment’ was in a Metaphysics course taught by John A. Schumacher… in 1989. John required students in his classes to keep a notebook. Each week’s entry consisted of lecture notes, (proof you were awake and engaged), and a short essay — 2000 words, more formal engagement with some aspect of the week’s work. John would collect the journal at regular turns in the semester, read and comment in them. This was before we knew about the internet and certainly before online pedagogy. However, John was grappling with fruitful concepts. He was an anarchist and as such did what he could to disrupt our roles, his as teacher, and ours as students. I remember him getting a student talking about his belief in Wikka, handing the kid the chalk, walking him to the front of the class, and then sitting down in a student desk. He did all that he could to disrupt the architecture and structure of the classroom and of school. The journal was one of his strategies to “keep the conversation going’ to extend it out of the classroom and into our real lives. I loved it.

Fast forward to six or so years ago I had the great fortune of taking an online course from a professor, Thomas Easton, who likewise valued “keeping the conversation going.’  I was impressed by the power of learning management systems to do that — assuming the teacher understood and valued it. The LMS could do more, to facilitate conversations between students, indeed to forefront what had been silenced by many teachers or back channeled by room arrangement or architecture (think lecture hall). I have taken several online courses over the years, some terrible. The best ones utilized various tools to encourage interactions some synchronous some asynchronous. One trick Tom used was to schedule a weekly chat room. Tom prepped students for the event with a couple questions that tied the readings together or antagonized them. Then he facilitated the conversation prodding quiet folks, or dropping links to related sources, giving us time to read them, come back, and comment. Initially, I felt overwhelmed by the technology, but quickly figured out how to write aphorisms rather than paragraphs. However, that was still very similar to a classroom meeting, regular time and same people and so on.

Additionally, Tom found ways to use forums to “keep the conversation going’ over the next week. Owen in this class is using many of those same tricks. These weekly readings might be analogous to John’s notes in the journal; the article reviews are more formal and so like the weekly essays. The difference is that rather than just the professor’s comments, my co-learners are commenting on my work too. Mostly this is valuable, sometimes just rubbish, but, if I think about all the teachers comments I have read over the years I can categorize them that way also (and I have been in both roles as well and made my share of rubbish comments, too).

We read Skinner in that Metaphysics course and I recall John’s criticism of Skinner and of behaviorist theories of learning. Therefore, in his class there was little room for behaviorist approaches to learning.   John was impacted by the post-modern turn and so he was certainly informed by constructivist notions of learning.

Learning should be an active process…. Learners should construct their own knowledge, rather than accepting that given by the instructor…. Collaborative and cooperative learning should be encouraged to facilitate constructivist learning…. Learners should be given control of the learning process…. Learners should be given time and the opportunity to reflect…. Learning should be made meaningful…. Learning should be interactive to promote higher-level learning and social presence, and to help develop personal meaning.(

I think John’s twist on this theory would be a strong emphasis upon social construction of knowledge. He would have been simultaneously suspicious of LMS systems and intrigued by them. I recall him criticizing phone and e-mail as “representation of altogether different events.’ He always circled back to human interaction, to conversation as profoundly important to human being. I suspect he would be critical of:

Siemens, G. (2005).  Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age.  International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning 2(1).

Critical because of the emphasis, perhaps celebration, of   mediated or representational interaction at the expense of face-to-face co-making of meaning. However, he would have liked this list of questions Siemens raises:

Some questions to explore in relation to learning theories and the impact of technology and new sciences (chaos and networks) on learning:

  • How are learning theories impacted when knowledge is no longer acquired in the linear manner?
  • What adjustments need to made with learning theories when technology performs many of the cognitive operations previously performed by learners (information storage and retrieval).
  • How can we continue to stay current in a rapidly evolving information ecology?
  • How do learning theories address moments where performance is needed in the absence of complete understanding?
  • What is the impact of networks and complexity theories on learning?
  • What is the impact of chaos as a complex pattern recognition process on learning?
  • With increased recognition of interconnections in differing fields of knowledge, how are systems and ecology theories perceived in light of learning tasks?

For myself I like these questions as well perhaps more than the conclusions Siemens arrives at. I particularly resonate with his question about “performance in absence of complete understanding’ and his last question about the role and importance of “systems and ecological theory’ in speculating on learning — both of these questions are recurrent in my self reflection on my role as a leader in a library.

4 thoughts on “The LMS as an aspect of the post-modern turn

  1. AnneMarie Mattacchione

    Your reflection on the validity of taking the conversation out of the classroom and keeping it going stimulated one of my own wonderings. I have taught both online and face to face. I have heard from a variety of students from both modalities concerning the effectiveness of discussion. I have trouble being convinced that your experience is common. I think about the differing cultural norms, temperament, technological competencies and writing abilities and conclude that online discussions offer experiences with a mixed bag of outcomes. So much so, that I have traded the discussion board for other asynchronous and synchronous ways to connect students in conversation. I have to admit that I have a certain bias toward communication forums other than discussion board and blogs that are not synchronous. It could be that I am a very busy person, so to follow an asynchronous conversation is very difficult in terms of time and memory. Time to be able to get back to the conversation in a timely manner and trying to remember the salient points of the conversation without having to reread the entire thread. I imagine that if I only had to follow one person through the thread of the course, I would feel more successful. It is an unfortunate truth that I have responsibilities and then school. I wish I could only be a student without the demands of time and what seems to be a annually increasing impossible schedule. I find myself spending a good deal of time editing as well, which I could not do during a face to face conversation. For me, the most meaningful way to continue the discussion is synchronous and hopefully face to face:)

    1. Owen

      Interesting viewpoint, AnneMarie. Would this depend at all on the topic for you? For some topics, I would agree with you. For others, I have found my experience to be otherwise. For instance, in my online masters degree program I had a very powerful learning experience using asynchronous discussion boards. It was a topic that I and my fellow students were all deeply invested in and many times conversations would go back and forth around the clock. The extra time and space provided by the asynchronous platform gave opportunity to more thoroughly develop answers and arguments.

  2. Owen


    This is fantastic! “I remember him getting a student talking about his belief in Wikka, handing the kid the chalk, walking him to the front of the class, and then sitting down in a student desk.”

    I keep running onto stories like this of what I consider to be truly natural instructors with a type of fluency in the the teaching space that I’ve rarely encountered working with faculty today. In the 1970’s it was popular among many faculty to have graduate seminars at home – to invite students home for dinner and discussion. This was very common here at UAF once upon a time. As you said, extending the conversation, continuing into our real lives. I don’t know of these kinds of dinners happening at all anymore.

    I’d like to hear more about your thoughts on systems and ecological theory in relation to your role as a leader in the library.


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