Thursday, October 2, 2008

Adult Higher Education Conference 2008 Mobile, AL

As usual, another wonderful Alliance conference, this year's held on lovely Mobile Bay in Alabama. Elliott Lauderdale has done a great job organizing the conference well supported by the University of South Alabama. AHEA is by far my favorite conference--always warm and even intimate, fabulous conversations about learning and especially adult learning styles.

This year Alan Mandell, Xenia Coulter and myself facilitated a preconference workshop devoted to the question about the future of "progressive" pedagogy in the digital age. The group of interested and interesting educators that met together numbered about 20 or so, grappling with the question of whether John Dewey and Lev Vygotsky's ideas could be successfully brought forward into the digital learning future. People wondered if Dewey's remarkable insights into learning, themselves arising out of a revolution in thinking (what Morton White aptly called "the revolt against formalism" ) at the turn of the last century (circa 1890s-1930s) could remain cogent and vital in this new age of standardization of syllabi, platform creep i.e. Learning Management Systems, and (too often) objectivist assessment criteria. The impetus for the workshop grew out of a book with the same themes being edited at this moment by Carla Payne longtime Alliance member and retired member of the Vermont College and Union Institute faculty.

Despite the enormous lip service paid to "student-centered" learning, the folks at our workshop raised questions about the real role of "constructivist learning" in the traditional classroom setting where one still sees all too much "straight" lecturing and little meaningful discussion or involvement by students in their own learning. Of greater anxiety to all, was the growing power of "platforms" (LMS) to dictate through their architecture the manner and flow of the learning process. For some persons, concern was also raised regarding the genuine viability of the LMS or even the asynchronous discussion board to create the passion and deep learning sometimes achieved (at its best) by face-to-face discussion. As we argued and debated, pondered these weighty questions it seemed useful to me that perhaps we could use this blog with comments to see how we might use one of the instruments of the digital learning future to deepen and extend our workshop (and conference) conversation and dialogue. So, I invite all the participants of the AHEA Mobile 2008 conference to add your thoughts and ideas to this blog; we'll see about linking this digital and f2f discussion to the AHEA website as well.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps this will be the spark that revives progressive adult higher education internationally.

corky said...

I hate to think that progressive adult higher education needs revitalization--the intensity of our conference workshop on this theme suggests otherwise--but, the reality is that I fear, as many others do as well, that the enormous lip service paid to Deweyian and Vygotskyian principles and ideas regarding active learning, are slowly being submerged under the weight of "platforms," objectivist assessment "instruments," and centralized (often administrative) course design and delivery.

I hope that we can use this forum (thanks anonymous, or any other, to continue the dialogue began at this year's Adult Higher Education Alliance in Mobile, AL (a tip of my hat to conference coordinator Elliott Lauderdale and the University of South Alabama)--it is sorely needed. Incidentally, long time Alliance member and my friend, Carla Payne, is busy editing a book devoted to this same topic: the application (or lack thereof) of progressive learning principles to online adult higher education.

Elliott said...

I would like to advocate a combination of local and online cafes. Democracy can only thrive if we can talk to those with whom we disagree. Seems we are more likely to enter into a heated discussion in a local coffee shop. I sense folks are hungry for some community with the odor of coffee or humans.

corky said...

Well Elliott, I do agree I can't smell or taste the coffee in my online coffee shop but still I do find spirited discussions in both venues! I also agree citizens in this country are thirsty for places to share ideas and meet as complete human beings not just "consumers" or even "learners." Blogs and social networking tools offer educators new opportunities to build online communities--in and outside the "classroom" f2f and virtual. Thanks for your comment and for a great conference in Mobile.

Carla said...

Unfortunately I wasn't there in Mobile, but here is my two cents worth: there isn't any doubt in my mind that actually being with other people is the ideal teaching and learning situation. But that said, the online world is here, and it isn't going to go away. So we need to consider how we can make that experience as good, if not exactly the same as the one we might have face to face. Progressive education does need revitalization, Corky. It hasn't been thriving, and it remains to be seen whether constructivism will carry forward its most important tenets--the learner as an active participant, the centrality of inquiry, etc. But progressivism will certainly become an historical oddity unless its vision can be implemented in the digital environment, and unless we can figure out how to maintain academic and scholarly integrity without falling back into didacticism.

corky said...

Couldn't agree with you more Carla,especially your last sentence. Thanks, corky

Anonymous said...

Alan's was going to post a long list generated by the pre-conference.
Basic Principles of “Progressive Education” 01 October 08
What follows is a draft of ideas developed at the 2008 AHEA pre-conference workshop in a conversation facilitated by Corky Reinhart, Xenia Coulter and Alan Mandell:
1. Honoring and working from the purposes and interests of the learner (the meaning of student centeredness);
2. Helping people acquire the skills, attitudes and perspectives they need to become effective self-directed learners;
3. Recognizing the importance of students “owning” their learning: a) owning as internalizing the learning (making it a part of oneself ); and b) owning as making choices as an active learner;
4. Facilitating, guiding, supporting, asking questions of learners as central to the faculty role;
5. Having control of the learning process (students actively participating in that process so that the question “who controls the knowing” is an ongoing and central one);
6. Learning as a social, as a collective process, that can lead to social action/social construction; (collective knowledge as leading to the growth of the social, of the community);
7. Listening and engaging in dialogue as key to everyone’s learning;
8. Learning as value-laden (whether those values are explicit or tacit);
9. Acknowledging the connections and tensions between individual and social change;
10. Ongoing learning and development of faculty and students (both gain new insights, knowledge and skill from deep engagement in a process of learning; both need regular opportunities to pause, to reflect, to evaluate, and to be);
11. Learning is always experiential learning, whether “prior” or “new” learning;
12. Educating means looking to the future, not dwelling on/in the past;
13. Learning is about experimenting—trying out/playing with new ideas, working with new models, developing new plans, activities, and programs;
14. Learning as transparent: what is being learning, why it is being learning, and how it is being learned are always available to be seen, to be discussed, to be criticized by faculty and by students;
15. Evaluation (ongoing evaluating) is central to any learning experience; (evaluating can take many forms, including self-evaluation, and needs to be based on criteria that are particular to the audience/situation and fully discussed by faculty and students);
16. Questioning of authority, particularly the authority of the “expert” and of taken-for-granted knowledge of any kind empowers the learner and enhances the learning process.
17. Modeling is always going on: through our teaching actions, faculty are always modeling what we care about (whether we are aware of this or not).
WE has a somewhat interesting discussion staying close to the Lindeman texts posted on the website.

corky said...

Hi Vicky, Surachet, Elliott and all my other Alliance friends (wonderful to see the vivacious Sandy Turner once more): The beers were good but the conversations in Mobile were better! A tip of my hat again to my good friends and fellow facilitators Alan Mandell and Xenia Coulter!! for a great pre-conference workshop that seems to have yielded a stimulating conference question and post-conference dialogue.

For many years, Elliott monitored the old AHEA website for comments, remarks, discussions of any sort, pertaining to adult learning (bless his heart). My hope would be that we might use the fledgling discussion that has begun on my blog to continue the dialogue about the role of progressive principles in adult online learning (with luck Elliott will keep an eye on the blog and do the work of responding to all comments!!!). Let me, by way of trying to further stimulate the conversation, simply wear my heart on my sleeve for a moment: I believe passionately and practically in the theoretical ideas of folks like Dewey and Lev Vygotsky. As educators we stand on their shoulders and owe them a voice of thanks for their pioneering and dogged pursuit of the collective ideas we call "Progressive Education." Elliott and I disagree a bit about the possibility of having a genuine interactive and "progressive" learning experience online. I believe such an event can and does occur often but Elliott is absolutely correct that many factors impede its realization in fact and practice. Facilitation techniques and platform rigidity are among the most difficult barriers. Let's use this blog (could we not link my blog to the current AHEA website, webmaster?) or any other vehicle to explore these ideas--with a view particularly to eventually creating a new AHEA sponsored "Best Practices in Online Learning." best to all, corky

Anne said...

My thoughts may pull us into a specific context. In my current program, colleges outside of our accelerated programs shape much of our identity. While the institution frames our work within mission and creating opportunity and social justice (access to higher ed for adults), I do not think that most of the characteristics Alan and the workshop generated permeate the School's teaching methods, learning goals, and degree programs.

I'm especially concerned (and this goes beyond my particular institution) about the influence of Colleges of Business in adult learning programs. Granted, many of our students (most, really) seek degrees in business fields, well and good. My question is how can we integrate/permeate curricula with the core characteristics of progressive education when we work with faculty and colleges that do not share these values. Mostly, these faculty have not read about teaching and learning, approach adults with "traditional" modes of instruction, and are even suspicious of accelerated formats.

What do you think? Are there others out there who experience these tensions?