Traditional liberal-arts classroom instruction can accommodate to a certain degree the passive learner. But passivity becomes more problematic when students enter the world of Web-based instruction. Students taking their first online course often have no idea what they are getting into (Mendels). Combine this lack of familiarity with higher student anxiety levels and insufficient computer skills, and the result is too often outright failure. Indeed, some claim that dropout rates among Web-based learners can reach as high as 85 percent (Horton.) Numerous factors contribute to this difficulty passive learners have with Web-based instruction (Horton):

  • Web-based instruction requires more effort than traditional face-to-face instruction;

  • Lack of face-to-face contact can make Web-based instruction seem cold and impersonal;

  • Web-based instruction imposes new technical requirements, adding to the effort required on the part of the learner;

  • Web-based instruction brings with it the possibility of new distractions and annoyances — for example, the possibility of a student following links that lead to irrelevant but interesting content; and

  • There is a perception that Web-based instruction is ill-suited to teaching soft subjects such as the liberal arts.

Most of the arguments against Web-based instruction, however, could be applied to print-based instruction — for example, instruction that relies heavily on textbooks, a reading list, or library research. (I do not have in mind here pure text-based instruction — for example, a correspondence course that uses written texts alone, without any oral interaction.) One could imagine ancient liberal arts instructors opposed to the innovation of making extensive use of texts (textbooks, reading lists, library research) in education arguing that:

  • Text-based instruction that truly integrates and exploits the texts will require more effort than the old peripatetic teaching;

  • The dimunition of face-to-face contact by the addition of a text-based component can make the instruction seem colder and more impersonal (for example, library research);

  • Text-based instruction imposes new technical requirements — for example, literacy, research skills, critical reading skills, and the self-discipline necessary to assimilate the text;

  • Text-based instruction brings with it the possibility of new distractions and annoyances — for example, the student taking advantage of the book's flexible access control to subvert the author's linear sequence of the material by reading later material before mastering earlier material;

  • And, yes, there were arguments that writing was an inferior way to teach (at least to teach philosophy — see Plato's arguments against writing in the Phaedrus [formerly http://plato.evansville.edu/texts/jowett/phaedrus.htm].)

Yet today, most educators would consider arguments against any substantial use of texts in instruction as a sign of a Luddite mentality. This raises the important question of whether Web-based instruction is ever the ideal method of instruction, or whether it just sometimes is the best way to provide instruction in a given set of circumstances (for example, when budgets are tight, the class size is very large, or the students are unable to meet physically at a certain time because of distance or time constraints). One might make the argument that liberal-arts education in the ideal places a premium on dialectic, exemplary modeling, and holistic formation. Thus Web-based instruction falls short of an ideal mode of liberal arts instruction. This is because dialectic, exemplary modeling, and holistic formation all require that the teacher and students are present to one another. (They also depend on other factors, such as the character, knowledge, and skill of the teacher, and the maturity, disposition, and motivation of the students.) Presence and participation can certainly be achieved on the Internet, but it is harder, and thus requires greater motivation to overcome the fundamental nature of selective transmission in any technically mediated communication. (Would you rather resolve a misunderstanding with your best friend in person or through an Internet chatroom?) The phenomenon of people easily adopting personas on the Internet that radically differ from their own identities is one vivid consequence of the Internet's tendency to dilute certain aspects of presence.

"Web-based instruction can give liberal-arts subjects the advantage of appearing more relevant"

But even if one grants this argument in the ideal, the ideal situation rarely, if ever, appears in reality. As with any instructional medium, Web-based instruction has its weaknesses — perhaps serious ones — compared to the ideal. But Web-based instruction also has several important strengths that are significant in the kinds of non-ideal circumstances most liberal-arts instructors face today:

  • When done well, Web-based instruction opens up new possibilities for instruction and can lead to new and creative teaching techniques;

  • It lends itself to convenient, highly flexible, student-tailored instruction;

  • It offers students access to a vast and growing body of resources, viewpoints, and experiences;

  • It promotes collaborative learning and encourages students to be more responsible for their learning; and

  • It can give "soft" liberal arts subjects the rhetorical advantage of appearing more "high-tech" and relevant to modern world applications.

So Web-based instruction's particular strengths will make it the best instructional medium in at least some situations. Thus the question is not whether but how to incorporate Web-based instruction into liberal-arts education appropriately. What constitutes appropriate use is a complex question involving many different issues, but one key issue advocates must address is how best to encourage students to become active learners.

What exactly do we mean by active learning? Learning is the acquisition of a habit. A habit is a stable disposition to act in a certain way. For example, prior to taking ENG120, Susan could not distinguish between alliteration and assonance, nor correctly apply these terms in analyzing poetic forms. After taking ENG120, Susan now understands that alliteration is the occurrence in a line of poetry of two or more words having the same initial sound — "A fair field full of folk." Assonance is the occurrence in a line of poetry of two or more accented vowels (not consonants) — "The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain." Whenever she chooses, she can apply these terms correctly in analyzing poetic forms. She has acquired the habit of recognizing alliteration and assonance and distinguishing between them. She has learned.

Learning may be cognitive, affective, behavioral, or some combination. It requires the performance of a certain number of acts. It may be done consciously or by imitation (as children imitate their parents without always being aware of what they are doing). But regardless of the way in which learning has taken place, we would not say that learning had taken place until there was a stable disposition to act in a certain way.

It is clear then, that learning is always active. So what then is meant by active learning? Roger Schank in his hypertext "Engines for Education" makes the distinction between natural and formal learning. According to Schank, natural learning is spontaneous. (See also the beginning of Aristotle's Metaphysics: "All men naturally desire knowledge...."). It is the process where children (and adults) seek experiences, test their understanding, and ask questions that arise out of their own interests and motivations. Mentors guide, help, encourage, and support when the learner seeks it. People learn naturally when they want to and have a need to know.

Formal learning is highly structured. It is the process where children learn because someone tells them to, determines what they will learn, and how they will learn it. Often the answers are provided before the learner has a chance to ask the questions. "[But] children don't learn [spontaneously] because they are ordered to by some authority," Schank says, "They control their own learning using the individual attention of an adult to support and guide them through new areas of investigation." Thus active learning, according to Schank, seeks to work with the innate way in which people learn — in particular by focusing on the natural motivations in everyone to learn.

A survey of how various education theorists define the term "active learning" yields phrases like the following (Active Learning Network [formerly http://trc.ucdavis.edu/trc/active/definiti.html]):

  • . . . evaluate rather than merely absorb information . . .
  • . . . solve problems . . .
  • . . . think about what they are doing . . .
  • . . . build their own mental models . . .
  • . . . take responsibility for their learning . . .
  • . . . do most of the work . . .
  • . . . control the learning process . . .
  • . . . become their own teacher . . .

Putting all this together, we can note a number of common elements: a shift in the process of learning from a demonstration by the teacher to inquiry and exploration by the student.

Passive Learning Active Learning
Emphasizes the teacher's role Emphasizes the student's role
Emphasizes verbalizing and demonstrating the product of learning (giving the answer) Emphasizes enabling and guiding the process of learning (asking the question)
Emphasizes providing external motivations to learn Emphasizes awakening and connecting with internal motivations to learn

Since effective Web-based instruction requires an active learner, a key pedagogical question for online instructional design is how best to engage the student so that he or she will become a more active learner. Traditional face-to-face techniques for promoting active learning include the Socratic method, group activities, role-playing, simulations, individually guided learning, problem-based learning, and service learning. All of these strategies have their analogs in Web-based instructional design. But Web-based learning also provides the possibility of new techniques such as learner customization, knowledge-paced learning, nonlinear "constructivist" learning, virtual environments, and the possibility of immediate evaluation, application, and feedback.

"The active-learning design places the emphasis on the student's role rather than the teacher's"

Schank has grouped these techniques into five teaching architectures. Others have come up with different groupings (Campbell). In his book Designing Web-Based Training, Horton offers perhaps the most extensive list and discussion of active learning techniques (see especially Chapter 6).

Perhaps the best way to illustrate how an emphasis on designing for active learning actually affects instruction is to offer an example using the content of this paper. If this paper in its current form can be taken as an example of a traditional learning design, then an active learning design would need to present the same material in a way that emphasizes inquiry and exploration on the part of the reader. For this example, I have recast the material in the form of a unit section for a hypothetical online course, EDU523 Principles of Web-Based Instructional Design. Here is how I might explain the student-centered active-learning format used in this online course to students:

EDU523 is broken into several units. Each unit has one or more sections. Each section follows a six-part pattern — observe, read, reflect, practice, compare, and apply.

Observe: You will begin each section by doing some activity built around an experience — usually a problem to solve. This will raise one or more key issues central to the rest of the section and the course as a whole. The key here is to raise precise questions, observe the various elements of the problem in their context, and observe how the problem is solved.

Read: Next you will do some background reading or research. For example, you might be directed to read a chapter of the textbook or to look for some information online, in the library, or in the community. You might even be asked to interview someone with expertise on the subject. The key here is to understand the questions and issues in a broader context.

Reflect: In this step you will generate questions based on what you have observed in the first two steps. You will need to share at least one of these questions on the course discussion Web site. Remember that the public discussion will be only as helpful as what you and your fellow students put into it. The key here is to organize your insights into a scheme.

Practice: In this step you will have an opportunity to demonstrate the beginning of your mastery of the material in the steps above. You may do this by uploading notes you made when you reflected on your observations or by taking an online quiz. The key here is to test the accuracy of your insights so that you can recognize gaps and revise misunderstandings.

Compare: In this step you will see an example of how the instructor and/or other students might solve the initial problem and understand the issues covered in the section. The key here is to further develop your insights by comparing your insights with others' and enter into further dialogue with them on the discussion Web site.

Apply: In this last step, you will take what you have learned so far and apply it to a more involved problem. Usually this application will form a component of your unit project. Most of these applications will become part of your course portfolio. The key here is to test your insights further and produce some tangible product that will document your progressive understanding and mastery.

As readers can see, the passive-learning and active-learning versions of this paper differ in many ways. It is helpful to note a few of them here:

  • The active-learning design places the emphasis on the student's role rather than the teacher's. The learning process does not begin with a lecture or demonstration by the teacher. Rather it begins experientially by posing a problem in the form of an activity (which can be designed to be practical or fun or both). It then guides the student to reflect on this activity and make some kind of response that shows what the student has learned from the experience. Only then does the teacher provide an "answer." Finally the student has an opportunity to apply the new insights gained by comparing his or her initial response with others' responses. This final step helps reinforce the active-learning design's emphasis on the student's own inquiry and exploration.

  • The active-learning design places the emphasis on enabling and guiding the process of learning (asking the question) rather than on verbalizing or demonstrating the answer. Verbalizing the answer is important, but is more appropriate after the question has been asked and understood. Thus the active-learning design has the student begin with an activity that is designed to raise questions. The teacher's "lecture" becomes a model response to the question or problem raised.

  • The active-learning design places the emphasis on awakening and connecting with the student's own motivations to learn within the student rather than on devising external motivations (deadlines, tests, and grades). Ideally, the motivation would come entirely from the student's own needs and interests. Rarely, however, is this practical, given the attitudes of students (who expect things like deadlines, tests, and grades, and depend on them for structure, motivation, and affirmation) and the external funding, administrative, and accreditation constraints under which educators operate. The hope is that these external motivations would not drive the instructional design.

  • Finally, the active-learning design recognizes that different students learn in different ways. This particular instructional Web design could be made to accommodate different learning styles by offering four different ways students can interact with the material:

    • by reading it on the screen;
    • by hearing it spoken through an audio clip
    • by hearing and seeing it spoken through a video clip; and
    • by watching a guided demonstration much like the MacOS help.

The discussion here has centered on how strong Web-based instruction requires students to be active learners. But it is equally important to recognize that Web-based instruction demands more planning and preparation than traditional instruction does — a level of activity that makes Web-based instructional design more like multimedia authoring than creating shovelware (simply repurposing traditional content in Web-page form). This is so for three reasons:

First, any instructional medium will have a unique set of strengths and weaknesses relative to another medium. To be effective, online instruction must exploit the unique pedagogical advantages of the online medium (for example, its capacity for non-linearity) while managing the drawbacks (for example, the greater potential for some students to become confused and anxious when engaged in non-sequential learning). (Campbell, Brown) Repurposing content originally prepared for traditional classroom delivery does the exact opposite. It tends to emphasize those areas where the online medium is relatively weaker — for example, in providing the reassurance that comes from communicative redundancy (nonverbal messages clarifying and reinforcing verbal messages) — while failing to exploit the unique pedagogical advantages of the online medium.

"Take an online course first so you know what it is like to be on the other side"

Second, while an ideal online course would provide opportunities for interactivity, quick feedback, and adjustment comparable to a physical classroom, that is not always the case. Thus there is a greater burden on the Web-based instructional designer to create a design and content sufficient to handle most of the student behaviors that may result, and design the course with a range of pedagogical contingencies sufficient to handle whatever student behaviors may arise.

Third, when there is miscommunication between student and instructor, the newness of the Web environment can heighten anxiety and lower the tolerance for frustration and lack of closure for both student and instructor. Thus those who create effective Web-based instructional content must be especially vigilant about the possibility of miscommunication, provide orientation, and be prepared to offer a greater range of appropriate responses.

Nine Suggestions for Web-Based Liberal Arts Teaching

  1. Take an online course first so you know what it is like to be on the other side.

  2. Plan to invest more time in both course preparation and course management. It can take three to seven times longer to prepare and conduct a new online course — depending on the sophistication of your approach. It also takes more time to manage an online course.

  3. Develop a clean and carefully thought-out course production and management system. You can't wing it in an online course and survive. Have a clear file-naming system and stick to it. Use appropriate authoring metaphors and a consistent layout and visual cues so students will quickly gain a sense of familiarity with your instructional materials. Insist that students clearly identify their assignments in the e-mail subject line. Unless you are using an e-mail technology that allows you to leave your e-mail on the server (IMAP or a Web mail interface), manage all your course e-mail from one computer. That means that if you are going to have online office hours in the evening, you will need to come to your office or use a portable computer for all your e-mail.

  4. Realize that the medium profoundly affects the message. To be effective, you can't simply "repurpose" your traditional course materials. You need to rethink what you are trying to accomplish and find ways of doing this that manage the limitations and maximize the advantages of the Internet as an instructional medium. For example, realize that reading on the computer screen is not like reading a page. A computer screen glows. A printed page does not. Studies show that the average person reads the same material 25% slower on a computer screen than on paper. So design any content that includes a large amount of text to be easily printed out. For most students, a well-designed graphic is much more effective at communicating key ideas than words alone. Make the most of the online mode's potential to encourage active learning. If appropriate, consider using a problem-based learning approach.

  5. Realize that technology has costs as well as benefits. For example, since students must be familiar with the course technology in order to engage the material, the course technology has a way of becoming course content. So unless there is a net positive yield in capacity or efficiency, introducing technology can actually dilute the content of a course. Therefore, either make familiarity with the appropriate software, e-mail and attachments, threaded discussions, and chat rooms a prerequisite, or provide for this instruction in your course orientation.

  6. Consider learning how to code your own Web pages. The more you know and can do for yourself, the greater control you will have over your content and the more flexibility you will have to make changes. Use an integrated Web-authoring suite. If you want a simpler solution, go with Microsoft (Word, FrontPage, etc.). If you want a robust solution, go with Macromedia (Dreamweaver, Fireworks, Flash, Freehand, and Drumbeat). I like Dreamweaver because it has a nice template function and writes clean HTML code (unlike FrontPage, which adds strange code that makes troubleshooting harder). The best text editor for Windows is HomeSite. For Macintosh, it is BBEdit. Either comes bundled with Dreamweaver. It also helps to have access to Photoshop and a scanner. Be aware that HTML is being replaced by a more robust Web protocol, XML. If you don't do your own coding, make sure that you define roles and responsibilities well, and put firm deadlines in writing. That will help guarantee a smooth production process.

  7. Be prepared to live with occasional technical difficulties. For example, I have been having problems using Dreamweaver's site-synchronization function to update files on the server. It has been over a month and I have found no solution. Since my university still does not have a dedicated distance-learning server, students get error messages when too many try to log on at the same time, and threaded discussions bog down. I have had to put courseware on a second server so that an entire class can access the same Web page without overloading the main server.

  8. Be prepared to give at least basic technical support. You, the instructor, will be the student's first contact when she or he has a problem — technical as well as content related. Until students become comfortable with the online course environment, their stress level is higher than it is in a traditional physical classroom. When students do not get quick solutions to their problems early in the course, they become very frustrated. Ideally, your school should be able to offer technical-support staff dedicated specifically to assisting online students twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. (And yes, students will take advantage of the fact that the Internet is always open, and do their work at all hours of the day and night.)

  9. Be alert to the consequences of less "presence." Teaching online, you will not be able to look students in the eye or read their body language to confirm that they are understanding — or even if they are comfortable. So take every opportunity to establish rapport with each student. Use "icebreaker" techniques so that the students become individuals for you and for each other — and you for them. When a student drops out, follow up right away. If there is no response to e-mail, call on the phone. You may even need to arrange a meeting if that is possible. Test your material beforehand to identify errors or ambiguity. Be prepared to offer more examples and explanations when teaching online than you would need to in person.



Richard Cain is Assistant Professor of English at Wheeling Jesuit University, Wheeling, W.Va., where he serves as Director of the Professional Communications Program. He previously worked for 11 years as a journalist. His research interests are the philosophy and theology of communication, especially regarding the new media technologies. He may be reached at rcain@wju.edu.


Works Cited

Active Learning Network. "What is Active Learning?" Web site. [formerly http://trc.ucda vis.edu/trc/active/definiti.html]. April 8, 2000.

Aristotle. Metaphysics; Web site. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu. April 12, 2000.

Tony Brown. "Learner Control." Web site. [formerly http://scs.une.edu.au/Units/CurricSt/CSIT513/573/573_3.html]. April 7, 2000.

Katy Campbell. "The Web: Design for Active Learning." Web Site. http://www.atl.ualberta.ca/documents/articles/activelearning001.htm. April 7, 2000.

William Horton. 2000. Designing Web-Based Training. New York: John Wiley and Sons.

Pamela Mendels. 1999. "Courses that Teach How to Learn Online," New York Times, October 6.

Plato. The Phaedrus. Web Site. [formerly http://plato.evansville.edu/texts/jowett/phaedrus.htm]. May 8, 2000.

Roger Schank. Engines for Education. Web site. http://www.engines4ed.org/hyperbook/. April 8, 2000.


Links from this article

Active Learning Network

[formerly http://trc.ucdavis.edu/trc/active/definiti.html]

Engines for Education

http://www.engines4ed.org/hyperbook/

Metaphysics

http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Aabo%3Atlg,0086,025


SUPPLEMENT 1: Web design for active learning

Unit 3 Section 1

Goals for this week:

When you finish this section, you will understand:

  • three differences between passive and active learning
  • the importance in teaching the liberal arts of using web instructional strategies that promote active learning

and you will be able to:

  • brainstorm a list of instructional strategies for teaching specific liberal arts content on the web, and
  • select those strategies that best promote active learning.

What you will do this week:

Step 1: Observe Step 2: Read Step 3: Reflect Step 4: Practice Step 5: Compare Step 6: Apply
Transform this newswriting exercise into an instructional format that better promotes active learning.

The Engaged Learner by Richard Cain

Chapter 6 from Designing Web-Based Training by William Horton

What key questions do the observation and readings raise for you?

For example:

"What is active learning?"

"Which instructional formats best promote active learning?"

Use one of your questions to start a threaded discussion by Monday, May 8

E-mail the final version of your observation by Monday, May 8.

Give me an example of how to translate the newswriting exercise into an instructional format that better promotes active learning.

(Note: this link will not become active until you submit your observation.)

Do the Active Learning Instructional Design Exercise.

Upload your web pages to the course server and e-mail your rationale by Monday, May 15.

What you should have in your portfolio by the end of this week:

Projects (including process steps and instructor comments):

  • Active Learning Exercise

Practice:

  • Transformation exercise


SUPPLEMENT 2: Observe: Finding the focus

Read the following information. Then decide what are the different possible ways to focus this story? Which focus is most appropriate for a story In the school newspaper? In the leading newspaper of your state? Why?

Who: Christine Hruskovich is a senior majoring in Professional Communications and minoring in Theology.

What: A rented truck was stolen.

Where: The truck was stolen from the parking lot near Ignatius Hall at Wheeling Jesuit University.

When: Hruskovich discovered and reported the theft this morning.

Why: The truck was full of clothes, toys, food, and baby supplies.

How: Hruskovich thinks she may have left the key in the truck's ignition.

Backup information: (The following points are not necessarily in the best order for a news story.)

The truck was a Mack CS Midliner Series on loan from the Olsen Truck dealership in North Wheeling. The truck was full of clothes, toys, food, and baby supplies that Hruskovich and other students from the Wheeling Jesuit Life Club had collected for distribution to poor families in Mingo County through Sacred Heart Parish in Williamson. This is the third year that Olsen had loaned a truck to Hruskovich for her annual clothing drive. Each year since she was a freshman, Hruskovich has organized a drive to collect clothing, toys, food, and baby supplies. Each year more and more students have helped—especially the students in the Life Club. Hruskovich estimates that the truck contained over 1,000 pieces of children's clothing, 500 toys, "over a ton" of food and baby supplies.

"Olsen made the truck available to us yesterday morning," Hruskovich said. "I picked it up in the morning. We spent all yesterday loading the truck. I was going to drive the truck down to Williamson this morning. I got going a little late becase we didn't finish loading the truck until 1:30 this morning. It was about 8:30 in the morning when I got up. I looked around my room but couldn't find the keys. I went out to the truck wondering if I had left them in the truck by accident. But the truck was gone. It was just gone. I must have been so tired last night that I just left the keys in it."

After reporting the truck theft, Hruskovich called her pastor, Msgr. Thomas A. Quirk, rector of Blessed Sacrament Cathedral where Hruskovich's family are members. Together they helped launch a community-wide effort to replace the stolen clothes and toys.

"Hruskovich is a shining example of all that is right about young people today," said Father Joseph Smith, S.J., president of Wheeling Jesuit. "It saddens me to think that someone could be so short-sighted as to steal a truck of gifts for the poor just before Thanksgiving. But rather than be discouraged, Hruskovich has helped turn the theft into a beautiful outpouring of community generosity."

Father Smith said he had just been contacted by the West Virginia Governor's office about the fact that Hruskovich has been selected as one of 10 Model West Virginians by the Governor for her clothing drives and her work organizing student relief after a flood in Mingo County.

A local effort spearheaded by the Wheeling Ministerial Association, the Sisters of St. Joseph, Wal-Mart, and the local chapter of West Virginians for Life to replace the clothing, toys, food, and baby supplies is already underway. The group says it has already received pledges from local businesses that will more than make up for the supplies that were stolen.

"It was easy to get pledges," said Msgr. Thomas A. Quirk, rector of Blessed Sacrament Cathedral where Hruskovich's family are members. Once people learn what happened, they open up their hearts and give what they can. Olsen's has already promised to provide a truck and a driver. Msgr. Quirk said they will provide a second truck if that is needed."

Both Hruskovich's father and mother drive trucks. They own a small trucking business in South Wheeling. "Christine grew up in the back of an 18-wheeler," said her mother, Marta Hruskovich. "She can drive anything."


SUPPLEMENT 3: Focusing the news story

Unit 1 Section 1

Goals for this week:

When you finish this section, you will understand:

  • the importance of selecting an appropriate focus for a news story

and you will have learned:

  • how to use the focus method to write news stories.

What you will do this week:

Step 1: Observe Step 2: Read Step 3: Reflect Step 4: Practice Step 5: Compare Step 6: Apply

Find a recent copy of your local paper. How well focused are the stories? Find several stories that are not well focused and identify where the focus should be.

Investigate how you focus a news story.

Rich Ch. 1-3

What key questions and issues help define good news reporting and writing?

For example:

"What makes something newsworthy?"

"What is the step-by-step process of finding the focus of a story?"

Test your news story focusing method.

Focusing the story

How to do a story strategy

Write a pitch for Story #1

What you should have in your portfolio by the end of this week:

Projects (including process steps and instructor comments):

  1. Pitch for Story#1

Practice:

  1. Strategy for story on WJU smoking policy


SUPPLEMENT 4: Apply: Designing instruction for active learning

Objective:

to practice working through the process for transforming instructional design for passive learning into design for active learning.

Background:

You have explored the distinction between passive and active learning:

Passive Learning Active Learning
Emphasizes the teacher's role Emphasizes the student's role
Emphasizes verbalizing and demonstrating the product of learning (giving the answer) Emphasizes enabling and guiding the process of learning (asking the question)
Emphasizes providing external motivations to learn Emphasizes awakening and connecting with internal motivations to learn

You have practiced generating a variety of instructional strategies and identifying those that encourage active learning. Now you are ready to apply these insights to your own instructional design!

Procedure:

  1. Take one of the objectives from your instructional design project and make a list of possible instructional strategies. Be sure to identify your intended instructional audience (for example, 10th grade analytical geometry students).

  2. Identify which strategy is most promising and design a web instructional module. Your module must identify the instructional objective, provide at least one activity, and include at least one evaluation instrument.

  3. Write a rationale of approximately 400-600 words explaining why your design will be effective in promoting active learning.

  4. Upload your web pages to the course server and e-mail your rationale by Monday, May 15.

What you will turn in by Monday, May 15:

  • a statement of your instructional objective and intended audience

  • a list of possible instructional strategies (be sure to mark the one you think is most promising)

  • an instructional module designed to accomplish your objective uploaded to the course server (be sure to include at least one activity and one evaluation instrument)

  • a rationale of approximately 400-600 words explaining why your design will be effective in promoting active learning.


SUPPLEMENT 5: Observe: Focusing strategies

Objective:

to become conscious of the step-by-step process you go through in identifying the focus of a news story.

Background:

Many times we do things without even noticing that there is a definite process, a series of steps we go through each time we do this thing. Your goal here is to become more conscious of the steps you go through in coming up with the focus for a news story.

To do this, you will first consider raw information for a specific story. Then you will turn your attention to what you are doing as you try to find the focus for this story. Then you will try to write down a general step-by-step process that could be applied to any raw news story information.

Procedure:

  1. Read the following information.

  2. Make a list of at least three different ways this story could be focused.

  3. As you do this, notice carefully what steps you go through in identifying the focus of a story.

  4. Write these steps down in outline form as though you were going to give a presentation to the class on how to focus a story.

ÿ students from the Wheeling [sic]


SUPPLEMENT 6: Practice: Strategizing a story

Objective:

to test your step-by-step method for finding the focus of a news story.

Background:

Earlier in this section you observed and wrote down the step-by-step process you go through in finding the focus of a news story. Now you will test your process to see how complete it is. (Later on we will refer to this process of find the focus of a news story as "strategizing a story.)"

Procedure:

  1. Assume that Wheeling Jesuit University has just instituted a tough new anti-smoking policy in response to the rising number of smoking-related health problems among students.

  2. Using the list of steps for focusing a story you developed earlier, plan out (but do not write) a story on the new smoking policy.

What you will turn in:

One or more sentences describing your answer for each of the steps in your news story focusing process.

For example, let's say that your process has four steps:

  1. Identify a story topic

  2. Ask yourself what is most interesting about this topic, how it will affect the intended readers of the story..

  3. Put this in question form.

  4. Identify an insightful answer to this question. (This is the working focus for the story.)

Then you would turn in the following:

  1. Identify a story topic.

    the university's new smoking policy

  2. Ask yourself what is most interesting about this topic, how it will affect the intended readers of the story.

    The new policy will affect where students can smoke.

  3. Put this in question form.

    How will the new policy affect where students can smoke?

  4. Identify an insightful answer to this question. (This is the working focus for the story.)

    The new university smoking policy will restrict student smoking to a designated smoking lounge in each lounge and one room in the Ratt.


SUPPLEMENT 7: Compare: Focusing the story

Our task was to read the following information, then decide what are the different possible ways to focus this story? Which focus is most appropriate for a story In the Cardinal Connection? In the Charleston Gazette? Why?

Who: Christine Hruskovich is a senior majoring in Professional Communications and minoring in Theology.

What: A rented truck was stolen.

Where: The truck was stolen from the parking lot near Ignatius Hall at Wheeling Jesuit University.

When: Hruskovich discovered and reported the theft this morning.

Why: The truck was full of clothes, toys, food, and baby supplies.

How: Hruskovich thinks she may have left the key in the truck's ignition.

Backup information: (The following points are not necessarily in the best order for a news story.)

The truck was a Mack CS Midliner Series on loan from the Olsen Truck dealership in North Wheeling. The truck was full of clothes, toys, food, and baby supplies that Hruskovich and other students from the Wheeling Jesuit Life Club had collected for distribution to poor families in Mingo County through Sacred Heart Parish in Williamson. This is the third year that Olsen had loaned a truck to Hruskovich for her annual clothing drive. Each year since she was a freshman, Hruskovich has organized a drive to collect clothing, toys, food, and baby supplies. Each year more and more students have helped—especially the students in the Life Club. Hruskovich estimates that the truck contained over 1,000 pieces of children's clothing, 500 toys, "over a ton" of food and baby supplies.

"Olsen made the truck available to us yesterday morning," Hruskovich said. "I picked it up in the morning. We spent all yesterday loading the truck. I was going to drive the truck down to Williamson this morning. I got going a little late because we didn't finish loading the truck until 1:30 this morning. It was about 8:30 in the morning when I got up. I looked around my room but couldn't find the keys. I went out to the truck wondering if I had left them in the truck by accident. But the truck was gone. It was just gone. I must have been so tired last night that I just left the keys in it."

After reporting the truck theft, Hruskovich called her pastor, Msgr. Thomas A. Quirk, rector of Blessed Sacrament Cathedral where Hruskovich's family are members. Together they helped launch a community-wide effort to replace the stolen clothes and toys.

"Hruskovich is a shining example of all that is right about young people today," said Father Joseph Smith, S.J., president of Wheeling Jesuit. "It saddens me to think that someone could be so shortsighted as to steal a truck of gifts for the poor just before Thanksgiving. But rather than be discouraged, Hruskovich has helped turn the theft into a beautiful outpouring of community generosity."

Father Smith said he had just been contacted by the West Virginia Governor's office about the fact that Hruskovich has been selected as one of 10 Model West Virginians by the Governor for her clothing drives and her work organizing student relief after a flood in Mingo County.

A local effort spearheaded by the Wheeling Ministerial Association, the Sisters of St. Joseph, Wal-Mart, and the local chapter of West Virginians for Life to replace the clothing, toys, food, and baby supplies is already underway. The group says it has already received pledges from local businesses that will more than make up for the supplies that were stolen.

"It was easy to get pledges," said Msgr. Thomas A. Quirk, rector of Blessed Sacrament Cathedral where Hruskovich's family are members. Once people learn what happened, they open up their hearts and give what they can. Olsen's has already promised to provide a truck and a driver. Msgr. Quirk said they will provide a second truck if that is needed."

The most obvious possible focus is the truck theft.

But there are at least two other possible focuses:

  • The outpouring of community support IN RESPONSE TO the theft

  • The selection of Christine Hruskovich as one of 10 Model West Virginians for this year.

Here are possible focus sentences for each approach:

  • Focus #1: A truck full of clothes and toys for poor kids has been stolen from a Wheeling Jesuit parking lot.

  • Focus #2: Wheeling business leaders have opened their storerooms to make up for last night's clothing drive theft at Wheeling Jesuit.

  • Focus #3: Wheeling Jesuit senior's plucky response to clothing drive theft is one more reason why she has been selected as one of this year's Model West Virginians.

Focus #2 would be most appropriate for the local Wheeling paper. Focus #3 would be most appropriate for the Cardinal Connection and The Charleston Gazette.

Why? When focusing a story, you should always ask yourself who your audience is and why they should care. For a paper serving the Wheeling community, the community's response is the most appropriate focus. For the Cardinal Connection, the student honored is most directly relevant to readers—even more than the community response. For a statewide paper like The Charleston Gazette, a profile of one of this year's Model West Virginian winners would be most relevant to a statewide audience.


SUPPLEMENT 8

How to find the news

In your observation exercise, you recognized that good newswriting requires knowing who the audience is. That means knowing your publication medium.

You have looked at the traditional criteria for news:

  1. News is timely. A rash of auto thefts on campus last night is newsworthy; a rash of thefts last semester is not.

  2. News usually impacts lots of people. One third of Wheeling Jesuit students coming down with the flu is news; three Wheeling Jesuit students coming down with the flu is not.

  3. News often is proximate to readers of the news publication. A fire on campus is newsworthy. A fire in Wyoming in itself is not.

  4. News often involves conflict. A student group staging a protest to call attention to landlord neglect of student housing is newsworthy. A group of students agreeing that they think their apartments are well cared for is not.

  5. News often involves prominent people. The president of the United States breaking a leg in a skiing accident would be news. A first year student breaking a leg in a skiing accident would probably not be newsworthy.

  6. News involves issues of current interest. A Wheeling Jesuit political science professor publishing an article on presidential impeachment in 1999 would be more newsworthy now than in 1989 because of the impeachment of Bill Clinton.

  7. News especially involves issues touching the common good (the unity and advancement of society). The price of gasoline doubling is more newsworthy than the price of Beanie Babies doubling.

An event or topic does not need to meet all these criteria to be newsworthy. But it must meet at least one of them.

You have also looked at how reporters use the 5Ws + H and the "so what" questions to identify and prioritize potentially newsworthy information. We know that the answers to some of these questions will be more important than others. Occasionally, some answers might remain unknown or be entirely unimportant.

In this screen you will learn:

  1. how to distinguish between event-driven news and insight-driven news, and

  2. how to explore insight-driven news topics until you find something that is newsworthy.

Imagine that you are a staff reporter for Wheeling Jesuit's student newspaper, the Cardinal Connection. At the weekly staff meeting, the editor tells you she just learned that there was a car accident involving Wheeling Jesuit English professors. There may be some deaths. What is the news?

The answer is easy. The very drama of the event points to the news. Besides the shocking nature of the news itself, the death of several English professors all at once has a clear and direct impact on the lives of nearly every reader of the Cardinal Connection.

Now imagine that you have been assigned a news story on the new core curriculum. What is the news here? The answer is not so easy. Clearly changes in the core affect nearly every student on campus. But without knowing the changes and the impact these changes will make, the news is not clear. If the changes are minor, there may be no news at all.

This illustrates the difference between what I will call event-driven news and insight-driven news.

For event-driven news, the news is often dramatic and clear. The job of the reporter consists mainly of gathering the information accurately and organizing it properly.

For insight-driven news, the news is less dramatic and less clear. Here the reporter must use his or her knowledge of journalism and analytical skills to draw out what the news is.

You can think of the difference as being something like the difference between prospecting for gold and mining for gold.

All a prospector does is go to where the gold is lying on the ground or in a riverbed and sift a little to get the gold already in nugget form.

A miner, on the other hand, has to dig deep beneath the surface of things. What he gets is not nuggets but ore that must be refined in order to release the gold.

A prospector simply needs to recognize and gather the gold. A minor needs to know how to draw the gold out of ore that may look to the untrained eye just like plain old rock.

The question then becomes, how does a reporter refine the ore of everyday life in order to find the important news that may lie hidden within?

The key is to ask a series of questions that probe steadily deeper into the topic and connect it with the needs and interests of the reporter's audience and the common good. Let's take our second example, the core curriculum revision. I will arrange this probing in a question and answer form.

Q. How has the core been changed?

A. Well, most students will have one more class, a fine arts class.

Q. Why do you say "most students"?

A. Because students in three of the medical professional programs will have the option of fulfilling their language requirement with a single class in medical Spanish.

Q. Why just those programs?

A. Well, the nursing program vehemently objected to any increase in the total number of core hours because the national accrediting agencies already require so many classes that the major takes up every hour beyond the core. It was felt that increasing the total number of hours in a student's load would put Wheeling Jesuit's program at a competitive disadvantage with less expensive schools that don't have as demanding a core requirement.

Q. Is that the only difference?

A. No. Even though the core still requires the same NUMBER of classes in most areas —for example, two history classes, two literature classes, two science classes—the CONTENT of these classes will be significantly different.

Q. How will these new core classes be different?

A. There will be no more survey courses. The school is moving away from trying to give students a survey of Western Civilization or of a particular body of literature. Instead, the first course will be introduce students to the methodology of that particular subject, for example, how great writers use figurative language to tell a story. The second course will be an application of that methodology to a particular area within that subject, for example, Fantasy Literature. Instead of every student having to take the same two literature courses, they will have a choice of courses—at least for the second course in a core subject area.

Q. What difference will this make in the quality of education for Wheeling Jesuit students?

A. The hope is that by giving up the increasingly impossible task of surveying the whole body of knowledge in a particular area—for example, the history of Western Civilization in two semesters, teachers can concentrate MORE on teaching students how to gain historical knowledge. Rather than memorizing and forgetting a lot of facts, students will carry away the crucial skills that will make them lifelong learners.

With just a few well-aimed questions, our reporter has uncovered changes that could dramatically affects the education of every student. Our reporter has also learned that there has been a conflict of some kind between the professional programs and the liberal arts programs over the revision. Notice that our reporter was careful to pick up on the little hints and details that are so crucial to finding insight— for example, by noticing the unexpected detail of "most students." Our reporter was careful to ask if this was the only change instead of assuming it was.

It is important to recognize the overlap between these two approaches to news stories. May stories can be approached both ways, as event-driven news stories AND as insight-driven news stories. A story idea that may be moderately important when looked at in an event-driven way may become much more important when looked at in an insight driven way. A good example of this is the core revision story above.

Clearly, the story strategy becomes much more important for insight-driven news stories. For insight-driven news stories require more careful thought and preparation if the reporter is to have any hope of offering the reader something of value.

It is helpful to look at news stories in two different ways, as event-driven where the news is fairly obvious and as insight-driven where the news reveals itself only after careful probing.

To write insight-driven news stories, the reporter must learn how to ask probing questions that uncover the important details and relate them to the needs and interests of readers.

Good reporters develop insight-driven stories by asking questions like:

  1. Why is something this way and not another way?

  2. What does this mean?

  3. What does this mean in plain English?

  4. Where are the issues? Where are people of good will disagreeing with one another and why?

  5. What is really at stake here?

  6. How will this make a practical difference in reader's lives?

  7. Why, why, why? So what, so what, so what?

How to strategize a story

So far, you have recognized that hard news stories focus on one or more of the 5Ws + H and are arranged in a form called inverted pyramid. This inverted pyramid form is really a series of conclusions listing the news from most to least important. Theoretically, a story of this kind can be cut at the bottom of any paragraph.

You also know that the reporter's job is to tell the reader something he doesn't already know. Sometimes this is easy. Often it is hard.

In this screen you will learn:

  1. why it is important to take an active rather than a passive approach to reporting news,

  2. that taking an active approach means having a plan or strategy,

  3. how to construct a story strategy, and

  4. how to avoid the pitfalls of having a strategy.

A good reporting strategy helps you in two vital ways. First, it actually helps you to see more and understand it better. Second, it saves you lots of time and effort because it helps you sort through all the irrelevant stuff and recognize what you really need.

Let me give you a very simple example. In West Virginia when water falls out of the sky in winter and lies frozen and fluffy on the ground, we call it "snow." New snow, old snow, fluffy snow, granular snow, crusty snow—we call it all "snow."

But it is not that way in the far north. The native peoples of the north call the snow on the trees "qali," and the snow on the ground "api." The bottom layer of "api" is "pukak" (which provides an ideal winter habitat for a host of small mammals, the location of which can mean the difference between survival and starvation). "Upsik" is the hard-packed, wind-driven snow of open spaces such as large lakes and bogs. "Siqoqtoaq" is crusty snow whose top layer has thawed and refrozen—sometimes so hard that it gashes the legs of moose and caribou that break through it. Siqoqtoaq can immobilize these huge beasts as effectively as an electric fence.

We who are quite ignorant of the ways of winter in the wilderness see only snow. But those wise in its ways see a complex variety of differences. These insights are part of what enables these people to devise strategies for living in a land where we would freeze to death in a matter of hours or starve in a matter of days.

In a similar way, where unskilled reporters see only the routine humdrum of everyday life, skilled reporters see a complex variety of things. And in that they see news. They see this because they have trained themselves to notice differences and details that most people miss.

When thrust into the job of reporting, amateurs tend to look first and think afterwards. Good reporters reverse that process. They think first, before they begin to look. And they keep thinking as they look. In this way, they train themselves to see more and understand it better. The record of their thinking is called a story strategy.

Let me give you an example. Let's suppose that you have been assigned to cover the keynote speech for the Martin Luther King Day celebration at Wheeling Jesuit. A responsible amateur would show up for the address and take down as much as possible of what the keynote speaker said. Maybe he or she would ask a couple of people there what they thought the keynote address was about and write down what they say. Then this reporter would go back to his or her room. Sometime before the deadline, the reporter would sit down and look through the notes. ONLY THEN would the reporter really begin to think and ask questions like:

  • What was the most important thing that happened at this event?
  • What am I going to put at the beginning of this story?

Untrained reporters are like a person who when told to buy groceries for the family, runs off to the store and grab something off the shelf. Only when he returns home and starts to cook dinner does he think about whether the item he grabbed was the thing that was needed. Especially conscientious but unskilled reporters are like people who run off to the grocery store and grab everything they see, haul it all back, and then ask whether the thing needed is somewhere in the big pile of stuff.

Most of us would never grocery shop like this. Why do we report like this?

A skilled reporter starts asking these questions and makes a list of those questions he will have to answer BEFORE the event happens. He or she asks questions and begins to formulate possible answers. Most importantly, the skilled reporter begins to visualize what the story might look like as he or she is preparing to cover the event. In this way, the reporter is already beginning to look for a lead and for those pithy quotes that make for a great news story.

The secret is to start the thinking before the reporting.

So how does one do this?

Story strategy example

Story idea:

  • College's smoking policy

Rephrased as question:

  • How well is the college's smoking policy being implemented and what repercussions is it is having—both beneficial and problematic?

  • Why is student smoking rate going up despite strict campus no-smoking policy in public places? (BETTER because probes deeper and offers more insight)

Story focus: (answer to question—stated in single sentence)

  • Students are accepting the college's smoking policy. (OK)

  • Although students are accepting the college's smoking policy, they are not smoking any less. (BETTER because deeper and more insightful)

More possible answers to question (other possible focuses):

  • Many students continue to ignore the college's smoking policy.

  • Two years after the college's smoking policy went into effect, student smoking is down five percent.

Impact (why should reader care—stated in single sentence):

  • Cancer rates among young people are also going up.

  • Or:

  • College is looking at how to build a major anti-smoking component into its health and wellness program.

Lead ideas (how put a face on the focus/impact):

  • Anecdote about a first year student who starts smoking.

Photo/graphic ideas (how show the focus/impact):

  • Students huddled outside of Donohue Hall in the freezing rain puffing way.

  • Graphic showing increase in smoking-related illnesses

  • Graphic comparing average number of kisses per week for smokers and non-smokers (look for on Internet)

Possible sources, what you expect to learn from them, and questions:

  • Students who smoke; when did you start smoking? Why do you smoke? Would you like to quit? Do you feel your smoking is generally well accepted by other students? Why/Why not?

  • Students who don't smoke; How big a problem is second-hand smoke on campus?

  • Patricia Vargo, head of WJU Health Services; whether more students smoke today than in the past? What factors lead WJU students to start smoking, keep smoking?

  • Jeanne Kigerl, head of WJU counseling center; What factors lead WJU students to start smoking, keep smoking?

  • Prof. Mary Beth Murray, who teaches respiratory therapy; What are effects of smoking on smoker, others? Does smoking actually help students be more alert? Keep weight down? Is there a safe amount to smoke?

Notice that a story strategy begins with writing down the topic and then asking AND ANSWERING a series of questions. It doesn't matter than you aren't sure yet. You may be making a wild guess. But the point is to think about what might be the kinds of possible answers you will encounter when you do the reporting. (A football coach doesn't KNOW what the other team will do once the game begins. But only a foolish coach would begin the game without a carefully thought out game plan. It is much easier to adjust a plan that already exists than it is to come up with one when it is fourth down and long yardage!)

Notice that a story strategy is a visualization of what the story might look like—what the lead might be and what kind of photos or graphics would help make the story interesting and effective.

Most importantly, notice that a story strategy identifies specific people—or at least KINDS of people—that you need to talk with and the questions you need to ask them.

Let me offer one more analogy. The heart of science is the scientific method. This method can be stated as:

  1. Ask a specific question (for example where does the brain store visual memories?)

  2. Come up with a specific possible answer (for example, the anterior cerebral cortex)

  3. Devise an experiment to test this hypothesis (for example, during surgeries on this part of the brain, stimulate the cortex with a mild electric current and ask the patient what he or she senses).

  4. Evaluate the results of the experiment to see if the hypothesis needs modification or replacing.

  5. Publish a complete and careful record of your research so others can try to replicate your findings.

That is in essence what a story strategy is—a hypothesis that you go out and test through your reporting. Like most scientific hypotheses, it will need revising. Sometimes it will need to be scrapped entirely. But no serious scientist would just start poking around a person's brain without a carefully thought out experimental plan first. No serious coach would begin a game without a game plan. In the same way, no serious reporter should begin reporting a story without a reporting plan—a story strategy.

Lastly, I need to point out some pitfalls and how to avoid them. The pitfalls fall into two categories: sloppy strategizing and putting on blinders.

Sloppy strategiziing happens when different parts of the strategy answer slightly different questions (or answer a question with a question). This I call a "cockeyed" strategy.

'Cockeyed' story strategy example

In a well-focused story strategy, each element points to the same basic story idea, offering real insight. A "cock-eyed" story strategy, on the other hand, is one where one or more of the elements point to slightly different story ideas or offer no insight. This leads to confusion and incoherence (or at least a poorly focused story). Here's an example of a "cockeyed" story strategy. How would you fix it?

Story idea:

  • Blind dating is becoming popular again among college students

Rephrased as question:

  • What is blind dating?

Story focus: (answer to question—stated in one sentence)

  • Students don't have time to date so they are just doing things together in groups.

Impact (why the reader should care—stated in one sentence):

  • Why would a student take the risk of a blind date?

Lead ideas (how put a face on the focus/impact):

  • Bill Jones, a sophomore at Wheeling Jesuit is sick of the lack of things going on at Wheeling Jesuit.

Photo/graphic ideas (how show the focus/impact):

  • Two couples going out on a blind date

  • Graphic showing increase in the number of students who say they've been out on a blind date in the last year.

Possible sources, what you expect to learn from them, and questions:

  • Cheryl Jones who met her fiancee on a blind date set up by her hallmate.

The second pitfall is putting on blinders. Having a strategy is no guarantee that reality will turn out to be so neat. Usually, it is not. That means you have to be on the look out for things you didn't know or anticipate. It just might turn out that the real story involves something you learn about only as you are reporting. A good reporter is constantly adjusting and improving the strategy to fit the reality he or she finds during the reporting.

In this screen you learned:

  1. that good reporting begins with a plan which is called the story strategy;

  2. that a story strategy consists of a series of questions and answers;

  3. that a good story strategy actually begins to visualize what the story might look like—for example, what kind of lead and graphics will be needed, what kinds of sources the reporter needs to find, and what questions the reporter should ask each source—so the reporter can be on the lookout for these;

  4. how to avoid pitfalls by making sure all parts of the strategy focus on the same story and by being open during the reporting process to making adjustments or even adopting a completely new focus should the evidence call for it.


SUPPLEMENT 9: Story pitch

Before beginning work on a story, submit a story pitch to me in which you:

  • summarize the idea,
  • tell why this story idea is worth doing (why it is newsworthy for your intended audience),
  • list at least 4 specific possible sources (names, types, functions) representing both sides of the issue, and
  • say for what specific media outlet it is intended.

For example:

  • I propose to do a story on how well the college's smoking policy is being implemented and what repercussions it is having—both beneficial and problematic. I will try to show how the policy actually works (and does not work) by relating the experiences of smokers and non-smokers.
  • This idea is worth doing because smoking is a controversial public health issue that strongly affects those involved. An estimated 25 percent of Wheeling Jesuit students smoke, according to the Health Office, so this is not an isolated issue.
  • Among my contacts will be Daniel Caron who headed the committee which designed the policy, students who have tried to quit smoking as a result of the policy as well as smokers who have not, students who have been affected by smoking and college Health Office staff who work with those trying to quit.
  • I intend this story for the Feb. 23 issue of The Cardinal Connection.