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Our Inspiration

December 2, 2010 0 Comment

We have been inspired by many pioneers that have gone before us and are still going strong today, such as these programs:

Here are some examples of other work that has been helpful in the development of the Citizen Circles system:

The Inverted Classroom
Online learning will be more effective and it will attract and retain more students if supplemented by face-to-face facilitated group learning.

A recent meta-analysis funded by the U.S. Department of Education found that, “on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction,” but more importantly that “the difference between student outcomes for online and face-to-face classe was larger in those studies contrasting conditions that blended elements of online and face-to-face instruction with conditions taught entirely face-to-face. Analysts noted that these blended conditions often included additional learning time and instructional elements not received by students in control conditions.”[1]

The difference in performance between strictly online learning versus blended learning may be accounted for by research suggesting that cooperative group learning is an effective pedagogical method; “students completing cooperative learning group tasks tend to have higher academic test scores, higher self-esteem, greater numbers of positive social skills, fewer stereotypes of individuals of other races or ethnic groups, and greater comprehension of the content and skills they are studying.”

Maureen Lage and Glenn Platt of the University of Miami call this concept the “Inverted Classroom.” Lage and Platt describe a classroom in which “the Internet provides students with an excellent complement, not substitute, to their in-class efforts. The use of the Web in providing core content allows us to use experiments, group work, and other highly interactive in-class pedagogies without sacrificing course content. By integrating the Web as part of a larger program of teaching to different learning styles, we are able to reach a more diverse student population.” [2]

As Lage and Platt suggest, redefining what type of classroom leader is needed for this type of blended-learning environment will enable group-learning to be offered to a wider range of students, in a more places and subjects than ever before in history. Blended or hybrid learning models have tried to address this issue by offering a combination of online and instructor-led learning, but most institutions have still been reluctant to relinquish the importance of subject-matter expertise in the job description of the group learning leader.

The North American Council on Online Learning produced a series of studies on online and blended learning techniques, which included a survey of existing K-12 programs. The study found that “because fully online distance learning programs developed in a different place and with different methods than the use of Internet resources in physical schools, the blending of online programs and the classroom setting has been relatively slow to develop in K-12 education. However, emerging models in other countries, such as Singapore and Australia, as well as in higher education, suggest that a large part of the future of education will involve providing content, resources, and instruction both digitally and face-to-face in the same classroom.” [3]

This is from the researcher’s review of the Chicago Virtual Charter Schools:

“When teachers are with their students face-to-face, they sometimes play the traditional role of teacher in front of class, but more often they are creating small and individualized instructional plans to meet the needs, gaps, and interests of their students. Many schools strive towards an individualized approach, but for us it’s a daily reality. Unlike brick and mortar schools where the teacher introduces new material and concepts to a class, [Chicago Virtual Charter Schools] teachers play the role of detectives and problem-solvers, identifying content areas where students need clarification of concepts presented in the online curriculum. In some cases teachers are solving individual student problems, while in others they are developing group writing projects, or conducting online, synchronous review sessions for middle school children. The school maximizes cooperative learning and group decision making through whole-class and small-group, face-to-face instruction by making a conscious decision to emphasize the science curriculum in traditional classroom setting.”

Study Circles
Civic learning groups called study circles are a flexible and effective method for achieving social learning based on these new resources. They can be used by institutions or they can emerge organically for those who cannot enter those institutions. They can also improve the learning process.

There is an exemplar model of this approach in the history of the United States. Throughout the 19th century, small, community-based learning groups of 5-20 people voluntarily self-organized to explore a particular subject. The Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle movement served as a source of intellectual and social support for these groups and granted four-year degrees for completing study of its annual reading lists. Each meeting commonly lasted 2-3 hours and was directed by a moderator whose role was to aid a lively but focused dialogue, more so than to teach in the sense we think of today. By their peak in 1915, 700,000 people were participating in 15,000 study circles across the U.S., not including informal groups meeting in lecture halls, reading circles, debate clubs, and libraries. Study circles were particularly important to women, who, though not allowed in many cases to enter institutions, enjoyed the social interaction around learning, and could “steal moments from the waste-basket of time.”

Today, study circles are a common mode of education for lifelong learners in Denmark and Sweden. At any one time, one-third of Swedish adults are engaged in some form of adult education, and a recent survey indicates that 75% of the adult population has participated in a study circle at least once. The movement has been so successful that the government has subsidized it as a form of education since 1947 and has been used in international development by the Swedish Cooperative Centre since 1958 in to teach financial literacy, agricultural skills, and more to the poorest of the poor in East African and elsewhere..

For a detailed look at study circles, see Paolo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Cecile Andrew’s history of Study Circles.

[1] “Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies”, U.S. Department of Education, June 26, 2009.
[2] “The Internet and the Inverted Classroom”, Lage, Platt, and Treglia, 2000.
[3] “Blended Learning: The Convergence of Online and Face-to-Face Learning”, National American Council on Online Learning, with author John Watson, Evergreen Consulting Associates, 2008.

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