21 BEAT St., an acronym for the intersection of Business, Education, Arts and Technology in the 21st
Century is a voluntary community of writers and students joined by those working for credit from public schools and workshops for intern teachers. The campus has been re-designed after the Irish village of Kinsale with building names reflecting our literary emphasis.
The learning community 21 BEAT St. is for high school students in various courses and
educators interested in learning more about teaching, technology and facilitating learning online, including paradigm, pedagogical, and assessment practices. Part of the problem
with most online programs is that they seek to replicate the ftf experience: delivering lectures by videolink at specific times; building websites which act as "textbooks;" sending
and receiving set 'homework' through email; working to a rigid curriculum with a very specific examination at the end.
What has been most useful about this program is that it is designed way to take advantage of the online medium, rather than trying to replicate a classroom. The best classroom will
always be just that: a classroom. What is demonstrated here is how the Internet can be used as something other than a traditional classroom to facilitate learning.
Our program has attracted interest and participation from an impressive array of people — visiting authors and poets, groups of students, and individuals ranging in age from
adolescent to 80, signing on from around the world. Our participant numbers have ranged from 20 to 120 since the program's inception.
Currently a group of World Literature high school students are participating from a nearby district using the online forums to augment their regular school course. In addition, students
enrolled in a graphics arts course in Virginia share their work with the writing students which sometimes spurs collaborative arts work between them. We currently have a
proposal submitted in conjunction with the virtual College of Exploration for a teacher workshop involving participants in a project in Ireland. Our virtual campus, 21 BEAT
St. offers teachers a place to learn from experienced online facilitators. We specialize in offering courses and workshops which include instruction in: q Online communications
q Online facilitation skills
q Tailoring core curriculum to specific content objectives
Online program design
q Instructional delivery methods
q Authentic cross-disciplinary learning with a diverse population of participants
Integral program assessment using Empowerment Evaluation
q Development of online learning communities
Pedagogical theory and praxis
q Peer and teacher mentoring
q Technology as a new literacy
Writing a story or a novel is one way of discovering sequence in experience, of
stumbling upon cause and effect in the happenings of a writer's own life. Connections slowly emerge. Like distant landmarks you are approaching, cause
and effect begin to align themselves, draw closer together. Experiences too indefinite of outline in themselves to be recognized to be recognized for themselves
connect and are identified as a larger shape. And suddenly a light is thrown back, as when our train makes a curve, showing that there has been a mountain of meaning
rising behind you on the way you've come, is rising there still, proven now through retrospect. (Witherell and Nodding,1998. Narrative and Notions of the Self and the Other, In Stories Lives Tell, p.88).
A combination of both online and face-to-face interaction represents an ideal educational environment. However, most think in terms of the majority of class time
being spent in the regular classroom, augmented by online "education" which, as the research shows, is focused primarily upon finding information and creating websites and
rarely includes fully interactive, community-based online communications. What this project helps to demonstrate is that if the model is reversed-- with online education being the
primary content delivery mechanism matched with skilled facilitation and supplemented by occasional ftf meetings self-organized by the participants when deemed necessary-- that a
powerful new environment for teaching and learning becomes possible. Such an environment has the capacity to cross cultural, age, class, gender, race and content area
boundaries. The online environment fosters the possibility for participants to become co-learners and teachers. Resources expand. Costs of maintaining physical structures are
defrayed. Rural and urban, gifted and special needs students may all be served online.
Potentials for future educational endeavors combining technology with real time learning are
only as limited as our vision. Moving forward responsibly and documenting our progress and questions is critical. Additionally, administrations need to recognize the quality of work
that is possible in well-designed online instructional mediums. Currently they only recognize "contact hours" as time spent in a physical classroom, presenting a huge barrier to
accrediting credible online programs by responsible educators.
Online teaching pedagogy and praxis will be reflective of our beliefs carried over from the more traditional educational environment.
Any classroom, whether online or ftf, will only be as "good" as its teachers. By necessity, cognizance and learning styles are changing to meet new world demands. Technology will play a vital role in the future of our
students, specifically in ways it changes how they think, create, communicate, live, work, and play. We can apply what we already know about teaching and learning to new
educational environments, but should understand how change creates an initial sense of discomfort and fear, which in turn necessitates flexibility and openness to learning new
methods and ways of thinking about our craft and our perceptions of "reality."
Teacher application and innovation Teacher application and innovation in applying
technology needs to be supported by administrations and communities. Without financial, ideological, and philosophical support by governments, educational
administrations and global communities, teachers cannot feel secure in applying these new technologies. All learning organizations will experience the unexpected as new terrain is
explored. There is no need to falter if teachers, administrators and communities are willing to work together to address the demands and celebrate the successes made possible by
the advent of new technologies and the subsequent innovations in teaching which may result. Author Palmer Parker in his book, Courage to Teach,1998, states:
As we try to understand the subject in the community of trust, we enter into complex patterns of communication-sharing observations and interpretations, complementing
each other, torn by conflict in this moment and joined by consensus in the next. The community of truth, far from being linear and static and hierarchical, is circular,
interactive and dynamic. Conflict is the dynamic by which we test ideas in the open, in a communal effort to stretch each other and make better sense of the world (p. 103).
Integral assessment for program evaluation which places participants at the center of the process fuels a self-determining learning community. Everyone involved in the
evolution of the online program had a felt sense of ownership. The foundational structure provided by Empowerment Evaluation methods allowed a continual feedback loop for
program improvement and placed responsibility for high achievement and attendance to growth as writers and as people. Levels of empowerment reached from individual to
organizational to larger communities. The intentional creation of a self-directed learning community allowed students and teachers to feel comfortable taking risks in exploring a
multi-disciplinary and highly intense arts based curriculum.
School learning should reflect natural learning more closely. As they say, "When the
student is ready, the teacher will appear." Intrinsically motivated learning is preferred over externally motivated, grade driven models. Assessing students' individual and collective
skills and talents and subsequently co-designing learning plans and goals which support what students have a need and a desire to know. Reflection on growth as learners and as
people with attention focused on self-awareness and respect for diverse viewpoints and worldviews. Collaborative learning and networking which taps people and information, and
the connections between them. Just as in natural learning situations, students may ask questions, do research, ask for assistance, work independently exploring theories in
practice, or have someone show them. Unique to the online environment are the resources of people-- authors, scientists and specialists in all fields who can be directly contacted to
discuss and question newly learned information. And online, play and work seem to find a natural balance and rhythm not often found in the typical classroom.
The online environment when facilitated by constructivist, liberatory educators appears to support:
v Cross-disciplinary and more integrated ways of knowing
v Collaborative and cooperative learning
Improved writing and online communication skills
v Strong sense of a learning community
v Broadened global resource base
Project and inquiry based curriculum development
v Participants as co-learners
v Learning of technology skills as a new literacy, imperative to the future job market
New educational environment possibilities
Constructivist paradigm of teaching and learning
Integral means of assessment such as Empowerment Evaluation and portfolios
Archives for ongoing research and review
v Longitudinal connections with students with geographic, age and gender
More research is needed which documents successful approaches to online instruction and the effective application of emerging technologies in the 21st century. We must ask
ourselves: Are our methods based on the latest learning theories? Are we offering our students the best possible instruction? Is the focus of on-line educational programs fiscal, or
does our teaching center on enhancing the student learning experience and offering new opportunities of value that cannot be replicated in the former classrooms of the past? Is the
learning environment fully interactive? Does it make the best use of software available? Are facilitators skilled in online communications and pedagogy? Are we including our students'
voices, ideas, and astute technological skills in our endeavors? Are administrations and political bodies willing to support teachers innovating new learning experiences for their
students? Will the capacity of the online environment foster a closing of the digital divide between haves and have-nots, or serve to increase it and maintain the current social order?
Can we create a new culture of hope by connecting youth around the globe from an early stage, teaching them to honor diversity, dialogue, and an important clash of ideas? These
questions remain in our hands as conscientious educator-researchers.