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Friday, April 22, 2005

Audience Analysis: A Lesson Plan

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This is one of a series devoted to composition and writing courses. The focus of this unit is audience analysis.
The goal is to make writers more aware of how to shape an argument based on who one expects to read the article, and how to persuade them.

Unit Objectives:
Upon successful completion of this unit, you will be able to

* Explain how you will gain an appreciation of your intended audience;
* Describe the thoughts and questions you will ask yourself as you prepare your paper and keep your audience in mind;
* Describe how you will shape your paper in response to your audience and their values.


Discussion Board Question: Please list your favorite urban legend, alien abduction tale, or ghost story. Did you think it was real? Do you think there may be some truth to the story?

Required Writing:
500 words -- Please choose a new topic & or expand the topic you selected for your invention assignment. As you write, think about the audience you're expecting to read it. Who is your intended audience? Read the notes below and think about them as you write.

Who is your audience? Who, specifically, are they?
As you prepare to write, you need to have a good idea of your audience. This will probably involve more than one stage of contemplation. Of course, you know who your primary audience is likely to be, particularly if it is an instructor or an editor. But who are the secondary audiences likely to be? Why?

Demographics of the audience
As you define your audience, you need to have an idea of their basic characteristics. Where do they live? What gender are they? How old are they? What is their income level? What is their education level? What are the demographics that specifically apply to your topic? That will influence the questions you ask yourself as you try to obtain an accurate idea of the dominant characteristics of your audience. For example, if your paper is on gun control, it is useful to know if your audience is likely to be comprised of gun owners, or members of the NRA.

How will they receive your message? What is the medium? Printed or written discourse? Internet? Graphics? Film? Television?
The medium of the message has a definite impact on audience impact. For example, if they read your article in a newspaper, they will respond to it in a different manner than if they read it on typed pages. If your message is on the Internet, you need to keep in mind such factors as design, color, accessibility, loading speed, etc. If your message includes graphics, how are they printed on the page? In color? Black and white? If the medium is film or television, what are the production values? What are other factors, such as music, set design, mise-en-scene, direction, camera angles, etc.? All these are non-narrative elements that have an impact on your audience because each element carries with it meaning. The mind makes meaning from each of the elements, and, like it or not, it will impact the spoken or written part of the discursive package.

What are the core values of your audience? How can you affirm those while making your point?
What are the core values of your audience? Of course, you will probably never know all of them, but if you understand a bit about the religious, ethnic, group, and/or demographic background of your audience, you may have a fairly good idea about how the audience members respond to certain issues. What do they believe is the appropriate role of government and the state? Is the human being inherently good, bad, or neutral? Is the human psyche malleable or rigidly programmed? The key is to identify the core values that pertain to your primary thesis and the topics in your paper. If you affirm your audience's core beliefs, you can help convince your audience of your credibility and they will be more likely to pay attention.

When do the attitudes and values of your audience shift? This is a key opportunity, but why? What are your audience's situational attitudes?
This is an often overlooked and underestimated element in audience analysis. And yet, it is precisely this area that holds the most promise because these are the points where you may actually be able to wield influence. When the attitudes and values of your audience begin to shift due to a changing situation, or a different speaker, then you know you have an opportunity to create a more effective argument, and one which actually has a chance of working. This is not to be overlooked.

Why will your audience read your document? What's in it for them?
In constructing your paper, you need to keep in mind that your audience is not likely to read past the first line unless they perceive that there is some benefit or utility in continuing to read. With that in mind, you need to structure your paper so that you "positively program or condition" your audience by making the paper readable, relevant, reliable, and rewarding.

What are audience expectations? Narrative expectations? Generic expectations?
Because of the nature of narrative and form, your audience will begin to develop the expectation that your paper will follow along these lines. You must analyze your paper very carefully and decide what basic narrative form it is following. If it is a story, is it a Cinderella story? Romeo and Juliet? A revenge story? If it is a report, is it a sales pitch? An expose? A recommendation? A informational review? Does it take a position and argue a point? Generic expectations have to do with the genre or type of paper that it is. If it is a paper that takes a position, you would hardly expect it to read like an instruction manual. Thus, you need to keep in mind how your audience will typecast your paper and just accordingly.

What are your audience's preconceptions about your topic? The "major players" in your topic?
Is your audience likely to have preconceptions about your audience? If they do, you need to address them. If you do not acknowledge the preconceptions, your audience will think that you are not very well informed. In addition, it is important to determine who the "major players" are and that they manifest themselves as subtopics, statistics, case studies, images, or individual characters.

Who do you consider yourself to be? Who are you, and, more importantly, where are you in relation to your audience? What are the power hierarchies? Who and where is the "Other" in relation to you and your audience, and how does it change the way they approach you, each other, the text?

As you read your paper, think about how you would respond to your audience if you were meeting them face-to-face, then explaining the topic to them. How do you envision them assessing you? Your response to this is a key indicator of how you perceive yourself, and whether or not you believe yourself to be speaking to a group of peers, or to a group of individuals or an individual with more or significantly less power than you. It's absolutely indicative of the post-colonial (and post-feminist, if one discusses the phenomenology of oppression) mindset, and it indicates how you know your own reality, and how you prioritize your perceptions. If you can manage to think in an "Other"-centric way, you will have achieved what Kenneth Burke referred to as "consubstantiality," or the ability to "get under the skin" of your audience.

Creative Problem-Solving: Hazardous Shipping Lanes in the Malaccan Straits

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Here is a project for a Creative Problem-Solving Class. Imagine being issued a handheld computer, an mp3 player, a CD-ROM, and then being told that you will have to develop a plan to deal with the problem of piracy and attacks on ships in the Straits of Malacca. You will work with a team of 10 classmates who will be constantly traveling, and who will have only intermittent access to the Internet. You will be expected to develop components of a plan that you can implement together when you meet again, either face to face, or through synchronous Internet communication.


Mission (Outcome) Centered E-Learning Experience


You must, with your teammates, devise a plan to deal with piracy in the Straits of Malacca. You have certain equipment and funds available at your disposal. You have a certain amount of political clout, and you have some indirect methods that you can use.

While it is still possible to work as a team even while separated, the mission must be further refined, and broken into steps that can be implemented.

After refining the mission, and breaking it down into action steps, the areas of action should be mapped out. This must be done after understanding the nature of the problem.



Partial expanded definition of the problem:


*Cargo ships are attacked when they reach the “pinch point” through the Straits of Malacca.

*Ships are commandeered and their cargo sold on the black market.

*Crew are often killed, but sometimes kidnapped.

*The crews that do the pirating are not the same people as the individuals who fund the activities.

*Economic pressures, political double-dealing, poverty, and corruption make piracy appealing.

*Sovereignty issues come into play when policing and monitoring activities are proposed. Who would monitor traffic and police it? How is integrity assured?

*Logistics are challenging. GPS monitoring, identification of ships, cargo, monitoring of cargo, safety issues, are complicating factors.

*Trafficking and poor reporting of cargo also complicate the issue. Possible problem areas: human smuggling, illegal substances, contraband, falsified merchandise (pharmaceuticals, licensed brand “knock offs,” counterfeit equipment and spare parts, etc.).



Team roles and responsibilities:


Students must distribute roles and assume responsibility for developing their piece of the plan in anticipation of when they get together.

The roles can be those of advisors.

*Physical Security advisor.

*Geopolitical Affairs advisor

*Natural Resources advisor

*Trade and Trafficking advisor

*Maritime navigation advisor



Each must come up with a plan, which can follow a very prescribed approach. The responses can be shaped around a template or guiding questions.

Because not everyone will have the same sort of access to information, each person should collect information for distribution in the following forms:



*Text files (Word)

*mp3 Audio files for uploading and downloading to portable players

*Graphics -- maps, interactive mileage calculators, navigation maps, charts with statistics, navigation charts and calculators, examples of contraband and counterfeits, movies



Distributed Learning Space (Network-Centric)


By realizing that one is separated by time zones, access, and space from one’s teammates, the team must come up with ways to communicate. Step 1 involves finding out the best way for everyone to communicate. It may be that everyone is on the same sort of network and can communicate via handheld (BlackBerry, Treo, T-Mobile Sidekick), either through text messages, voice, or instant message. It may be that some of the team members will be out of range, or, due to security reasons, will not have an interactive system.



In that case, there must be a way for them to role-play without frequent communication, and to make the times when sending information is possible really count. Whatever the communication constraints, a solution to being in touch and accomplishing the goal must be devised.



Step 2 involves developing a procedure for distributing the information needed by team members at the appropriate time. Some information will need to be made available “on demand.” The Advisor’s reports need to be shared in a way that works for everyone.



Distributed Leadership (Network-Centric)


Instruction to students: Please read the articles and devise your own plan to deal with piracy in the Straits of Malacca. Keep in mind that the Straits of Malacca pose regional security, socio-economic, political, and strategic problems.


Pedagogical / Implementation realities: The students will be working individually, but yet, as they do so, they will be envisioning how their piece of the puzzle fits with the others.



They will be taking full responsibility for their role as an Advisor, and they realize that they must do a good job when they meet with the other Advisors so that they can work together to achieve the goal of creating a plan.


Some Advisors will find that the information provided to all is sufficient. Others will not. Thus, they need to be able to get information on an as-needed basis.



Because not everyone will have the luxury of a lot of storage space, or access to the Internet, it is useful to have all the readings and information available on the web, in easy-to-download files.

An audio version should also be available, ideally as an mp3 in an audio file. Later, the Advisor can listen through a handheld computer or through an iPod portable player. Graphics and other learning objects should be optimized for display in many different players, and delivery modes.

The Initial Readings for the Advisors.


Maritime terrorists lurk in S-E Asia: -- http://beyondutopia.net/creative-problem/malacca-straits/malacca-1.htm

The Straits of Malacca and the waters off Indonesia are becoming hotspots for pirates

--http://beyondutopia.net/creative-problem/malacca-straits/malacca-2.htm

Navy looking for sailors abducted in the Straits of Malacca -- http://beyondutopia.net/creative-problem/malacca-straits/malacca-3.htm

Malacca Straits remains one of most dangerous shipping lanes in world -- http://beyondutopia.net/creative-problem/malacca-straits/malacca-4.htm

Straits of Malacca: Security Implications (map) -- http://www.saag.org/papers11/paper1033.html


Advisors Strategy Meeting.

The final step in the course is to plan an Advisors’ Strategy Meeting. This is when the final plan is developed. This is, in essence, a final project. However, with the “extreme situatedness” of the assignment, it is possible that some of the plan could be further studied by interested parties and actually implemented.

This text was first published at xplanazine.com, without the podcast

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Taking a Class on Shakespeare on Your iPod Mini or Handheld -- A Few Ideas

Listen to the podcast (downloadable mp3 file).

New flexible technologies make teaching and learning Shakespeare a raw, exciting, and relevant event. Envision a course called Love, Madness, and Shakespeare.
It is possible using embedded journalist and video game-inspired collaborative strategies with the blend of portable devices, wireless laptops, desktop computers with high-speed or dial-up modem Internet access, and/or face-to-face instruction to accommodate your students' needs and situations.

Why would you want to do this? It sounds like a lot of work, doesn't it. Well, the rewards are most definitely worth it. Just check it out. Done well, studying Shakespeare can be a heart-pounding limit experience where you find out about yourself and the psychology of larger-than-life characters. It’s emotionally intimate. The thrill is so intense it almost feels "wrong" - toying with the taboo, exposure, violence, longing, death.

Why doesn’t someone make a video game of this stuff??

Why not, indeed?

Imagine in Romeo and Juliet, being able to role-play the various characters. After watching clips from Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo+Juliet to get an idea about how one director envisioned updating the classic play, one can get an idea of how to make the experience intense, immediate, and personal for the student.

You can ask students to design a video game – or, at least break up the components of the video-gaming experience and create activities for web-based course instruction.

Music. Before Romeo+Juliet, Baz Luhrmann was well-known for directing music videos. The soundtrack for the film takes emotional orchestration to a new level. It is, in many ways, like the various forms of electronic music – trance, chill-out music, etc. – which is purposefully designed to manage moods. Ask a student to create a soundtrack for a scene that they will rewrite, inserting themselves. They can select music clips they’ve downloaded and create a list, or mix a CD. Then they can write themselves into a scene, modifying it to fit their own lives, and the current world. These can be posted and shared.

Personal Mask-Making and Identity Shifting. Part of the intensity of Romeo and Juliet involves exploring the hidden knowledge you encounter when you wear a mask. In a video game, you would need to be able to disguise yourself. Actually, you can disguise not only yourself, but death itself. Think of the sleeping potion that made one mimic death. Think of the scene in the crypt – being the only one alive – life masked as death, and under a house of death, one finds life. Ask students to design masks for the costume party. How would they design them?
Ask them to use symbols, visual metaphors, etc. in their masks, then post them on the Internet (or in a folder / blog) for others to see & comment on.

Verona.com – Embedded Journalism in Walled Cities, Plague, Death, and Death’s Antidotes. We enter the madness of civilization in all of Shakespeare’s plays. The dynamics we find in Shakespeare reinvent themselves – ethnic clashes, mafias and rival gangs, plague, quarantine, and the contemplation of death’s antidotes. The sense of danger, creeping paranoia, and a repressive social system are elevated to an intense degree in Romeo and Juliet.

Students can become "embedded reporters" in Shakespeare’s world – and in their role as investigative journalists and news editors, they can create their own newspaper based on the play. Ask students to view theonion.com, nytimes.com, and sfgate.com.

Then ask students to create their own news website. Ask them to describe how and why they chose their headlines, the graphics, the captions, and the arrangement on the page. You may wish to provide a template, either in Word or in a web-editing program such as Dreamweaver or a free one downloadable from the Internet. They can also do a "Verona Radio" as podcasts. Ask them to explain how and why they chose the stories, the background sounds, and the music.

Romeo's Reality Television: A twist on reality television can be made here. Can students imagine "Survivor" reconfigured to incorporate the elements of Romeo and Juliet? Could they for "Idol" or any other kind of reality television show? Ask them to think about it, explain it, explore it.

This "Romeo" Life: A popular public radio show, "This American Life," could be recasted to be "This Romeo and Juliet Life," or, simply, "This Romeo Life," with the structure of autobiographical experience, cultural commentary, and psychological insight found in "This American Life."

These are just a few ideas to get started. The idea is to make Shakespeare an immersion experience that emphasizes the human emotions that animate the dramas.
Love, madness, and Shakespeare. First the course, now the experience!!

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Folklore and the Horrors of War: "El Luison" and Cadaver-Eating Dogs

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Myth and folklore can seem terribly irrelevant to learners in distance courses, particularly when they are asked to read texts with little or no connection to anything else. Making connections to theories of personality (Jung, Neumann, Joseph Campbell) and strategies for interpreting advertising and persuasive texts can be one way to make myth and folklore relevant. Another way is to examine how folklore and beliefs arose from specific incidents in a community's history, specifically war or political change. One example is how societies deal with the horrors of war. Here is one example.

“The wild dogs of Najaf, Iraq, ate well this week.” Those were the words I heard on Fox News Channel just before I went to sleep. Now it is sometime past 3 am and something is breathing next to my bed – an animal presence. I look over and see three black dogs looking up at me. Something is warm and hovering just over my body, something is pinning the duvet cover down around my legs. I feel my temperature rise, and I am filled with strange longings mixed with dread. With a start, I awaken completely.

Guilderland, New York - photo by Susan Smith Nash


I’m not quite awake, but I’m not asleep. It is night. I am not sure of the time, or even of the place. I’ve been traveling a lot lately, and it’s not unusual to wander around for a few seconds in that space between wakefulness and sleep and not quite know where I am. That does not bother me. What does bother me is the sense that there is something in the room with me. Red glowing pinpoints of light. Is it a smoke detector? The sound of the fan partially masks the sound of soft exhalations.

I’m in the Legend of Sleepy Hollow territory, but I’m not familiar with any werewolf tales around here. Is there a folk tale or myth that describes what I’ve just experienced? If there is, I’m not familiar with it, at least not where I live, a couple of blocks away from the “20 Mall” with a Dunkin Donuts, Price Chopper, Blockbuster, two local banks, Subway, Magic Wok, Eckerd, and an open 24-hours CVS pharmacy. I’m in the U.S., but I’m suddenly thinking of the small, poor, landlocked and largely unknown country of Paraguay.

In Paraguay, folklore met urban legend in Sombras en la Noche, an X-Files-genre television series that was making a big splash in November 1996, when I arrived in Asunción, the capital, for the first time, in order to give a few lectures on American film and literature and to start investigating Paraguayan women’s literature. One of the members of the audience came up and introduced himself to me as Carlos Tarabal, a Uruguayan film director working in Paraguay. He screened several of the episodes for me at the Universidad Católica in Asuncion, and I was instantly fascinated. From a U.S. standpoint, Sombras en la Noche was a pretty low-budget affair, with hand-held cameras and film that looked more like something shot for a reality television show. Actually, come to think of it, it was a precursor of reality television, since it purported to document things that really happened in rural Paraguay. At any rate, I immediately loved it. I was very impressed with Carlos Tarabal's work because it captured the energy of the horror genre, as well as the unique narratives of Paraguayan / Guaraní folklore.

The most popular episodes had to do with a small town plagued by a luison, a werewolf-type creature, but many times more ghastly. Drawn from indigenous Guarani folklore, the luison is a hideous wild dog-like creature with razor-sharp teeth and red, glowing eyes that feeds on cadavers it takes out of crypts and tombs in the cemetery. Even worse, after feeding on the flesh of the dead, it turns its eyes on the living, and feeds on them as well. The luisón devours the soul of the living, and thus toys with one’s fate. The luisón lives among the townspeople as a normal human being during the day. However, one a full moon, he reverts to his beastly form, leaves his home, and begins feeding in the cemeteries. http://members.tripod.com/lio/mitolo.htm

To fully understand how and why Paraguayans consider the luison to be the most horrible of the creatures of the forest, night, and dreams, it is helpful to have a basic familiarity with Paraguayan folkloric creatures. The indigenous peoples of Paraguay are the Guaraní, who lived in the forests, jungles around Iguazu Falls, and chaparral (the “Chaco”) region in what is now Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay. Their influence has remained, and in fact, Paraguayans have two official languages: Guarani and Spanish. The Guarani language is similar to Anglo-Saxons in that it creates nouns and adjectives by combining concrete nouns. Abstract concepts are related to concrete examples, which create a very metaphorical (and thus poetic) language. States of being are often expressed in terms of transformation, where an individual undergoes a metamorphosis and becomes a creature. For example, animals of the forest are thought to be able to metamorphose into a physically altered state which often corresponds to their inner condition.

What makes the luison much more ghastly than the average werewolf is how the myth became reanimated and changed with the devastating Chaco War, fought for three horrible years (1932-1935) between Bolivia and Paraguay in the arid, semi-desert Gran Chaco. Although Paraguay won the war on paper, the cost in human life was staggering. Fought in the inhospitable lands where there are numerous tropical diseases, poisonous plants, snakes, scorpions, insects, and animals, stinging thornbrush, quebracho, and absolutely no potable surface water, the suffering of soldiers on both sides was grisly. There was no way to bury the dead, which rose to a total of 100,000 by the end.

Many died of malaria, thirst, heat exhaustion, and infection. Both nations were desperately poor, and could not afford to get adequate supplies to the troops. As the commands of both sides made suicidal decisions, the wild dogs came out at night and fed on the bodies of the dead and dying. More nightmarish than seeing one’s dead comrade be eaten by a wild dog, was to see a wounded fellow-soldier being gnawed alive. The luison had returned, with a monstrous intensity. When the surviving soldiers returned home, they returned with stories of luisons. As poverty, hunger, economic collapse and war stress set in, more died of tropical diseases. Buried in the above-ground crypts in glass cases, it was easy to imagine a wild dog with supernatural strength, razor teeth and the ability to shape-shift. I could see the luison tearing the flesh of loved ones, and the preying upon the hopes and dreams of the living.

“It was a way to explain post-traumatic stress syndrome,” explained Luisa Moreno, a Paraguayan writer familiar with Guarani traditions, whose short stories and poems written in both Guarani and Spanish incorporated folklore. In addition, she had spent two years investigating the sad state of public mental health care in Paraguay. “Instead of saying that he was suffering from depression, or having a psychotic break, you can just say that the luison stole his soul.”

It was not hard to believe. It was a good way to save face in the villages, particularly when it was fairly hard to disguise the weird behavior, the propensity to roam around at night, to scream at shadows, hear voices, howl at the moon, weep at nothing, sleep in cemeteries.

I had not thought of luisons for several years, until August 2004 and the bloody battle of Najaf, Iraq, fought in and around crypts and above-ground tombs holding the bodies of the Muslim faithful.

“The wild dogs of Najaf, Iraq, ate well this week.” That’s what a young Marine told a reporter covering Najaf. Photographs showed exhausted Marines sleeping in the dark shadows of crypts and tombs.

The Iraqi insurgents, who did not have the ability to recover their dead, dying, and wounded, left them in the streets where they fell. The Marines said that wild dogs fed on them, gnawing off arms and feet. The dogs even lurked in the shadows as they were finally able to bring their dead out of the street. Did the Iraqis have werewolf or luisons in their folklore or mythologies? If so, certainly those beliefs would be resuscitated in this nightmarish slice of hell.

“The stench of death is overpowering,” said one Marine sergeant. I wondered what would happen, sometime in the future, if the smell of death would trigger flashbacks, horrible memories. I remember attending a wake in Asuncion for a young man killed in a car accident almost a year to the day that his older brother had been killed in an accident. Ordinarily, the bodies are buried within a day, but it was Semana Santa and no one could find his father, who was somewhere in Argentina. No one wanted to bury the poor man’s only remaining child without his knowing, so there was the mother awake now for three days straight, her voice hoarse with weeping, kneeling at the side of her son, and Tia, kneeling also and chanting the rosary, tears dried on her face. I went to pay my respects and was shocked at the odor. Despite the meat-locker chill of the funeral home and the banks and banks of carnations, gladioli, lilies, and other flowers, nothing could disguise the smell of putrifying human flesh. Even now, when I smell something similar, I am immediately transported to that scene, and I can’t control the flood of thoughts and memories.

There were wild dogs in the streets of Asuncion. Not many, that’s true, but they were definitely there. One little black, skinny one was hiding in an open storm drain. He looked hungry and I tossed him a chunk of chipa guazu, a bagel-shaped Paraguayan corn and cheese bread cooked in earthen ovens and delivered to street vendors during the early dawn hours. A big piece spilled out of my bag. The dog scooped up the small piece and then darted to the bigger piece next to my leg. He brushed against my ankle, causing me to jump in surprise.

“Don’t ever pet a wild dog,” said Tia. “They carry diseases and other bad things.” There was something in her voice that caught my attention and made me think of the luisons. Don’t pet a wild dog. It could be a luison, a descendant of one of those tragic and doomed Chaco soldiers, destined to roam the streets and howl as it scavenged scraps and realized that no one, just absolutely no one would ever pet it. It could turn on you. It could bite you. And, it could steal your soul.

Late at night, when the memories flood my mind and my heart, sometimes the only way I can deal with it is to drive, drive, drive under the full moon or go to the gym the instant it opens at 5 am and run on the treadmill until the anxiety subsides. Why do I feel this way? How do I account for it? Do I say that I was brushed by a luison?

And when the young Marines battle the demons invoked by smells, sounds, and images, what will they do? How will they account for it?

Just say they were brushed by a luison. Everyone will understand. And then, pray, pray, pray for them to get their souls back.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Confronting the Emotional Hurdles of E-Learning: Part II of Rehearsal and Repetition

Play the podcast -- downloadable audio file (mp3)

Let's explore the best way to overcome anxiety in distance learners. In this day and age, what learner does not suffer from pressure, stress, or situational anxiety to one degree or another? Job, deployment, family, travel, or logistics stress seem to characterize the life of most adult learners taking courses at a distance -- whether online, hybrid, via handheld, or CD-ROM. Those anxieties, coupled with performance anxiety, can make distance learning a very scary thing. This is Part II of the "Rehearsal and Repetition Can Be Bad For Learning Series" Part 1 is here. If you're thinking of online degrees and would like to reduce the anxiety associated with it by comparing degree programs, you may check out various resources.


What is perhaps most interesting about this is that the traditional learning strategies advocated by institutions of higher learning often are less than effective -- they are absolutely destructive.


Researchers (Warr and Downing, 2000) have suggested that learning strategies that involve self-regulation are the most effective for students suffering from learning anxiety.

Their findings can be applied to online learning as well, particularly when self-regulation (control of emotions, etc.) is combined with behavioral and cognitive learning strategies for an eclectic approach.

Motivation control: Alleviating boredom and maintaining interest by building in rewards and positive reinforcement are quite effective in an online environment. The learner who is suffering from anxiety may feel motivated to persist in the studies if the instructor provides prompt and meaningful feedback, group activities help provide a sense of connection and community, and the course content is clearly relevant to the learner’s academic, life, and personal goals.

Help-Seeking and informal study group development: Learner anxiety is augmented by frustration. Frustration can result from technical difficulties, connectivity, unclear interfaces and instructions, and ambiguous performance expectations. A responsive help desk is important, as well as a robust Frequently Asked Questions page. In addition, if possible, establish an onsite mentor or team-leader if several individuals who are taking the course are in the same place of employment or military unit.

Written help-seeking: If learners are aware that they can send e-mails to more than one person, is it very helpful. Although many online programs rely on a queued approach to inquiries to the help desk, with task-sharing, it is also useful to add a personal touch to what can be a very dehumanized elearning space. Anxiety can be exacerbated by seeking help from a faceless entity known only through the design on a computer screen. Personalizing help-seeking helps assuage anxiety.

Practical application: Learning strategies that situate the content and make connections between the content and the individual learner’s lived experience are highly effective. This utilizes a constructivist epistemology and my require a rethinking and recasting of learning activities and assessment. Further, a cognitive epistemology comes into play when the individual learner makes connections, and then begins to form categories and to organize the knowledge in systems useful to the learner. Retrieval and application of information are facilitated, and the function is fluid, seamless, and meaningful when the learner can apply the knowledge to a real-life situation, or to solve a problem perceived by the learner to be urgent and relevant.

One useful benefit of using practical application as a learning strategy for students suffering from learning anxiety (whether situational or performance-related), is that the learner can employ the new learning model to other aspects of his or her life. It is more than self-regulation, and more of an eclectic approach to learning and life.

Useful Resources

Driskell, J. E., Copper, C., and Moran, A. (1994). Does mental practice enhance performance? Journal of Applied Psychology, 78, 805-814.

Ferguson-Hessler, M. G. M., and de Jong, T. (1990). Studying physics texts: Differences in study processes between good and poor performers. Cognition and Instruction, 7, 41-54.

Karabenick, S. A., and Knapp, J. R. (1991). Relationship of academic help seeking to the use of learning strategies and other instrumental achievement behaviors in college students. Journal of Educational Psychology. 16. 117-138.

Kuhl, J. (1992). A theory of self-regulation: Action versus state orientation, self-discrimination, and some applications. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 41, 97-129.

Mueller, J. H. (1992) Anxiety and performance. In A. P. Smith and D. M. Jones (Eds.), Handbook of human performance (Vol 3, pp. 127-160). London: Academic Press.

Pintrich, P. R., and De Groot, E. V. (1990). Motivational and self-regulated learning components of classroom academic performance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82. 33-40.

Seipp, B. (1991). Anxiety and academic performance. A meta-analysis of findings. Anxiety Research, 4, 27-41.

Snow, R. E. and Swanson, J. (1992). Instructional psychology – Aptitude, adaptation, and assessment. Annual Review of Psychology, 43, 49.

Warr, P., and Downing, J. (2000). Learning strategies, learning anxiety, and knowledge acquisition. British Journal of Psychology, 91, 311-333.

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