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Saturday, March 18, 2006

Reading Emma Goldman: A Guide for Online Learning


The death of actress Maureen Stapleton, who won an Oscar for her portrayal in the movie, Reds, of the energetic and unforgettable activist Emma Goldman, reminds us how influential memoirs can be for students at all levels. Not only does one gain an appreciation of their contribution, it is possible to examine the mindset of an individual who acted as an agent for change. Whether one agrees with her strategies and tactics, or her politics is not really the point. The main issue for e-learners is engagement. The stories of real people are unforgettable. The following is a companion for reading and studying Emma Goldman.

Companion Reading Guide Emma Goldman's Living My Life. pages 624-641, 685-693. NY: Dover Publications, 1970.

In Emma Goldman's autobiographical writing, Living My Life, the belief that activism can bring about positive social change motivates Goldman and others to stage protests, publish radical flyers and publications, and practice civil disobedience. Advocating such causes as birth control for women, women's right to vote, child labor laws, the eight-hour workday, union organization, and free speech, Goldman lived in the maelstrom of controversy.

As an emigree from Russia (b. 1869), Goldman was familiar with the European anarchist writers and movements. Her memoir sheds light on her mindset. She is a woman focused on a goal, eager to help those around her be aware for the first time of the injustices and inequities they had blinded themselves to.

Although she worked for the rights of all women, Emma Goldman was outgrouped by law enforcement and the mainstream. Her ideas were economically destabilizing (the eight-hour workday, child labor restrictions). Worse, her notions were deeply troubling to conventional society's values. By maintaining a presence outside the "in-group," Goldman could see from a unique vantage point. She did not accept conventional explanations.

For example, when entering prison, a guard asked if she had any diseases, meaning sexually transmitted diseases. Explaining that she was referring to the "diseases immoral women get," the guard went on to tell Goldman that most of the women in the prison suffered from them. Goldman responded that "venereal diseases are not particular" and that many "respectable people" had them.

The events described by Goldman take place in 1917, just months after the United States entered World War I. As she is transported from New York City to the federal penitentiary for women in Jefferson City, Missouri, Goldman interacts with guards and prison officials, and explains her views and positions. This is not a good time for Goldman to be expressing her progressive opinions - Goldman describes the paranoia and patriotism that have gripped the land, and the new laws, such as the Espionage Act, which result in false imprisonments.

The mindset that this reading explores is that of consciousness-raising. It is one that refuses to accept the surface appearances of things as the only reality. It also refuses to accept the status quo, and always attempts to see through to the attitudes' impact on all members of society, particularly the impact on the weak, defenseless, or poorly informed, who are ill-equipped to fight back.

Goldman's narrative illustrates that it takes courage to open one's eyes to what is really going on. It is not easy to assess societal attitudes, laws, and economic practices from the point of view of its impact on various groups. An example is the Espionage Act referred to by Goldman. Although the greater goal was to protect national security, the reality was that it became a tool of ill-intentioned people to trap and/or turn in enemies (and irritants), and/or eliminate competition.

Emma Goldman was a prolific writer and wrote numerous essays and pamphlets on social reform, social justice, women's rights, children's rights, free speech, and other topics.

The movie, Reds, (1981, dir. Warren Beatty), portrays the anarchist movement. In it, actress Maureen Stapleton gives an Oscar-winning performance as Emma Goldman.

Activities for E-Learners.

*Evaluate websites of groups desiring to be change agents. How are they using images? Are they provocative? What values do they reflect? Which images or movie clips capture your attention first? What are their goals? How do you know?

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)

*Compare Cindy Sheehan with Emma Goldman. Watch Cindy speak and listen to her message. How does what she say seem the same or different than Emma Goldman?

Gold Star Mothers for Peace:

*Find other activists and change agents who seem to be a part of an "out group" that is countering the positions of the mainstream or the status quo. Would the Terri Schiavo Foundation qualify? Why or why not?

The Terri Schiavo Foundation.

Emma Goldman. Web Resources.

The Emma Goldman Papers.

American Experience: Emma Goldman.

Emma Goldman: Archives


Jewish Women's Archive: Emma Goldman

Maureen Stapleton (won an Oscar for playing Emma Goldman in the movie, Reds)

Guiding Questions

(By Elaine Bontempi, M.Ed)

1. Explain how the author's mindset was that of consciousness raising.

2. How did the author's cultural background influence her experiences?

3. Describe the community in which the author belonged.

4. Was the culture in which the author wrote an ascribed or acquired status? In which way did it change?

5. How did Emma Goldman conquer her oppressive situation?

6. Emma Goldman was considered to be a member of an outgroup based upon her beliefs. Explain this.

7. Explain how the government stereotyped and discriminated against Emma and her friend

8. Why were Goldman's ideas so dangerous to the stability of the US government?

9. Explain the contradiction in David, Emma's nephew, joining the US army. Why do you think that he did this?

10. What motivated Emma and others to stage protests?

Monday, March 06, 2006

E-Learning in 2016: Unschooling, Deschooling, and Unlearning?


In this post, I respond to Tama's E-Learning Blog and the query, What will E-Learning Look Like in 2016? I think it will be completely different in terms of delivery, and there will be more rigidly defined camps with respect to instructional design & ideal structure of course content. I believe that utopian experiments and the "unschooling" movement will take off in a big way.

For those of you who are interested, Tama's E-Learning Blog is located here: Tama is Tama Leaver, who is working at the University of Western Australia, where he is involved in research in the future (as well as the past and present) of teaching and learning.


What we now call smartphones will be highly evolved. Think of early calculators vs. today’s calculators… more power, lower price.

So, more individuals will be taking courses with mobile devices, and they will expect audio, video, and text.


1. “New Traditionalists” == templated courses, all with same look & feel, clearly defined elements (outcomes, goals, assessment, course content, types of activities)

2. Multiplayer Serious Games and Sims == Simulations, serious games — a heavy emphasis on immersion-type learning that focuses on the application of knowledge to realistic situations; multi-player results in a focus on social learning. Drawback — because this is so highly culturally inflected, as well as dependent on fast connections & latest technologies, it will appeal to some learners more than others.

3. “Unlearning” == this is going to be HUGE in the future as a backlash forms in response to what is considered to be a rigidity of course content, delivery, and organization.


Deschooling, Unschooling, Unlearning: There is a growing resistance to what are considered to be the artificial strictures and measures of traditional school. According to Matt Hern in Deschooling Our Lives, the effects of traditional schooling are corrosive. We learn more when we are free from rigid assessments, standards, and schedules.

But, does anyone learn anything in a completely unstructured environment? What are some of the most famous "deschooling" schools?

The Sudbury Valley School ( was founded in 1968. Located in Framingham, Massachusetts, the school offers unstructured, mentored education for children from ages 7 - 19. Formed around the structure of a New England town meeting, the guiding principles are voted on in a democratic way. There are no schedules, no requirements, and no required curriculum. There are no assessments.

It's utopian. It has also inspired an entire host of similarly shaped schools, located throughout the world.

It's intriguing, but I have some questions: What do the children actually learn? What are they like when they graduate? Are educators accountable for the outcomes? How many go on to college?

The Blue Ridge Discovery School, located in Lynchburg, Virginia, follows the Sudbury model. They emphasize creating an environment that fosters creativity and curiosity, and whets the desire for discovery. The photos show happy children who seem very engaged in the process of exploring their world. I am reminded of the ideas of John Dewey, who urged individuals to participate in social and experiential learning.

Daniel Greenberg's Free At Last describes the experience of working with children who became captivated by a topic and worked feverishly, with absolute passion, to learn all they could about it.

Achievement tests at The Circle School, a 'democratic' or "discovery" school are quite impressive. I'm not sure they completely allay my misapprehensions, though.

The Sego Lily School focuses on passion, play, and responsibility. Located in Utah, the school emphasizes acceptance of individual difference, and it encourages students to play and to explore.

From a cognitive point of view, "unschooling" seems to build education on the development of self-efficacy through self-determination. Bandura (1994) has written extensively on the positive impact that results when a person believes that they are capable of doing what is needed to successfully accomplish a task.

Self-determination is fostered through choice and the freedom to align one's interests with their activities.

On a theoretical basis, "unschooling" could work.

I'd really like to explore it more in-depth.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Retaining Course Content in E-Learning


What are some of the cognitive processes involved in retaining course material? In the case of e-learning, retention is often associated with higher-level reasoning, problem-solving, and synthesis, as well as basic multiple choice and interactive drills. It is useful to look at the processes, as well as effective instructional practices.

Here are a few key steps in the cognitive process involved in retention:

1. Identification. Presentation of the material; acknowledgment by the student that this is material to be learned. (identification process)

2. Classification of material. Organizing the material into categories that correspond to desired outcomes.

3. Processing of information / course material.

- making connections between the material and outcomes

- making sense of the material (relating to one's life, one's experience, prior knowledge; knowledge paradigms)

- social mediation of material (discussing with others. What do they think it is?)

- making meaning -- social processing (discussing with others; feedback from professor; cognitive apprenticeship)

4. Cognitive apprenticeship.

- reality checks. What does the learner think it is at first? What does the knowledge do? How does the facilitator help guide the learner?

- collaborative learning. Other students (through discussion boards or collaborative activities) work with the material and then come to a collective decision about it; or, they help explain to each other how and why the information means what it means.

- scaffolding. The faculty member or other students help show how the course material becomes scaffolding toward the learning outcomes that have been identified for the course as a whole, and/or for individual units.

5. Testing and application of course material.

-different assessments (quizzes, application to actual problem, problem-solving)

-transformation and processing of course content (using for problem-solving, building a cognitive model or general application (meta-cognition))

-synthesis, general conclusions, applying conclusions from the processing of material to an actual problem

-situated learning - cognitive apprenticeship: relate to other similar applications of the course content and compare the socio-historical knowledge needed to use and apply the information (determining how / when to use information)

When I think of the list of common educational practices and I think of the activities listed above, it is clear that some of the common educational practices will fit well. Others will be utterly disastrous, and could actually result in an inability to use, process, or retain course material.

Good practices:

* prerequisites (helps integrate prior knowledge)

* term papers (helps learners situate the knowledge)

* small group discussions and activities (social learning facilitated - cognitive apprenticeships in action)

* instruction provided online (facilitates "just in time" capturing of knowledge and encourages applied knowledge)

Possibly ineffective practices which may discourage retention:

*Lecture (not engaging, no cues, not applied / situated)

*Podium (not engaging) -- this could also apply to audio or podcasts that lack have ancillary material, such as text or media files with key points and organizing tools

* Irrelevant discussion board questions (content is not likely to be connected to something meaningful)

* Pop quizzes (content never enters long-term memory)

* Classes in 50 or 80-minute periods ("seat time" does not replicate real learning; could be insufficient time to articulate, reflect, and explore content; not enough time for the social aspects of learning - cooperating, motivating, establishing a community of practices)

For me, good practices encompass the list. The also include innovative, "blended" practices that encourage the instructor to do the following:

* modeling

* scaffolding

* coaching

* self-regulation (time management, etc.)

* motivational strategies (identifying needs of affiliation, power, control, etc.)

* intrinsic and extrinsic motivators

* modeling the ways to transform the material - make complex, make more specific, encourage metacognitive conclusions

In my own classes, I try to develop activities that encourage

* applying the content to context (write about something that means something to the student, his life, her goals, her prior knowledge)

* practicing with gradual change / application (revision, peer review, etc.)

* social learning (discussion board, etc.)

* cognitive apprenticeship (situated learning)

* substantive feedback and coaching, with modeling of feedback giving (for discussion activities).

Useful References on Cognitive Apprenticeship

• Bredo, E. (1994). Cognitivism, situated cognition, and Deweyian pragmatism.

• Brown, J. S., Collins, A., & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher, 18 (1), 32-41.

• Collins, A., Brown, J. S., & Holum, A. (1991). Cognitive apprenticeship: Making thinking visible. American Educator, 6-46.

• Collins, A., Brown, J. S., & Newman, S. E. (1990). Cognitive apprenticeship: Teaching the crafts of reading, writing, and mathematics. In L. B. Resnick (Ed.), Knowing, learning, and instruction: Essays in honor of Robert Glaser (pp. 453-494). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

• Kearsley, G. (1999). Situated learning TIP theory.

• Kumar, V. S. (1997). Situated learning.

• Lave, J. (1988). Cognition in practice: Mind, mathematics, and culture in everyday life. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

• Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1990). Situated learning: Legitimate periperal participation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

• Palincsar, A. S., & Brown, A. L. (1984). Reciprocal teaching of comprehension-fostering and monitoring activities. Cognition and Instruction, 1, 117-175.

• Scardamalia, M., &Bereiter, C. (1985). Fostering the development of self-regulation in children's knowledge processing. In S. F. Chipman, J. W. Segal, & R. Glaser (Eds.), Thinking and learning skills: Research and open questions (pp. 563-577). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

• Stein, D. (1995). Situated learning in adult education.

• Wilson, B. Dynamic Learning Communities: An Alternative to Designed Instructional Systems.

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