Teach – Tool – Learn: Social Media as a Tribute to Lev Vygotsky

Editors’ note: We are pleased to publish this insightful opinion article by Dr. Piet Kommers, Ph.D. In response to an invitation by the Higher Education Teaching and Learning Association, Dr. Piet Kommers delivers his thoughts on some phenomena he has observed drung his 30 year involvement with media in education. Some of the questions Dr. Kommers tries to address are: How to teach contemporary learners who refuse to be pruned into “nice shapes” like some bonsai tree? What can social media bring to education? Who will be the first to excel in converting social networks into education networks – students or teachers? If you would like to continue the discussion, please submit your own article on the topic (see the Editorial Policies page on this portal for submission requirements). If you would like to comment on the discussion, please click on the “leave a comment” link at the bottom of the article to submit your peer commentary. We welcome your professional opinions on the article.

Author’s bio: Dr. Piet Kommers is Associate Professor at the University of Twente, The Netherlands. His research interests are in the areas of media, learning and visual communication. Dr. Kommers was the scientific director of NATO’s Advanced Research Workshop on “Cognitive Technologies” in 1989. Since 1990 he has been increasingly involved in a broad range of European based research projects in media supported and continued learning. His role in initiatives related to higher education in Eastern Europe led to his UNESCO chair, and was followed by the award of a honorary doctorship by Capital Normal University in Beijing, China in 2000. In 2005-2007 he was involved in mobile teaching and learning with the Fontys University of Applied Sciences. He is an adjunct professor in the faculty of computer science in Joensuu University (Finland) and an advisor to the Ministry of Education of Singapore. Dr. Kommers’ publications include six books and more than fifty conference papers and journal articles. He has supervised twenty-four doctoral students and more than 80 master’s projects. Dr. Kommers can be reached at P.A.M.Kommers@utwente.nl.

Patrick Blessinger & Krassie Petrova

In the late seventies social scientists were focused predominantly on making education more democratic and more emancipatory. It is interesting to observe that so far almost all educational methods have ended in creating tools for the learner, ultimately helping build a learning attitude. An example is presented by the so-called “Intelligent Instructional Systems” that were based upon models of expert knowledge and models of the initial student knowledge.

However, the paradigm of optimizing teaching by reconciling the expert-novice gap was left behind as we found out that learning is not a simple extrapolation of the previous learning of experts. What was kept though was the notion of meta cognitive representation: “What do we know about what we know?” and “What are the elegant and transparent representations that may trigger our imagination about what could be learnt next?”

Conceptual schemes became the default format for negotiations among learners, and between learners and teachers. Concept mapping became even a candidate for an alternative assessment method. In my book Cognitive Support for Learning, the concept-mapping paradigm was elevated to the level of “learning attitude”: Becoming aware of one’s conceptual boundaries and of cross-disciplinary links provides the learner with a scaffold to help articulate their intuition. Somewhat similarly we saw simulations and modeling tools that started as expert tools gradually becoming tools directly assisting learners.

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Posted in Opinion Articles, Scholarship | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Real Learning in a Virtual World

Editors’ note: We are pleased to publish this informative feature article contributed by Dr. Susan Oaks, Ph.D. The author presents the design of a course that incorporates Second Life as a non-compulsory option in an introductory business communications course, offering an active learning experience to the perceptive audience of a net-generation class. If you would like to share your own experiences with Second Life or other Web 2.0 based educational approaches, please submit your article on the topic (see the Editorial Policies page on this portal for submission requirements and review process). If you would like to comment specifically on Dr. Oaks’s article, you may send a “letter to the editor” of less than 500 words to hetlportal@gmail.com.

Author’s bio: Dr. Susan Oaks is Professor at the Center for Distance Learning, Empire State College, where she is responsible for designing and teaching online writing and literature courses. She won a SLOAN-C award for Excellence in Online Teaching, a State University of New York Chancellor’s award for Excellence in Teaching, and an Empire State College award for Excellence in Mentoring. In 2009-2010, she was named Susan H. Turben Chair in Mentoring. Dr. Oaks co-developed an award-winning online writing center. Her research interests include online course design, teaching writing online, and mentoring adult students. She has a Ph.D. from New York University, an M.A. from the State University of New York at Albany, and a B.A. from Elmira College. Dr. Oaks can be reached at susan.oaks@esc.edu.

Patrick Blessinger and Krassie Petrova


Real Learning in a Virtual World:
Incorporating Second Life in a Professional Communications Course

Susan Oaks, State University of New York


Second Life has been used as a tool for post-secondary education over the past few years. A virtual world such as Second Life adds the ability to enhance learning through interaction and exploration, ways of learning that are important to Net Generation learners. Second Life offers the chance to create a rich, constructivist approach to learning about professional communications as it supports interaction on a visual, emotional level that is appropriate to a course that deals with communication. Most importantly, Second Life offers a visible, concrete way of presenting abstract communication concepts that students traditionally struggle with, concepts such as “audience” and “communication context.” This paper examines the decision to include a Second Life experience in a professional business communications course as a way of learning about communication theory in action and discusses key issues related to implementing Second Life in this course re-design.

Introduction: What is Second Life?

Second Life is a virtual world in which users create avatars and interact via those avatars in real-time, in a variety of environments and ways. Many types of environments have been constructed by Second Life users to support these interactions: college campuses, performance venues, science labs, and businesses.

In addition to creating campus locations for students and faculty to gather and interact, educators have used Second Life for simulations, virtual tours, and other visual and group-based learning activities (e.g., science and medical simulations, a tour of Hamlet’s castle, and a pilgrimage to Mecca).

Essentially, Second Life allows users to create a persona (human, animal, or something in between), locate that persona in a specific environment, and communicate with others who are in that same environment at the same time. The persona is visually represented by its avatar.

A study by Bowers et.al. (2009) asserted that “across all uses of Second Life in their curricula, most instructors reported an above average level of perceived enhancement in student learning” (p. 47). Kolowich (2010) quotes Douglas Hersh, an instructor who studied visual and aural presence in online courses, who found that “students feel more satisfied in their online courses when they feel engaged through human presence design….students who find intrinsic satisfaction in their human presence courses tend to complete them at higher rates and with higher levels of academic success.”

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Posted in Feature Articles, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Dialogue as a Means of Change

Editors’ note: Dr. Olga Kovbasyuk, Ph.D., provides an insightful narrative into the nature of dialogue and how it can create the potential for positive change in higher education. Dr. Kovbasyuk examines why dialogue is at the heart of meaning-centered education and why she believes its attributes of mutuality, responsibility, engagement, and acceptance as well as its central tenet of “educating the whole personality” provides a necessary framework for positive educational change. If you would like to continue the discussion, please click on the “leave a comment” link at the bottom of the article to submit your peer commentary. We welcome your professional opinions on the article.

Author’s bio: Professor Olga Kovbasyuk, Ph.D., is Professor and Associate Dean for International Relations at the Khabarovsk State Academy of Economics and Law in the Russian Federation. She is the founder of the Far East Russia Global Learning Center and a member of the executive committee of the HETL Association. She has been teaching, training, and managing educational services in the fields of education, intercultural communication, and international management for the past 25 years. In 2008, she founded a global learning center in conjunction with the 3 leading universities in Russia and the USA aimed at integrating global learning into the curriculum. Her international experience includes: Fulbright International Exchange of Scholars Program at the California State University, Sacramento, USA (2004-2005), DAAD Academic Research Program, Germany (2009), and has worked in more than 15 countries as a manager of academic exchange programs and as a consultant on managing cultural diversity for business companies (Alliance, Shell, Rostelecom).
 She has delivered over 70 presentations and publications in the fields of intercultural education and management. She is a native Russian speaker who also speaks fluent English and German.

Patrick Blessinger & Krassie Petrova


When Patrick Blessinger offered me the opportunity to submit an opinion article to the HETL Portal, I thought I would write about meaning-centered education, which has been my research interest for a number of years. Then I decided I would also share my experience on global learning, which became a source of inspiration to my students and me since I returned from a Fulbright Fellowship I had in California in 2005.

Last week, a colleague and I were working on the chapter “The Changing Environment of Higher Education” for the book The Strategic Management of Higher Education Institutions, when I realized I tended to emphasize the importance of DIALOGUE in teaching and learning. This reflection served as a turning point for my choice of the topic for this narrative.

Symbols of Russian culture: orthodox Russian church located in a typical wooden house, birch tree, and girl wearing "babushka"

In fact, dialogue underpins the theory of meaning-centered education, which I advocate as a scholar, as well as the global learning activities that I have been engaged in as a practitioner.  Dialogue represents my personal and professional credo in life. My whole self resonates when I anticipate the possibility of a true dialogue occurring in a professional or a personal setting. I consider having a reflective dialogue with my inner world critical to my professional and personal self-development. Dialogue would rarely occur within a traditional oppressive educational system, which I experienced when I was growing up, but dialogue repeatedly occurs in my classroom now… and I can see the positive change it provides. 

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Posted in Internationalization, Opinion Articles, Practice | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

Michael Theall’s Response to “Navigating Between Teaching, Learning and Inquiry”

Editor’s note: Dr. Michael Theall, Ph.D., offers an insightful response to Dr. John M. Carfora’s article entitled “Navigating Between Teaching, Learning and Inquiry“, posted on March 30, 2011. Specifically, Dr. Theall addresses the question about the connection between teaching and research that was raised in Dr. Carfora’s article. If you would like to continue the discussion, please submit your own article on the topic (see the Editorial Policies page on this portal for submission requirements). If you would also like to comment specifically on Dr. Carfora’s article, you may send a “letter to the editor” of less than 500 words to hetlportal@gmail.com.

Author’s bio: Professor Michael Theall, Ph.D., is Professor of Education at Youngstown State University. He has been a high school teacher and held faculty positions while serving as the director of teaching and learning centers at four universities. He has published more than 270 books, monographs, papers, presentations, workshops, and webinars on college teaching, faculty evaluation and development, teaching improvement, the professoriate, organizational development, and educational technology. He has consulted to more than 75 institutions in the USA, Canada, Singapore, and China. He is the recipient of many awards including the 2003 “Saint Anselm College Alumni Distinguished Academic Achievement Award”, the 2005 “Relating Research to Practice: Integrative Scholarship Award” from the American Educational Research Association (AERA), and the 2008 “R. J. Menges Award for Outstanding Research in Educational Development” from the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education (POD Network). He is Past President of the POD Network.

Patrick Blessinger


To the Editor:

On March 30, 2011 the Higher Education Teaching and Learning Portal published an article by John Carfora, entitled “Navigating Between Teaching, Learning and Inquiry.” I read the article and agreed with the essence of it. I think that making connections among teaching, learning and inquiry is helpful to all three activities. I also agree with Carfora’s appropriate notes about avoiding competition between research and teaching. However, there was one statement that brought to mind a problem I have observed in the evaluation of teaching. Carfora said,

“The learned teacher-scholar is proficient in both teaching and research, and recognizes that scholarly research informs good teaching the same way that good teaching clearly integrates meaningful research and the craft of research.”

I like the definition of a “…learned teacher-scholar…proficient in both…” especially for college teachers, and I agree that in many cases “…good teaching clearly integrates meaningful research and the craft of research.” But in this letter, I refer specifically to the words “…scholarly research informs good teaching…”. While I agree that engagement in scholarly and creative activities can inform good teaching, I do not think the connection is automatic. It requires both a conscious effort on the part of the teacher and the knowledge and skills required to blend the two in an instructionally successful plan. This is similar to what Shulman referred to as “”pedagogical content knowledge” and in its highest form, “curricular knowledge.” A deep understanding of the course content and of teaching and learning that allows seamless integration of the two.

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Navigating Between Teaching, Learning and Inquiry

Editors’ note: We are very pleased to inaugurate The HETL Portal and Review with our first article by the distinguished Dr. John M. Carfora, Ed. D., who delivers a thought-provoking piece on the interplay between teaching and research and its potential for creating effective learning environments. Dr. Carfora deftly surveys the perennial question: How can we create effective learning environments where teaching and research intersect in a complementary and mutually beneficial way? If you would like to continue the discussion, please submit your own article on the topic (see the Editorial Policies page on this portal for submission requirements).  If you would like to comment specifically on Dr. Carfora’s article, you may send a “letter to the editor” of less than 500 words to hetlportal@gmail.com.

Author’s bio: Professor John M. Carfora, Ed. D., is the Associate Vice President for Research, Advancement and Compliance at the Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles (USA). Dr. Carfora holds graduate degrees from a number of universities, including the London School of Economics, Harvard University, and a doctorate from Teachers College, Columbia University. A recipient of several international research awards, Dr. Carfora has lectured throughout the United States, Europe, Canada and Africa.  Dr. Carfora was a Research Scholar at Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty in Munich, Germany, in the 1970s, where he authored studies on social, economic and political themes for radio broadcasts in Russian and other languages. Dr. Carfora served as Director of International Education at the Russian Academy of Management in Moscow, and was the founding Curator of the Sir Leonard Bertram Schapiro Collection at the British Library of Political and Economic Sciences (London). Dr. Carfora served as an IREX Fellow to the former Soviet Union in the early 1980s, received the Distinguished Service Award from the National Council of University Research Administrators in 2007, and served as a Fulbright Scholar to Ireland in 2009.  His specialties are humor and laughter. Dr. Carfora can be reached at jcarfora@lmu.edu.

Patrick Blessinger & Krassie Petrova


When Patrick Blessinger asked me to sketch a reflective narrative around teaching and research, I did so with the intent of stimulating some meaningful discussion on a perennially debated theme. I hope you will find some meaning in this brief reflection.

Following a recent move from Northampton, Massachusetts, to Los Angeles, California, I was going through some old boxes with a certain degree of excitement, the kind one might expect from a “sixty-something” year old academic still excited by intelligent questions, empirical research and the methodology of inquiry, reflective teaching, and the meaningful pursuit of learning through the life span. I immediately recognized one box as if it were a personalized time capsule; metaphorically written across its top in familiar handwriting was: Teaching, Learning, Inquiry.

My Pedagogical Formula

Opening the sacred container – which I started building when I was 28 and a youthful American lecturer pursuing my craft at an English institution of higher learning – I immediately came across an engraved crystal bowl I received for university-level teaching (when I was in my 40s). Resting inside, however, I found the one key item I was especially delighted to rediscover: a postcard of the Shakespeare monument at Leicester Square (circa 1978), and a pedagogical formula I wrote to myself one autumn day while sitting at the base of the Bard himself: Teach to navigate between inquiry and knowledge. All these years later, I still wondered what I was truly trying to proclaim, and looking back I realize the extent to which those words launched a thousand ideas which would occupy my thinking about teaching and learning for years to come. One might say I have been thinking “outside the box” for decades.

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