VALENCIA COMMUNITY COLLEGE

 

Strategic Learning Goal 5:

Learning Support Systems

 

“Create systems of learning support to enable students to achieve extraordinary learning results in classrooms, laboratories and beyond.”

 

An essay by Hap Aziz, Joyce Romano, and Dennis Weeks.

 

What is a “Learning Support System?” Combining the individual terms, a definition may be: a group of items interacting independently or as a group (the system) that promotes the interest or cause (the support) of gaining knowledge or understanding by skill, study, instruction or experience (the learning).  The learning support system creates a learning environment in which students live and interact while at Valencia (and beyond). The system includes components (e.g. computer labs, electronic portfolios, libraries, web-based learning tools), processes and procedures (e.g. navigation systems, business operations, software tools), and expectations for engagement and connection, which work together to maintain a learning environment.

 

First and foremost, the foundation of the LSS has to support the questions:  “How will this enhance student learning?” and “How do we know this will enhance student learning?”  More than a semantic change, becoming learning-centered is a major philosophical change that has been part of the Valencia culture for the past 6 years.  The web-based Learning Support System that is currently under development will become a key environment for interaction, communication, integration, and part of the daily lives of the Valencia community.  The overall vision is for a comprehensive and integrated web-based computer system through which faculty, students and staff can interact in multiple ways that support student learning and the achievement of student career and educational goals. Major design principles for the implementation of the Learning Support System include: learning, connection, and engagement.

 

Creating this environment in which the learner will be both stimulated and engaged and one that will continue to be used as a teaching environment is a daunting task.  This is especially true for a generation brought up in the environment of MTV, Nintendo and the types of engaging activity found in Sesame Street-type television programs (Strommen & Lincoln, 1992).  The attitudes and expectations of a generation exposed to technological experiences should change educators’ perspective of traditional teaching strategies (Mullen & Love, 1980).

 

As technology becomes more pervasive and ubiquitous, the PC has become synonymous with addressing different learning styles.  A principle reason for the pervasiveness of PCs and the World Wide Web (WWW) is that the WWW appeals to the way contemporary students prefer to learn and it is a familiar interface (Owston, 1997).  WWW technology and student engagement are part of a multi-modality style of learning activities that exemplify how the Valencia LSS will be used as students start at Valencia and continue their learning.

 

            Silberman (1996) emphasized the need for more active, engaging roles of the student in the learning process because passively listening to a lecture or seeing something illustrated on a chalkboard is not enough to learn it.  Using technology for instruction engages students in active learning and critical thinking (Wolf & Coggins, 1981, Dufrense, 1996).  Recent studies from several schools confirmed that the majority of students believe that the use of computers for learning is challenging and motivating (Lindh, Petersson, & Rohlin, 1987; Rohlin, & Hirschmann, & Matteson, 1995).  Research has also found that elements of engagement reinforce good learning (Quinn, 1997).

 

Engagement furthers the user-centered approach to learning by giving the learner more control of his/her instruction (Ebersole, 1997).  What this means in a constructivist sense is that the learner co-constructs the meaning by exploring an environment, solving a problem, or applying information to new situations that he/she helps to define (Campbell, 1999). 

 

Understanding these concepts Valencia has developed two conceptual models as foundations for a learning-centered college.  The Core Competencies model is a guide for setting learning goals and assessment strategies within and across the various disciplines of human inquiry so that the curriculum becomes a unified experience rather than a collection of courses. Valencia has named our Core Competencies: Think, Act, Value, Communicate.

 

The LIFEMAP model describes a developmental process through which students progress from post-secondary transition to degree completion and life long learning. The developmental goal is for students to become self-directed in designing their learning process through engagement with faculty and staff in ways that are meaningful for each student. Developmental Advising is a framework for enhancing student motivation and achievement through application of learning theory and student development research.

 

            The web-based Learning Support System will support each student’s development of the Core Competencies and the journey through LIFEMAP. This requires a multi-faceted system that allows for individual student’s schema and engaging each student in ways through which they can adopt or assimilate new schema in order to accomplish their goals.

Additional design elements incorporated into the creation of the Learning Support System at Valencia include:   

1. Students easily conduct educational business with the college and become self-sufficient learners. (Tinto, 1975).

2. Provide mechanisms for early and frequent feedback on identified learning objectives. (Angelo & Cross, 1993).

3. Create learning communities through a web-based means for students to engage in learning with peers, faculty, and staff to pursue their interests and maximize learning outcomes (Tinto, 1994).

4. Students are equal partners in the learning process and, through the LSS, have the ability to easily conduct educational business with the college, interact with faculty, staff, and peers, and become self-directed learners. (Tinto, 1975).

5. Technology is a tool to enhance and expand learning. 

 

As the educational community has learned over the past several decades, technology applied to a process often transforms that process in revolutionary ways. 

 

The conceptualization, development, and current design of the Learning Support System at Valencia is such an application of information technology.  The LSS is an outgrowth of another, more basic technology-applied-to-process application commonly known as the Student Information System (SIS).  However, while an SIS is focused primarily on the administrative processes involved in admitting, maintaining accounts, and ultimately graduating or matriculating students through an institution, the role of an LSS is much more expanded and learning centered.

 

 In addition to providing SIS services, an LSS will expand the process into an “environmental manager” intended to support student self-sufficiency in a much broader context than had been previously considered.  While the development of the new LSS has a strong conceptual framework, it is reasonable to assume that there are unanticipated facets of the educational enterprise likely to be changed by this application of information technology.  So we pose the question: What might happen next for the learner? 

 

In a future development cycle it is conceivable the information and data particular to the learner at an institution will “follow” the learner from institution to institution.  With this we begin to see the potential of connecting learning environments at individual institutions into a system-wide enterprise learning environment.  Imagine the investment a learner makes in developing a Valencia LIFEMAP plan is not lost when that learner matriculates to another institution.  Certainly the plan may be expanded, edited, tweaked, altered, and otherwise modified as desired by the learner and the learner’s institution.  However, those “student career and educational goals” suddenly become truly global from the learner’s standpoint rather than simply remaining relative to the learner’s current institution. Imagine further that a LIFEMAP plan actually starts with the learner in middle or high school and the student arrives at Valencia with a “learning environment” that can be shared. This environment will evolve over the student’s learning experience at Valencia before moving into another learning environment in the work setting or another institution. This environment would truly approach “seamless education”.

 

As more institutions of learning develop and implement “learning support systems,” educational technologists will create the necessary “black box technology” for these systems to communicate across institutions.  Students will be able to carry their own customized “learning environment” with them as they move from one place of learning to the next, not needing to relearn the learning landscape or redevelop their learning plan with each transition.  This would truly be a global “Learning Support System”.