Fairfield University's Grad Ed School offers cutting-edge courses


Fairfield University's Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions will begin the millennium with two new courses designed to keep pace with technology as well as addressing values and morals in a cultural context.

Learning Values: Moral Development and Moral Education, redesigned and taught by Patricia Calderwood, Ph.D., is particularly timely in an era where violence seems to have escalated in schools and values have come into question. "We will take a critical look at the way our values and morals are culturally determined," said Dr. Calderwood.

"Schools routinely regulate physical behavior by having children sit in rows, demanding quiet, etc.," she explained, "and all schools ultimately teach moral behavior, that is, by shaping attitudes, teaching right from wrong and gently disciplining. But it's not as clear cut as it may seem. I believe it's time to move away from the simplistic to a more complex understanding of what schooling is supposed to do if our goal is to turn out good people who can read, write and participate in our democratic society."

"Since Columbine," she continued, "there is an urgent call for schools to act 'in loco parentis.' We must recover our sense of responsibility to our students especially when in comes to connecting with and caring for students as human beings."

Dr. Calderwood believes that Fairfield University's elementary education program is on the right track. "It is very respectful and inclusive and puts a real emphasis on a commitment to social justice, diversity and caring," she said. "We require that our graduate students work hard to develop their professional competence. We want them to maintain hopefulness about the impact a good teacher has and to acquire skills that give them more autonomy as teachers. Also, all of our students do field teaching in urban settings which provides them with broad experiences."

The second innovative course being offered in January is Distance Teaching in the Information Age. "Distance teaching is not a new concept; it's a strategy of teaching that's been practiced for generations," said Fairfield University professor, Ibrahim M. Hefzallah, Ph.D., who has developed and will teach this new course beginning in January. However, the idea has "gained momentum because of the new interactive educational technologies and because we recognize the need to provide an environment conducive to life-long learning," he explained.

"It used to be that one had to retool every seven years," he said, "but now the cycle to retool keeps getting shorter resulting in a need for continuous development of strategies for individuals to learn new skills." Distance learning is one of those strategies and, though not for everyone, is ideal for the home-bound, office-bound, institution-bound and those who just don't have the time to travel to the institution.

"Motivation is the key element in distance learning," Dr. Hefzallah stressed, but meeting personal needs, training and convenience are important too. Also, if an institution is famous for a particular discipline or has a well-known professor in a certain field, many more students could benefit from that knowledge if it could be adapted to a distance learning format.

For a number of years, television has been used as a distance teaching tool and was effective for only the highly motivated. Now, however, the World Wide Web has entered the picture allowing for more than just one-way communication. Students are now in control of when and where they get their learning material. Anyone, anywhere, anytime can access the Web and utilize its integrated multi-media resources, including video. "The problem with television was establishing feedback," said Dr. Hefzallah, but the Web has overcome this by providing interactivity through e-mail and discussion.

Nonetheless, Dr. Hefzallah cautions that not all subject matter is suitable for distance learning and, even if it is, courses must be designed differently than those that use face-to-face communication. "Education is more than learning facts," he explained. "Interaction with peers and professors is essential for the development of the whole person. Distance learning must be integrated with classroom instruction from kindergarten through college, but never used exclusively."

"It's a very challenging time," said Dr. Hefzallah, who believes technology "will have a tremendous impact on higher education. It can be used to enrich, enhance and expand the resources of students. It can take us to places we've never been; it can be used to learn languages taught by a native of a country with the right accent and historical background; it can overcome traveling long distances. Still, it should be used in conjunction with face-to-face interaction."

Both courses are offered in the spring of 2000 at Fairfield University's Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions where the classes are small, usually under 20, and the professors are committed to excellence. For more information, call Karen Creecy at (203) 254-4250.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on December 6, 1999

Vol. 32, No. 126