Advanced Information Systems

Classroom Style

Explanation of the "Teaching" Style for CPSC 547

It is important to understand the philosophy behind the design of this course, and in order to do so, to be aware of the theories of knowledge applicable to student learning. The traditional view of "privileged knowledge" (Schon 1983) in which it is the business of the professor to impart the knowledge embedded in texts is largely followed in this department. Students are fed "knowledge" in measured portions, expected to digest it, and give evidence in the form of assignments and examinations that they have done so.

While this model has served us well in the past, the modern world in which our students are being prepared to take part is characterized by rapid change rather than the application of well-established knowledge. A more operational view of knowledge takes a constructivist approach to learning which is exemplified by the work of Jean Piaget (1972), Seymour Papert (1980) and others. This theory of knowledge implies that students learn through active involvement in the social processes of the construction of meaning. Understanding is based on active participation in the subject matter and reflection on conversations with others on the topics of the course. This is the "reflection-in-action" of Donald Schon (1983) in which research and learning is a joint enterprise, and leads to a less authoritarian model of professionalism.

According to John Sculley (1991) the key strength of 21st century organizations will be their ability to unleash and coordinate the creative contributions of many individuals; over-specialization and a limited perspective can be a dead-end trap; individuals will need to have tremendous flexibility to move around; a diverse educational experience will be the critical foundation for success; what we will need is not just mastery of subject matter but mastery of learning; we must have access to the unbounded world of knowledge; we must create a learning environment in which research and instruction are integrated. He specifies the requirements for lifelong learning:

This is what I attempt to do in CPSC 547. However, it is not simple to switch to this type of classroom interaction after years of experience with a traditional approach to learning. For one thing, it is threatening to both instructor and students. It threatens the view of the "authority" of the professional who is the ultimate source of all knowledge, and hence requires a high degree of competence and understanding of the subject matter and its ramifications by all involved.

In building a classroom environment suitable for reflective learning I have been influenced by the recommendations and beliefs of Carl Rogers (1961) for generating a positive atmosphere in which students exhibit mature everyday behaviour, are less defensive, more adaptive, and more able to meet situations creatively. This involves treating each student as an individual, making myself available to discuss problems individually and helping with students' decision-making when required, creating a supportive and empathic class atmosphere in which each student is given positive encouragement to discuss issues of concern, and making my own thoughts and views available for discussion. According to Rogers this allows each student to experience and understand aspects of her/himself which may not have been previously available, to become more integrated and more able to function effectively, to be more self-directing and self-confident, to become more self-expressive, to be more understanding and accepting of others, to be able to cope with new problems more adequately and more comfortably.


Papert, S. (1980) Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas. New York: Basic Books.

Piaget, J. (1972) The Principles of Genetic Epistemology. London:Routledge.

Rogers, C. (1961) On Becoming a Person. London: Constable.

Schon D. (1983) The Reflective Practitioner. New York:Basic Books.

Sculley, J. (1991) The relationship between business and higher education: a perspective on the 21st century. In Computerization and Controversy: Value Conflicts and Social Choices, Eds. C. Dunlop & R. Kling, 1991 New York: Academic Press.

Advanced Information Systems, Department of Computer Science 7-Jan-96