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Exploring Pedagogical Practice within an Online Learning Community. Alison Mander, mandera@usq.edu.au Petrea Redmond, redmond@usq.edu.au USQ, Australia, Toowoomba campus. Where are we headed?. From the literature Context Process Results Impacts Implications for future practice.

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Exploring Pedagogical Practice within an Online Learning Community

Alison Mander, mandera@usq.edu.au

Petrea Redmond, redmond@usq.edu.au

USQ, Australia, Toowoomba campus

Where are we headed?

  • From the literature

  • Context

  • Process

  • Results

  • Impacts

  • Implications for future practice

Online Learning Community

  • Collaboration forms the foundation of a learning community online (Palloff & Pratt, 2005)

  • Support the learning of individuals and the group

  • Promotion of creativity and critical thinking

Learning communities online

  • Online enables differentiation in participation and membership

  • No longer place based, geographically disconnected can become connected

  • Community requires social presence of the individuals

Why online?

  • effective and efficient access to information and multiple others

  • “(t)echnology tools can now bind students, peers, mentors, instructors, practicing teachers, and experts in an array of resources, discussions and curriculum recommendations” (Bonk, Angeli, Malikowsk & Supplee, 2001)

Online dialogue

  • “the reflective and explicit nature of the written word that encourages discipline and rigor in our thinking and communicating” (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 1999).

  • “that the very basis of thinking is rooted in dialogue, drawing on a socially constructed context to endow ideas with meaning” (Hudson 2002)

  • Participants (both students and teachers) written dialogue required them to “speak”, listen, observe, challenge, support, persuade and be persuaded.

Community of practice with peers and experts

  • education is “moving the emphasis of learning away from what we learn to who we learn from” (Fowler & Mayes,1999)


  • access to curriculum experts;

  • promotes deeper understanding;

  • view models of professional online interaction; and

  • time to make considered responses, reading, reacting, responding and reflecting at their own convenience

Teacher facilitator roles

  • expose them to different approaches and definitions of teaching and learning;

  • to welcome them into the profession;

  • assist pre-service teachers in developing pedagogical content knowledge: provider of information, offer encouragement, negotiate meanings, give feedback, question, share experiences;

  • professional role model, provide emotional support.

Student roles

  • share and critically reflect on experiences which are memorable, inspirational or bothersome;

  • explore and debate issues;

  • confirm some of their preliminary ideas about teaching or re-examine their prior understandings of learning and teaching

Student response obligation

  • Course assessment

  • In hope to move the pre-service teachers’ thinking beyond recording or initial reaction and responses, engaging them in critical dialogue with others, sharing insights, carrying out research, and reflecting back

  • assessment of participation was based on

    • Building and sustaining a community of learners

    • Promotion of deep discussion

    • Engaged in professional self reflection and metacognition

    • Professional standards of literacy

    • Reflection of the online community process


  • Exploring asynchronous conferencing tools to facilitate exploration of pedagogical practices

  • Situated in specific curriculum areas

  • Each secondary pre-service teacher involved in 2 different curriculum forums

  • 2 x Curriculum courses joined in online discussion with practicing teachers

  • Across 2 different campuses, therefore 4 cohorts of students

  • Blended courses: both f2f and online components

  • Participation in online component significant assessment item for both courses


  • Finding an online space which would allow for multiple classes and online guests (Drupal)

  • Recruitment of curriculum specialists to act as online facilitators

  • Establishing online forums for each different curriculum community of practice

  • Establish starter questions for each week

  • Unpacking of sample postings during class – construction of understanding

Data sources

  • N = 150

  • Archived online discussion threads

  • Survey on completion

  • Assessment reflective activity

Results – The positives

  • Focus questions made ‘them think’

  • Enjoyed interaction with peers and mentors over real issues

  • Development of trust and support built confidence over time

Perceived negatives

  • Too much time taken to get into online environment, find something to comment on and prepare a reflective response

  • Association with assessment

  • Unsure of the reliability of peer comments


  • “interactions were often one-way serial monologues” (Pawan, et al. 2003)

  • students like to share experiences and question their own thinking

  • Unsure of who is the leader – is it the ‘blind leading the blind?’


  • the pre-service teachers regularly acknowledged previous postings, made connections to previous posts and added their own experience;

  • Responses to initial postings showed more deep understanding and integration of ideas from other sources

  • very few drew conclusions or provided other sources of information to justify comments when responding to their peers


  • New interface: new to academics, pre-service and in-service teachers – a learning curve

  • Online discussion as a means of learning rather than socializing new to many students (although range of results from exceptional to poor)

  • Time: although the online discussion replaced 2 hours of f2f + 50% of assessment students noted the increase in time commitment

  • Post/response cycle rarely evident: not dialogue, but post for sake of posting

  • Difficulty experienced adding to conversation i.e. nothing new to say

  • Variable size of groups – between 5 - 25


  • online environment meant that facilitators were not limited to those within the local area;

  • flexibility of access in terms of time and place enabled collaboration with curriculum experts;

  • Pre-service teachers’ response obligation gave rise to the sharing of “air time”;

  • provided collaborative opportunities for pre-service, and in-service teachers to exchange ideas, ask questions, and engage in dialogue within a community of learners without the assessment associated with professional experience.


  • To continue or not?

  • Time, flexibility and assessment issues

  • Development of deep thinking, and community of practice protocols


  • For more information contact:

    • Alison Mander, mandera@usq.edu.au

    • Petrea Redmond, redmond@usq.edu.au

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