Creating Online Collaborative Student Learning Networks in Graduate and Undergraduate Education: Lessons Learned from the Trenches By Richard G. Fuller, Assistant Professor Drexel University
Driving Questions: • How do we foster student-to-student interactions through the facilitating of an online collaborative learning network? • How involved should an instructor get in the program?
Driving Questions: • When is too much instructor input harmful to the free flow student-to-student dialogue? • What is the appropriate number of students that innately promote student dialogue in a weekly discussion board? • What has research shown us?
This research was precipitated from the online teaching of an Issues and Problems in Health Care that literally caught fire. • The students were engaged, they bonded, interacted and where highly productive • They had fun and enjoyed learning. • They still talk about that class.
The format of the class was: • innately a discussion class. • We presented core material and looked at many sides of an issue through an activity format. • Students would then be assigned a weekly discussion board.
What I found was that students took off with the discussion and posted some interesting and thought provoking ideas with little prompting from me the instructor? • I served as facilitator
Need to understand why this class transcended into a Collaborative learning network and why others don’t.
Online Collaborative Network • serves as a learning and teaching tool • examine critical incidents that happen as learning opportunities allow us to share • brings real world situations into the online classroom for to analyze and synthesize. • It draws upon student’s own critical experience • technique in the traditional physical classroom
Transactional distance (Moore 1993, 1980, 1973) • is the psychological and communications space between learners and instructors. • is relative and different for each person. • extent of transactional distance is a function of structure and dialogue. • Structure is the amount of control exercised by the instructor in a learning environment
Transactional distance (Moore 1993, 1980, 1973) • Additional structure tends to increase psychological distance and decrease sense of community. • Conversely, dialogue deals with learner controls. • The more dialogue that is fostered, the greater the sense of community is felt.
Transactional distance (Moore 1993, 1980, 1973) • To facilitate this dialogue, students should be encouraged to participate through course requirements • should take quantity, quality, and timeliness of their contributions into consideration.
As faculty roles change in online graduate and undergraduate programs, we need to understand: • the best online environment practices • changing dynamics of teaching online • as there are different face-to-face classes that require different techniques the same holds true for the online programs
Our goal becomes as faculty to foster and facilitate the online collaborative learning network
We know from the literature that Interaction is vitally important Moore (1996) • Instructor to student • Student to material and • Student to student
We know that people come with life experiences (Knowles, 1999, 1990) • Example: the CEO taking course online can intimidate the instructor and other participants with their experience. • But it is the instructors job to harness this experience and create this online collaborative network through facilitation.
Beaubien (2002) describes the personal factors that contribute to quality facilitation. • persona • Presence • Perturb the system • Positive feedback • playfulness
persona • A faculty member needs to let his values, beliefs, and preferences show through in his/her postings. • Students need to see that the instructor has a real life and that he is revealing his real character. • Accomplished through sharing of relevant experiences
presences • Students need to feel that the instructor is online regularly and participating fully in the dialogue. • The instructor does not need to be intrusive to the online dialogue but his presence needs to be known and that he is there.
presences • Short postings are good for the most part • Teachable moment should be capitalized upon to provide sufficient information and clarification.
presences • the instructor can pose questions that will stimulate or lead the discussion in a direction. • Modeling a high level of presence sets a positive norm for the class and encourages students to do the same.
Presence • – too much to bad, too little too bad • Instructor restrain is key • Moore (2001) supports this instructor-limited intervention through establishing the culture of independent learning and peer participation
perturb the system • Maintain a high volume of student work • Requiring constant effort • introducing diverse and contradictory readings to challenge paradigms • Asking challenging questions that require complex analysis and synthesis to answer
Positive feedback • tends to bring out the best in people and motivate them to invest discretionary effort (Braksick, 2000; Daniels, 2000). • Positive feedback can energize the system and increase interaction frequency. • Conveying interest in the students’ work provides a reinforcing environment for students.
Positive feedback • Simple responses like “good job” or “great ideas” or “thanks for sharing your insightful thoughts with the group” can have significant impact on participation levels.
Playfulness • is a great energizer. • Having fun is a self-reinforcing activity that tends to increase levels of participation. • The brain is never learning more than when it is having fun (McCorkel, 2002).
Playfulness • It strengthens relationships and helps people to develop a sense of belonging and safety, which are part of Glaser’s five compelling whys (1998). • It lowers stress and fosters creativity as well as increasing energy levels. It strengthens identity and increases team cohesiveness.
Three Stage Phenomenon in Community Building Brown (2001) • The first stage was making friends online • the second was community conferment or acceptance • threaded discussion on a topic which participants felt both personal satisfaction and kinship.
Three Stage Phenomenon in Community Building Brown (2001) • The third stage camaraderie • Sense of community is an important issue student satisfaction, retention and learning. • faculty role centered around not only the facilitation and modeling, encouragement, and participation
Brandon and Hollingshead (1999) advise computer-supported collaborative learning instructors to use facilitating techniques such as ‘weaving’ to steer discussions and ‘go around the circle’ to ensure maximum participation.
Vrasidas and McIsaac (1999) • found that structure can effect interaction. • activities can be structured to increase interaction with instructor, other students and content.
Increased interaction can occur with Instructor designated interactions • discussing a paper outline with an instructor • collaborating activities with peers • participating in required online discussions
Vrasidas and McIsaac also found • Increased workloads contributed to decreased interaction. • Small class size inhibited the amounts and caliber of discussion postings • Students reported less satisfaction in the experience.
The actual number to reach optimal size is not clear in the literature and requires more study. Another factor was the level of feedback from instructor and peers. Both were considered paramount for influencing the level of interaction.
Research Methods: • This is based upon case study, action research method • Sample was taken from courses in the online EMS health education and management program through Drexel University.
Findings There are different types of graduate and undergraduate courses that are offered: • rote memorization courses such as anatomy courses, • skills based courses such as Research or Accounting and • discussion based courses such as Issues classes or Management • and courses that represent a combination of types.
We required everyone in all courses to post one main idea to each weeks discussion board • They then need to post at least one other posting to everyone else’s posted idea and respond to the comments of each other. • This can generate upward of a couple hundred to 450 postings per week • Allows a deeper exploration of ideas
Rote Memorization Courses • Generally we found they don’t innately lend themselves to great online discussions. • Required more instructor interaction in a discussion board • More definitive questions • Interactive emailed assignments • more instructor presence for Q & A.
Skills Based Courses • Example: Research • Required more instructor facilitation and presence to promote dialogue • Care needed to be taken not to become authoritative but facilitative • Don’t respond to every posting but generally to the concepts
Skills Based Courses • We found that authoritative postings shut down dialogue or they parroted instructor • Instructor role is to generate thinking • Needs to post ideas like: “if we did this what would happen” or “how could we do this if…?” • “Great idea. Does anyone have any other directions?”
Skills Based Courses • Students need to flesh out ideas and application of concepts. • We found that Intervening privately through email or phone with students who need extra care works best.
Discussion Based Courses • Requires the least intervention of all the courses • These are courses where core info is presented but there is not necessarily a right or wrong view. • Issues in Health Care: • Ex: compare the value of the Canadian versus the USA health systems • Many opinions – key is to flesh out all angles.
Discussion Based Courses • Key was not to intervene too much • Needed to establish the culture of independent collaborative learning • Didn’t respond to the majority of postings • Read them all • Responded to key ideas and elements • Through additional questions guide the learning process.
Discussion Based Courses • Example: If the discussion is getting one sided or negative the instructor can through a posted thought direct the dialogue to view all sides.
That is true but what would so and so say regarding this and why? • One technique is to create an online Debate where students don’t get to pick but defend an assigned point of view • This forces them to see all sides.
Students generally reported greater satisfaction when they felt the instructor present in the classes and part of the learning. • As before not only through discussion boards but also through personal and group emails and private phone conferencing as needed.
Class Size • What is too big? • Classes of thirty or more stretch the limits of what an instructor can monitor (depending upon their other course load) • Generally 20+/- is good to generate this asynchronous learning network where students learn from not only the instructor and material but from each other as well.
Class Size • In smaller classes of say 5 and less we needed to take special care. • Instructor presence and intervention takes on a greater role. • Students can not interact as readily with each other as the volume is not there. • The instructor needs to take on a greater role in the dialogue posting more of his thoughts and ideas and experiences to add to the discussion.
Instructor needs to also be more available for email or phone consultation. • Students feel the instructor presence when emails are responded to quickly. • Faster the better • If going to be off line for any great time I told them in an email or announcement.
Each of these courses is facilitated in different ways. • The successful online faculty needs to understand the differing dynamics of the courses they teach and facilitate. • For learning to occur in an asynchronous online course it is essential that a collaborative learning network be developed.
Future Directions • Should focus on expanding these to identify other course structures and best practices.