5.3 Networked Teaching

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 OER are by definition fostering collaboration among the producers, the users, the improvers, the re-users of the content. Along the same line, also OEP are strongly based on collaboration, especially through social media. The Center for Open Learning and Teaching (University of Mississippi) defines Open Educational Practices (OEP) as “teaching techniques that introduce students to online peer production communities, (for instance, Wikipedia, YouTube, OpenStreetMap), which offer rich learning environments”. We have seen in Module 1 that other typical activities that characterize Open Educators are collaborative course design, open research collaborations, and many more. But, as a first step, being present on the most relevant social networks is a prerequisite, and being connected to peers in order to exchange ideas and knowledge is more and more the norm.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 You might ask yourself: “What is an Open Educator?“. In his Open-Creativity Cycle in Education paper, Martin Weller discusses the concept of the ‘open scholar’ whose whole approach to learning, teaching and researching, he argues, is shaped by digital and networked technologies.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 The articles proposes that an open scholar is likely to:

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  • Have a distributed online identity – using a variety of services an identity is distributed depending on the means by which the individual is encountered
  • Have a central place for their identity – although their identity is distributed, there is usually one central hub, such as a blog, wiki, or aggregation service page (e.g. Flavors.me)
  • Have cultivated an online network of peers – the open scholar usually engages in social networks through a preferred service (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Friendfeed) and regularly contributes to that network
  • Have developed a personal learning environment from a range of tools – not through a deliberate policy of constructing a PLE, but through personal trial and error, the open scholar develops a suite of preferred tools
  • Engage with open publishing – when formal publications are produced the open scholar will seek an open publishing route for their dissemination
  • Create a range of informal output – as well as producing traditional outputs, the open scholar produces and explores different forms of output such as video, podcast, slidecast, etc
  • Try new technologies – there is an acceptance that technology is not fixed, and that new technologies are explored on an individual, ad hoc basis to ascertain where they fit into the individual’s overall portfolio of tools.
  • Mix personal and professional outputs – the social network space is characterised by the personal elements its participants reveal, which can be seen as the hooks through which connections are established. The open scholar deliberately mixes personal and professional observations in order to be an effective communicator within these networks, and does not seek to keep them distinct.
  • Use new technologies to support teaching and research – when assessing or adopting new technologies they will be appraised not only for their use on a personal basis, but how they can be used to support professional practice, such as using social bookmarking for a research group or creating student portfolios in Friendfeed.
  • Automatically create and share outputs – the default position of an open scholar is to share outputs, be they presentations, ideas, suggestions or publications using whatever route is appropriate.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 What is online collaborative learning?

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Harasim (2012)  describes online collaborative learning (OCL as follows (p. 90):

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 “OCL theory provides a model of learning in which students are encouraged and supported to work together to create knowledge: to invent, to explore ways to innovate, and, by so doing, to seek the conceptual knowledge needed to solve problems rather than recite what they think is the right answer. While OCL theory does encourage the learner to be active and engaged, this is not considered to be sufficient for learning or knowledge construction……In the OCL theory, the teacher plays a key role not as a fellow-learner, but as the link to the knowledge community, or state of the art in that discipline. Learning is defined as conceptual change and is key to building knowledge. Learning activity needs to be informed and guided by the norms of the discipline and a discourse process that emphasises conceptual learning and builds knowledge.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Online discussion forums go back to the 1970s, but really took off as a result of a combination of the invention of the WorldWide Web in the 1990s, high speed Internet access, and the development of learning management systems, most of which now include an area for online discussions. These online discussion forums have some differences though with classroom seminars:

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  • first, they are text based, not oral;
  • second, they are asynchronous: participants can log in at any time, and from anywhere with an Internet connection;
  • third, many discussion forums allow for ‘threaded’ connections, enabling a response to be attached to the particular comment which prompted the response, rather than just displayed in chronological order. This allows for dynamic sub-topics to be developed, with sometimes more than ten responses within a single thread of discussion. This enables participants to follow multiple discussion topics over a period of time.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Developing meaningful online discussion

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 There are several  design principles that have been associated with successful (online) discussion, such as:

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  • appropriate technology (for example, software that allows for threaded discussions);
  • clear guidelines on student online behaviour, such as written codes of conduct for participating in discussions, and ensuring that they are enforced;
  • student orientation and preparation, including technology orientation and explaining the purpose of discussion;
  • clear goals for the discussions that are understood by the students, such as: ‘to explore gender and class issues in selected novels’ or ‘to compare and evaluate alternative methods of coding’;
  • choice of appropriate topics, that complement and expand issues in the study materials, and are relevant to answering assessment questions;
  • setting an appropriate ‘tone’ or requirements for discussion (for example, respectful disagreement, evidence-based arguments);
  • defining clearly learner roles and expectations, such as ‘you should log in at least once a week to each discussion topic and make at least one substantive contribution to each topic each week’;
  • monitoring the participation of individual learners, and responding accordingly, by providing the appropriate scaffolding or support, such as comments that help students develop their thinking around the topics, referring them back to study materials if necessary, or explaining issues when students seem to be confused or misinformed;
  • regular, ongoing instructor ‘presence’, such as monitoring the discussions to prevent them getting off topic or too personal, and providing encouragement for those that are making real contributions to the discussion, heading off those that are trying to hog or dominate the discussions, and tracking those not participating, and helping them to participate;
  • ensuring strong articulation between discussion topics and assessment.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Cultural and epistemological issues

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Students come to the educational experience with different expectations and backgrounds. As a result there are often major cultural differences in students with regard to participating in discussion-based collaborative learning that in the end reflect deep differences with regard to traditions of learning and teaching. Thus teachers need to be aware that there are likely to be students in any class who may be struggling with language, cultural or epistemological issues, but in online classes, where students can come from anywhere, this is a particularly important issue.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 In many countries, there is a strong tradition of the authoritarian role of the teacher and the transmission of information from the teacher to the student. In some cultures, it would be considered disrespectful to challenge or criticize the views of teachers or even other students. In an authoritarian, teacher-based culture, the views of other students may be considered irrelevant or unimportant. Other cultures have a strong oral tradition, or one based on story-telling, rather than on direct instruction.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 Online environments then can present real challenges to students when a constructivist approach to the design of online learning activities is adopted. This may mean taking specific steps to help students who are unfamiliar with a constructivist approach to learning, such as sending drafts to the instructor by e-mail for approval before posting a ‘class’ contribution.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 Strengths and weaknesses of online collaborative learning

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 This approach to the use of technology for teaching is very different from the more objectivist approaches found in computer-assisted learning, teaching machines, and artificial intelligence applications to education, which primarily aim to use computing to replace at least some of the activities traditionally done by human teachers. With online collaborative learning, the aim is not to replace the teacher, but to use the technology primarily to increase and improve communication between teacher and learners, with a particular approach to the development of learning based on knowledge construction assisted and developed through social discourse. This social discourse furthermore is not random, but managed in such a way as to ‘scaffold’ learning:

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  • by assisting with the construction of knowledge in ways that are guided by the instructor;
  • that reflect the norms or values of the discipline;
  • that also respect or take into consideration the prior knowledge within the discipline.

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 Thus there are two main strengths of this model:

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  • when applied appropriately, online collaborative learning can lead to deep, academic learning, or transformative learning, as well as, if not better than, discussion in campus-based classrooms. The asynchronous and recorded ‘affordances’ of online learning more than compensate for the lack of physical cues and other aspects of face-to-face discussion;
  • online collaborative learning as a result can also directly support the development of a range of high level intellectual skills, such as critical thinking, analytical thinking, synthesis, and evaluation, which are key requirements for learners in a digital age.

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 There are though some limitations:

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  • it does not scale easily, requiring highly knowledgeable and skilled instructors, and a limited number of learners;
  • it is more likely to accommodate to the epistemological positions of faculty and instructors in humanities, social sciences, education and some areas of business studies and health and conversely it is likely to be less accommodating to the epistemological positions of faculty in science, computer science and engineering. However, if combined with a problem-based or inquiry-based approach, it might have acceptance even in some of these subject domains.

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 Conclusions

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 Many of the strengths and challenges of collaborative learning apply both in face-to-face or online learning contexts. It could be argued that there is no or little difference between online collaborative learning and well-conducted traditional classroom, discussion-based teaching. Once again, we see that the mode of delivery is less important than the design model, which can work well in both contexts. Indeed, it is possible to conduct either model synchronously or asynchronously, at a distance or face-to-face.

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 However, there is enough evidence that collaborative learning can be done just as well online, which is important, given the need for more flexible models of delivery to meet the needs of a more diverse student body in a digital age. Also, the necessary conditions for success in teaching this way are now well known, even though they are not always universally applied.

Activity 5.3: Plan for using online collaborative tools

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 Building on learning activity 5.2 where you had the chance to decide on the activities that you and your students will be doing in order you achieve the learning objective you set, think of how you are planning to use the different online collaborative tools to enhance the quality of the teaching and learning process.

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