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Reading Response – Online Learning

There were several different issues that this weeks readings got me thinking about, so to try and delineate them in this post, I attempted to separate them under different titles:

Thoughts about dimensions of collaboration and communication;
For those who are pro face to face teaching, and more anti-online learning than pro-online learning, there seems to be a fundamental lack of trust in the idea that the internet really does facilitate collaboration. There seems to be a kind of dark cloud of skepticism hanging over those who resist the idea of online learning (which I found very prevalent in the Cac.o.phony post and discussion that followed) that online collaboration and communication (through blog posts, chat rooms, discussion boards, talk pages, etc) is somehow less “real” than in person communication. I found this dark cloud of skepticism most obvious as a) Skeptical that students can really, actually feel engaged with their professors and colleagues through written communication, b) Skepticism that students are actually collaborating in “productive” ways, and c) Skepticism that students can be trusted to learn anything in a self-directed manner. And I think all of this skepticism seems to be rooted in the idea that anything that happens in “meatspace” is a more real, longer lasting, and more trustworthy thing than something that happens in the virtual world.  And I think one of the biggest hurdles in understanding how successful online learning happens is that for people (whether they be students or professors) that are engaged in online dialogue or conversation, whether it be through a chat room or comment stream after a blog post, the communication is real, and people are actually engaged in it. If they were not engaged, they simply would not participate at all in the dialogue. And I think that students CAN be trusted to be self directed in their learning…I think there is an underlying assumption that if you can physically SEE a student in class every week, then you can better access their engagement than if you must rely solely on what they write on a blog. As was pointed out in the readings, the self-directed nature of many online learning models may not suite EVERY student – because ultimately, students will only get out of an online course what they put into it –and I think, based on my own experience and the readings (especially in the Ugoretz and Pelz articles) a good online learning environment, with an intentional collaborative approach from the instructor will encourage student engagement, not hinder it, and in many instances, encourage more student engagement over a longer span of time than the overage lecture-hall style course would.

The view of Collaboration in Academia:
It also seems as though the kind of collaboration the internet makes so beautifully possible is not the kind of collaboration that is always valued in academia – I think this goes back to older, top down teaching models, the whole idea that the student is an empty vessel that the teacher must fill with knowledge. In different ways, each of the readings this week showed how the internet can facilitate collaboration between students in asynchronous learning, such that the students are learning from each other in really powerful ways. And I feel like that kind of interaction and peer to peer learning is encouraged much more at the elementary and high school level, but not nearly as much in the college level, and then almost not at all in graduate level work, because so much emphasis is put on being individual, self-reliant thinkers, and collaboration is somehow seen as a weakness, or academic crutch.

Being an architect of Online Learning:
I really liked the Bill Pelz article, as he laid out (very systematically) specific ways a professor can structure online learning assignments to effectively engage students in course material, self directed projects, and collaborative learning. But it did leave me wondering two things (and this is from the mind of somehow who wants to build an online learning environment):

1)   are there any studies done in how much of a difference the actual physical/aesthetic/layout of the GUI (grapics user interface) has on people’s engagement with course/learning material?

2)   does anyone know of resources that discuss or compare successful vs. non-successful learning enviornments from a GUI point of view?


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One Response

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  1. Laura says

    I think you raise some very interesting points, and definitely touched upon some of the concerns that I have had with online learning. 
    I agree that there is skepticism about the productivity of an online learning environment, and i have definitely found myself among those skeptics at times. I think Pelz and Ugoretz both do an excellent job addressing that worry, and I think they offer suggestions that could ultimately defeat that kind of skepticism. 
    I think the “guide on the side” approach is the only way that asynchronous learning can indeed be productive for students, and I think this may have to do with the expert/novice distinction we discussed last semester. It’s not that online learners need an expert weighing in on the content to validate the discussion (although this is certainly an important element), but I feel it’s necessary for this type of environment to have someone that can guide the discussion back on track after it inevitably veers off. I think the skepticism arises because teachers feels that students won’t make good contributions or their contributions will be focused too much on a side issues rather than the core material. However, Ugoretz makes an excellent point about those side discussions on the web as a way of facilitating better class discussions in which students feel more engaged with the material because they were able to contribute something outside of the classroom. For a model that is split between a face-to-face environment and an online environment, I think this sounds like a promising system to encourage participation, original contributions and student engagement it the material. All in all, I definitely found myself more convinced that this type of leaning could benefit the traditional face-to-face model. 
    I agree with your point about collaboration – as one advances to higher levels in academia, group work and collaborative projects seem to be valued less. I think this is changing a bit in philosophy, especially in philosophy of mind, but it is certainly not the norm, nor is it really encouraged. 
    A for your question about the GUI, I’ve been using google sites this semester with two of my classes. The only comments I’ve received thus far have been about problems accessing the site (it’s invite only). No one has remarked about how much better it is than Blackbaord!
    I think your question is interesting, though, especially since we have such a blog culture now, and professional blogs are so pretty. There certainly may be a correlation between the GUI and user-willingness. 

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