Category: Professional practice
|Teaching and Learning Forum 2011 [ Refereed papers ]|
Sheena O'Hare, Lynne Quartermaine and Audrey Cooke
Curtin University of Technology
firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Curtin University has offered a wholly online (apart from practicum placements) degree course in Primary Education since March 2009 through Open Universities Australia. The online Bachelor of Education (Primary) course has the same structure and units as the on-campus course. The unit construction is affected by the restriction that both the on-campus units and the online units must match in content. The challenge is to tailor delivery of unit content that is effective in a four-walled classroom to that of a virtual classroom environment, while maintaining its integrity and effectiveness. Of particular importance is the continuation of a collaborative constructivist environment when the units are taught online.
Interest in the uptake of the programme was immediately evident, attracting 876 unit enrolments in the first thirteen-week study period. Eighteen months later, in study period three of 2010 enrolments topped 5000. We attribute this phenomenal growth to a number of factors, but particularly our use of technological tools that assist our students to learn in a constructivist environment. Our commitment to this paradigm has seen the introduction of specific technology to enable a collaborative and co-operative learning mode that has unified students in a common goal.
Initial concerns discussed by teaching staff when the program was offered online, were about the integrity of "converting" on-campus units in to a format suitable for online delivery. It was recognised that, in online learning, units need to be tailored to the environment to ensure that the course delivers "well-articulated and designed learning experiences offered through tools that the instructor and the learner select" (Jafari, McGee, & Carmean, 2006, p. 58). Coordinators understood the risk that the formalised learning, encouraged by the use of Blackboard, might promote a focus upon learning as individual achievement at the expense of collaborative and co-operative engagement in learning. An additional risk was that students may become guarded and possessive about sharing material, perhaps because of previous experience in the competitive nature of schooling. Conversely, it was thought that the geographical, intellectual and socially isolating nature of online learning would be conducive in allowing students to value peer and tutor interaction in an asynchronous environment (Young & Norgard 2006).
The teaching staff in the online B.Ed program consider online learning to be different to traditional classroom teaching, and as such, believe that it should not be treated in the same way (Buraphadeja and Dawson, 2008). Both staff and students have to learn new skills for effective teaching and learning to occur. It is not enough that students come to the learning process with skills in the use of technology. They have to learn how to use the online environment effectively in ways that allow them to be productive and to engage in activities that encourage and require their involvement in online discussions. Although "file transfer, messaging, asynchronous messaging behaviour, and drop-box features all build a student's sense of place in the world of technology ... these features alone do not guarantee deep learning or technology literacy (Carmean and Haefner 2002, p. 29). From the beginning, the B.Ed units have incorporated activities that create an environment online that is beyond a repository of documents to read. It is more a structured learning environment that involves students completing activities using online resources and texts that enable them to construct their own knowledge.
Curtin online units have elements of all three of Moore's interactions. The student-content interaction is evident through the structure and substance of curriculum that is provided. The student-instructor interaction is provided via the progression of the unit and the feedback provided by the tutors to the students via the discussion boards, emails, and assignment comments. The student-student interaction is apparent in the student interactions in both the unit and tutorial group discussion boards, the group tasks and assignments, wikis and similar sites. The group tasks and assignments are specifically constructed to enhance collaborative learning, which "plays a significant role in students' sense of learning community as well as students' interaction with peers and the instructor" (Hill, Song, & West, 2009, p. 98). However, although students are given a range of opportunities to engage in online discussions: as the entire unit cohort of over 1000 students; in tutorial groups of 75 students; and in smaller work/study groups of around five to ten students, it is recognised that "students still need to learn how to interact online with their peers, and inevitably the extent to which their interactions contribute to their learning and understanding will vary with their competency" (Macdonald 2003, p. 378).
Most students start with a full time load of two units of study. However, during their first study period, the learning requirements of the units they are studying are combined with the learning requirements of the online environment and university level study. This has resulted in some students feeling overwhelmed and requiring additional assistance to keep motivated. To help facilitate student-student interaction, an unmonitored student social area has been set up on the discussion boards in several units. In addition a B.Ed student community Blackboard site was also set up. Within this site students can have conversations that are mainly social or mainly unit or academic specific. They can buy and sell text books and can arrange to meet up either physically when they live nearby or virtually through social network sites such as face book. These student social areas are "an extremely valuable resource for learning, and ... sometimes even essential" (Moore, 1989, p. 4) and also provide the "powerful opportunity not only to engage the student with the social nature of learning but also to encourage the student to take ownership in the learning process" (Carmean & Haefner, 2002, p. 33).
To assist struggling students, a short training video was inserted to the Blackboard site, using screen captures as an interim measure to alleviate some of the anxieties experienced by both students and novice tutors. However, LMS does not determine the content nor activities any more than "chalk, chairs, and tables provide the classroom learning experience ...these choices come from individual pedagogical styles, personalities, cultures and character" (Carmean & Haefner, 2002). It was felt that more was needed to support students and staff. University Web Designers and Flexible Learning Support team were asked for assistance in locating technology which would be simple enough for relative novices to use, would enhance their learning and most of all create possibilities for these online learners to come together as a true learning community.
Students were asked to form smaller groups of five within their tutorial groups of 75. The very process enabled a quasi social engagement and students could be observed exchanging personal details and creating links with one other as well as being focussed on a common assessment task. They were given two weeks to do this and then tutors placed the remaining students, who had not placed themselves, at the end of a specified time. Again this process was enlightening for staff. Tutors were able to identify some students (those who had not managed to sort themselves into groups) as being still unsure about using the system and needing more support. To address this need, tutors set up a small group forum for each group on the Discussion Board, to facilitate initial contact and meeting times. Interestingly, many students advertised their location and requested people within reasonable distance to join them demonstrating a need for some notion of community that was more than that offered in a virtual environment.
Students were asked to notify their tutors of their small group formation, for one person in the group to set up a public EtherPad, then ask the other group members and the tutor to join the Pad. The first assignment was investigative and open to flexibility of presentation. Students quickly found that while EtherPad has a very good import/export facility, it did not support graphics of any kind. This was somewhat of a drawback for those who wished to use graphics, but all students found a parallel application which they were able to share along with their discussions and document creations on the Pad, with stronger students supporting those who needed additional support.
A marking rubric was created to reflect the effectiveness of the group effort, and students were asked to complete an individual and private assessment of the other participants in their group. This was placed in the (private) Blackboard Drop Box, whilst the group assignment was placed in the small group forum (shared) on the due date. This allowed students to easily view what groups had achieved in their presentations, so that there was a degree of transparency while the group evaluation exercise and the final, individual grade were completely private between the individual and the tutor.
Upon looking at students' individual evaluations, it was found, as expected, that some students had failed to participate in the assignment and were simply 'going along for the ride'. Their fellow group members often expressed a sense of unfairness and anger at the thought that they had done all the work while the non-participants reaped the benefits of their labour. The tutors went into the LMS Performance Dashboard to investigate these students' levels of participation in the course. It often matched fellow students' assessment of their effort. Then tutors went into the EtherPad. Here was the absolute evidence. Often students had gone on to say hello, had maybe contributed two or three lines and then disappeared. Not surprisingly, their own group evaluations revealed none of this. Tutors sent emails to these individuals asking them why they believed that they should share in the group mark and if and what they had contributed as EtherPad showed no evidence of any activity from them. Students who had worked hard on the group assessment felt vindicated in knowing that academic staff took their opinions and feedback seriously enough to evaluate students' contributions to the team effort.
It seems from the post unit comments on the University Unit Evaluation site that students enjoyed the opportunity to engage with one another and felt a real sense of achievement and community. The community created is so strong that students have been asking to be placed into groups with their "study-buddies" in subsequent units, and it is clear from their communications that many are discussing the structure of their course so that they can support one another in their learning journeys, enabling them to develop new skills as part of their lifelong learning (Carmean & Haefner, 2002). There is evidence from the Discussion Board that many of these students have made connections, online friendships and professional associations that may well last into their teaching careers.
Group work online is challenging and intricate for both students and tutors but our commitment to the constructivist model of teaching and learning makes it incumbent upon us to introduce a learning setting which genuinely allows mastery and growth for both students and lecturers, so that "we see discourse production as a social and cultural practice, not a second order representation of practice" (Lave and Wenger, 1991, pp 22-23). The experience has been and continues to be, transformative.
Carmean, C. & Haefner, J. (2002). Mind over matter: transforming course management systems into effective learning environments. Educause Review, 37(6), 26-34. Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERM0261.pdf
Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T. & Archer, W. (2001). Critical thinking, cognitive presence, and computer conferencing in distance education. American Journal of Distance Education, 15(1), 7-23.
Garrison, D. R., & Archer, W. (2000). A Transactional Perspective on Teaching and Learning: A Framework for Adult and Higher Education. Oxford, UK: Pergamon.
Hill, J. R., Song, L., & West, R. E. (2009). Social learning theory and web-based learning environments: A review of research and discussion of implications. American Journal of Distance Education, 23(2), 71-87.
Jafari, A., McGee, P. & Carmean, C (2006). Managing courses, defining learning: what faculty, students, and administrators want. Educause Review, 41(4), 50-70. Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERM0643.pdf
Lamb, B. (2004). Wide open spaces: Wikis, ready or not. Educause Review, 39(5), 36-48. http://www.educause.edu/EDUCAUSE+Review/EDUCAUSEReviewMagazineVolume39/WideOpenSpacesWikisReadyorNot/157925
Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. New York: Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge.
Macdonald, J. (2003). Assessing online collaborative learning: process and product. Computers & Education, 40, 377-391.
Moore, M. G. (1989). Editorial: Three types of interaction. American Journal of Distance Education, 3(2), 1-7.
Salmon, G. (2003). E-moderating: The key to teaching and learning online. London, UK: Taylor & Francis.
Young, A., & Norgard, C. (2006). Assessing the quality of online courses from the students' perspective. The Internet and Higher Education, 9, 107-115.
|Please cite as: O'Hare, S., Quartermaine, L. & Cooke, A. (2011). Issues involved in supporting pre-service teachers' learning in an online environment. In Developing student skills for the next decade. Proceedings of the 20th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 1-2 February 2011. Perth: Edith Cowan University. http://otl.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2011/refereed/ohare.html|
Copyright 2011 Sheena O'Hare, Lynne Quartermaine and Audrey Cooke. The authors assign to the TL Forum and not for profit educational institutions a non-exclusive licence to reproduce this article for personal use or for institutional teaching and learning purposes, in any format, provided that the article is used and cited in accordance with the usual academic conventions.