10 October 2012

Looking at someone else's course and this week's readings

I had to do a little writing for the week:


There are many elements of a course which contribute building a successful learning community.  I found the Venn Diagram (Swan, 2004) useful in thinking about this idea. As instructors, our responsibility is to create an environment conducive to learning, which contains three types of presence: social, teaching, and cognitive. Students coming from a face-to-face environment (or being a part of one at the same time) will crave the social presence. In fact, I would say this social piece is extremely (if not the most) important of the three. According to Social Development Theory, social interaction plays a vital role in the process of cognitive development(Vygotsky, 1978). If an online course is expected to be a successful learning community, it must include those critical elements. They are opportunities for students to interact

  1. with one another,

  2. with the instructor,

  3. and with the content.

This must all be done in such a way that students can interact asynchronously (or with synchronously, but in limited amounts). This sounds an impossible task, but we have found that there are many tools available to both students and instructors that make it possible to build community in a course.

Before we go much further, Roblyer & Ekhaml (2000) bring up a good point when they that a definition of interaction must be agreed upon. Citing Gilbert & Moore (1998) they note that “interaction… is a reciprocal exchange between the technology and the learner, a process… referred to as ‘feedback’.” This seems like a reasonable way to describe it. I once described it in a blog post as a sharpening stone and a knife. You talk to one person, they take your information and are changed. They respond and you are changed. By interacting back and forth, you are both changed, hopefully for the better.

In our online courses as SNU, we use discussion boards as a way for students and instructors to interact. However, I’ve seen many courses in which students were “discussion-boarded” to death. I imagine that’s a bit like being water-boarded, but I’m not sure. We also use collaborative projects/documents as a way for students to interact. Google Docs, specifically, makes this a great tool for students. I always enjoy presentations much more (as an instructor) when it has been created by several students. Probably my favorite (these have gone in reverse favorite order) is video. YouTube makes it so easy to create video (especially when integrated with QuickTime on a Mac) to create video, there’s no reason to not use video in online courses, for everything from feedback on essays/projects to instructions and introductions for each week’s assignments. These follow the tips provided by Patricia Smith in “Developing Community Online”  (Faculty Focus). I do think it’s extremely important to recognize that students are quite different from those of just a couple of years ago. If faculty insist on using outdated modes of contact or assignments styles/types, student interactivity, outcomes, and learning will likely suffer. As instructors, we have to let students know the expectations for communication and participation in the course. We should also be willing to adapt (within reason) to modes of contact/instruction that work best for students.

It has been (widely) accepted that interactivity is crucial in education. Even John Dewey, back in 1916, referred to interaction as the “defining component of the educational process that occurs when the student transforms the inert information passed to them from another, and constructs it into knowledge with personal application and value” (Anderson, 2004). If our outcomes for online education are the same as for our face-to-face courses, why would we perceive interactivity differently? At least on our campus, there is no differentiation between outcomes in online learning and those of face-to-face. The courses even count for the same amount when it comes to calculating load.

While I was looking at the Intro to Fine Arts course, I noticed a couple of ways the instructor worked at building community with students. The main one was giving them a schedule of “virtual office hours” in which students could interact with the professor. I never saw the link, but I suspect this was due to the fact that it’s a model course and the link was not live. I also noticed the numerous discussion boards available each week. Students were required to post discussions and then respond to one another.

I ran this through our rubric (which was designed based on Quality Matters and SLOAN-C resources) and you can find it here. Before being offered at SNU, we would need to revise and insert some assignments to encourage more community. We follow a Prepare, Discover, Analyze, and Share (PDAS) model here at SNU. We encourage instructors to give students the opportunity to prepare (usually something like lecture or reading), discover (go find information or construct it), analyze (allow the information to interact or change them as the learner), and share (bring information back to the class and share it with other students). I’m not na├»ve enough to think this is the only way students can learn. It just happens to be what works best for us.


Anderson, T. (2004). Chapter 2, Toward a Theory of Online Learning. Retrieved October 10, 2012, from Theory and Practice of Online Learning: http://cde.athabascau.ca/online_book/ch2.html#three

Faculty Focus. (n.d.). Online Classroom. (R. Kelley, Ed.) Retrieved October 2012, from Faculty Focus: http://facultyfocus.com

Roblyer, M. D., & Ekhaml, L. (2000, March). How Interactive are Your Distance Courses? A Rubric for Assessing Interaction in Distance Learning. Retrieved October 10, 2012, from University of West Georgia: http://www.westga.edu/~distance/roblyer32.html

Swan, K. (2004). Relationshipes Between Interactions and Learning In Online Envrionments. SLOAN-C Editor for Effective Practices in Learning Effectiveness , 1-6.

Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind and society: The development of higher mental processes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.