What lessons might we take from successful (and unsuccessful) OCL Institutional Innovations and from the concept of the Community of Practice (CoP)?

Online Collaborative Learning (OCL) is the culmination of the transformation that has taken place within the realm of online delivery.  The idea that the teacher is the center of the instruction has come under question as the best delivery method for the Net Gen learners of the 21st century.  The teacher-centered classroom has been the natural model as educators have delved into the world of online delivery and design.  Institutions are arriving at the understanding that uniform curriculum as well as uniform online delivery is a necessity for the 21st century learners.

Initially, online classes simply resembled the brick and mortar counterpart, but through it rapid evolution, is recognizing the art and craft of well designed online courses.  The primary problem though still remains; utilizing current educational staff to create, build and deliver these online opportunities.  Building high quality online classes, takes a tremendous amount of time, and most school districts in the State of Alaska  are operating under the premise of short-funding.   Seaman (2009) writes, “the major barrier was the effort required to teach online: about 64% of the respondents wrote that it takes “somewhat more” or “a lot more” effort to teach online over face-to-face instruction, and over 85% reported that it takes “somewhat more” or “a lot more” effort to develop an online course than a face-to-face course.”

At some point, education inevitably comes back to funding, and what school boards understand is face-to-face, student / teacher contact time.  I hear these phrases commonly used when budgets are tight and funding is the issue.  Quality education requires quality preparation, and online teaching requires content knowledge, savvy technology understanding, intensive and focused inservicing, and time to build. “The need for practicing the skills required to facilitate or to teach an online class, to manipulate the online environment, and to master the required skills of communication and interaction cannot be underestimated” (Muirhead & Betz, 2002).

Harasim, L. (2012). Learning Theory and Online Technologies. [VitalSource Bookshelf Online]. Retrieved from https://bookshelf.vitalsource.com/#/books/9781136937750/

Muirhead, B. & Betz, M. (2002). Faculty training at an online university. USDLA Journal, 16(1). Retrieved November 26, 2009 from:www.usdla.org/html/journal/JAN02_Issue/article04.html.

Seaman, J. (2009). Online learning as a strategic asset, volume II: The paradox of faculty voices—Views and experiences with online learning. Washington, DC: Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. Retrieved November 26, 2009 from: www.sloan-c.org/news/APLU_online_strategic_asset_vol. 2.pdf.


Week Three Reflection

What is apparent to me this week is that our readings, and our interactions, thus, our discourse is shaking the cobwebs of my own pedagogical belief system and is challenging my own long-held  beliefs that technology without tight reins is simply a distraction to real learning.  I found myself observing students this week and really watching how they integrate technology, discourse and learning to accomplish real tasks that are meaningful.

By stepping out of the way, and allowing the flow of the process to take place, I found myself questioning much of what I thought I knew.  I am seeing so many situations where I can honestly say that four wall and desks is not the best way to deliver instruction in a particular situation.   At the same time, there are classes that I teach where the interaction between myself, the students and the material is rich, invigorating and rewarding and I just can not see how that could be replicated in an online delivery situation.

I have heard discussion within the educational establishment that the charismatic teacher cannot be the reason good learning takes place and that there needs to be a system in place that is reliable and dependable and valid.  Part of that is true, but the other part that is so often dismissed is that there are those that are gifted to teach.  There are those moments where the face to face interaction is the only way that lives have been changed.  The art of teaching is the very concept that has frustrated the bean counters, because it cannot often be quantified.

Online learning the ability for interactive electronic discourse has certainly changed lives and opened doors, and is transforming education and learning.  I still question whether or not that good teacher can touch hearts online the way that she can in the classroom?  Just thoughts. 🙂


What is the role of discourse, collaboration and technology for distributed learning in online courses?

I remember when students began exercising the option of taking an online distance course rather than taking a traditional course at Seward High School.  Teachers were reluctant to give up the control of the curriculum, and students struggled with the idea that they were in charge of their own learning.  Over time, online delivery became a widely accepted option but the ramifications included time management on the part of the student choosing an ODC and the perceived lack of rigor from the online course.  For example, I have had good students that withdraw from my writing class if they thought they would not be able to earn an “A.”  They would switch to online delivery and inevitably earn the grade they desired there.  From this perspective, I have agreed that skepticism has been a legitimate response. “More than six years of data from the national Sloan survey of online learning have shown that faculty acceptance of online education has consistently been seen as a critical barrier to its wide-spread adoption” (Harasim, 2012).  We have had valedictorians who chose the online route rather than the traditional delivery due to the fact that they felt early on in the semester that their grade point was in jeopardy.

At the same time, I can recall many of those same students who struggled in their first year of college as opposed to those that stayed the course in their regular face to face classes.  This, by no means is scientific, and generalizes the varied education practices.  This point is made only as a means to explore the concept of examining ODC as a truly equal and valid opportunity.

I appreciate that “rather than being passive recipients of mass consumer culture, the Net Gen spends time searching, reading, scrutinizing, authenticating, collaborating and organizing …” (Harasim, 2012).  This is where conventional educators struggle with the online opportunity.  Those of us that have found ourselves in the middle of the Knowledge Age simply do not completely understand the transformation that is taking place right before our very eyes.  We do not understand the brain function of 21st century learners, and the implications of social media and the communication methodology of this generation.  “The Knowledge Age mindset seeks the better or best way to solve a problem, rather than merely following instructions or replicating a textbook answer. This may well require redesign or the new design of a solution. Knowledge is viewed as dynamic and evolving, not static and finite”(Harasim, 2012).  Therefore, what is the role of the teacher and at what point does memorization of facts and key concepts take a backseat to the exploration of new discovery?

Collaborative learning is a natural inclination to the 21st century learner, but all too often, the regular classroom teacher does not entirely understand what true collaboration looks like and then the question of implementation becomes monumental.  “Online collaboration is not a second-best substitute for face-to-face work: It’s a complement with its own perks and benefits” (Samuel, 2015). Discourse is a natural occurrence in most learning situations and is not anew concept.  Learning from one another is a response to  question asker.  A question asker pursues answers when he is interested and motivated to find answers and solve problems.  Of course current research points out that change must naturally occur in order for online discourse to be successful.  “These studies commonly claim that electronic discourses, generating new social dynamics, require new instructional organization and strategies in order to promote students’ active learning” (Junghyun & Levin).  This works as it should in most learning situations, but begs the next question about the content and the subject matter.  What do we do when the learner is not interested in the curriculum?  What happens when the pursuit of individual truth becomes paramount to assigned curriculum? Do we as a culture no longer ask that we assume a common body of knowledge, literature and understanding?


An, J., & Levin, J. A. (nd). Online Discourse Patterns: Building an Instructional Framework for Designing Educational Discourses on Networks (Doctoral dissertation, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) [Abstract]. Educational Psychology.

Harasim, L. (2012). Learning Theory and Online Technologies. [VitalSource Bookshelf Online]. Retrieved from https://bookshelf.vitalsource.com/#/books/9781136937750/

Samuel, A. (2015, April 1). Collaborating Online Is Sometimes Better than Face-to-Face. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved September 20, 2016, from https://hbr.org/2015/04/collaborating-online-is-sometimes-better-than-face-to-face.


Week Two Reflection

The revelation I had when I realized that my initial bachelor’s degree was obsolete forced me to acknowledge how quickly the mode of learning are shifting and transforming.  The challenge of the traditional educational model is how to answer that call of change.  All too often, the system that should be leading the charge in contemporary thought and practice, is the very system that stifles the change that is required.  All too often the parents refer to their own education as the framework for their decisions about what their local schools should look like.  All too often, the innovators in education are stymied by the labyrinth of bureaucracies that don’t want to rock the boat, and frankly don’t have the compelling answers for school boards that are hearing from their constituents that the school wants to change the schedule, or the school is not teaching grammar the way it should be, or our kids don’t know how to read and write, or we are falling behind all of the world in math and science, or why can’t we be Finland?

Make no mistake, the transformation has been a difficult one for those of us who actually did a Master’s Degree on a typewriter.  The ability to navigate technology is not innate and has been a climb.  This is not because of our resistance, but due to the way our brains are wired.  Learning about technology has certainly changed the way we learn and learning in a different way has forced the change which has been often frustrating, but through stubborn persistence fueled by a desire not to  be left behind has become more natural.    What is interesting about this learning process is that when viewed through the lens of theory, Behaviorism has had little to do with the education outcome.

How do learning theories manifest themselves in online courses?

After 25 years in public education, I have come to the realization that all too often, even in light of the research, as well as a professional desire to move students away from Rote memorization and the basics of behaviorism, and into the interpretive and the analytical, the behaviorist model becomes the standard by which students are taught and evaluated.  I say this reluctantly because I would like to believe that I have mastered the art of higher level engagement, but the behavior / reward model is easy to fall back on.

Rubrics are absolutely a tremendous evaluation tool that is used to present the task and to guide its development.  The problem faced in the secondary level though is that the interpretation of rubrics introduces the subjective and in the competition for grades and the higher GPA, there are those, often with parental support that choose to challenge rather than accept the expertise of the evaluator if the score is less than their perceived acceptable level.  Debates rising from this subjectivity often end up with the administrator who may or may not be versed in that particular subject matter and given the pressure they are subjected to, will sometimes cave under parental pressure.  The behaviorist model tends to be objective even though it is not the optimum learning method.  Objectivity erases the debate and students and parents alike tend to accept the result whether it is good or bad.

Teachers at the secondary level that have established themselves and their methods over time generally have far fewer challenges to subjective evaluation methods and therefore are much more able to drive the learning from a cognitivist or a constructionist theory.  This is fortunate for those students involved and over time, the establishment of expertise  and fair evaluation allow those veteran educators the autonomy to take their classes away from just rote memorization of facts and definitions, and into the interpretive and the analytical.

The other reason that the behaviorist model still so prevalent is due to the fact that there is so little time to do a really good job with lesson preparation and evaluation due to the number of students typically seen in a day and the idea within most school districts that student contact time is more costs efficient.

Harasim, L. (2012). Learning Theory and Online Technologies. [VitalSource Bookshelf Online]. Retrieved from https://bookshelf.vitalsource.com/#/books/9781136937750/

Learning Theories. (n.d.). Retrieved September 12, 2016, from http://thepeakperformancecenter.com/educational-learning/learning/theories/

Wicks, D. J. (n.d.). Emerging Theories and Online Learning Environments for Adults. Retrieved September 12, 2016, from https://sites.google.com/a/boisestate.edu/edtechtheories/emerging-theories-and-online-learning-environments-for-adults-1



Week One Reflection

I have been trying to envision ways in which the nuances of a successful classroom experience can be transferred to the online delivery.  The problem is, that the vehicle does not lend itself to the complexities of interpersonal communication.  Frankly, an important aspect of FtF is the abilities of the students and the teacher to read body language and the opportunity to do so.  Maybe I am wrong, and it is possible that the more I learn about teaching online the more I will realize that there are opportunities and methods by which deeper connections can be made.  Maybe OD is just different and comparing the two might be like comparing automobiles and trains.  They can get the rider to his destination, but they have little in common.

The limitations of the technology are going to dictate the depth of the interpersonal communication.  My learning interest right now is in the actual use of the technology, and I think that once I am more familiar with the mechanics of the delivery,  I will see the means of communication and each step will lead to the next.

I Iike the idea of blogging as an engagement tool for online courses.  We used to call that Journaling, but with the tools and the presence on the internet, the writing takes on a much more personal and profound position in the hierarchy of teaching methods.  When the “Publish” button is pushes, the writer has opened herself up and exposed just a little of who she is, what she values, and what she hopes for.  This is and always has been a huge step in the process of making meaning and learning.  I apprecate the idea of “reflecting” since so often, time is not given to the actual act of relection and it is in the state of relection that deep thinking takes place.

What theories or research can inform your current practice of distance learning?

The argument that online courses are not comparable to face to face has had a legitimate position in the past, but is quickly losing ground as a basis in decision making as to whether or not a student should take an online course rather than take it in a traditional classroom format.  At a local level, the ability to construct online courses is becoming a skill that instructors are no longer balking at for lack of technical support as well as an inadequate background in building online courses.  That being said, fifteen years ago, the mode of delivery began to manifest itself as another option, and teaching online moved from the fringes of the educational environment to the forefront, pushing schools and districts to embrace not only the complete package of online delivery, but to create a commonplace environment of blended learning within the structure of the face to face traditional model.

If the student is independent of time and space, than he is no longer learning at the mercy of the only available structure that is in place.  The four walls no longer bind the learner and he is free to move at his pace, at his leisure, following his interest and desire to go in a direction suitable to him.

One of the interesting studies that I found highly interesting is that as the length of modules increased, the depth of engagement decreased to the point where students were not completing the modules.  There is a depth of complexity and length that is just right, and the goal would then be to find the right length of any one lesson or module.  This makes perfect sense, since anyone who has taught in a traditional delivery situation learns over time when too much, is too much.  When Edgar Allen Poe wrote, he said that his stories should be no longer than what can be read in one sitting.  The same could stand true for engaging online lessons.  Depending on the level and subject being taught, the module needs to be built with a single effect in mind.  The builder begins with that goal and works backward form there to the point of introduction.  I can assume that at that point, everything that is seen as valuable  to that particular lesson is included, and then reviewed and pared back.  It is then reviewed and simplified again until the lesson is complete to the satisfaction of the online instructor.

Once complete, the lesson is delivered and the objective evaluation takes place to determine if the amount, the length, and the breadth of the module is sufficient to guide the learner to the goal.  Refinement then becomes the task, improving, implementing new tasks and removing those that detract from that goal.

According to the research, blogging is a highly valuable method of learner-centered instruction that moves the student to explore and articulate his ideas, and at the same time improves his own writing over time.  If blogging is such simple task yielding compound results, than why in the heck haven’t I been using it!

Incorporating various articles and media as assistants to the pursuit of the goal is also recommended, the problem once again being that more is not necessarily better.  The question then is what to include and what to eliminate.  The framework of the course can remain constant with a variety of supportive online materials to draw from depending on the audience and skill level of the student .

Last, simplicity is the key.  The technical aspects of the course and the navigation method used beg the builder to consider the frustration level of the student attempting to navigate the site.  It cannot get in the way and become another obstacle to overcome in order to access the learning material.

Moore, M. G. (2012). Distance Education: A Systems View of Online Learning, 3rd Edition. [VitalSource Bookshelf Online]. Retrieved from https://bookshelf.vitalsource.com/#/books/9781133715450/

Huang, H. (2002). Toward constructivism for adult learners in online learning environments. Britislh Jourrnal of Educational Teclznology, 33(No. 1). Retrieved from http://umsl.edu/~wilmarthp/modla-links-2011/Toward-a-constructivism-for-adult-learners–in-online-learning-environments.pdf


Best Practices in Online Teaching Strategies. (2009, July). Hanover Research. Retrieved August 10, 2016, from http://www.uwec.edu/AcadAff/resources/edtech/upload/Best-Practices-in-Online-Teaching-Strategies-Membership.pdf