Teacher presence in network learning

A new semester and the Networked and Global Learning course is running again. Apologies to those in the other courses I teach, but this course is consistently the most engaging and interesting. It’s a course in which I typically learn as much as the other participants. However, due to the reasons/excuses outlined in the last post, I haven’t been able to engage as much as I would have liked with the course.

This has me thinking about something Adam wrote, in particular the argument/observation from Rovai (2002) which Adam describes as

This is bringing to light the sense of disconnection students are often experiencing due to physical and psychological separation from teachers, peers and institutions

What follows is some random reactions to this particular quote and an attempt to connect it with my teaching.

Badly designed learning generates bad outcomes

As someone who has been working, learning and teaching online for a long time I am biased and this idea troubles me. In fact, it puts me in mind of the following point made in this recent post around the question of banning laptops in the classroom, because handwriting is better for learning

Those studies about the wonders of handwriting all suffer from the same set of flaws, namely, a) that they don’t actually work with students who have been taught to use their laptops or devices for taking notes. That is, they all hand students devices and tell them to take notes in the same way they would in written form. In some cases those devices don’t have keyboards; in some cases they don’t provide software tools to use (there are some great ones, but doing it in say, Word, isn’t going to maximize the options digital spaces allow), in some cases the devices are not ones the students use themselves and with which they are comfortable. And b) the studies are almost always focused on learning in large lecture classes or classes in which the assessment of success is performance on a standardized (typically multiple-choice) test, not in the ways that many, many classes operate, and not a measure that many of us use in our own classes. And c) they don’t actually attempt to integrate the devices into the classes in question,

In terms of student disconnection,is it arising from there truly being something essential that a physical face-to-face learning experience provides that can’t be provided in an online space?

Or, is it because the types of online learning experiences being examined by Rovai have not been designed appropriate to draw on the affordances offered by an online learning environment?  Do these online learning experiences examined by Rovai suffer the same problem that most of the attempts to engage in open education illustrate? i.e. an inability to break out of the “persistent patterns of relations” (Bigum, 2012) that are formed by someone brought up teaching face-to-fact?

Given that the abstract for Roavi (2002) includes

Data were collected from 375 students enrolled in 28 different courses, offered for graduate credit via the Blackboard e-learning system by a private university

Indicating that the “persistent patterns of relations” under examination in this paper is from a North American university in 2000/2001 where online learning was limited to the Blackboard LMS. A time and system which is unlikely to be described by anyone as offering only the pinnacle of an online learning experience.

Might the sense of disconnection arise from the poor quality of the learning experience (online or otherwise) rather than the lack of physical presence.

Or is it simply that both teachers and learners have yet to figure out how to leverage the affordances of online learning?

What type of presence should a teacher have?

The following two images represent connections formed between participants in two discussion forums in a large course I teach (these are from first semester 2015). Each dot represents a participant. A red do is a teacher, blue dot a student. A connection between two people is formed when one of them replies to a post from the other.

This first image is from the general Question and Answers forum on the course site.

Forum network map The second image is from the Introduction and welcome forum, where students introduce themselves and say hi to someone the same and different. Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 3.01.34 pm

In the first image, there is on red dot (me) that is strongly the center of all that’s going on. I’m answering questions. In the second image, the red dot that is me, is only lightly connected.

Which is better? Of course it depends. Which is scalable in an effective way?

The Equivalency Theorem suggests that as long as one of student-teacher, student-student, or student-content interaction is high, deep formal learning can occur. High levels of more than one and the educational experience will be more satisfying.

So far the NGL course has been suffering from low student-teacher interaction.  I wonder about the other two? Time will tell.

Teacher as meddler in the middle

A couple of years ago I wrote this post as an example of a “as teacher” post – a requirement for the NGL course. Not a lot has changed, and all this talk of interaction and connection has me thinking again of the first question I was interested in two years ago

How I can be a more effective “meddler in the middle”?

In particular, how can I be more aware of where the types of interactions students are having in the courses I teach, and subsequently what actions can I take to help strength as necessary? If I do this, what impact will it have on student learning and their experience?

I wonder if the paucity of methods for me to understand exactly how and interactions that are occurring that has me refining teaching materials. Materials that students may not be engaging with.  I’m hoping that this project will help reveal how and if students are engaging with the content in at least one course. Anecdotally, it appears that for many interaction with the content is little more than a box to tick. If borne out, this raises the question of how to get students to interact/engage effectively with the content.

There are similar questions to be explored around use of blogs and the connections between students….

References

Bigum, C. (2012). Edges , Exponentials and Education : Disenthralling the Digital. In L. Rowan & C. Bigum (Eds.), Transformative Approaches to New Technologies and student diversity in futures oriented classrooms: Future Proofing Education (pp. 29–43). Springer. doi:10.1007/978-94-007-2642-0

Rovai, A. (2002). Development of an instrument to measure classroom community. The Internet And Higher Education, 5(3), 197-211. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/s1096-7516(02)00102-1

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