January Journal Club – Cutting the Distance in Distance Education

Lisa Endersby, Educational Developer, Teaching Commons

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The Teaching Commons hosted the first Journal Club meeting of 2017 on Wednesday, January 18th to discuss Cutting the distance of distance education: Perspectives on what promotes positive, online learning experiences (Boling, Hough, Krinsky, Saleem, & Stevens, 2012). An important theme to our conversation was the role of technology in enhancing, rather than only challenging, our work as educators.

This month’s article outlines a research study that explored effective online learning experiences from both student and instructor perspectives. A central argument that informed the researchers’ study and analysis states that “the use of technology in education increasingly demands a shift from a teaching to a learning paradigm” (Boling et al., 2012, p. 118). The authors used a case study approach to examine and analyze the experiences of teaching and learning online to consider both faculty and students’ perspectives of effective or meaningful online learning experiences.

The study’s findings revealed important considerations for the continued development and teaching of online courses. A common theme across participant discussions was the active or perceived disconnect between students and their professors, between faculty themselves, and between students and the core course concepts. Participants in online courses expressed dissatisfaction with courses that emphasized a more individual, text-based review of the material, which failed to help develop higher order cognitive skills. By contrast, positive online learning experiences were characterized by more active engagement, particularly in offering more and diverse ways to socially interact and with course activities that mirrored real-world experiences.

To this end, the authors introduce the Cognitive Apprenticeship Model (CAM) as a framework for more effective online learning. CAM as a design framework works to create opportunities for students’ internal thought processes (e.g. critical thinking) to be made visible externally. This means, then, that effective learning can be possible when students can observe their own thought processes while examining and further practicing these skills. The challenge of doing this work in an online environment, while also recognizing and supporting interpersonal connections was a central focus of our Journal Club discussion.

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While the article provided several valuable sparks for interesting conversation, this month’s dialogue also included a review of the article itself. The research the authors undertook is important, but covered only a narrow range of disciplines, students, and faculty. Considerations for future research (and discussion) could include a broader review of faculty and students in subject areas that don’t always or immediately consider teaching as a focus. For example, how might a faculty member in a mathematics department be motivated to move away from a “chalk and talk” teaching method to use (and embrace!) the possibilities inherent in whiteboards and other eLearning tools?

A considerable portion of our discussion was devoted to an analysis of and questions about the role of networks in supporting faculty in teaching with technology. The authors emphasized the importance of faculty networks for training and support, particularly for creating a sense of connection in an online course or program. What was most important, however, was the broadening of this importance of connection beyond the more traditional conception of student to faculty connection to consider how faculty may be connected (or not) to each other and to their program or institution. Faculty motivation and support was seen as critical to the continued innovation possible in online courses, which must be nurtured through social or more personal means just as much, if not more, as faculty may be supported professionally or administratively. Our Journal Club could very well be one small yet accessible example of a network of practitioners and administrators coming together to discuss eLearning tools and platforms.

A call to action for supporting faculty in teaching with technology or at a distance could include more specific, focused training. A better or broader understanding of eLearning tools could help faculty determine for themselves how these tools could be incorporated into the work they are already doing in their courses. Our discussion helped shed light on the need to consider purposeful, intentional design in any course (online, blended, or face to face), with technology and the online environment acting as a window to the immense opportunities for learning that are central to student retention and success.

We want to hear from you. After reviewing this month’s article and reading this post:

How have or how are you going to apply ideas from this article and/or our discussion to your practice?

How might your students benefit from this research?

What opportunities can you see for further research or exploration on this topic?

Please join the conversation using the comments box below.

References

Boling, E. C., Hough, M., Krinsky, H., Saleem, H., & Stevens, M. (2012). Cutting the distance in distance education: Perspectives on what promotes positive, online learning experiences. Internet and Higher Education, 15, 118-126.