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

By default, I am thinking about everything we read for this course in terms of how it relates to the class that our groups are to be designing. So far, I am not very optimistic. For starters, Harasim notes over and over again that, for online collaborative learning, “The teacher or professor, as a representative of that knowledge community, mediates between the learners and the knowledge community and inducts the learners into the processes for building knowledge in that discipline” (2012). While we might be in good hands as students, the students taking the course that we design could be in anyone’s hands. We have no idea who will be assisting them on their journey through remedial high school English (or should I say credit recovery?). Without the guarantee of a high-quality guide, should we use a different model? I’ve noted that I really like using this model (from a student’s perspective), but I don’t see how summer school students will be able to engage in distance discourse with other students from around the state without getting buy-in from multiple districts and making sure that their summer school schedules run roughly concurrently, etc.

It pains me to suggest this, but I think that online courseware might be the best option for at least part of what we create. “The learner uses an individualized self-paced pedagogy to interact with the courseware content, which is presented in a modular format. Upon completion of each module, the student takes a post-test (typically a multiple-choice test that can be computer graded) to“assess” his or her understanding of the content and to provide remedial action if the student fails the post-test” (Harasim 2012). Even that seems like a waste of time, since there are already many of those courses in use for high school credit recovery. Why add to that pile? I’d like to utilize online collaborative learning, but I just don’t know how we’ll be able to do it. Who will they collaborate with? Who will moderate? Who will be assessing discourse?

In regards to the required reading and blog postings, I’ll just pretend like we’re designing something that more easily fits the OCL model.

The role of discourse and collaboration: “In a distributed environment a learner has to be able to put his or her ideas forward in a way that others can see and engage with, even if those ideas are not yet fully thought out or polished…Each act of creation is a potential node for connection” (McCauley et al 2010).
I can’t improve on the way Harasim puts it in our current text: idea generating, idea organizing, and intellectual convergence. Participants share ideas, others share and add, they consider how the ideas can be refined or improved, ideas might be organized or compared with existing ideas in the literature, and a “convergence” is eventually reached (though the text notes that convergence doesn’t represent 100% agreement by all participants). Knowledge has just been built. 

The role of technology: Technology creates the meeting spaces and the means of communication/discourse. Thanks to web 2.0 tools, technology also afford collaboration: “Blogs, wikis, and other open, collaborative platforms are reshaping learning as a two-way process. Instead of presenting content/information/knowledge in a linear sequential manner, learners can be provided with a rich array of tools and information sources to use in creating their own learning pathways… The links and connections are formed by the learners themselves” (Siemens 2005).

I guess I’m kind of struggling with the fact that what we’re reading about makes me inspired to design opportunities for an incredible learning experience, yet the task itself makes that seem like it will be next to impossible; the trouble is that it feels like I need to follow the model set forth in our readings, as it sounds ideal, even though we might be able to create a model that is just as functional (but doesn’t exist yet). The chances of creating a new model seem kind of slim. The chances of making a functional hybrid seem a whole lot better. That chances that our final product will look anything like OCL? That’s anyone’s guess…


Harasim, Linda M. (2012). Learning Theory and Online Technology. New York, NY: Routledge.

McAuley A., Stewart B., Siemens, G. & Cormier, D. (2010). The MOOC Model for Digital Practice. Retrieved from: https://oerknowledgecloud.org/sites/oerknowledgecloud.org/files/MOOC_Final_0.pdf on January 30, 2014.

Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: Learning as network-creation. Retrieved from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/networks.htm on January 30, 2014.

6 thoughts on “#OLTAK What is the role of discourse, collaboration and technology for distributed learning in online courses?

  1. Jon,
    I think about this project differently. I think the plan is that there will be a teacher who will be in charge of the delivery of the course. And the concepts we are organizing into the Bb shell are universal to both the topic and the standards. This makes the collection and organization of the information convenient for the instructor.

    I have taught many different courses at the college and being handed a collection of the objectives, resources, and assessments can be helpful so the teacher can hit the ground running. I also think that Dr. Graham is planning on one of us in each of the groups actually using what we develop and teaching an AKLN course this summer. This can help find any ‘bugs’ in the course.

    But if a teacher already has a fully developed AKLN credit recovery course they are familiar with, they would use their information. What we are working on is not for this teacher.

    I envision the Bb shells we are working on to be the ‘leg-up’ for a teacher teaching the course for a first time. I know if I was just hired and handed this complete Bb shell it would be welcomed. That does not take away from the academic license of a teacher to tweak the course to fit their teaching style.

    As for the current available data that is ‘out there’, if we can use it with out any copyright problems, we should link to it and not ‘add to the pile’; making sure what we do use in the course is organized and pertinent.

    Jeff Laube

    1. My point is simply that there is a disconnect between the stuff we are reading and the course we are designing. Connectivism and constructivism would be great if we were designing college courses or high school courses that weren’t credit recovery, but much of what we will be teaching would be served poorly by focusing on open discussion and constructing new knowledge.
      For example, teaching grammar rules and basic math facts might be better served by behaviorist methods. Would we teach students 4×3 by asking them to discuss it with their friends from around the state, find a deeper meaning, and create a synthesis of knowledge about 4×3? We would be more likely to just tell them to memorize their math facts with some flash cards and leave the deeper discussion to topics that are better suited for deeper discussion. We can’t construct new knowledge because we’ll be dealing with low level (on Bloom’s taxonomy of Webb’s depth of knowledge) facts, etc.: there is no knowledge to construct. The same could be said about rules of capitalization. Reading comprehension questions will probably continue to look the way they’ve always looked: “What happened to Old Yeller at the end of the book?” We ask questions just to make sure that the student understood what they read. That is what the standard asks us to do, and a lot of students are in these credit recovery classes because they lack those basic comprehension skills, don’t know their grammar/style/usage rules (which is are standards we’ll have to address) or they are shaky on their math facts.
      Even in credit recovery, though, I’m sure we’ll find ways to apply connectivism and/or constructivism (the obvious standards would be ones dealing with literature discussion, etc.).

  2. Jon,

    I share your concerns about preparing a course that will rely on good instructor-student discourse and student to student collaboration when we have no guarantee that it will be implemented in this way. While I would be willing to teach this course over the summer, I will have my hands full and will not be able to. If, as Jeff suggests, someone else in our class will be piloting it, I would not worry. As I have mentioned previously, our students have not been successful with online courses in the past, but our district uses courses that do not foster a lot of teacher-student interaction.

    M Lancaster

  3. Jon, Agreed, teaching and designing remedial classes is challenging certainly! I feel my brain stretching every time a group member suggests yet another way of implementing something in our math course. The cool thing to remember is that it’s a work in progress. The instructor will have Bb permissions while serving as the beta test person and can tweak little things here and there in the course. He or she can increase instructor presence in the online learning environment, get and keep everyone invested. And some students may earn “D”s or even fail the credit recovery course with all our hard work. We hope they don’t, but the literature shows it happens. In a way it’s more fun creating lessons for remedial students than students who are on grade level. Regular classroom instruction requires a lot of differentiation to reach students at the different levels. Like you said Here, we get the satisfaction of helping them construct new knowledge, because a majority are probably years behind their peers in the 3 R’s so they all need your help.

    The constructivist components of OCL – the discourse, knowledge building, collaboration, technology — are used in different percentages for different topics, grade levels, ability levels. The models described in the readings are just guides, not immediately applicable across the board. Admittedly, in online math the student-to-student discourse will take on a different size and shape than in English. In fact I wonder, what if we required students to post a comment after various exercises, like a public on-site blog, and ask them to discuss what they learned in that activity, what changes could be made for the next class to help them learn, how do they like to learn, etc. We could motivate comments on top of comments, and get feedback for course evaluation as it occurs. My thought is that if we put the focus on a “chunking methodology” and technology (e.g., recorded video lessons and screen-capture tutorials and interactive exercises) and offer multiple representations of the same content, it can serve a similar purpose for knowledge building. Too, it always helps me to begin with the end in mind… knowing what’s on the graduation exam in my content area reminds me to work backward to student success.

  4. Jon,
    Your questions about discourse in asynchronous courses are ones that I wrestle with even in synchronous courses and without a lot of incentives (like XP points and badges), it was a challenge to get my students to converse. It also took some heavy moderating by me and facilitating by me. So, indeed, what does that look like in a high school asynchronous course? I wonder if there is any research out there on that front….I’ll let you know if I find something.

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