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Strategies for Online Learning and Changing Roles

During the Post Graduate Certificate in Online Learning at University of Southern Queensland (2007-2009) I submitted the usual number of assessment items (roughly 3 per unit). From these there is one I have used more than any other, primarily for the information in Part A. I've reproduced it here.

Part A – Concept Table

Critical Element
Principle/s underlying its importance
Operational activities
1. Social Presence
“Students in a community of inquiry must feel free to express themselves openly in a risk-free manner. They must be able to develop the personal relationships necessary to commit to, and pursue, intended academic goals and gain a sense of belonging to the community. The formal categories of social presence are open communication, cohesive responses, and affective/personal connections.”  (Garrison & Vaughan, 2008)
Garrison & Vaughan (2008) provide the following indicators:
·       Enabling risk-free expression.
·       Encouraging collaboration.
·       Expressing emotions, camaraderie.
·       A climate that will create a community of inquiry.
Social presence needs to be acknowledged and included in online context because “When participants in an online course help establish a community of learning by projecting their personal characteristics into the discussion ― they present themselves as "real people."” (Pelz, 2004) It is especially critical to do this in the virtual environment since there are no other forms of contact for the distance online students.
·       The teacher opens the first class discussions in a social context that is introducing them selves and asking others to introduce themselves. Rather than getting straight to the curriculum.
·       The teacher establishes an atmosphere of camaraderie and acceptance by using friendly language, and responding to even silly questions with respect and tact.
·       Accepted netiquette guidelines should be provided to students.
·       Peer students who respond to others in disrespectful ways should be informed of proper ‘netiquette’.
·       Use of ‘emoticons’ should be encouraged if supported by the learning environment.
2. Interaction
Interaction could be defined as “...getting students relevantly active with teaching/learning activities that facilitate the intended outcomes.” (Biggs & Tang, 2007)
Ally (2004) states there are 5 kinds of interaction:
·       Learner-Content Interaction
·       Learner-Instructor Interaction
·       Learner-Learner Interaction
·       Learner-Context Interaction
·       Learner-Interface Interaction
“Learning is the development of new knowledge, skills, and attitudes as the learner interacts with information and the environment. Interaction is also critical to creating a sense of presence and a sense of community for online learners, and to promoting transformational learning “ (Ally, 2004)
·       Tight integration of social and cognitive interaction. (Lander, 2001)
·       Emphasised learner control and engagement that involves making decisions and learning from their consequences. (Lander, 2001)
·       maintain a balance of participation, leadership, understanding, and encouragement. (Soller, 2001)
·       students can exhibit  “social skills they need to communicate well in a team.” (Soller, 2001)
·       all the students actively participate in the groups discussions. (Soller, 2001)
·       There are frequent and meaningful interactions among the learners, the instructional materials, and between the learner and the instructor. (Ragan, 1998)
·       The interface between the learner and technology has been considered. (Ragan, 1998)
·       Social interactions between learners enrich the learning community are encouraged and supported. (Ragan, 1998)
Interaction needs to be acknowledged and included in online context because it “is now widely recognised that the effectiveness of online learning tasks depends on the way they generate interaction. As Barker (1994) has put it, interactivity is a "necessary and fundamental mechanism for knowledge acquisition" and Mesher (1999) claims interactivity is the "key to successful online learning." “(Lander 2001)
·       Interaction in blended of fully online courses will be achieved our online learning management system (Moodle).
·       Develop support tools and strategies to help students having difficulty with the student – interface interactions.
·       Incorporate use of discussion boards and chat tool into curriculum. These tools provide bandwidth efficient mechanisms for asynchronous and synchronous communication.
·       The teacher should explicitly encourage students to discuss the content and disciplinary concepts in the course.
o   Weave discussion activities into the curriculum and inform of their use and importance in course outlines and which are assessed if any.
o   Use separate threads, perhaps one per topic.
o   Provide good practice guide on how to use e-discussions.
·       Interactive learning objects are provided where appropriate for student to interact with. These can help students with difficult/complex concepts etc.
3. Cognitive Strategies
“Cognitive strategies are useful tools in assisting students with learning problems. The term "cognitive strategies" in its simplest form is the use of the mind (cognition) to solve a problem or complete a task. Cognitive strategies may also be referred to as procedural facilitators (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1987), procedural prompts (Rosenshine, 1997) or scaffolds (Palincsar & Brown, 1984). Cognitive strategies provide a structure for learning when a task cannot be completed through a series of steps. … reading comprehension, a complex task, is a good example of a task that does not follow a series of steps.”
(Jordan, 2005)
·       Learning is a change of knowledge state
·       Knowledge acquisition is described as a mental activity that entails internal coding and structuring by the learner.
·       The learner is viewed as an active participant in the learning process.
·       Emphasis is on the building blocks of knowledge (e.g. identifying prerequisite relationships of content).
·       Emphasis is on structuring, organising and sequencing information to facilitate optimal processing.
(George Mason University)
The learner learns to:
·       monitor their cognitive processes effectively
·       avoid the use of simplistic, primitive routines when better strategies are available
·       develop an adequate knowledge base of general and specific information and of the strategies available in various subject areas
 (Vockell, 2003)
Cognitive strategies are appropriate to and can be harnessed in the online context. Jonassen & Marra (1999) also identify that “Learning with technologies amplifies the learner’s cognitive processes while using those technologies. Computer-based cognitive tools and environments are, in effect, cognitive amplification tools“.
·       Use chunking or organising strategies such as complex arrays or frames.
·       Use spatial learning strategies such as concepts maps.
·       Use bridging strategies (to link to prior knowledge) such as advance organisers (Eg KWL charts) and metaphors.
·       Use general purpose strategies which include rehersal, imagery (eg television), and mnemonics.
(Gunawardena & Zittle, 1996)
·       Other activities include:
o   Simulations (virtual and interactive)
o   Explanations
o   Demonstrations
o   Corrective feedback
o   outlining
o   Dual-coded learning objects
o   Analogies
o   Summaries
o   Elaboration
 (George Mason University)
·       Sequence content and align with course outcomes, strategies and assessment.
·       Develop/maintain reflective practice and skills of students by asking them to keep a learning journal using a blogging tool.
·       Provide authentic activities that entail reflection and problem solving. (Herrington,, 2003)
4. Collaborative Learning
“ 'Collaborative learning' is an umbrella term for a variety of educational approaches involving joint intellectual effort by students, or students and teachers together. Usually, students are working in groups of two or more, mutually searching for understanding, solutions, or meanings, or creating a product.” (Smith & MacGregor, 1992)
·       students are immersed in challenging tasks or questions. (Smith & MacGregor, 1992)
·       collaborative learning activities frequently begin with problems, for which students must marshal pertinent facts and ideas. (Smith & MacGregor, 1992)
·       Instead of being distant observers of questions and answers, or problems and solutions, students become immediate practitioners. (Smith & MacGregor, 1992)
·       Students learning effectively in groups encourage each other to ask questions, explain and justify their opinions, articulate their reasoning, and elaborate and reflect upon their knowledge. (Soller, 2001)
·       If a student does not understand the answer to a question or solution to a problem, his teammates make special accommodations to address his misunderstanding before the group moves on. (Soller, 2001)
·       Provide authentic activities that entail collaborative/group effort (Herrington,, 2003) and that are aligned to the course outcomes. (Davis, 1993)
·       When writing the course syllabus, decide which topics, themes, or projects might lend themselves to formal group work.
·       Think about how you will organize students into groups, help groups negotiate among themselves, provide feedback to the groups, and evaluate the products of group work. . (Davis, 1993)
·       As appropriate, explain the objectives of the group task and define any relevant concepts . (Davis, 1993)
·       Many students have never worked in collaborative learning groups and may need practice in such skills as active and tolerant listening, helping one another in mastering content, giving and receiving constructive criticism, and managing disagreements. Discuss these skills with your students and model and reinforce them during class. . (Davis, 1993)
·       Construct tasks where each member is responsible to and dependent on all the others, and that one cannot succeed unless all in the group succeed. (Davis, 1993)
·       Create assignments that fit the students' skills and abilities.  (Davis, 1993)
·       In general, groups of four or five members work best. Larger groups decrease each member's opportunity to participate actively. (Davis, 1993)
·       Ask each group to devise a plan of action: who will be doing what and when. A clear division of labour. (Davis, 1993)
·       Make the assessment part peer review based, so that group members can rate each others input in collaborative tasks.
5. Learner-centeredness
Learner-centred learning includes awareness of the unique cognitive structures and understandings that the learners bring to the learning context. Thus, a teacher makes efforts to gain an understanding of students’ pre-existing knowledge, including any misconceptions that the learner starts with in their construction of new  knowledge. Further, the learning environment respects and  accommodates the particular cultural attributes, especially the language and particular forms of expression, that the learner uses to interpret and build knowledge. Learner-centered activities make extensive use of diagnostic tools and activities, so that these pre-existing knowledge structures are made visible to both the teacher and the student.” (Anderson, 2004)
·        “ ..recognises the “the diversity among students, and use this diversity to enrich learning and to produce results within the context of current school reform.” (Leaner-Centred Principles Work Group, 1997).
·       “..emphasize the active and reflective nature of learning and learners.” ( Leaner -Centred Principles Work Group, 1997)
·       “A learner-centred context is not one in which the whims and peculiarities of each individual learner are uniquely catered to. In fact, we must be careful to recognize that learner-centred contexts must also meet the needs of the teacher, of the institution, of the larger society that provides support for the student and the institution, and often of a group or class of students.” (Anderson, 2004)
·       “online learning teachers make time at the commencement of their learning interactions to provide incentive and opportunity for students to share their understandings, their culture, and unique aspects of themselves.” (Anderson, 2004)
·       Design Advance Organisers that ask the students to write down prior knowledge and what they would like to know. This could form an assessment item which in the eyes of the student’s makes it worth while.
6. Teaching Presence
“Teaching presence provides the design, facilitation, and direction for a worthwhile educational experience...Teaching presence establishes the curriculum, approaches, and methods; it also moderates, guides, and focuses discourse and tasks. It is the means by which to bring together social and cognitive presence in an effective and efficient manner.” (Garrison & Vaughan, 2008)
·       All elements are brought together to “ensure that the community of interest is productive. Garrison & Vaughan (2008)
·       A community of inquiry is created and sustained. Garrison & Vaughan (2008)
·       Social and cognitive presence are brought together in an effective and efficent manner. Garrison & Vaughan (2008)
·       A strong teaching presence is established. Garrison & Vaughan (2008)
·       Students expectations of structure and leadership are met. Garrison & Vaughan (2008)
Teaching Presence needs to be acknowledged and included in online context. Online learning has an advantage in that “Participants [online] are less inhibited to express themselves. However, tensions may result that undermine cohesion.” Garrison & Vaughan (2008). This could result in negative online experiences for student. Teacher online presence is required to maintain positive and fruitful interaction and social presence. “Facilitation in either a face-to-face or online environment is absolutely essential to focus discussion and ensure it moves beyond the exploration phase.” Garrison & Vaughan (2008)
·       Inform student of expected progress on a weekly basis.
·       Moderate forums on a regular basis, possibly predetermined such as between certain times on certain days so that students know when to expect input from the teacher.
·       Provide input to student discourse and intervene to resolve arguments or grievances as required.
·       Keep discussions on track and inline with the curriculum/content/learning outcomes.
·       Maintain a positive social and learning environment by encouraging students to post their thoughts during ‘quiet’ times, IE motivate them to contribute to discussion.
·       Contribute relevant knowledge and experiences as necessary for student learning.
·       Be the knowledge and concept guide for the students.

Part B – Changing Roles
What changes in roles (if any) are implied in the adoption of this framework by teachers and students involved in online teaching and learning?
Marking Criteria for Changes in Roles (20 marks)
·       logical argument is provided for position taken on change (or no change) in teacher roles.
·       logical argument is provided for position taken on change (or no change) in student roles.
·       arguments are supported by reference to available literature/current practice.
In order to summarise some key points arising from this section, compile a list of changes in roles for both instructors and students that arise by adopting the principles suggested and adopting different strategies and tactics. Are there any roles which don't change? What are they?
How are the teaching and learning processes, to which Gunawardena and Zittle refer, different from teaching and learning processes used in other contexts? Are they completely “new processes” and unique to computer supported learning contexts?
Teacher: Not sage on stage – but mentore/facilitoator/expert/motivator
In traditional instruction, the teacher’s primary functions are lecturing, designing assignments and tests, and grading; in SCI (Student Centered Instruction), the teacher still has these functions, but also provides students with opportunities to learn independently and from one another and coaches them in the skills they need to do so effectively. (Felder & Brent, 1996)
“With student fees now a high proportion of funding, universities have had to improve the quality of their teaching.” (Biggs & Tang, 2007) The paying client status  of todays students, and it's market implications, mean that universities are increasingly relying on student numbers. This means they need to provide educational services that meet the clients demands, and in this way force change on the 'old school' ways of industrialised education, distance or otherwise. “The key features of an industrial approach to distance education are rationalisation, division of labour, and mass production. Rationalisation refers to those measures where planning and organistaion can lead to the efficient use of resources.”   (Garrison, 1997)
The net result is the impacts on the role of the teacher. They being:
Not content transmission, but facilitation of student-content and student-student engagement.
Not knowledge guardian, but student and knowledge guardian, taking personal interest in each student. (Edit 2012: There is a role for digital portfolios here. SN)
In addition to the changing traditional role, online environments add extra complexities. For example, an online class is technically accessible 24/7. “A blended learning environment offers the potential not only to create but sustain a sense of community beyond the temporal limits of the face-to-face context.” (Garrison & Vaughan, 2008). This can easily result in a much increased workload for the teacher. Anecdotal evidence from my context points to a general input of many more teaching hours into forums and other activities than what is allotted in the existing teaching contact hours agreements.
Teacher roles in the learner-centred classroom:
However, the rate and effectiveness of the changing role and practices of the teacher will be hampered unless support is provided. “Realizing the vision of education reform depends largely on opportunities and resources available to teachers to learn what they need to know to support new learning for all students. These opportunities and resources depend, in turn, on public and policymaker support for a new vision of teaching in which professional development activities are understood as vital to student learning as classroom instruction. To enable teachers to learn what they need to know and change their practice, learning opportunities must consist of more than in-service workshops and short courses. Teachers need opportunities to think through the implications of the reform goals, to try out new approaches, and to assess the effects of these approaches.” (NCRTL)
“The ultimate goal is to create a community of inquiry in which learners are fully engaged and responsible.“ (Garrison & Vaughan, 2008)
Student: Not knowledge absorber, but knowledge analyser, questioner, discoverer.
The change in funding models for universities could also be argued to be having both an empowering effect (choice) and obviously a large financial impact (less government funding and higher fees) on students. This is somewhat of a paradox, since on one hand they they are worse off, but on the other they have greater consumer power. For the university this means the they must now operate like a business providing a service, and meet the demands of the consumer or loose market share.
The net result on the student could be 1) a greater voice in what a university delivers, 2) the experience of a more engaging, authentic and valued courses leading to real job opportunities, 3) a change from being a passive – individual learner to being an active questioner – sharing knowledge and understanding and working with peers and experts to solve authentic problems.

Anderson, T & Elloumi, F. (2004). Theory and Practice of Online Learning, on-line book, Retrieved August 22, 2008, from
Biggs, J. & Tang, C. (2007). Teaching for quality learning at university. Berkshire, England: McGraw-Hill.

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Davis, B.G., (1993). Tools for teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass
Felder, R. & Brent, R. (1996). Navigating the bumpy road to student-centered instruction. College Teaching, 44, (pp. 43-47).
Garrison, D.(1997). Computer conferencing: The post industrial age of distance education. Open Learning. 12(2),  (pp. 3–11).
Garrison, D. & Vaughan, N. (2008). Blended learning in higher education: Framework, principles, and guidelines. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
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Gunawardena, C., & Zittle, R. (1996). An examination of teaching and learning processes in distance education and implications for designing instruction. In M. Beaudoin (Ed.), Distance education symposium 3: Instruction, ACSDE Research Monograph. No. 12 (pp. 51–63).
Herrington, J. & Oliver, R. & Reeves, T. (2003). Patterns of engagement in authentic online learning environments. Australian Journal of Educational Technology. 19(1), 59-71
Jonassen, D.H., & Marra, R.M. (1999). Concept Mapping and Other Formalisms as Mindtools for Representing Knowledge. Retrieved August 29, 2008, from
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Kelsey, K. & D'Souza, A. (2004).  Student motivation for learning at a distance: Does interaction matter?. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration. 7(2), 1-10
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Lewis, C. & Abdul-Hamid, H, (2006). Implementing effective online teaching practices: Voices of examplary faculty. Innovative Higher Education. 31(2), 83-98.
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A framework for the professional development of teachers, Retrieved August 28, 2008, from
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