Interaction & Engagement

February 1, 2008

In the article “Interaction and Engagement in LEEP…” Ruhleder identifies several possible problems dealing with having simultaneous audio broadcasts and chat room postings. Those who have worked in the CRG environment can testify to the dual threads that can run concurrently, but not in parallel.

Synchronous online environments change the instructors’ role and control of the class while allowing for more interaction & engagement by the students. However other questions arise:

As the focus of the two threads diverge, can cognitive overload be avoided? Some will say that 21st Century Learners are multi-taskers and can handle multiple input streams. While this may be true, how much is absorbed in real time & how much gets picked up by reviewing the session log?

The technology offers instructors flexibility and spontaneity; but at the expense of control. A pedagogy can be developed around this synchronous form of delivery so that the discussion stays on subject, inaccurate statements get corrected, and learning can take place. But it involves the students taking on more responsibility to make this happen. The course must be designed to include activities that foster a sense of community early on. Peer monitoring can be more effective than heavy-handed didactics. This is more true in the synchronous learning environment. The instructor cannot monitor activity on both streams But the students can. By loosening the reins, the instructor may be able to exercise greater control.

Ruhleder, K. (2004). Interaction and engagement in LEEP: Undistancing “distance” education at the graduate level. Duffy, T. and Kirkley, J. (eds). Learner-Centered Theory and Practice in Distance Education. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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2 Responses to “Interaction & Engagement”

  1. Christie Jones said

    I think instructors should take a sociocultural approach to instruction in an online evironment by making tasks and communication student centered. It is important for adult learners to feel respected and that the tasks they are doing are going to benefit them in the long run. I think instructors should relinquish control to the degree that students are taking ownership of their learning without fear of control.

  2. rayadorob said

    Christie:

    I have to agree… but it took me a while. In reading about LEEP I thought “what mayhem!”. And I thought about some of my online, synchronous actiivities.

    It can be difficult to keep track of things, especially when more than one channel of communication is available. As an instructor, I would find it a tad bit frustrating. But, then I started thinking about the possibilities.

    Students learning what they need, rather than hoping I get to it, or can explain it to their satisfaction.

    “Leadership is based on inspiration, not domination; on cooperation, not intimidation.”
    William Arthur Wood

    The same could be said for constructivist learning environments. While it may be difficult to let “loose the reins”, what choice do we have? Do we really exercise that much more control in F2F classrooms? Not really; its just that the sidebar conversations are whispered in the rear rows, not displayed in a text box.

    This isn’t to say we should try to maximize the learning experience:

    1. Lay ground rules for acceptable behavior.

    2. Make an attempt at etiquette? (difficult to do in a synchronous situation.

    3. Provide session logs for review purposes.

    4. Have an assistant to monitor the texting while the instructor conducts the spoken interactions.

    5. Attempt to answer all text and spoken questions before the end of the session.

    6. Ask students if your response meets their needs.

    7. Assume that if a student thinks that the discourse is drifting too far, they will seek to direct it back to relevancy by asking a pertinent question or making a statement that requires a response from other students.

    8. Have (online) office hours or other means (email?) for students to contact you, should there be some unresolved issues or unanswered questions.

    These might be idealistic. Perhaps having the students draw up the rules would provide a better environment. They know what they want from the discussions; and they know just how much their willing to put up with. Peer discipline often works best.

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