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The Effective Use of Synchronous Classes within an Online Graduate Program: Building upon an Interdependent System Janet Groen, Janet Tworek, Maria Soos-Gonczol.

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Presentation on theme: "The Effective Use of Synchronous Classes within an Online Graduate Program: Building upon an Interdependent System Janet Groen, Janet Tworek, Maria Soos-Gonczol."— Presentation transcript:

1 The Effective Use of Synchronous Classes within an Online Graduate Program: Building upon an Interdependent System Janet Groen, Janet Tworek, Maria Soos-Gonczol University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada

2 Wheatley (1999) writes: “…when we view systems from [the systems approach], we enter an entirely new landscape of connections, of phenomena that cannot be reduced to simple cause and effect, or explained by studying the parts as isolated contributors. We move into a land where it becomes critical to sense the constant working of dynamic processes, and then to notice how these processes materialize as visible behaviors and forms” (p.10).

3 Overview Four key areas of online learning Objectives, importance and novelty Methodology Personal narratives as research data Results of thematic analysis Linking data to a theoretical framework Implications and recommendations

4 Key Areas of Online Learning Programs Program Administration Course Instructor(s) Technical Support Students Online Course Provides the foundation, direction, and scaffold structure for the program. Helps bring the program to “life” and maintains the scaffold, while also supporting all eventual technological quirks and additions to the program. (McCausland, 2005) Instructors build around the scaffold to give walls, rooms, and interesting and safe places for learning, growth, and expression. Students use the spaces, but also build on them by bringing knowledge and expertise that makes the courses rich experiences for learning and professional development.

5 Objectives to understand the online graduate program from the perspectives of each of the four areas: program administrator, technical support, instructor, and student. to reveal how the components of the system are intertwined towards creating and sustaining an effective multi-faceted (synchronous and asynchronous) distance delivery program to apply the student centered criteria as a measurement of success This research is unique as it brings together stakeholders from each of the four key areas.

6 Research Methodology Personal stories/narratives were utilized to document each of the stakeholders’ experiences, using a three part process: The researchers/stakeholders met online to explore their perspectives on the effective use of synchronous communication. Each researcher/stakeholder wrote their own personal narrative of their role in the distance delivery program Data from the above were analyzed. Salient themes were identified to retrieve common themes, as well as unique perspective and voice held by each of the stakeholder.

7 Results:Stakeholder Narratives Technical Support Characteristics of Strong Technical Support  Quick thinking, timely reaction, and problem solving  High level of technical competency  Ability to perform under pressure and defuse stressful situations  Skilled questioning techniques, discerning listening skills, and logical reasoning  Superior verbal skills to convey easy-to-follow instructions  Strong people skills and high emotional intelligence Backstage Access, Frontline Support  Fine balance between being present in the classroom but not interfering or disrupting class processes  Providing training and ongoing support to instructors, yet may also be students in the graduate program

8 Results:Stakeholder Narratives Student Generations of Learners and Technological Expertise  Technological expertise  Learning styles  Motivation to study online  Level of engagement with the instructor or session facilitator Differences among Part-time and Full-Time Students

9 Results:Stakeholder Narratives Program Administrator Manager of Online Programs  Planning and timetabling of courses  Creating course areas within Blackboard  Scheduling and coordinating synchronous classes  Monitoring the quality of online course delivery  Safeguarding student confidentiality  Making recommendations for improvements Mentor and Mediator  Hiring, training and supervising graduate students who form the technology support team within GDER  Providing administrative direction and support to online instructors  Organizing and developing professional development sessions, online information sessions, online resources for instructors, students and technology support team

10 Results:Stakeholder Narratives Instructor Synchronous communication used as a means to animate the instructor’s beliefs about teaching and learning. “By establishing a strong sense of community amongst the learners, dialogue is fostered so that learners can move toward a higher level of thinking and in essence construct knowledge that is meaningful for each of them” (Groen & Li, 2005).

11 Instructor Design for success : 1) Focused agenda for each session distributed to the learning community in advance 2) Detailed planning of sessions 3) Emphasis on interactive and engaging learning activities and presentations 4) Students perceive these sessions as being a critical and meaningful component of learning process in the course and not as an added-on extra Strategic positioning of synchronous sessions allow for the “energy and enthusiasm that are spontaneous and contagious” in face-to-face discussions (Garrison & Kanuka, 2004) to make their way into the online synchronous classroom environment. Creating maximum opportunities for small group and large group dialogue and activities is pivotal Results:Stakeholder Narratives

12 Results: Thematic Analysis Understanding the functions of each sub-system and how they connect to the system Professional development sessions serve as a venue to: - raise awareness of the functions, procedures, and effective ways for interaction between the stakeholders within the program - develop a base line of comfort with each of the stakeholders - improve and enhance the skill levels of stakeholders

13 Results: Thematic Analysis Collaboration and communication amongst all aspects of the system is critical - face-to-face (one-on-one, group meetings, PD sessions) - electronic communication via and electronic listserv - online orientation, information or PD sessions - online discussion forums, chat-rooms, Internet-cafes - electronic resources and hardcopy handouts

14 Results: Thematic Analysis Attending to the affective/relational aspects of the system is vital Synchronous communication is a critical tool in addressing the affective aspects of the learning process within an online environment: - strengthens the sense of community and trust - reduces anxiety - emotional intelligence and strong people skills are necessary for effective technical support

15 Results: Thematic Analysis Integrating the sub-systems in working toward a common goal - knowing and embracing the vision and mandate of the program - understanding the students - translating this knowledge into the effective use of the synchronous learning tools

16 Discussion The Changing Landscape of Learning  Face-to-face: instructor-student dynamic exists relatively independent  Online: instructor-student relationship can only occur within a web of interdependency that includes other critical stakeholders

17 Discussion Theoretical approaches for understanding the online learning environment:  Organizations as a giant machine - Filley (1976) & Morgan (1997)  Systems Approach: Organizations as organisms - Morgan (1997), Wheatley (1999) Strategy, structure, technology and the human and managerial dimensions of organization are subsystems with living needs that must be mutually satisfied (Morgan, 1997)  Hierarchy of Needs: fundamental physical needs (food, shelter, etc.) attended to before motivational aspects (recognition, personal growth, etc.) - Herzberg (1959) & Maslow (1954) Online: when physical and emotional well-being are satisfied, then higher order needs of influence and personal development can be satisfied

18 Discussion Applications of theoretical approaches to the online learning environment:  Synchronous communication pushes us into a new way of teaching that relies on effective interdependent relationships, where: “each organism maintains a clear sense of its individual identity within a larger network of relationships that helps shape its identity. Each being is noticeable as a separate entity, yet it is simultaneously part of a whole system” (Wheatley, 1999, p. 20).  For the majority of instructors and learners within our program, the affective component plays a pivotal role in their successful adaptation to learning at a distance. Effective support dissipates this anxiety fairly quickly.

19 Implications for Practice Ensure that a program administrator has responsibility for the co-ordination and planning of distance learning programs and more specifically synchronous communication. Ensure that ongoing training and support are provided for students and instructors. Ensure that instructors receive pedagogical support in order to cultivate a learner centered interactive environment. Provide supportive and effective technical support for all synchronous classes and provide additional support for instructors new to the medium. Coach technical support assistants so that they are able to acknowledge and provide emotional support to instructors and students. Ensure ongoing communication and collaboration between students, instructors, technical support and program administrator in order to create and sustain a learning centered environment within synchronous sessions.

20 Thank you! Dr. Janet Groen Ms. Maria Soos Ms. Janet Tworek Groen, J., Tworek, J. & Soos -Gonczol, M. (2008). The effective use of synchronous classes within an online graduate program: Building upon an interdependent system. International Journal on E- Learning. 7(2),

21 References Garrison, R. & Kanuka, H. (2004). Blended learning: Uncovering its transformative potential in higher education. Internet and Higher Education. (7). p Groen J. & Qing, L. ( 2005). Achieving the benefits of blended learning within a fully online learning environment: A focus on synchronous communication. Educational Technology. 45(6) p Herzberg, F. (1959). The motivation to work. New York: Wiley. Mackeracher, D. (1996). Making sense of adult learning. Toronto: Culture Concepts Inc. Maslow, A. (1954). Motivation and personality. New York: Harper. McCausland, S. (2005). The Conditions Which Facilitate and Challenge Online Support Staff’s Services for Web-Based College Courses: A Case Study. Unpublished master’s thesis, University of Calgary, Alberta. Morgan, G. (1997). Images of organizations. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage. Wheatley, M. (1999). Leadership and the new science. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco. Willment, J., Baynton, M.,Groen, J. & Slater, L. (2004). The transition to online teaching: An expansion of the issues. Paper presented at the Canadian Association for Distance Education Conference. Toronto.


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