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Designing and Modeling Controversial Conversations in Web-based Courses Albert Spencer, Ph.D. Ajae Wallace, M.Ed. Portland State University.

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Presentation on theme: "Designing and Modeling Controversial Conversations in Web-based Courses Albert Spencer, Ph.D. Ajae Wallace, M.Ed. Portland State University."— Presentation transcript:

1 Designing and Modeling Controversial Conversations in Web-based Courses Albert Spencer, Ph.D. Ajae Wallace, M.Ed. Portland State University

2 As an instructor-mentor team co-teaching a morality course, designing and moderating discussions face-to-face in a manner that respects the diversity yet encourages critical thinking can be demanding; but what unique challenges, consequences, and benefits arise when these conversations occur online? Our presentation will discuss strategies and techniques for using Learning Management Systems (LMS), to facilitate online discussions about contemporary moral controversies. This session will be divided into three parts. Part one focuses on how designers can establish frameworks, standards, and prompts for successful online discussions at the beginning of the term and use them as formative and summative assessments of student progress throughout the term. Part two focuses on how facilitators can use LMS to build community, guide discussions, and connect course content to current events. Part three invites the audience to apply these strategies and techniques to design and facilitate a conversation using an online learning resource and discussion board.

3 I. Designing Critical Discourse Online Discussion & Position Theory Barriers to Online Learning Structuring Discussion Frameworks Setting & Evaluating Discussion Standards Writing Discussion Prompts Instructor Presence Benefits, Challenges, and Fears Building Respectful Community of Diverse Learners Guiding Discussions Connecting to Current Events Summary of Best Practices II. Facilitating & Modeling

4 Dennen’s “Facilitator Presence & Identity…” (2011) Because online discussions are asynchronous & decentralized, positioning theory best explains how discussions are navigated by participants through the presence & identity. 3 Components of Position Theory: Role: function in a discussion. Presence: participation & impact on a discussion. Identity: characterization and expectations. 3 Basic Discussion Roles: Designer, Facilitator (Instructor/Assistant), Student

5 Using a 15 week fully online graduate level humanities course as a case study, revealed three common barriers: Competing Orientations to Discussion Interpreting Critiques as Attacks Divergent Time Limitations Among Students Careful consideration and clarification of discussion frameworks, standards, and prompts address these barriers.

6 Competing Orientations to Discussion Marshall (Critical Discourse) Judith (Socioemotional Interaction) Ruth (Win-Lose Competition) Jacques (Opinion Sharing) Saul (Jargon Babble) Interpreting Critiques as Attacks Ruth interprets Marshall’s criticism as an attack. Ruth attacks Marshall in her next post. Judith intervenes to protect Ruth. Marshall apologizes to Ruth in his next post. Divergent Time Limitations The depth and frequency of participation was influenced by a variety of personal factors.

7 Critical Discourse Inquiry Authoritative Summative Assessment More Preparation Impact Diversity Reflective Formative Assessment More Participation Frequency Social Construction

8 Formative Assessment (Frequency) First Post Deadlines First Post Word Count Response Quotas Summative Assessment (Impact) Requiring Critical Questions in Posts Yang’s Socratic Questioning Prompts (2007) Clarification: Could you give an example? Assumptions: Is it always the case? Evidence & Reasoning: What would change your mind? Viewpoints & Perspectives: What would someone who disagrees say? Implications & Consequences: If that happened, what else would result? Question the Question: Why is this question important?

9 Experiment with hyperlinks to other media (articles, videos, interviews, etc.) as learning resources. Consider the pattern of collaborative knowledge exploration that you want to initiate (Lee & Tsai, 2010): Elaborating the claims of the resource. Challenging the claims of the resource. Correcting [Interpreting] the claims of the resource. Debating the claims of the resource. Select a Socratic Question that corresponds to the selected pattern of exploration. Explicitly and redundantly state basic expectations. Make your discussion prompts specific and concrete.

10 Instructor Presence: The perceived level of instructor participation & impact by the students. Four Positions on Instructor Presence: Riva (2003) “If a user writes nothing, he/she effectively ceases to exist.” Dennen (2006 & 2011) Instructor posts confer importance, increase involvement, set norms & tone, and model expectations. Yao (2008) Student interactivity increases as instructor presence decreases. Voorhees & Petkas (2011) Peers are better managers of “candid & explicit discussions,” i.e. Social Construction Alternative Methods of Instructor Presence: Blogging, Assignment Feedback, Instant Messaging

11 Dennen, Vanessa P. “Facilitator Presence and Identity in Online Discourse: Use of Positioning Theory as an Analytic Framework.” Instructional Science: An International Journal of the Learning Sciences, v39 n4 p Jul Lee, Silvia Wen-Yu and Tsai, Chin-Chung. “Identifying Patterns of Collaborative Knowledge Exploration in Online Asynchronous Discussion.” Instructional Science: An International Journal of the Learning Sciences, v39 n3 p May Rourke, Liam and Kanuka, Heather. “Barriers to Online Learning.” Computer Supported Learning, 2: , March Voorhees, Rhondie and Petkas, Steven N. “Peer Education in Critical Campus Discourse.” New Direction for Student Services, Spring Yang, Ya-Ting C. “A Catalyst for Teaching Critical Thinking in a Large Group University Class in Taiwan: Asynchronous Online Discussions with the Facilitation of Teaching Assistants.” Educational Technology Research and Development, v56 n3 p Jun Yao, Yuankun. “Comparing the Impact of Two Different Designs for Online Discussion.” ICWL 2008.

12 Benefits & Challenges of Peer Mentor-led, web-based discussion. Building a respectful yet critical community of diverse learners. The Three “R’s”: Roles, Rules, & Routines Guiding Discussions. Thinking about content Designing prompts Modeling Responding Trouble shooting Connecting the content. Current events Student self-guided extended learning Critical examination of self and other

13 Major fear of web-based learning  isolation. Loss of identity Lack of complex, dynamic relationships Inability to interpret or use the nuances of non-verbal communication Disconnected from the “real world” On the contrary interpersonal and real-world connections are enriched, varied, pertinent, malleable, & creative.

14 Benefits Students are generally more forthcoming with a peer. Mentor may be able to connect content to the lives of students in ways that the instructor may not. Mentor can elicit candid conversations about the main/lecture session. Opportunity to model ways of thinking, discussing, and writing desired throughout the course. Students can post and revisit posts at leisure or inspiration. Students may perceive peer status as lack of instructional authority. Students may not participate or fully engage. The defining line between informal discussion and academic discourse may mislead students. Easier for students to disregard the emotions of others during discussion (virtual veil). Mentor’s loss of distance. Challenges

15 Establish roles at the outset! Mentor: facilitator, educational guide & translator, peer (Vygotsky’s “zone of proximal development”) and fellow learner, collaborator (but not conspirator), and link to instructor & institution. Subtle authority. Students: less experienced peer (in a limited, but important sense), resource and authority, participant & developer. Paulo Freire.

16 Web-based courses present unique obstacles to defining roles, primarily due to the increased distance –the virtual veil—among the participants. Web-based technologies provide unique and effective ways to connect that not only reinforce the human element, but that can allow for deeper connections. Knowing your students is essential! LMS features (confidential questionnaire, bio page); animoto videos; use of photos & other visuals (avatars, favorite things, etc.) in introductory discussion. Donna Beegle.bio page animoto

17 Hold a direct, open, and inquisitive discussion about rules & expectations for discourse. Why are they important (esp. in this medium)? What should they look like? Collaborative design. One idea: PP “We are a Team!”PP “We are a Team!” Incorporate parameters into discussion prompts. Keep it light!

18 Nature of LMS lends itself well to more structured routines. Routines help students know what it expected. Differentiate between standards & expectations for discussion writing and more formal assignment writing. Modeling Templates Web-based courses are writing intensive by nature. Make a point of conveying this to students early on by getting them started writing with low-stakes discussion

19 Be direct about sensitive nature of material and tech- based communication difficulties, and the possible solutions. Prompts that inspire student engagement. Begin with low-stakes discussion Intentionally draw out commonalities among students or that touch on elements of the basic human experience Draw from current events & pop-culture Work parameters into prompt.

20 Model thinking & response. Let students engage with each other – don’t reply to every post, but do reply. Students practice critical inquiry & generate questions Use emoticons Debriefing & reflection.

21 Devil’s advocate ASK STUDENTS WHAT THEY WANT Reinforce the three R’s Direct contact When to involve your faculty partner or other outside resources Don’t get too attached to anything (outcomes, materials, order/routines) – each group has its own dynamic that you can do a lot to influence and guide, but cannot ultimately control for all factors.

22 To increase connection to content & build buy-in/personal investment by creating connections between course content and students’ own lives and experiences through current events & pop-culture. Some Discussion Activities: Mentor prompt about current event/issue  student response – student as critical thinker & participant In the News – student as researcher & reporter Reading Rainbow “…you don’t have to take my word for it.” – student making own connections & sharing – student backing up opinions and theories Reading Rainbow Opportunities for building community and highlighting diversity of experience through personal and critical discourse. Opportunity for self reflection—looking inward to better see outward.

23 Establish the three R’s from the outset. Get “personal” with your students; establish direct, ongoing communication early on. SHOW don’t just tell: Use visuals, media, and emoticons. Be explicit about issues arising form controversial topics & equip them with tools for constructive discourse. Design ground rules collaboratively. Use clear, consistent, step-by-step instructions every time.

24 Model how you want students to communicate. Repetition. Honor students’ experiences, knowledge, and ways of knowing. Encourage (& require) students to find and incorporate outside resources. Begin with low-stakes topics that elicit critical thinking and build up to more controversial topics. Be aware of your own biases, beliefs, & urges. Group debriefing & personal reflection.


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