Learning through Dialogue: Online Case Studies in Educational Psychology

By Paulus, Trena M.; Roberts, Gina | Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Learning through Dialogue: Online Case Studies in Educational Psychology


Paulus, Trena M., Roberts, Gina, Journal of Technology and Teacher Education


Case studies are frequently used to prepare preservice teachers through reflection and analysis of classroom situations. Previous research suggests asynchronous online discussions provide more opportunity for reflection and analysis than face to face environments. Online case study discussions of two groups of preservice teacher education students, one more and one less successful, were analyzed through a case study approach with a cross-case comparison. Discussion transcripts were analyzed and triangulated with student self-report data. Members of both groups participated relatively equally and adopted a cooperative approach to the task. The more successful group exchanged more messages and responded to each other. Both groups focused on the task and content, but the more successful group also socialized and engaged in supportive discourse. The more successful group also supported their claims. Neither group challenged each other's initial ideas, nor did they ask many questions. As a result, the opportunity to create meaning together was not fully explored. Findings may be attributed in part to a difference in attitude toward the task itself and the idea of group work in general. Recommendations for the design of online case studies are discussed.

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Case studies provide preservice teachers a chance to explore theories of learning, motivation and assessment by analyzing and reflecting upon classroom situations. This study examines the integration of case study analyses into an applied educational psychology course for teacher education students. The case studies were designed to be completed online using Blackboard's[TM] asynchronous discussion forums to provide ample time for reflection. The discourse styles of two groups of students, one more successful and one less successful, completing a one-week case study analysis task were examined. The purpose of the study is to examine the use of computer-mediated communication technologies to support case study analysis by pre-service teachers. A greater understanding of the processes involved can help instructors design these tasks more effectively.

THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK

Case studies provide the opportunity for students to engage in a narrative way of knowing, by situating a narrative in specific context and encouraging reinterpretation and multiple representations. Case studies can be "a strategy for transforming more propositional forms of knowledge into narratives that motivate and educate" (Shulman, 1992, p. 17). Case studies are continuing to garner interest as a way to prepare preservice teachers for the real-world teaching environments (Carter, 1989; Pindiprolu, Peterson, Rule, & Lignugaris/Kraft, 2003; Sudzina, 1999a). Teacher educators are finding the case method of instruction useful for improving preservice teachers' problem-solving and decision-making skills (Snyder & McWilliam, 1999). Carter (1989) posited that use of cases can benefit novice teachers in particular by decreasing the odds that classroom solutions get "improperly reasoned" and by engaging new teachers in reflection and analysis.

Practitioners have acknowledged several obstacles to implementing case method instruction, including the significant time needed for discussion (Carter, 1989; Gideonse, 1999; Sudzina, 1999b), a lack of physical space conducive to such discussions (Carter; Gideonse), and the challenge of facilitating multiple discussions simultaneously (Gideonse). One way to overcome these obstacles is through the use of computer mediated communication (CMC) technologies.

An online environment can provide anytime and anyplace access to case materials. CMC tools such as asynchronous discussion boards and synchronous chat systems eliminate time and space constraints required by face-to-face case instruction (Pindiprolu et al., 2003; Smith, Smith, & Boone, 2000). Transcripts of conversations can be archived for later review by both teachers and students (Pindiprolu et al.

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