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.
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.
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.). Asynchronous tools in particular offer greater opportunity for reflection on the case and on comments made by other students (Hough, Smithey, & Evertson, 2004; Meyer, 2003), though findings in this area have been mixed (DeWert, Babinski, & Jones, 2003; Hough et al., 2004; Stephens & Hartmann, 2004.)
There is much to explore regarding the effectiveness of online environments for learning. These environments may facilitate greater equality of participation because students do not have to compete with one another for the opportunity to speak. Those who may be hesitant to participate in a face-to-face environment may be more likely to participate in an online environment. Kitchen and McDougall (1998) found approximately equal participation levels among class members in an asynchronous discussion forum. However, these findings have not been supported by other studies (Bodzin & Park, 2000; Hillman, 1999; Poole, 2000), which have revealed asymmetrical participation patterns similar to that found in face to face environments, with a small group of students or the instructor dominating the discussion.
Self-facilitated small groups of students may adopt a variety of strategies to complete tasks using CMC tools. Cooperative approaches include individually tackling portions of the task and then combining the individual efforts into a final product, whereas a collaborative approach focuses on jointly completing the task through dialogue (Paulus, 2004). For example, Paulus found that a three-person graduate student group completing a task at a distance (using synchronous tools) adopted a cooperative rather than collaborative approach. She found that while most of the discussion was focused on the content of the assignment, nearly half was focused on social exchange, logistical matters and technology concerns. What is designed to be a collaborative project may be approached cooperatively by students (Kitchen & McDougall, 1998).
The discussions that students engage in about the case studies are integral to the learning process. Discussion methods of teaching have been found to be motivating for students and engage them actively in the learning process (Welty, 1989). Thus, in addition to examining how groups approach online case studies, it is important to look at how students are learning, or not learning, together through the dialogue they do engage in. This is particularly important since recent studies have found superficial levels of dialogue for learning in online discussions (Angeli, Valanides, & Bonk, 2003; Hew & Cheung, 2003a; Hew & Cheung, 2003b). Booth and Hulten (2003) created a taxonomy of necessary, though not sufficient, contributions to discussions which open a "dimension of variation" to afford an opportunity for learning. They identified four types of contributions to online discussions and identify some speech acts which represent these contributions in the context of their study. Participatory contributions are those which acknowledge the presence of others (similar to the idea of social presence, e.g., Rourke, Anderson, Garrison, & Archer, 2001) and include speech acts such as addressing group members by name, referring to another's post, acknowledging each other's contributions, and encouraging each other. Factual contributions are those which refer to the problem being discussed. Some factual speech acts include state, propose, elaborate, extend, explain, and ask. Reflective contributions consider the problem situation from a new angle by questioning what has been said through speech acts of agreeing, disagreeing, comparing, isolating a detail, or problematizing. Finally, learning contributions "appear as the culmination of two or more threads of parallel or even conflicting lines of argument, and continue with a clearer goal to the argument or with a concrete outcome such as a refined speculation" (p. 81). Learning contributions may include speech acts such as discerning, refining, and opening a dimension of variance. However, such acts are really only identifiable in context.
A better understanding of how groups of preservice teachers approach analyzing case studies in an online environment can help teacher educators structure such tasks more …
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Publication information: Article title: Learning through Dialogue: Online Case Studies in Educational Psychology. Contributors: Paulus, Trena M. - Author, Roberts, Gina - Author. Journal title: Journal of Technology and Teacher Education. Volume: 14. Issue: 4 Publication date: Winter 2006. Page number: 731+. © Not available. COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale Group.
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