Academic journal article Language, Learning & Technology

Online Learning: Patterns of Engagement and Interaction among In-Service Teachers

Academic journal article Language, Learning & Technology

Online Learning: Patterns of Engagement and Interaction among In-Service Teachers

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Language teacher education programs attempt to foster collaboration amongst pre-service and in-service teachers. The approach is in place in an online teacher education program in a Midwestern university where the current study was undertaken. Collaborative interactions are an essential element of any pedagogy which assumes that good learning is collaborative and that understanding comes through modeling, participation in, and reaction to the behaviors and thoughts of others.

This study was conducted with the following objectives: (a) to analyze the patterns and types of collaborative interactions taking place in three online classes; and (b) to use these findings as a guide in the design of instructional interventions. Our goal is to understand the practice of collaborative teaching and learning so that assistance can be provided to support instructor efforts to include collaborative interactions in their courses. We used Garrison, Anderson, and Archer's (2001) "practical inquiry" model as a framework for the study. Without instructors' explicit guidance and "teaching presence," students were found to engage primarily in "serial monologues." Based on the findings, we propose three intervention strategies that may help instructors increase collaborative interactions in online discussions.

INTRODUCTION AND PURPOSE

For the past 9 years, the language teacher education department of a large midwestern American university has offered distance education courses, primarily at the graduate level. The main clientele of this online program are in-service teachers. Some participants in online courses in the program have expressed interest in being future online educators themselves. Thus, online courses, such as those discussed in this paper, not only have the responsibility of providing quality teacher education, but also of modeling effective approaches to online instruction.

With the rise of Internet technologies, distance courses have migrated to the Web where it is possible to incorporate online discussion as a primary component of the course. One of the issues most troubling to online instructors has been the prevalence of "serial monologues" (Henri, 1991) in asynchronous discussion forums. Serial monologues are discussions in which participants share past teaching experiences and freely express their opinions with minimal effort made to connect to the contributions of others. In this study, we subscribe to Chickering's and Ehrmann's (1996) position that good learning is collaborative and social rather than isolated and competitive. We also accept Bandura's (1971) "social learning theory" which states that understanding comes through modeling, participation in, and reaction to the behaviors and thoughts of others.

While Internet technologies can enable greater synchronous and asynchronous collaboration among distance learners, there is still a lack of clarity of what online collaboration is or should be and a lack of knowledge on how to structure and engage in it. An additional challenge to effective collaboration in online courses is that the intended outcomes of collaboration have not been clearly articulated by research and/or experienced in practice. Collaborative interactions, although much touted as a means to effective, deep, and reflective learning online (Hara, Bonk, & Angeli, 2000; Hathorn & Ingram, 2002; Henri, 1992; Henri & Rigault, 1996) leave many instructors and students insecure at best and, at worst, reluctant to engage fully. Thus, we undertook this study with two objectives in mind. First, we wanted to analyze the patterns and types of interactions taking place in online classes. Second, we wanted to use these findings to guide us in the design of instructional interventions that could increase collaboration in these courses.

THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK

Language teacher education programs are beginning to foster a pedagogy of collaboration in pre-service and in-service teacher education programs (Kaufman & Brooks, 1996). …

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