Academic journal article Education

SOS: Observation, Intervention, and Scaffolding towards Successful Online Students

Academic journal article Education

SOS: Observation, Intervention, and Scaffolding towards Successful Online Students

Article excerpt

Review of Literature

Most students could benefit from scaffolding. Scaffolding is specific help that provides the intellectual 'support as well as push' to enable students to work at the 'outer limits' of the zone of proximal development. (Hammond & Gibbons, 2005, p. 25). Scaffolding is sometimes identified as a form of mediation within Vygotsky's (1978) construct of zone of proximal development. This was defined by Vygotsky (1978) as "the distance between the actual development levels as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers" (p. 86, emphasis in the original).

Various authors (Gibbons, 2003; Sharpe, 2011; Walqui & van Lier, 2010) sustain that the metaphor of scaffolding can be successfully applied to the interventions that teachers and others make within the learners' zone of proximal development. Scaffolding can be constructed (put up) or removed (taken down) as needed by the student.

Holton and Clarke (2006) explain how one of the objects of teachers' activity is the creation of the "epistemic student (that is, the student as constructor of knowledge)" (p. 127). In their view, scaffolding anticipates acts of constructions in that the scaffolded interactions allow for the immediate construction of knowledge on the part of the student. Student's cognitive development and performance involves their own scaffolding since they come to class with their own strategies and processes for formulating their own protocols. This knowledge, in turn, will act as the foundation for future elaboration of the topic or problem to be solved. This leads these authors to conclude that scaffolding "is not an act of closure" (Holton & Clarke, 2006, p. 131).

Bliss et al. (1996) point out that for the gap between comprehension and production to be breached, the task must remain constant during the learning interaction. They say that "in order for a new skill to be acquired it must be comprehensible, even though it has not yet been produced" (p. 39). The required simplification, if any, is not in the task but in the role the learner plays in the task.

It is with this in mind that the SOS Successful Online Student program was conceived. SOS is designed to follow the student from the first day of class to the end of the semester throughout the entire online class.


While teaching two undergraduate online classes at the University of Texas at El Paso, a border university located within two blocks of Mexico, I received many messages for help from the enrolled students. For many of the students it was an initial online experience. I observed that for some students, technology and time management skills were lacking, and the absence of personal contact really made students feel uneasy. When 22 out of 63 students responded to offers of scaffolding help, I was fearful of losing approximately a third of my students. I knew that their SOS calls had to be answered. So, from student distress signals, SOS (Successful Online Student) was created.

Further, through research and reflection on student evaluation of college of education classes, I saw a need for further scaffolding students who were first time users of online courses. In order to promote student engagement in the online learning process, I designed SOS for language limited students and online beginners. The new scaffolding program is currently in use and is presented below.

The activity steps for SOS (Successful Online Student) are described below and include student examples. Students were told that they may participate in as many steps as they chose to and that they could disengage at any time. Students were told that when they no longer wanted to respond or participate, there was no pressure, consequence, or follow-up. They could use the SOS scaffold as long as they wanted and stop at any time. …

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