Thirty Years Later: Educational Applications of Computer Conferencing

Journal of Distance Education (Online), May 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Thirty Years Later: Educational Applications of Computer Conferencing


Linda is a luminary in the area of online education, and a pioneer of pedagogies and processes to research online learning. Since 1983, Linda has been a leading teacher, scholar and speaker on the theories and practices of online education, contributing knowledge, technologies, and practices to the field of technology-enabled learning through her research papers and books. Linda's bio (https://lindaharasim.com) lists a 30-year history of professional distinction and provides a chronology of her many contributions to knowledge creation in the field of online education. We were delighted when Dr. Linda Harasim accepted our offer to provide her perspective on the field.

We asked Linda to comment on three questions about online education by providing a reflective commentary on:

* What remains true?

* What has changed?

* What needs to be changed?

What follows are responses from Dr. Linda Harasim.

Linda Harasim

Professor, School of Communication, Simon Fraser University

Original article: ijede.ca/index.php/jde/article/view/305

Thirty years ago I wrote an article presenting and analyzing the first online credit course that used computer conferencing, an online technology unique in its ability to enable group communication and collaborative learning. The course was thus in many ways unprecedented, enabling participants to overcome obstacles of time and place to log on to a common space to discuss, learn together, and undertake group projects. This was not a course in which students interacted only with a software program but one in which students engaged in peer collaboration and knowledge building with one another and with the professor.

The first online credit course delivered entirely via the Internet using group communication was taught January-April, 1986 at the University of Toronto, through the Graduate School of Education (OISE) by Linda Harasim and Dorothy Smith (Harasim & Smith, 1986; 1994). In fall, 1986, Starr Roxanne Hiltz offered undergrad courses online at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Learning networks began to link school classrooms locally and internationally around this time. These early online educational activities were all based on collaborative learning.

What remains true?

What remains true and important about online education, is the following:

1.The emphasis on pedagogical and technological design of the online environment to support learning has been proven essential. Active, collaborative learning processes enabled progressive discussion and group work, key components of effective learning. This was a significant advance over traditional passive learning based on CONTENT+QUIZ (i.e., didactic lecture pedagogy, and software approach taken by CAI, CBT, and, most recently, MOOCs).

a. Learning design (LD) has been viewed as pedagogically different from instructional design (ID). There was a need to refocus from ID to LD.

b. Successful learning design benefitted from technological learning environments expressly structured to support collaboration and knowledge building.

2. Online collaborative learning designs contributed to very positive learning outcomes, as good as or better than f2f courses. …

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