(In the spirit of the K-12 Online Conference, you are invited to add your comments, ideas, news, and reflections in the discussion tab of this page)

Thesis Excerpt

In September 2006, I was very proud and relieved to finally defend my thesis for an M.A. in Educational Technology. Its title is Online Collaborative Learning for High School Students Using a Blended Approach for the Promotion of Self-Monitoring Skills. Some of the findings from this action research study (using a mixed method of qualitative and quantitative data) provide some good guidelines for using web 2.0 tools in the classroom:

Important person principle:

Students appreciate it if an important person responds to their writing or products. It is highly motivational for them if they know their work will be viewed by an authentic audience and particularly by an "important" person. Recently, to that end, I asked my school's headmaster if he would read and respond to my students' blog posts. He agreed and the results have been higher engagement by the students and certainly they are more self-conscious about the quality of their work!

Appropriate language for the medium

Many of the students who participated in my study lapsed into instant messaging style writing whenever they were using the online learning environment. Appropriate writing styles for forum posts, comments and online journaling had to be modeled and rewarded .

Sociality should be encouraged and fostered as it seems to lend to enhanced collaborative learning gains

Adolescent (and younger) students are social creatures. Recent studies suggest that fostering social behaviour and playfulness enhances the overall learning gains of students. We should not punish our students if they appear to be having fun!

Preparation for the College and University experience

Most students agreed that participating in online learning environments now better prepared them for the college experience where online learning environments have become ubiquitous at the college and university level.

Rubric for Online Participation

From the thesis paper, below I have included the Implications for Practice and Future Directions for Research:

Implications for Practice

As the digital divide closes and technology becomes more accessible and more stable, a greater number of teachers will be challenged to explore online communication as an alternative learning environment to supplement and augment the classroom experience. Some schools are already moving to a blended learning model as a cost-saving measure. As more schools are moving to a one-to-one laptop approach, it may be soon that many teachers will be expected to use this model. Facilitation and guidance will be needed by those teaching pioneers who are now making the move to blended learning and experimenting so that they can share practices that are safe, effective and engaging for the students.

High school students are a different breed than the adult learner and these differences will have to be highlighted and noted so that the instructional design of a blended approach may be optimized. Clear presentation must be made of the expectations of good netiquette practices and appropriate use of language at the outset of an online learning unit. The teacher should establish a clear presence in the online unit by offering encouragement and prompting to the students’ posts (Salmon, 2000). While feedback about this aspect of the online environment was minimal, it could very well be a very important element to the success of the use of an online environment.

Students will need to know that the online environment is a safe, sheltered area where they may share their ideas and opinions without fear of flaming, bullying or visibility by online predators. Sociality between the students should be fostered and promoted unless the students are tending toward off-topics responses (Kirschner, 2004; Shank, 2004). Again, this is another important element to online learning which should not be overlooked. In this instance, the students had already established good relationship practices within the classroom which clearly carried over to the online learning environment. Teachers need to be aware of the quality of relationships within the classroom context to better prepare for how that may transfer over to the online learning environment.

Future Directions in Research

With the rapid expansion of the use of social computing tools such as blogs, wikis and open-source learning management systems by K-12 schools, there is a great need for documented studies of what contributes to the academic effectiveness of such web-based environments. These online shared spaces provide affordances (Kirschner, Martens, & Strijbos, 2004) that take learning outside of the time and space of the classroom. In these environments, students have an opportunity to have an equal voice within the class and teachers have an opportunity to foster community-building and collaboration between students (Hewitt, 2001).

While many teachers are sharing their experiences of using these social computing tools informally through blogs and forums, there is a need for more rigorous academic studies of these educational practices so that it can be demonstrated that these practices are indeed beneficial for the students and to present best practice approaches.

The students who participated in this study overwhelmingly were in favour of study strategies and skills to be taught at all the levels of high school; however, it is in this educator’s opinion, that it is rarely included in the curriculum of any subject at any level. School administrators and teachers endorse the development and promotion of self-regulation and metacognitive skills yet rarely seem to provide concrete learning units in which to apply them. Online learning environments may just be the area in which these skills may be developed because of their ability to record and store data over large periods of time so that they can be accessed and used as artifacts of reflection and development of skills over time.

As mentioned earlier, it was disappointing, yet understandable, that the students who had been diagnosed with the most profound learning difficulties were the ones who participated least in the study and were willing to forfeit any marks associated with the unit of study. For teachers who want to use online learning environments, this presents a challenge. With the capacity of broadband and storage growing so quickly, greater use of other multimedia tools, such as flash-based screencast tutorials, video and audio files, will be permitted, which will bring added effectiveness to multiple learning approaches in online course work. The design of online learning environments which can address differentiated learning styles, including those students who do not express themselves well in written form, also requires further research and study.

Works Cited:

Hewitt, J. (2001). From a Focus on task to a Focus on Understanding: The Cultural Transformation of a Toronto Classroom. In T. Koschmann, R. Hall & N. Miyake (Eds.). CSCL 2: Carrying Forward the Conversation. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 11-41.
Kirschner, P.A., Martens, R. & Strijbos, J.W. (2004). CSCL in Higher Education? In J.W. Strijbos, P.A. Kirschner, P.A. & R. Martens (Eds.). What We Know About CSCL: And Implementing it in Higher Education. Norwell MA: Kluwer. 3-30.

Kreijns, K. & Kirschner, P.A. (2004). Designing Sociable CSCL Environments. In J.W. Strijbos, P.A. Kirschner, P.A. & R. Martens (Eds.). What We Know About CSCL: And Implementing it in Higher Education. Norwell MA: Kluwer, 221-243.

Salmon, G. E-Moderating, the Key to Teaching and Learning Online. London: Kogan Page, 2000.

Shank, Patti. (2004). New Social Interaction Tools for Online Learning, Posted on ITFORUM on December 28, 2004. Retrieved July 17 2006, from http://it.coe.uga.edu/itforum/