Building communities of learning

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Building communities of learning

  • Differences in community building strategies delivered by technology assisted instruction at the undergraduate and graduate level
  • Mark A. Hogan, Eastern Mennonite University
  • May 2003--CCCU Technology Conference


  • "In the real world, when people need to learn something…they tend to form work groups (practice communities), assign roles, teach and support each other, and develop identities that are defined by the roles they play in support of the group…learning results naturally from becoming a participating member of a community of practice." (Jonassen, Peck, & Wilson, 1999, pg. 117)

Background (continued)...

  • Tonnies ([1887 ]1957) speaks of communities, gemeinschaft, in three forms: relationship, locality, or place, and of the mind. In essence what I wanted to create was gemeinschaft of the mind brought about through interaction via online discourse.


  • Having students respond directly to each other, as members of this learning gemeinschaft was more important to me than having them respond to me as the instructor of the course

Constructivist environments...

  • Good internet instruction involves a shift from objectivist to constructivist views of learning…moving "the teacher from podium to sideline, from leader to coach, from purveyor of knowledge to facilitator of personal meaning making." DeNigris & Witchel, 2000, pg. 7.)

Constructivist instructional goal

  • Knowledge building, or intentional learning is about "actively pursuing learning as a goal. (Scardamalia, Bereiter, and Lamon, 1994)

Knowledge building

  • Knowledge building becomes a social activity, not a solitary one of retention and regurgitation. Technology plays a key role in knowledge building communities by providing a medium for storing, organizing, and reformulating the ideas that are contributed by each community member." (Jonassen, Peck & Wilson, 1999, pg. 118)

Knowledge building communities to learning communities…

  • "Learning communities can be fostered through communication, attention to differences, shared culture, adaptation, dialogue, and access to information."
  • (Jonassen, Peck, & Wilson, pg. 142.)

Purposeful interaction...

  • Goal:
  • Create learning communities within classes, via the use of Bb, by having students begin to place more emphasis on responding to each other and less “performing” for me...

Three courses as examples...

  • ED 242 Learning, Motivation & Assessment
  • 2nd year level
  • First in 6-12,PK-12 sequence
  • ED 452 Foundations of Education
  • Senior capstone course
  • PK-12, PK-6, 6-12 come back together for this course
  • Some have finished student teaching some just before
  • EDLA 613 Adolescent literature
  • Graduate level online course
  • Registered out of Lancaster (PA) campus
  • Practitioners from all over the country

Use of 6 factors that foster learning communities...

  • Communication
    • Initial, individualized communication
    • Posting of course announcements
    • Question posed to other members of the community

Use of 6 factors that foster learning communities...

  • Attention to differences
    • ED242
      • Answer three questions:
      • (1) What makes you unique or different from
      • another candidate who might teach your area?
      • (2) What strengths will you bring to teaching?
      • (3) What makes your content area different than
      • other content areas?
      • Activity: Social-walk around

Use of 6 factors that foster learning communities...

  • Attention to differences
    • ED 452
      • Activity: Introduce yourself to the class by telling
      • who you are philosophically, sociologically,
      • and historically.

Use of 6 factors that foster learning communities...

  • Attention to differences
    • EDLA 613
      • Post an educational autobiography on the course
      • website. Include in unique experiences you have
      • had as a practitioner. Also include a short list (5-8)
      • of books you remember reading as an adolescent.

Use of 6 factors that foster learning communities...

  • Shared culture
    • Common backgrounds
    • Similar interests
    • Common experiences
    • Interpretation of the groups’ shared knowledge example: ED 452 initial response assignment
      • After reading the entire classes’ posted critiques of Dewey’s work, what insight do you have about the class as a community?

Use of 6 factors that foster learning communities...

  • Adaptation
    • Learning to adapt to the needs of the group…
    • Continually posing the question: Why can I do in order to facilitate you learning?

Use of 6 factors that foster learning communities...

  • Access to information
    • Making the site viable
    • Web links
    • Review materials
    • Limit some material to site only
      • i.e. lecture enrichment notes

Use of 6 factors that foster learning communities...

  • Dialogue
    • Assigned responses
    • Establishment of home groups
    • Using the core values and principles for learning communities developed by the Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (1994) I was intentional in creating home groups that were "heterogeneous and collaborative.”
  • EXAMPLE: ED 242 Students were assigned home groups in which they were
  • instructed to interact. The instructor was a member of each "home group."
  • Group 1 - Lindsey Carrissa Zach Lisa Mark
  • Group 2 - Crystal Julie Peter Jen Mark
  • Group 3 - Nicole Reed Lydia Clint Mark
  • Group 4 - Steph Kevin Hannah Ashley Mark
  • Group 5 - Kristi Kari James Paul Mark
    • Model through posing questions online and posting my own thoughts, critiques

examples of Strategies used...

  • ED 452
  • 1. ANALYSIS of DEWEY (15%)
  • DUE: Analysis--January 13, 2003 (10%)
  • You will write and post on the web site a two page analysis of John Dewey’s work Experience and Education. The structure of your essay will be a comparison/contrast analytical paper in which you compare and contrast Dewey’s beliefs with those of your own.
  • DUE: Response Dewey Essays--January 20, 2003 (5%)
  • You will read the Dewey essays posted by the other members of the class. After reading their beliefs in comparison and contrast to those of Dewey write a one page analysis of the class beliefs as a "community of learners."

examples of Strategies used...

  • Bb writing #1 (to be done between Feb. 6-Feb.18)  
  • Interact with your home group (communication section) on the following question:
  • Based on the theorists we have studied and the approaches to learning which do you think lends itself best to your preferred style of teaching? (How you would teach in the ideal world?)


  • 2. BOOK CRITIQUE: (10%)
  • DUE: Critique -- March 12, 2003
  • You will write and post on the course web site a two page critique of a
  • book chosen from the books distributed on February 12. The critique
  • will focus on the relevancy of the author’s analysis to what you know historically and philosophically about American education.
  • DUE: Response to Individual Book Critique--March 24, 2003
  • Read the critique posted by your "reading partner." Write a one page
  • analysis of the book’s philosophical foundation compared with the
  • philosophical foundation of the book you read for class.


  • Review Bushman chap. 1 and the folders on adolescent needs found in the course documents section. Taking the selection that you chose to read for GRADE SEVEN discuss how the work shows the developmental needs mentioned in the above reading and folders
  • Read another class members response and give feedback on how your answers were similar and different.

What did I begin to see…

  • Student responses became personalized
  • James,
  • I agree completely that students need to make real world connections in order to learn effectively. When assignments ask students to learn based on abstract and seemingly unimportant scenarios it is often hard to distinguish what is important. In history, especially, there are many connections between current events and those of the past that a teacher can bring into discussions and lectures to make the lesson more relevant. It is a little more difficult in math, where abstract questions are often the norm. However, in my future classroom I hope to incorporate many of the same theories that you do, James, though in a slightly different context.
  • Peer learning is very important to me as well. It is crucial that a teacher realize that each student brings a unique perspective to the classroom and use this plethora of perspectives to his advantage.

What did I begin to see...

  • Students who were “voiceless” in class began to find their voice
  • Some students will say that Health is a hard subject to learn about, and for some it is. But I know that I will use different techniques to motivate. Things like group work, role playing, hands-on activities will hopefully work out for me. I also was in the dark on some of the issues that came up in the article. I know that I sometimes wonder if certain students can be motivated at all. But I think that important thing to remember is that every student can learn, and its our job as the teacher to find a way to motivate them to learn. In a PE environment I will use a few different strategies to motivate students. I am dealing with a bigger environment in which students will have to learn. At times it will seem "out of control" but hopefully I will be able to show my students that fitness is a essential part of who a person becomes.

What did I begin to see…

  • Sometimes students found ways to voice how they would like to be taught
  • I am a strong believer in encouraging students and giving them positive feedback. But if they are wrong, i am going to tell them that they are wrong, in a nice way of course. What i can not stand is those teachers who insist of trying to mutate what a student says into the right answer, even if it is completely wrong. They would say something like, "well i wasn't thinking of that, but i think you are on the right track", to someone who answered something completely wrong. The kid raised his hand to answer in front of the whole class, which takes guts sometimes. The least you could do is tell him if he or she is right.

What did I begin to see...

  • 2nd year level students wanted, and asked for, a rubric for their responses
      • 2 Response is direct to what the first writer answered and is interactive with own response and answer. Makes reference to shared knowledge from the text and other outside readings.
  • 1 Response is opinion, relying only on the response by the original author.

What did I begin to see...

  • I needed to model interaction and then back out
  • Strengths/Weaknesses (Weasel) student 1.  
  • Re: Strengths/Weaknesses instructor
  • Re: Strengths/Weaknesses student 1  
  • Re: Strengths/Weaknesses instructor  
  • Re: Strengths/Weaknesses student 2
  • By end of course the interaction was the following pattern:
  • Racism (Sula/Words by Heart) student 5
  • RE: Racism student 9
  • RE: Racism student 10
  • RE: Racism student 2
  • RE: Racism student 14
  • RE: Racism student 5
  • RE: Racism student 14
  • Re: Racism student 2
  • Re: Racism student 10
  • Re: Racism instructor
  • Re: Racism student 1
  • Re: Racism student 14
  • Re: Racism student 7
  • Re; Racism student 9
  • Re: Racism student 4
  • Re: Racism student 9
  • Re: Racism student 6

What was I beginning to see…

  • Graduate students from private schools shared differences then public counterparts
  • YA lit has the potential of getting students outside of their myopic self-indulgence to see the world and themselves in a newer way.
  • In a Christian Living class we were looking at what it means to be a Christian. To stretch the students minds I had the students read "Why I am not a Christian" by Bertrand Russell. Russell's speech delivered to a secular audience is not an example of YA literature, but it did turn the students thoughts from their own biases to a position of an apologist. Students stated that they were angry at the words spoken against their beliefs by a professed atheist. YA lit has the capability of striking a nerve in many of the students.
  • The students will be reading Fleischman's book "Whirligig" in this Christian Living class and relating their own encounters with grace or second chances to their faith as it develops through the semester as well as choices and consequences. Providing students with opportunities to examine their own lives in an objective fashion has the possibility of getting students out of the boat into risk taking. In this class we also provide an opportunity to get a taste of homelessness in an experiential learning opportunity called, "A Night to Remember." Having students become "other-directed" is my encouragement toward positive youth development.

Analyzing differences…

  • Students in ED 242 (2nd year undergraduates)
    • Needed more specific direction to interact--for many it was the first time that required (especially visible) interaction was expected
    • Students initially were still “performing” for the instructor
    • Requested rubrics for interaction
    • Students began to find their individual voices

Analyzing differences...

  • ED 452 (senior capstone course)
    • Student in-class interaction jumped quickly and was sustained the duration of the class
    • Communication via Bb to each other went beyond the assigned response expectations
    • Requests (by the students) increased for more lecture summaries, web links, practice exams
    • Requested responses be non-graded and continued

Analyzing the differences...

  • EDLA 613 (graduate online course)
    • Commented in course evaluations that they liked the way the instructor backed off and let them interact freely
    • Asked for the website to remain open after the course ended so they could continue to interact
    • Integrated online responses into own lesson plans
    • Requested more online courses to be delivered

Questions which arise…

  • Is the establishment of the learning community (mediated by technology) developmental?
  • Does “practice in the profession” create a cultural context that allows for more free flowing interaction?
  • Does a course completely online allow for the learning community to develop more quickly than a hybrid course?


  • Content and context must blend in order for the learning community to develop
  • Less restrictions as to how and when to respond allows for more interaction
  • Learning communities must be developed at the onset of a course
  • Intentional design, by the instructor, must include community building activities

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