by Josephine Ryan and Anne Scott - in Science Direct, Teaching and teacher Education 24 (2008) 1635 - 1644
This article relates specifically to pre-service teachers and their use of online discussion tools to support a blended learning approach, in their professional training university years. The article refers to an extensive study and focused on the use of online discussions as learning tools for these teachers. The specific content of the discussion posting were around literacy-base pedagogy.
It is obvious how the findings of this study can relate to the main conversations in this blog, even if we are dealing mainly with ESL needs and instructors finding their way to use technology to meet these needs. For this brief summary and comment of the article I will focus on summarizing the reading and trying to connect the findings with ideas that can facilitate the goal of ESL learners in their use of technology.
- The use of case-studies proved most effective in discussion postings. This is a finding that reiterates the importance of pedagogical approaches to teaching, more than influence of the tool used to teach. Even in ESL settings, especially in settings where instructors teach professionals with common experience backgrounds, the use of a case study becomes the ground to support, facilitate and nurture higher level thinking skills. This approach through the discussion postings tool allows learners to use the language in context and in meaningful ways. Naturally, with lower level of language instructor will need to consider and prepare higher levels of support as far as scaffolding goes. But the essential use of the tool remains the same: give students the opportunity to master their thinking skills through guided participation in discussion postings with a goal: reflect, analyze and learn from case studies.
- Discussions become the "think aloud" places in online learning spaces. This refers directly to one of the straightforward advantages of online-based education: make use of the extended classroom spaces and times to let students voice their thoughts. And by using the written word, students can reflect and modify their ideas until they believe they are ready to be shared. A default side effect of this action, if completed on a regular basis, is the fact that students will practice writing skills in context.
- Perceptions of the tool influence its use. Over and over again we have witnessed through this informal literary review, that perceptions have a powerful presence on individuals, at all levels, in their use of technology tools. Encouragement, support, easy of use and accessibility will definitely mitigate more negative perceptions of a give technology, like a discussion tool, and have the potential to modify that perception. But the idea remains the same: positive perceptions directly affect the use of a tool and the level of commitment to stick with it. And often perceptions are based on previous experiences.
- While technology is beyond the control of the user (at times) the pedagogy behind the activities is still a matter of teacher's control and decisions. Instructors remain fully empowered in the decisions they make around activities completed with the use and support of online technologies. Sure, modifications are required and understanding of the tool and its potential is certainly important. However, the organization and the pedagogical basis for creating and structuring the activities remains founded in the pedagogy and not the technical aspects of the tool.
- If you use the discussion tools make the participation weigh in on the overall assessment of the course. Like all other instructional activities, participating in the discussion posting should be counted as grades in the final evaluation scheme of the course. While discussion postings have been identified in the article as: democratic spaces and avenues for telling personal stories (p.1639), a well structured and thought-out use of the tool is a fundamental element to its successful use in the course.
- Discussion moderation is also paramount for the successful use of the tool. This is a new territory for many instructors wishing to use this tool. We have established, along the reading reviews in this blog that online learning and teaching are usually highly demanding of one's time. Organization and knowledge of the tools support this need. monitoring and structuring the discussions in effective and efficient but also meaningful ways helps with the challenges as well.
- Suggested use of case scenario roles in discussion posting - the article suggested thee: The initiator, the researcher and the critic. Sharing these roles in groups of no more than five or six students seems to be a working effective strategy
The article overall validates many of the findings already discussed in this blog.