Strengthening the Conversation: Using Simple Protocols in the Classroom to Leverage the Power of Online Learning

Concurrent Session 6

Brief Abstract

Consider the benefits of connecting online and in-person conversations, and leave with a set of simple classroom protocols that leverage the learning power of online discussions.


Margaret Perrow is Associate Professor of Engilsh, with a focus on English Education, at Southern Oregon University. As director of the Oregon Writing Project at SOU, she also designs workshops and institutes that bring together K-12 teachers and pre-service teachers (MAT students) from a wide geographic area of southern Oregon.

Extended Abstract

Brief overview
This presentation will consider the benefits of connecting online and in-person classroom discourse, and provide participants with a set of protocols that instructors of hybrid or blended classes can easily implement, to leverage the learning power of online discussions.

Whether a course takes place completely online, or has a 'hybrid' format, online discussions and reflections are a common component. These discussions are often designed to give students a chance to construct understanding and extend their learning. Yet online discussions may suffer from students' perceptions that they are separate components or 'extra' assignments. Left to their own devices, students' responses to each other often remain on a superficial level: general expressions of understanding, agreement, praise, and so on that may reflect "remembering" or "understanding" (on Bloom's taxonomy of cognitive skills), but fall short of more complex levels of cognitive skill (e.g., applying, analyzing, evaluating, creating). Furthermore, monitoring and facilitating online discussions effectively, in order to engage learners in these higher-order thinking skills, is a time-consuming process for instructorsódisproportionately so, given that not all students always read all of a given discussion. In short, the power of online discussions as a social learning tool is often under-leveraged, or not leveraged at all.

Presentation description
Taking a social-constructivist view of learning and cognition, this presentation will first consider some pertinent research on online learning, drawing particularly on the concept of "community of inquiry" (Garrison & Archer, 2007). We will briefly explore foundational concepts such as "social presence," "cognitive presence", and "collaborative cognition" (e.g, Kuhn, 2015). The majority of this presentation will then be devoted to exploring what Garrison & Vaughan (2008) call the "teaching presence" in leveraging the power of online discussions.
"Teaching presence" is critical to ensuring that discussions (whether online or face to face) support students' higher-order thinking skills. That is, the way teachers structure and support the discussion begun in an initial online posting can stimulate subsequent responses and deeper conversations that encourage application, analysis, evaluation, and creation. "Teaching presence" is most effective when it plays the role of integrating "social presence" and "cognitive presence"; the intersection of online and in-person discussions provides a perfect opportunity for this to occur.
Effective discussions invite higher-level thinking skills in contexts that engage students socially and emotionally, corresponding to Bloom's lesser-known taxonomy of affective skills and attitudes. Effective discussion protocols, therefore, support students' participation in conversations so that they move beyond what Bloom (1973) termed "receiving," "responding," and "valuing," to more socially/emotionally demanding processes such as comparing, integrating, resolving, connecting, and extending ideas.
Accordingly, a set of protocols for structuring and integrating online and face-to-face discussions will be presented. These protocols take both the cognitive and the affective domains into consideration. The protocols are designed to strengthen the overall class discourse by leveraging online discussions in ways that ënudge' students into higher levels on Bloom's taxonomy of cognitive skills. Developed and implemented in the presenter's university courses (undergraduate and graduate courses in English and education), these protocols can be adapted across grade levels, institutional contexts, subject areas, and academic disciplines.

Goals and take-aways
Participants will be given a set of eight easily-implemented protocols for integrating online and in-person discussions. The protocols are adaptable across grade levels, institutional contexts, subject areas, and academic disciplines. Examples of student engagement with the protocols will also be provided. Presentation materials (protocols, examples, and resources) will be provided in hardcopy, and also made available on the conference website as a set of slides.
In addition, participants will leave with an enhanced understanding of the intersection of social, cognitive, and teaching presence as a useful framework for online or hybrid instructional design.