Alignment of Technology with Pedagogical Purposes During Online and Blended Course Design

Concurrent Session 6
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

This paper explores the decision-making process during the construction of an online teacher professional development course. The analysis revealed repeated attention to the underlying pedagogy and the process of aligning pedagogical structures with technological affordances. Such alignment is essential for harnessing the potential of online and blended learning designs.


Bohdana Allman is an adjunct instructor in the Teacher Education Department at Brigham Young University where she has been working since 2000, assisting with research, developing materials, and teaching a variety of college-level courses to teacher candidates and in-service teachers as part of the TELL (Teaching English to Language Learners) program. Bohdana is currently working on her Ph.D. in Instructional Psychology and Technology at Brigham Young University. She holds M.A. in TESOL/Linguistics and B.S. in Human Development from Brigham Young University. Her interests focus on effective pedagogical practices and potential applications of sociocultural theories of learning to online and blended environments.

Extended Abstract

The Topic of the Session

In response to pressures for providing more flexible and cost-effective solutions, teacher educators across the world are bringing about a variety of innovative technology-mediated online and blended approaches where teachers can actively engage in learning on demand and at their pace. Collaborative online technologies make involvement in participatory rather than content-driven teacher professional development (TPD) experiences increasingly possible. These new technologies have a potential to offer pedagogically intriguing electronic apprenticeship tools that allow for a variety of learning interaction and supports as well as opportunities for virtual instructional conversations where new meanings and insights can be co-constructed (Dede et al., 2009; Harasim, 2017; Hrastinski, 2009). However, inconsistent attention to underlying pedagogy during design, development, and implementation may be at the center of online and blended designs falling short of their full instructional potential. The surface features of presentation and delivery are typically the main focus of the design and development process. Only limited attention is paid to the underlying pedagogical structures and strategies that enable the achievement of learning outcomes (Graham et al., 2014). Instructional designers typically identify learning outcomes, connect them with performance-based assessments, and develop learning activities using available technology tools. But they may underestimate the need for overall strategic orchestration of desired results, assessment evidence, and instructional methods with intentional use of technology to bring about a deeper understanding of the content and support transfer of knowledge and practices. 

Attention to pedagogy is increasingly becoming relevant in the field of online and blended instructional design. Researchers are articulating instructional models for online and blended learning that are based in our understanding of how people learn with technology attending to pedagogical principles in a variety of ways based on their philosophical and theoretical stance (e.g., Anderson, 2011; Garrison & Vaughan, 2008; Harasim, 2017; Kirschner & Merrienboer, 2008; Picciano, 2017). For online and blended designs to reach their potential, designers need to identify and attend to the core attributes within the pedagogical layer leading to the learning outcomes of interest (Graham et al., 2014). Purposefully aligning pedagogical structures and strategies with presentation and delivery features and related affordances of the design should be considered (Bowers, 2008; Graham, Henrie, & Gibbons, 2014). It is no longer viable to select technology tools merely based on popularity or the latest trends. Diverse technology tools can be effectively employed in a variety of ways, but only when technology is aligned with underlying pedagogy and used for clear pedagogical purposes. 

This paper presents a self-study of practice that closely examined the process of designing and developing a fully-online instructor-facilitated TPD course grounded in sociocultural practices. The purpose of the study was to reflectively explore the process of creating a course template and uncover the dynamics of aligning technology with pedagogy within the course design with the goal to better understand and improve those practices. Inquiry into the design process was guided by the S-STTEP (self-study of teaching and teacher education practices) methodology (LaBoskey, 2004; Pinnegar & Hamilton, 2009) within a larger design-based research project (McKenney & Reeves, 2012). The interrogation was self-initiated, self-focused, improvement-aimed, and collaborative. Data consisted of nineteen approximately one-hour-long collaborative conversation recordings analyzed in detail. Data was analyzed using constant comparative qualitative analysis techniques (Corbin & Strauss, 2008; Ryan & Bernard, 2003). Closely examining decisions made during the design and development process, and identifying patterns within the data led us to reflectively evaluate assumptions and knowledge underlying those decisions and recognize that the emerging design, as well as the structures and processes we see in the data, manifest our collective knowledge, assumptions, and overall theoretical orientation. Our collaborative conversations pushed our individual understanding beyond what we would ordinarily see in isolation and enabled us to examine a variety of multiple perspectives and theories outside our typical comfort range in a safe circle of critical friends. It was the cross-disciplinary expertise of each individual within the unique coming-to-know process of self-study that allowed us to negotiate robust solutions and a gain deeper understanding of the processes involved in aligning pedagogy with technology during designing online TPD course grounded in sociocultural theory.

Main Findings

The analysis of collaborative conversations revealed relevant interrelationships of main themes and uncovered a consistent pattern of alignment of pedagogy with technology within the context of this study. Attention to tasks was identified as a central theme of the alignment process. The context of the phenomenon was represented through two dimensions, pedagogy and technology. Tasks, methods, and strategies were always discussed either with attention to identify underlying pedagogical intents (pedagogy) or with a goal to enact these pedagogical intents related to a task in an online setting taking advantages of affordances of available technological tools (technology). This finding is clearly related to the attempt to align pedagogical and physical design layers, as suggested by Graham and colleagues (2014). It is also related to the iterative process of a systematic alignment between learning task affordances requirements and the affordances of available tools proposed by Bowers (2008) and a similar process for aligning the learners/educator needs and the affordances of selected technological tools proposed by Antonenko, Dawson, and Sahay (2017).

Themes related to how the alignment is carried out highlighted the importance of pedagogical thinking as part of the design process under study. When reviewed, the core components elements paralleled Schwab’s four commonplaces of curriculum making (1971) of the subject matter/curriculum/task, students, teachers, and the milieu or setting. This indicates that it is essential to consider all four core components not just when designing an extended curriculum but also as part of designing individual tasks for online courses. Identifying core methods and core strategies as key themes related to how the alignment occurs point to the importance of identifying core attributes as an essential step in aligning physical and pedagogical layers (Graham et al., 2014). Although the physical layer features related to presentation and delivery of instruction (i.e. available technological tools and related affordances) are important, it seems that it was attending to the core attributes of the pedagogical layer and related structures (core methods and strategies) that enabled the alignment and take advantage of available technologies in a purposeful way.

As part of the analysis, we identified a conceptual pattern of pedagogical intent as the driving element guiding the process of alignment of pedagogical and physical design layers. The concept of pedagogical intent elaborates on Graham and colleagues’ (2014) idea of core attributes and is defined by attention to its key elements as a careful and repeated consideration of the intended learning experience for a specific learner in a specific context. A conceptual tool to guide the alignment process and is defined as careful consideration of how the intended learning experience should emerge for the learners in a specific context. Identifying core methods and strategies that facilitate these intended learning experiences is also an essential part of the process enabling purposeful alignment of content, activities, and tools with available technological affordances.

These findings recognize the importance of attending to underlying pedagogy, which seems to support design and development of online and blended instruction. Identifying the pattern of pedagogical intent allowed us to more purposefully attend to its individual elements and attend to underlying pedagogy when we were deciding on how we want certain learning experiences and task to turn out in a technology-mediated environment. Attending to pedagogical intent, rather than just focusing on learning objectives and outcomes, provided a means for developing a more pedagogically-driven and learner-oriented design and allowed us to purposefully utilize available technology tools to meet the identified pedagogical needs. It is yet to be determined whether this process of identifying core attributes and aligning physical and pedagogical layer during design actually supports the achievement of learning outcomes as the course design is implemented.

Description of the Presentation

This paper session will present findings with specific examples of the alignment process. The audience and presenters will work together to unpack the ways in which pedagogy and technology can be aligned in a variety of learning designs across different contexts. Participants will walk away with an understanding of a step-by-step process of aligning technology with underlying pedagogical purposes useful in designing effective online and blended learning experiences.