Serial Killers

A couple of years ago, Laura McLay had a post in her blog entitled “On Vampires and Stochastic Processes.”  Nice bit of reflection on the statistical possibilities of vampires.  What surprised her was the number of hits her blog had afterwards.  It seems a good provocative title can draw in numbers of readers.

Soooo…be interesting to see if my hits increase (or maybe the NSA / FBI will just pay me a visit…). :-)

But this post has nothing to do with the latest James Patterson or Jeffrey Deaver novel.  It has everything to do with whether real learning is occurring in my online classes and the online classes of the faculty members with whom I consult, given that I have bought in to and used for years the concept (or “framework”) of Community of Inquiry.


Thanks to some research by our graduate fellow, we all read this week for our continuing conversations around the Community of Inquiry a 2003 article from Pawan and others entitled “Online Learning: Patterns of Engagement and Interaction Among In-Service Teachers”, as well as a 2013 article by Garrison and Akyol entitled “Toward the Development of a Metacognition Construct for Communities of Inquiry”.  Even though one was 10 years old, I had not previously read either, so I found them interesting.  I am continuing to question some of my basic assumptions regarding my own online teaching, which has always relied heavily on shared dialogue, first in discussion boards, and more recently in wiki-based discussions and blog posts and commenting.

Pawan’s article noted that without the explicit guidance and teaching presence of the instructor, students in the asynchronous discussions engaged primarily in “serial monologues” – presentations rather than conversations, with minimal effort to connect what they are saying with others.  Jeff Nugent stated it eloquently when he said that after a decade of asynchronous discussions, the standard in most online classes was “monologues masquerading as dialogues.”  The Pawan article looked at the interactions within the dialogue in three online classes, and found that discussions do not automatically become interactive and collaborative simply by virtue of being in a web-based 24/7 asynchronous medium.  While they found some discussions to stay on task, many were often one-way serial monologues.  Using the Practical Inquiry model, they found that online discussions were primarily focused in the first two phases of Trigger and Exploration, rarely rising to the levels associated with more critical thinking of Integration and Resolution.  In fact, they found no resolution responses in any of the three courses they examined.

Last week, I asked if inquiry equaled learning, and the Practical Inquiry model would seem to suggest that resolution is the ultimate goal of learning.  So, given my reliance on discourse and collaborative learning, would serial monologues and lack of resolution suggest that little learning occurred in my online classes?

I would like to think that I am a better “teacher” than that…

bright2In fact, I do routinely use the recommendations suggested by Pawan et al to structure online discussions and demonstrate overt instructor facilitation.  I have not however routinely required my students to self-code their responses, as Pawan suggested.  Interesting idea.  Yet I fear that my reliance on dialogue has simply facilitated serial monologues in too many of my classes.  Like the dinosaur to the left, I fondly remember some wonderful learning situations, but I also should admit that I have allowed many students to game me and game the system.  They dutifully post the required post, “comment” to the required number of classmates, and move on to the next class without really digging deep into the learning that could occur.

And if I allow some of my students to “get away” with serial monologues, am I guilty of poor teaching?

Do we need to kill the serial monologues?  Should I become a serial killer?

As I pondered this provocative thought, we continued our conversation today, circling back around to a more holistic view that learning in online classes comes from the whole and not just from a week to week discussion.  Online courses have to have multiple methods for assessing student learning, with dialogue being simply one facet of the course.  The second article by Garrison and Akyol actually had some interesting ideas around student self-assessment of their own knowledge of cognition, monitoring of cognition, and regulation of cognition.  It has me thinking about ways I could have students in online courses do more to assess their own learning, to think more about their thinking.

Now the question becomes, where does resolution occur if not in the dialogue?  Which led Jeff to raise the follow-on question – where is the RESEARCH about where resolution DOES occur in online classes?

That will be our starting point next week.  If anyone has good suggestions on research (inside or outside the CoI body of work) that points to how students resolve inquiry, please share it!

{Graphics: izquotes, Larry Gonick}



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Does Inquiry Equal Learning?

Our team continues to explore the theoretical framework of Garrison and others known as the Community of Inquiry.  As Karen Swan, Randy Garrison, and Jennifer Richardson note in “A Constructivist Approach to Online Learning: The Community of Inquiry Framework,” the CoI framework is “a process model of online learning.”


Swan goes on to say that this framework assumes that effective online learning, especially higher order learning, requires the development of community, and that the development of such a community is not a trivial challenge in the online environment.

This had us asking ourselves such questions as:

  • Do we believe this underlying assumption?
  • What is “community”?
  • How does a “community of inquiry” differ from other types of communities, including more social communities?
  • Does this focus on “inquiry” actually enhance learning?  Is there research to support this?
  • Should this framework form the basis for faculty development for online instruction?  Are there alternative models?  What research suggests the adoption of one model over another?

I have to admit that our discussions shook some of my core beliefs, because the Community of Inquiry framework has informed my online teaching for at least the past decade.  My colleagues have heard me categorically state that community is critical, that developing a community of learners takes effort, and that through my work with my students, I get to know them at a far deeper level…and draw out of them far deeper inquiry.

But where is the proof?  I have done few studies on my own students, and I have perhaps read with rose-colored glasses the work done by others…many articles of which seem to have as their genesis the team surrounding Randy Garrison.  Where indeed is the proof?

We spent some time differentiating between “community of inquiry” and a social community.  Within online learning, a CoI can certainly have social presence, but that does not necessarily equate to “friending” everyone in the class.  Rather, due to the textual basis of most online courses, design must take into consideration opportunities for open communication between students and with faculty.  Students need to “see” their fellow students and their instructor as real people…and fellow learners.  The “social” has more to do with developing trust between participants than it does with finding soul mates.

As an aside, for me there is a danger in this conversation…that of swinging so far away from the social aspects of learning that we also slide the “fun” out of learning.  Our students are adult learners, and particularly at the graduate level, pretty focused on outcomes.  They want to understand why they are doing something as much as they want to understand what they are doing.  But that does not mean – to me – that the process of learning cannot be enjoyable and sharable.  One reason I have gravitated to the use of blogs in my teaching is the enjoyment I have and that I perceive from my students as their thinking is made visible and shared.

Our team conversation moved around to metacognition.  If, as we noted last week, cognitive presence is rooted in the Practical Inquiry model, with social presence and teaching presence as drivers. then how do we as faculty make this process clear to our students?  Would having a metanarrative, or overarching conversation about our learning model, help adult learners better understand and succeed within our online design?  The adult learning theories from Malcolm Knowles would certainly suggest this.  Knowles identified six principles of adult learning:

  • Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
  • Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences
  • Adults are goal oriented
  • Adults are relevancy oriented
  • Adults are practical
  • Adult learners like to be respected

This to me is foundational…and given this, it suggests that in my work with faculty, I should assist them in considering how they might have this narrative with their students…given the online environment with both its challenges and its affordances.  I see the CoI framework as a reference model, not a recipe – a thought posted by Harold Jarche.  He noted that “A reference model is an abstract framework consisting of an interlinking set of clearly defined concepts produced by an expert or body of experts in order to encourage clear communication.”

Next week, we will continue our discussion on metacognitive educational elements, using as a basis for our conversation a 2003 article from Pawan and others, as well as a 2013 article by Garrison and Akyol.  Still working to make sense of this all…but it certainly is driving my deeper thinking, and for that, I thank my good colleagues in the Center for Teaching Excellence!


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Cogitating on Cognitive Presence

Our team study group continues to meet weekly to explore the Community of Inquiry framework.



As mentioned last week, we have all read Randy Garrison’s 2011 Second Edition of E-Learning in the Twenty-First Century.  Garrison asserts in his book that the framework has been researched enough to be called a theoretical framework.  We are still pushing back a bit on that, but reviewing the literature is interesting.   We have a collective Zotero library on CoI with some 17 articles to date (most contributed by our graduate fellow, Laura – much thanks!).

Our conversation yesterday focused my thinking around the particulars of the relationship between Cognitive Presence and the Practical Inquiry Model, which Garrison explores in Chapter 5.  Garrison noted that practical inquiry dates back to Dewey’s writings on reflective thinking, and that practical inquiry is closely aligned with critical thinking – a desired outcome of any educational process.

practical inquiry model

Practical Inquiry Model (Garrison, Anderson & Archer, 2001)

As we talked, I was finding myself somewhat befuddled by the discourse, so I said let me draw it out on the board.  I ended up with the familiar Venn diagram, but with the four aspects of practical inquiry – trigger event, exploration, integration, and resolution – residing within Cognitive Presence.  Others then began to morph the drawing, with some suggesting a fluid animated vision or shifts of the circles for gears…with social presence and teaching presence as drivers for cognitive presence.

CoI and PIM combined

Searching around my laptop as the conversation continued, I found an article of interest published by Karen Swan, Randy Garrison, and Jennifer Richardson in 2009 – “A Constructivist Approach to Online Learning: The Community of Inquiry Framework.”  In this article, Swan and team lay out a table with the three presences, categories within each, and indicators.

CoI Categories

CoI categories and indicators; (Garrison & Anderson, 2003) – from Swan et al (2009)

Swan noted that much of the literature to date had focused on the role played by each presence rather than a holistic look at the interplay of all three together.  She noted that not only does the influences shift between them, but they also shift over time within a course and beyond a course.  The “learning” might kick in two to three courses later as continued integration and resolution occur.  This idea fit with our discussion.  In an online course, a blog post and resulting commentary for instance could be evidence of social presence, cognitive presence, and teaching presence all interacting together.

We are going to continue to tease this out in our discussion next week, with everyone reading the Swan article.  After the discussion yesterday, I found another article from the good people in the SUNY Learning Network.  In “Learning Presence: Additional Research on a new conceptual element within the Community of Inquiry framework“, Peter Shea and eight colleagues suggest that “learning presence” should be incorporated into the existing framework, adding the element of learner self-regulation to the mix.

Shea revised CoI

Shea et al Revised Community of Inquiry model including “Learning Presence”

Laura noted that she had seen more recent articles that pushed back on this concept…so we have some additional research to do for next week!

Speaking of next week, I have signed up for another MOOC on Creativity, Innovation and Change.  Looks promising…and I like that they have three levels of involvement – Tourist, Explorers and Adventurers.  I plan to achieve at least Explorer…and may rise to Adventurer! I understand that more than 100,000 have signed up…and the map of participants is exciting!

Stay tuned for more on that!  Any thoughts on this Community of Inquiry reflection are welcome!


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Does Research Inform Teaching?

According to a new infographic shared by Paul Corrigan of Southeastern University, the answer is NO.

In “Grow the 8%“, Paul cites research that suggests that only a quarter of higher education professors use something other than lecture as their primary method of instruction, and only 8 percent of faculty take into account the research on teaching and learning.  The surveys by Fink and Bok are somewhat dated, so I wonder in this post-Web 2.0 world if these figures are still as accurate?

In our own work with faculty, we surveyed faculty that had completed a one-year institute with us on online teaching and learning.  57% self-reported that they had reviewed research studies on online teaching and learning.  This could suggest that once faculty members are sensitized to the value of research, a more significant percentage than 8% continue to use it.

Paul’s bottom line suggestion is that faculty members should read at least one good book on teaching and learning each year, and he lists some good books.  As I have frequently reviewed books in this blog, I would tend to agree with his recommendation!

I would be interested in your thoughts.  Do you agree with Paul’s findings?



{Graphic: Teaching & Learning in Higher Ed}


Rethinking Pedagogy

beethamIn my last post, I discussed how I was rethinking some fundamentals based on our White Paper.  “Rethinking” must be in vogue.  Yesterday, I received my copy of a new edition of a book edited by Helen Beetham and Rhona Sharpe – Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age: Designing for 21st Century Learning (Routledge, 2013).

I am only a couple of chapters in so far, but I am finding it interesting.  First, all of the authors are either UK or Australian, giving a perspective that is not so USA-centric.  With England’s Open University and Australia’s unique distance program for the Outback, this perspective is worth giving a listen.  When I first started to teach online eighteen years ago, one of my mentors was Dr. Lindsay Barker, an educator from Australia.  And Lindsay was decidedly focused on pedagogy…not technology…though he was one of the first to help conceptualize using a brand new product – Lotus Notes – as a VLE.

I like the tone of this book.  The authors suggest that the theoretical concepts remain valid, but that pedagogy (which they broaden beyond youth to include adult learning) is tied to technologies of learning, and as these technologies evolve, the pedagogy should as well.  One comment that caught my eye in the Foreword was:

“…At the time of the first edition [2007], learning technologists were insisting that there was more to online learning than lectures on the web, and we should be looking to the active forms of learning that could be offered.  Since then, we have had the explosion of social media to connect learners to each other, there are more opportunities for user-generated content, and yet now there are even more lectures on the web…”

How true is that!?!?!

In rethinking pedagogy, the authors have attempted to use the term in the classic sense of guidance-to-learn.  They note that recent researchers have suggested that “learning” is superior to “teaching” but they make no apologies.  They note that there has always been content – whether that was the local library or the internet, but that most learning opportunities are enhanced when the learning is guided.  “Pedagogy is about guided learning, rather than leaving you to find your own way.”  So the teacher is front and center in this book.

Chapter 2 by Helen Beetham focuses on active learning in technology-rich contexts.  She noted that challenges facing online educators include recognizing the variance in learners and adapting to this variance rather than teaching to one level.  She suggests five types of learning activities appropriate for digital technologies:

  • Discovering
  • Developing and Sharing Ideas
  • Solving Problems, Developing Techniques
  • Collecting, Gathering, Recording, Editing
  • Working with Others

bloomspyramidShe includes a useful appendix that provides a taxonomy of digital literacy tied to Bloom’s Taxonomy.  For each level of the taxonomy, she provided examples of learning tasks with a digital literacy component, and relevant tools, applications, or services.

For instance, under Remembering, she suggested labeling diagrams, locating resources on the web and tagging them, and taking quizzes.  Tools included online whiteboards, electronic polling, and Google.

Moving up to Analyzing, she suggested activities where students identify patterns, using visualization apps or geotagging.  She also suggested the use of blogs for public debate around issues with links to evidence, as well as the use of mind-mapping software.

At the level of Creating, she suggested student generation of research projects, design of apps, or the creation of new communities of practice, using social media and web design software.  She noted that some have decried the “cut and paste mentality” of students, but she sees real value in guided tasks of aggregation, using techniques such as digital storytelling to have students make sense of their collections.  My colleague Bud Deihl would love that!

As I said, I am only two chapters in … so I have another fifteen to go.  But I am enjoying this book.  Be interested to hear from any others reading it.

[Graphics: Routledge, Samantha Penney}


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Roundtable Discussion on Assessment

Last week in GRAD-602, Jeff Nugent led an exploration on assessment.  We noted that a distinction can be made between learning for mastery versus the traditional approach that typically leads to sorting and sifting students.  This provided a segway to the evening’s focus on formative and summative assessment.

Assessment WordleIn class, we brainstormed ways in which we have experienced assessment within our disciplines, and tests, quizzes, papers and performance observations were the traditional practices that came to the surface. These forms of assessment, while very important, are often the only means used in teaching for demonstrating what students are learning. They are audits of learning.  What is often overlooked, or given less consideration, are assessment techniques that are aimed at improving student performance and understanding about “how” they are learning. This latter type of assessment, sometimes called formative, provides learners with important feedback about how they are learning and how they can improve what they are doing. This kind of assessment is not an audit of learning, like a test or quiz, but rather an approach to assessment that values learning as an iterative process of growth through loops of practice, performance, and feedback. As Jeanette noted, formative assessment allows students to fail forward.

To illustrate these two notions, Jeff modeled a traditional approach to learning with a quick lesson on “the montilization of Traxoline.”  No talking was allowed, instruction was delivered in a jargon-heavy manner, and then rote memorization was assessed without determining understanding.

The alternate model involved a classic physical science exploration of mass, weight, volume, and displacement with the floating ice cube problem.  A problem was explained, understanding was diagnosed, opportunity was provided for discussion, and prior knowledge was surfaced and made visible using Poll Everywhere.  This process would allow an instructor the opportunity to adjust her or his instruction to ensure mastery.

Our classes only last 100 minutes, and so we (as always) were left with feelings that we did not discuss all that we desired.  So, we sat down around my office table this morning to record another podcast.  In this session, Jeff, David McLeod, and I discuss aspects of power that arise from assessments, the problem with assessing higher order thinking with multiple-choice tests, and dip our toes into the idea of tests as “objective” measures.


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Impact of Prior Knowledge on Teaching

In our GRAD 602 class last week, we spent some time surfacing our students’ beliefs about learning.  As Laura noted in her blog, we “dabbled in the classic ‘See one, do one, teach one.'” From there, we then discussed some of the work of John Bransford on How People Learn, as well as the opening of John Medina‘s presentation on Brain Rules.  Lastly, we showed a section of the documentary A Private Universe, which asked recent Harvard graduates to explain the reason for the seasons.  Twenty-one out of twenty-three incorrectly stated (with conviction) that the reason for the seasons was due to the earth being closer or further from the sun, rather than the tilt of the axis and direct versus indirect sunlight.  The documentary pointed out the strong impact of prior knowledge driven by exaggerated pictures in elementary school textbooks of the earth revolving around the sun in an ellipse rather than a circular orbit.

Orbit Drawing

It was obvious as time ran out that we had made our students uncomfortable.  We hope to move this Thursday into some of the reasons for that discomfort, but it gave us a starting point for this week’s podcast:

{Graphic from ProProfs Flashcards}


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A Conversation on Risk Taking by New Faculty

Flickr CC/NC/SA

It’s Spring Break here at VCU, so no GRAD-602 class this week.  However, as Jeff Nugent, David McLeod and I are all here this week…and since the Open VA Conference was cancelled due to a March snow storm, we decided to have another podcast conversation.

Last week in our class, our students discussed a case study around a new faculty and his integration of technology into teaching.  During the class and afterwards in the blogs, a number of students noted that they would not take “such a risky behavior” as trying new ways of teaching in their new job. For instance, one student said, “After reading this case, I was like “Wow, this dude is pretty ballsy!”  I would be scared to do anything this big my first year whether it’s a tenured positions or not.”  In the comments, another said that having students blog was “a radical move”.  We heard similar points in class.

That got Jeff, David and I thinking, and this conversation ensued…

Thoughts?  Reactions?

{Image Credit: kyz}

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A Conversation on Learner Autonomy and Compliance

Sat down with Jeff Nugent and David McLeod, my co-teachers for GRAD-602, to discuss the tension between learner autonomy and learner compliance.  This is planned to be the first in a series of podcasts we three will do for this course.  Good discussion around power, roles, self-directedness, and learning-centered students.

Note: The Skeptical Goat made an appearance….

Spring 2013 GRAD-602 Underway

Again this spring, Jeff Nugent, David McLeod and I will be co-teaching GRAD-602 – Teaching, Learning and Technology.  For the first time, we have chosen to run the course in the open rather than using the traditional Blackboard LMS.  Our course website is here.  We have 26 graduate students with us for this learning journey, as well as a former student who wishes to remain engaged, and all will be blogging throughout the course.  You can engage their commentary here (and are invited to do so!).

NOTE: If any of your teaching graduates would be interested in weekly blogging along side our students, let me know so that I can add their blog to our Netvibes portal.

To gage perceptions about educational technology at the start of class, we conducted a pre-course survey.  The responses from 92% that responded were as follows:

Note that challenging students to reconsider their values had mixed results.

Like the values question above, mixed reviews on teaching about higher ideals or issues.

A quarter of the class thought using digital technology in meaningful ways to support learning was “less important”.

A mix of agreement and disagreement over the extent to which there is a crisis of relevance in higher education.

Asked about other roles not mentioned, comments included creating lifelong learners, instilling love of knowledge, and developing critical thinkers.  One metaphor that was interesting was that teaching was similar to an underground newspaper.

The responses were for the most part pretty predictable for a class of masters and doctorate students.  The two items that students found least important were in thinking about their role as teacher, the degree to which they should challenge students to reconsider their values or teach about higher ideals.  “Values” is a value laden word…so it would be interesting to dig deeper and see what some meant by this.  Are disciplines so fact-based that there is little room for interpretation?  Do questions about values and ideals fit with questions of relevance?

I hope some of our students feel free to comment on this blog…and as the semester unfolds, I suspect questions similar to these will surface again.  The first class was a delight – with excellent discussion around the room.  I look forward to the semester unfolding!

{Survey co-developed with Jeff Nugent and David McLeod}