1 of 5 17TH Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning

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1 1 of 5 17TH Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning Activities to Engage the Online Learner Rita-Marie Conrad, Ph.D. Assistant Professor Florida State University Ana Donaldson, Ed.D. Assistant Professor Northern Iowa University Nancy Nelson Knupfer, Ph.D. President Digital Horizons Introduction As course movement to the Web intensifies, effective instructional strategies that truly enhance online learning are increasingly needed. Leaders in the field of distance education, such as Draves (2000), Palloff and Pratt (1999 and 2001), Kearsley (2000), and Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, and Zvacek (2000), all agree that learner interaction is the key to an effective online course. Yet, how one moves from the traditional role of face-to-face instructor to online instructional coach and "Architect of Interactivity" has not been articulated clearly in the literature. The challenge facing online educators is to provide a bridge between the instructor s typical role and often-traditional classroom strategies to the new instructional role and pedagogical approach needed for effective online learning experiences. Engaging the learner in an online environment with interactive activities can be an effective solution. The history of education is filled with instances where students and teachers focused on student-oriented learning, so engaged learning approaches and the concept of the "teacher as facilitator" are not new. John Dewey recognized the importance of the learner and the supportive role of the instructor in this country about a century ago. The emphasis of Dewey's pedagogical theory was focused on the learner along with the learner s importance within society. Dewey valued the teacher as a guide rather than a leading force. Dewey had faith in teachers professional judgment to a degree equaled by only a few of his peers and rarely exceeded to this day (Tanner, 1997, p. 10). But the evolving technology has added a new twist to the pedagogical evolution. While the new media offers a wealth of opportunity, it is typically employed in a non-interactive mode that tends to focus upon online lecture, creating a digital correspondence course instead of an effective online learning experience. Engaged learning on the other hand, stimulates the learners to actively participate in the learning situation, and thus gain the most knowledge from being a member of an online learning community. Currently there is some emerging knowledge about engaged learning and many activities that employ the Internet, but there has been very little written about the importance of engaged learning in online situations. Neither is there enough information to help instructors move from their traditional role of delivering knowledge to a role that focuses on empowering learners to generate knowledge. Overview of Engaged Learning The constructivist view of learning asserts that learners' construct their own meaning and knowledge from the information they acquire. This differs from the traditional view, which assumes a teacher can "deliver" knowledge to a learner (Dwyer, Ringstaff, & Stadholz, 1990). Copyright 2001The Board of Regents of the 1 University of Wisconsin System.

2 2 of 5 17TH Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning In classrooms across our nation, students of all ages are discovering the benefits of an engaged learning approach to education, with the guidance of their teachers. The terminology frequently varies between locations, text books, and experts, but the concepts remain constant. Engaged learning, constructivism, problem based learning, and discovery learning all address the concept of student-focused learning within a teacher-facilitated environment. This approach yields knowledge acquisition that is focused on the evolving student needs and not on planned teacher-delivered lecture notes. To simplify discussion, the label engaged learning will be used as the term of choice throughout this paper. Piaget (1969) defined engaged learning (constructivism was his term of choice) as how we come to know our world. Knowledge is built upon prior experiences and there must exist a connection to the learner in order to be meaningful. Piaget believed that the accuracy of a response was less important than the lines of reasoning and assumptions that learners followed to reach a conclusion. So he developed a theory of developmental stages of intelligence (Piaget, 1952; 1969). Piaget believed that learners constantly try to make sense of the world and in so doing, construct hypotheses and generate knowledge. He had great influence on teachers of young children. It is important to realize that technology integration is a key component when discussing engaged learning. The history of education is filled with instances where students and teachers were focused on student-oriented learning, but today's pedagogical evolution has added technology to the equation. The chosen methodology for integrating technology into the classroom has been identified as "engaged learning" or constructivism (Wilson, 1996). The next evolutionary step of utilizing distance learning in an engaged learning setting has captured the excitement of many individuals in the field of education for both children and adults. Engaged learning is an instructional term that encompasses not only the principles of constructivism but also includes the concept of a problem-based learning environment. For teachers, an engaged learning approach involves modeling, reflecting, actively involving the students, and developing a community of fellow learners in reality-based scenarios. Engaged learning is a collaborative learning process in which teachers and students are partners in constructing knowledge while answering essential questions. This strategic approach includes setting goals, establishing timelines, creating authentic products, and assessing the process as well as outcomes. Why is Engaged Learning Essential within an Online Learning Environment? Something almost "magical" happens when technology is combined with teaching in an atmosphere of engaged learning and discovery. Repeatedly, we have seen the resulting student empowerment when technological tools are added to the classroom experience. Many people believe that successful technology integration requires an engaged learning orientation (Dwyer et al., 1990; Strommen & Lincoln, 1993; White, 1995; Wilson, 1996). The Internet has created a world where knowledge is dynamic. Information and resources are constantly changing, sometimes making textbooks obsolete prior to the first printing. In this environment of rapid technological change, a "stand-and-deliver" classroom approach will not meet the needs of our future citizens. While it is important to recognize that some information will remain stable, the volume of information and changing delivery options require astute care and attention. The society of tomorrow will be faced with a world overflowing with technological challenges and opportunities. Businesses are searching for individuals who can not only function comfortably in cyberspace but who also can work collaboratively with others in problem-based situations. An engaged learning approach offers the foundation for creating a population of "lifelong learners" and constructive problem solvers. Copyright 2001The Board of Regents of the 2 University of Wisconsin System.

3 3 of 5 17TH Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning Whether we are discussing a classroom situation or a distance learning environment, the paradigm is shifting from an instructional model to a learning model with the benefits being garnered by each participant. With this shift it is becoming increasingly evident that online courses which simply replicate lecture-style classroom environments also replicate the distance learning mistakes of the past. Online courses which do not employ engaged learning techniques often become digital correspondence courses in which learners feel isolated or quit, thus perpetuating a high dropout rate. Architects of Interaction in an Online Environment One of the biggest questions in the minds of most online instructors is: How do I engage the learners? Contrary to popular belief, simply utilizing discussion questions that focus on the content is not enough. A framework is needed to surround those questions in order to maximize the processing which occurs in those discussions. Engaging in Phases An engaged learner develops over time. In most cases learners are used to a more passive student role and need guidance and the opportunity to become more engaged in a learning environment. Learners move through four phases of engagement as described in Table 1. Movement through each of the phases is facilitated by the activity architect, the instructor. Not surprisingly, youthful students seem to adapt easier than adults to the engaged learning approach, most likely because we model what we have become accustomed to in life experiences. Table 1. Phases of Engagement Phase Learner Instructor Wee Process ks 1 Newcomer Coordinator 1-2 Instructor provides activities that are interactive and help the learners get to know one another. Expresses expectations for engagement in the course. Provides orientation to course and keeps learners on track. Examples: icebreakers, individual introductions, discussions concerning community issues such as Netiquette rules in the Virtual Lounge. 2 Interactive Structural Engineer 3-4 Instructor forms dyads of learners and provides activities that require critical thinking, reflection and sharing of ideas. Examples: Peer reviews, activity critiques. 3 Collaborative Facilitator 5-6 Instructor provides activities that require small groups to collaborate, problem solve, reflect upon experiences. Examples: content discussions, role plays, debates, jigsaws. 4 Initiator Community Member / Challenger 7-16 Activities are learner-designed and/or learner-led. Group presentations and projects. Discussions begin to go not only where the instructor intends but also where the learner directs them to go. Examples: Group presentations and projects, learner-facilitated discussions. Examples of Activities Copyright 2001The Board of Regents of the 3 University of Wisconsin System.

4 4 of 5 17TH Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning Designing and utilizing activities that are appropriate for the various engagement phases of specific learners can promote confidence and success and may even move a learner through the phase more quickly. Here are two examples of phase-appropriate activities: Phase 1 Example Exercise Title: One Thing that Describes Me Task: Introductory exercise at the beginning of a course Objective: To introduce a student s interests and background to others in the class Learner Instructions: Look around and find an object or a digital image that represents you, or your reasons for taking this course, or even something about your research interests. Post a digital image of your chosen object: a scanned image, digital picture, or a web-linked image (for example) in the discussion board. Explain why you chose the item. Your explanation of the posted object should include a brief description of your expectations of the course and/or the perspective you contribute to the learning community. After you enter your description, comment on the descriptions posted by at least two of your peers. Phase 3 Example Exercise Title: Task: Objective: Words Reflective exercise at end of course or a specific unit Provide feedback to the instructor and other classmates on the shared experience Learner Instructions: Take a few minutes to reflect upon your reactions to this week s class (or identified unit). What individual word or 2-3 word expressions come to mind? Enter each word or brief expression into the subject line of a discussion board thread. Post as many words or expressions as you can think of in a 5-minute period of time. This is not the time to analyze your input, just key and post. Wait 24-hours and review the responses of your peers. Choose one word or expression that "speaks" directly to you. Post a response to your peer and instructor explaining why this word has special meaning in defining the class experience to you. Summary Engaged learning does not simply happen. It requires architectural engineering by the instructor. Planning and utilizing activities that assist a learner in moving through the development phases of engaged learning ensures that learners are motivated and able to successfully interact, collaborate and eventually independently engage in an online learning environment. References Boettcher, J. and Conrad, R. (1999). Faculty Guide for Moving Teaching and Learning to the Web. Mission Viejo, CA: League for Innovation. Draves, W. (2000). Teaching Online River Falls, WI: LERN Books. Dwyer, D. C., Ringstaff, C., & Sandholtz, J. H. (1990). Teacher beliefs and practices part I: Patterns of change (Report No. 8) [online]. Available: apple.com/technology/proj/acot/full/acotrpt08full.htm Kearsley, G. (2000). Online Education: Learning and Teaching in Cyberspace. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning. Copyright 2001The Board of Regents of the 4 University of Wisconsin System.

5 5 of 5 17TH Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning Palloff, R. and Pratt, K. (1999). Building Learning Communities in Cyberspace. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers. Palloff, R. and Pratt, K. (2001). Lessons from the Cyberspace Classroom: The Realities of Online Teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers. Piaget (1952). The origins of intelligence in children. New York: International Universities Press. Piaget, J. (1969). The mechanisms of perception. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M. and Zvacek, S. (2000). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc. Tanner, L. N. (1997). Dewey's laboratory school: Lessons for today. New York: Teachers College Press. Strommen, E. F., & Lincoln, B. (1993). Constructivism, technology, and the future of classroom learning [online]. Available: construct.htm White, C. (1995). The place for technology in a constructivist teacher education program [online]. Available: Wilson, B. G. (1996). Constructivist learning environments: Case studies in instructional design. Engelwood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications. Biographical Sketches Dr. Rita-Marie Conrad is an online faculty member at Florida State University. In this role she is responsible for managing the delivery of web-based courses on topics such as online collaboration, learning theories, and the design of web-based instruction. She also consults on the design and implementation of distance learning courses, manages technology-related projects, and provides educational technology consulting and training to K-12 teachers and higher education faculty. Rita recently co-authored the well-received Faculty Guide to Moving Teaching and Learning to the Web available at address: Phone/Fax: (850) Dr. Ana Donaldson is an Assistant Professor at the University of Northern Iowa and an educational consultant providing workshops to instructors that provide guidelines and practical strategies for effectively using technology to apply the principles of engaged learning within today's classroom. Ana has also taught classes in Instructional Technology for Northern Illinois University and has been a contributing author and multimedia developer for the North Central Regional Education Laboratory. In addition to her years of classroom experience in creating web supported learning environments, she is a published author and international presenter. address: Phone: (815) ; Fax: (815) Dr. Nancy Nelson Knupfer is an experienced professor of Educational Technology, classroom teacher at all levels of K-12 education, and adult educator for the military, corporate and government settings. She has served on the Board of Directors of several professional organizations and as President of the International Visual Literacy Association. Nancy has been a professor at both Arizona State University and Kansas State University. She currently is editor of the Journal of Visual Literacy, and is President of Digital Horizons, a company that employs technology for educational purposes. address: Phone: (517) ; Fax: (517) Copyright 2001The Board of Regents of the 5 University of Wisconsin System.

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