At first glance, when I read the blurb on the three types of learner interactions I thought, “Yes, that’s the same as in F2F!” I may be very new to online, but I am not new to teaching. The elusive target of having a beneficial, productive, and engaging learner-learner interaction is the goal of every teacher because it is the epitome of “teacher smarter, not harder.” To allow the students to take the lead saves us time, bring in new, fresh ideas and perspectives, and keeps it on a level of interest pertinent to the students. That said, as most know I think, it is very difficult to accomplish. Getting students to participate, equally (or close enough), and getting them to produce insightful ideas can be a battle. I love, as any teacher would, when the classroom is rife with electricity and we are on a roll and they are grasping the concept and throwing out real world examples or analogies and then someone brings up a point I never thought of. Some classes this happens often. Others it is a battle to the last day. So, when I read about goals for learner interactions with online classes, I figure the obstacles would be the same.

Here is the breakdown of the types of learner interactions from the MOOC website:
The first, is learner-teacher interaction. Social media, and other forms of digital communication, have opened new ways for the learner and teacher to connect through meaningful online interactions. The teacher (or subject-matter expert) stimulates learners interest/motivation, presents, demonstrates, guides learners’ application of what is being learned, evaluates learners’ progress, and supports/encourages the learners.
The second type of interaction is learner-content. Learner-content interaction is when the learner interacts with the contents of the course. The online learner is isolated and by him/herself and learning is mainly self-directed.
The third type of interaction is learner-learner. Learner-learner interaction is between the learner and other learners with or without the instructor present. This type of interaction encourages open thinking, deep critical engagement with the topic and with each other, debate, analyzation, collaborative learning, and much more.

THEN, I read on and considered the benefits of an online discussion. I figured it would lack that energy–that “in the moment” buzz of when a discussion is flying in the classroom. And it might. I don’t know; I am not teaching online yet. But the benefits to an online discussion do seem plentiful. To be able to let EVERY student have time to think of something to contribute is a HUGE plus. Obviously in the F2F class, shy students have trouble speaking up and are often “steamrolled” over by overzealous or simply confident ones. It is nice to know that every one has to participate, they can do so at their own (within reason) pace, and I have a definite record of it. This record is also a huge boon. To be able to go back and “keep” the really insightful ideas that came up or to allow students time to produce links that showcase what they are getting it is simply awesome. Now, following all those links sounds like it will take up a lot of time–way more than confining a discussion to class, so I need to think about how to balance encouraging sensemaking artifacts and bringing in ideas, exploration, and links of their own with the practical binds of time.

The level of engagement, or opportunity for it, does seem so much better though I do worry a bit about “misleading” comments. What I mean is–students get to comment, respond, and review straight to one another–great. EXCEPT, it reminds me of when we peer-edit papers in class. I usually collect the peer-edited papers and then write my comments and edits straight on that same copy. This allows me to 1) see how well the peer-editor did and 2) correct any mistakes they “corrected.” Many times students will suggest something or correct something and it is either (technically) wrong according to the rules of grammar or kind of misleading and just adding more confusion to a student who is trying to focus their paper. I have even (only twice) had to correct Brainfuse because they edited something wrong and the student blindly followed it (hard to blame them) and then they got those grammar mistakes marked off on their paper…and they even had it correct in THE FIRST PLACE and changed it due to Brainfuse’s suggestion before turning their final in. Now Brainfuse is just one entity and a professional one. But say you receive 10 comments/critiques/corrections from your peers. Sometimes, too many comments–too many ideas–can be overwhelming. If students are really responding and commenting and helping with ideas and suggestions, then the student receiving those will really need to know which ones are actually helpful and which to disregard. Is that a real-life skill? Yes! Does that mean it is easy to do? No. I was trying to buy baby bottles recently and there are five gajillion choices, each with their own little tweaks, and with all these choices I have no idea which way to go. I just want three to choose from. Three to really look at and figure out. But how do I get to those 3 out of 5 gajillion?

I hope this is making some sense.

Anyway, here are MOOC’s reasons why online discussion boards rock. I am mostly posting it for my own record so that I can just check my own blog when the MOOC is done for things I liked 🙂
extending the time allotted for discussions beyond regular class time to allow for in-depth reflection on comments
requiring students to move beyond listening to a lecture, stating their thoughts, engaging in well-articulated argumentation and critical reasoning
allowing each student to participate and join-in the conversation, rather than one or two outgoing communicators in the classroom
providing an outlet for students to pose their questions and receive feedback from not only the instructor, but also other discussion board participants
allowing students to reference and bring external sources of information into the conversation (e.g., “according to this web site…”)
storing a record or archive of conversations for use by future classes, researchers, others
allowing discussions to include perspectives from individuals outside of the original class (i.e., one engineering class at Virginia Tech, one at Purdue, and one at Georgia Tech, all discussing the same topic, perhaps including two or three professionals working in the field)

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