Online Learning Conversations: Potential, Challenges and Facilitation

Online Learning Conversations: Potential, Challenges and Facilitation

Jakko van der Pol (Utrecht University, The Netherlands)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-654-9.ch008
OnDemand PDF Download:


This chapter aims to perform a thorough analysis of students’ online learning conversations. Although offering a high potential for collaborative learning, successful online learning conversations are not easy to realize. After discussing the specific challenges of conducting conversations in general, conversations- for-learning and learning conversations online, the author uses this investigation to discuss ways to effectively facilitate them. Van der Pol demonstrates, then, that the context-creating effect of anchored discussion can effectively address some of these difficulties by turning opinion-oriented exchange of ideas into a more meaning-oriented processing of material, while increasing communicative efficiency.
Chapter Preview


Imagine a teacher in higher education: a teacher with a progressive state of mind and an enthusiasm for social constructivist theories who is continuously trying to improve the learning of his or her students, but is nevertheless still struggling to create successful and sustainable social constructivist teaching practices in his or her everyday life. Especially when trying to fulfill the promise of Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL), this teacher may have trouble to deepen students’ learning processes and to maintain students’ initial levels of motivation and engagement after a fading first wave of technology-related enthusiasm. The needs and problems of this imaginary teacher are at the basis of the theoretical and practical issues I will report on in this chapter and they have determined its approach in four different ways.

First, in this chapter the use of CSCL is regarded as a means to reach a certain goal, and it studies CSCL with deep or effective learning processes of students in mind. As indicated by Säljö (2003), introducing technologies in institutionalized forms of learning has not always lived up to the initial expectations in reaching these goals. In response to this observation, Säljö proposes to abandon the question of whether new technologies can improve learning altogether, because learning does not become better or more efficient, just different. However, I think it is still worthwhile to investigate whether it is possible to enhance learning through CSCL and how this can be done. Not only do I think that educational research is not neutral when it comes to learning, I feel it also has a certain responsibility. As the positive expectations about the advantages of CSCL for educational practice have been partially responsible for its widespread introduction, I think educational science should also investigate whether and how these expectations can be realized. I continue to believe in the potential of CSCL for student learning, albeit depending on many related variables and conditions. I therefore propose to direct research towards studying how to shape and develop the different (specialized) uses of CSCL in such a way that their learning potential can be better realized.

Second, seeing CSCL as a means and not as a goal in itself, I will be aiming for something more than the mere presence of online interaction. Andriessen, Baker, and Suthers (2003) distinguish between learning from a certain dialogue and learning to conduct that dialogue. Although the second learning goal will usually need to be reached to a certain degree as a necessary condition for reaching the first, by itself it may not be sufficient. In order to justify the investments in students’ and teachers’ time and the efforts that are required, I feel that it is important that students’ efforts are directed as much as possible to activities that lead to and deepen learning, in relation to their content-related learning goals. As stated by Kirschner, Paas, and Kirschner (Submitted), it is important in collaborative learning to maximize the students learning-generating effort (or “germane cognitive load”) while minimizing the required interaction costs. In this way, it is possible to let students invest as much of the available effort as possible in the production of rich interactions.

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book:
Editorial Advisory Board
Table of Contents
Michael Sherman
Carla R. Payne
Chapter 1
Maria Luisa Pérez Cavana
Taking into account the complexity and multiplicity of constructivist theories, the first part of this chapter focuses on the relationship between... Sample PDF
Closing the Circle: From Dewey to Web 2.0
Chapter 2
Noel Fitzpatrick, Nóirín Hayes, K.C. O’Rourke
Constructivism has become the comfortable face of educational theory in recent years, due in no small part to the mainstreaming of learning... Sample PDF
Beyond Constriction and Control: Constructivism in Online Theory and Practice
Chapter 3
Barbara de la Harpe, Fiona Peterson
There is a strong move worldwide for a constructivist theory to underpin the way teaching and learning are viewed in today’s colleges and... Sample PDF
The Theory and Practice of Teaching with Technology in Today's Colleges and Universities
Chapter 4
Karen Swan, D.R. Garrison, Jennifer C. Richardson
This chapter presents a theoretical model of online learning, the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework, which is grounded in John Dewey’s... Sample PDF
A Constructivist Approach to Online Learning: The Community of Inquiry Framework
Chapter 5
Jennifer Lee, Lin Lin
Based on constructivist principles, this chapter provides a new instructional design map for online learning environments. This instructional design... Sample PDF
Applying Constructivism to Online Learning: A New Instructional Design Map
Chapter 6
Beth Rubin
Constructivist education usually involves authentic assessment, which is affected by the media used to teach. Information technology can enhance or... Sample PDF
Enhancing Authentic Assessment Through Information Technology
Chapter 7
Xenia Coulter, Alan Mandell
The adult college student, caught between the competing demands of work and home, has recently become a valuable commodity in today’s fast-changing... Sample PDF
Nontraditional Students and Information Technology: The Siren Call of the Virtual Classroom and its Impact on Progressive Educational Ideals
Chapter 8
Jakko van der Pol
This chapter aims to perform a thorough analysis of students’ online learning conversations. Although offering a high potential for collaborative... Sample PDF
Online Learning Conversations: Potential, Challenges and Facilitation
Chapter 9
Laura M. Nicosia
Contemporary educators have been reassessing pedagogical frameworks and reevaluating accepted epistemologies and ontologies of learning. The age-old... Sample PDF
Virtual Constructivism: Avatars in Action
Chapter 10
G. Andrew Page, Radwan Ali
The key idea that sets constructivism apart from other theories of cognition was launched about 60 years ago by Jean Piaget. It was the idea that... Sample PDF
The Power and Promise of Web 2.0 Tools
Chapter 11
Shalin Hai-Jew
This chapter examines some ways information technologies (IT) are deployed in higher education courses to help learners create robust mental models.... Sample PDF
IT-Enabled Strategies for Mental Modeling in E-Learning
Chapter 12
Roisin Donnelly
This chapter critically explores the design and implementation of a blended problem-based learning (PBL) module for academic professional... Sample PDF
Transformative Potential of Constructivist Blended Problem-Based Learning in Higher Education
Chapter 13
James G.R. Cronin, John Paul McMahon, Michael Waldron
Reception and use of information technology by lifelong learners within a “blended” learning environment needs to be articulated within a... Sample PDF
Critical Survey of Information Technology Use in Higher Education: Blended Classrooms
Chapter 14
M. Beatrice Ligorio, Nadia Sansone
In this chapter, the case of a blended university course will be described in detail. The main focus of this description will be on how some... Sample PDF
Structure of a Blended University Course: Applying Constructivist Principles to Blended Teaching
Chapter 15
Hwee Ling Lim, Fay Sudweeks
As educators utilize an increasingly wide range of technologies for facilitating interaction between distant learning parties, there are concerns... Sample PDF
Constructivism and Online Collaborative Group Learning in Higher Education: A Case Study
Chapter 16
Linda Lohr, Nicholas Eastham, David Kendrick
This case study describes how a constructivist theory of learning guided the design of distributed learning environment for a three credit hour... Sample PDF
Constructivist Strategies to Optimize Four Levels of Interaction in a Distributed Learning Environment: A Case Study
Chapter 17
Alessio Gaspar, Sarah Langevin, Naomi Boyer
This chapter discusses a case study of the application of technology to facilitate undergraduate students’ learning of computer programming in an... Sample PDF
Facilitating Students-Driven Learning of Computer Programming with Technology
Chapter 18
John Miller
A central component of constructivist pedagogy at the college level is the modeling and practicing of critical thinking, and since Socrates... Sample PDF
Designing Asynchronous Discussions to Teach Critical Thinking
Chapter 19
Mark H. Schulman
The challenges for Goddard College posed by 21st Century information technologies are their incorporation into, and reflection of, the foundational... Sample PDF
"To Be in Occasional Touch": Goddard College's Progressive Principles and Distributed Learning
Chapter 20
Carol R. Rinke, Divonna M. Stebick, Lauren Schaefer, M. Evan Gaffney
This chapter presents a critical case study on the use of information technology in a pre-service teacher education program. The authors integrated... Sample PDF
Using Blogs to Foster Inquiry, Collaboration, and Feedback in Pre-Service Teacher Education
Chapter 21
Michal Zellermayer, Nili Mor, Ida Heilweil
This chapter describes the learning environment that the authors created for veteran teachers, graduate students in Teaching and Learning who are... Sample PDF
The Intersection of Theory, Tools and Tasks in a Postgraduate Learning Environment
About the Contributors