Designing Purposeful Student Interactions to Advance Synchronous Learning Experiences

Designing Purposeful Student Interactions to Advance Synchronous Learning Experiences

Courtney K. Baker (George Mason University, Fairfax, USA) and Margret Hjalmarson (George Mason University, Fairfax, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/IJWLTT.2019010101

Abstract

This article brings together the results of a self-study conducted by two instructors of the same course for mathematics teacher leaders in a synchronous online learning environment using the videoconferencing tool Blackboard Collaborate. The combined self-study focused on the authors' instructional decision-making and on their use of scaffolded discourse to create a collaborative learning environment for teacher leaders in mathematics education. Findings indicate that two specific interactions were emphasized to highlight student engagement within the course: student-student interactions and student-content interactions. Results challenge the perception of participation as engagement and suggest the value of creating purposefully planned learning opportunities to engage students in online synchronous learning.
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Synchronous Online Teaching & Blended Learning

Much of the online learning research literature focuses on asynchronous forms of interaction such as discussion boards, blogs or other tools that allow for discussion to occur, but which are typically text-based (e.g., Barab, MaKinster, & Scheckler, 2004; Dede, 2006; Tuapawa, 2016; Wang, 2007). In terms of non-text-based interactions, research using asynchronous video for discussion is emerging and indicates that it supports students' learning and engagement (Borup, West, & Graham, 2012). While the technology for synchronous online teaching is becoming widely available, there are limited research studies about teaching and learning in the environment (Starling & Lee, 2015; Yamagata-Lynch, 2014). Synchronous online teaching can include the use of tools such as video, audio, text-based chat features, breakout rooms and virtual whiteboards while using platforms such as Blackboard Collaborate, Adobe Connect or WIMBA (Shi & Morrow, 2006; Skylar, 2009). We define synchronous online teaching and learning to mean a learning environment in which students and teachers can interact in multiple modes simultaneously including audio, video, visual, and text-based modes of communication, interaction and representation. Similar to Laurillard's discussion of collaborative technologies, we ask “How do we ensure that pedagogy exploits the technology, and not vice versa?” (p. 6).

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