An Inquiry Into Creating and Supporting Engagement in Online Courses

An Inquiry Into Creating and Supporting Engagement in Online Courses

Robin Hummel (Bank Street Graduate School of Education, USA), Genevieve Lowry (Bank Street Graduate School of Education, USA), Troy Pinkney (Bank Street Graduate School of Education, USA) and Laura Zadoff (Bank Street Graduate School of Education, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5085-3.ch022
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This chapter focused on the challenge to build an interactive online environment based on a progressive pedagogy that puts the student at the center of the learning. The authors grappled with the question, How do instructors transform discursive dialogue into generative discourse? Helping students understand what it means to engage in discourse is part of this challenge and it is not separate from building an understanding of content. They are interconnected and interdependent. Online learning, like on campus learning, requires purposeful experiences in which learners are able to negotiate meaning and reflect on what they have learned. The authors set out to discover how to create the structures that support active engagement. It was their understanding that through the learning environment they created, they would model and define how to engage in the discourse of the discipline. In exploring this understanding, the authors offered the distinction between participation and engagement.
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Progressive Pedagogy

As Bank Street College of Education seeks to keep pace with the demand for digital access, it does so with the intention of remaining aligned with its progressive values of advocacy, voice, and social justice. In preparing educators at Bank Street College who work in various settings, the authors have a prevailing commitment to creating innovative communities where students are inspired to learn about constructivist theory and apply this knowledge to their craft. Social constructivist theory (Vygotsky, 1978) posits that new learning grows out of prior knowledge and interactions with others. As students interact with classmates and instructors, they expand their understanding of both the new and the familiar.

Setting the stage for a robust and generative learning community, the authors turn to the founder of Bank Street, Lucy Sprague Mitchell (n.d.). Over a century ago, she wrote that education is the opportunity to build a better society. In the Bank Street credo, Mitchell wrote that in educating children, teachers, and ourselves, educators wanted to see “lively intellectual curiosities that turn the world into an exciting laboratory and keep one ever a learner,” and “flexibility when confronted with change and ability to relinquish patterns that no longer fit the present” ( The authors believe that learners need to actively engage in interactions with teachers and peers in order to learn.

Nager and Shapiro (2007) wrote that Bank Street programs emphasize the development of teachers, integrating “processes of thinking, feeling, doing, and reflecting” (p. 7). This conceptualization is known as developmental-interaction, a pedagogical approach rooted in developmental psychology and progressive education. Shapiro and Nager (2000) explained:

[D]evelopmental-interaction…was named for its salient concepts: the changing patterns of growth, understanding, and response that characterize children and adults as they develop; and the dual meaning of interaction as, first, the interconnected spheres of thought and emotion, and, equally, the importance of engagement with the environment of children, adults, and the material world.

This coherent philosophy focuses on human development, interaction with the world of people and materials, building democratic community, and humanist values. It has an explicit purpose: to educate teachers and children within an educational frame which brings together concepts from dynamic and developmental psychologists, and progressive educational theorists and practitioners. (p. 5)

The developmental-interaction approach sees cognitive development as inseparable from the growth of personal and interpersonal processes (Nager & Shapiro, 2007). In the last few decades, understanding of learning has evolved, moving educators from a transmission approach to teaching toward learner-centered environments (Meier, 2015). In an online environment, we must not abandon this shift in our understanding of how students learn.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Democratic Environment: A learning environment in which all voices and ideas are heard regardless of the speaker’s position in that environment.

Learner’s Stance: To take a learner’s stance is to position oneself as a learner in order to think deeply and creatively about one’s own practice. It is to authentically embrace one’s own disequilibrium, acknowledging that there is always more to learn.

Student Voice: A student’s ideas and thoughts are central to the evolution of the learning and curriculum. Student voice can be expressed both collectively and individually, and plays an essential role in the development of the course.

Humanist Teaching and Learning: Teaching and learning that is characterized and based on the humanist values of dignity and the pursuit of knowledge.

Interactive Courses: Courses based on a principle of student engagement, which requires a balance between student and teacher voices. Students and teachers are equally engaged in learning.

Reflective Practice: The approach to teaching where educators create intentional opportunities for thinking critically about their practice and their own learning with the purpose of continually growing and developing their pedagogy.

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