Critical Humanism and Online Learning: Using Discussion Boards as a Means of Production

Critical Humanism and Online Learning: Using Discussion Boards as a Means of Production

Arturo Rodriguez, Matthew David Smith, Kevin Russel Magill
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8286-1.ch004
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This chapter is an attempt to personalize online education. Across the writing, the authors use discussion boards, a means of inquiry, to offer students a space where shared experiences might foster deeper connections to subject matter. The concern for learning is how to design instruction to encourage critical learning opportunities in online environments for all students. A departure from traditional online delivery of instruction, they considered how to plan teaching to support student critical thinking in the expression of their ideas. Throughout this chapter, they discuss how critical theory/pedagogy informed practice in promoting self-awareness and critical consciousness among students.
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Discussion boards are often intimidating impersonal teaching spaces; instructors use them to maintain student focus on material covered during face-to-face sessions and as is increasingly the case via delivery of curricula in online teaching. On university discussion boards (Blackboard, WebCT, CANVAS etc.) students are required by their instructors to submit their impressions covering material from instructor lectures, current class readings or other educational experiences. The exchanges between students and instructors are digitized prompts lacking the human component to learning, that is, support for the risks involved in submitting what students believe or understand about the material.

Meaning and intent often become victims of the virtual void. In an electronic exchange, be it chat room, email or discussion board, students may not read the expressions instructors would normally use during face to face conversations. Missing also is the tone a person uses in communicating excitement, joy or anxiety. Lost in the digital translation are the unique ways humans communicate, the real-time spontaneity created by face-to-face communication. Implied here is the loss of the personality of a contributor: we do not see facial expressions and miss the tone a person ordinarily adds to their voice; what we have to interpret are the characters a person uses to convey meaning. The instant a message is sent out we are locked into the statement which the student or person who receives it may or may not understand affecting intention, meaning and recognition.

The personal commitment of a mentor and friend, a critical element to a student’s wellbeing and success, is often the difference between whether or not a student becomes an engaged and active participant in the class or simply shuts down. Indeed, as Goodlad (1984) argues, the distance and coldness of impersonal pedagogy frequently lead to students’ disengagement from academic life. As Rancer, Jordan-Jackson and Infante, (2007) also claim, the interpersonal connection is a key component in message reception and conveyance. It is the interpersonal affirmation and connections drawn between students and instructors that ignite their and our passion for learning. This study is an analysis of on-line pedagogy and student responses or reception as I (Arturo) supported their learning using a discussion board during a Master of Education course. To make discussion boards more than sites with which to exchange ideas we submit the following: 1) Freirean/Socratic problem posing/problem solving to elaborate discussions between my students and myself to drive engagement, clarity of focus and critical understandings. 2) Our position includes a critical framework for constructing meaning: we are authentic and reflexive in on our practice, committed to student involvement, social justice and personal and intellectual development of students. 3) Use of Critical Humanist framework/Curriculum (Magill & Rodriguez, 2015) in facilitation of reflexive praxis within potentially limiting virtual space.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Epistemology: The study of knowledge and belief.

Reflexive: Relating back to the self. Awareness of one’s role in a given experience.

Social Constructionist: A theory of knowledge that examines the development of jointly constructed understandings of the world that form the basis for shared assumptions about reality.

Consciousness: The state of being aware of one’s historical and social situation.

Vita Activa: The division of labor in human activities of labor, work, and action.

Culture Worker: Becoming an authentic part of a given culture and applying it to teaching and curriculum by taking in all community activities to create an educational experience with the community to understand the community, self within the larger world.

Case Study: A form of research wherein a real or hypothetical situation is explored from a particular theoretical framework and the complexities of the situation are uncovered and analyzed.

Public Pedagogy: Analysis of cultural education, public space, popular culture, public intellectualism, and political struggle for citizenship in and beyond schools.

Humanism: Philosophical tradition that encourages, accelerates, and celebrates human agency and achievement.

Ontology: The study and analysis of the state of being in the world.

Pedagogy: The marrying of theory and practice in education.

Praxis: One’s participation in or exercise of a certain art, science, skill.

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