Destabilizing the Activity System of Online Teaching Through Critical Theory

Destabilizing the Activity System of Online Teaching Through Critical Theory

Victor C. X. Wang (Grand Canyon University, USA) and Geraldine Torrisi-Steele (Griffith University, Australia)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6086-9.ch003

Abstract

Despite the rapid and prolific uptake of online learning across higher education, the promised positive impact of digital technologies on the quality of learning has mostly failed to materialize. The need for change or reshaping of teaching practice in online environments is well documented, and there is much literature encouraging educators to exploit the affordances of digital media to provide rich learning experiences. However, efforts to affect the needed changes in practice are not very successful. In the present chapter, the authors adopt a framework of activity theory and integrate it with principles of critical theory and transformative practice to better understand why change in teaching practices in online environments has been difficult to realize. The authors also provide a theoretical framework that may be applied to driving change in online teaching practices.
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Introduction

Despite the rapid and prolific uptake of online learning across higher education, the promised positive impact of digital technologies on the quality of learning has mostly failed to materialize. While online learning serves well the purposes of efficiency and flexibility, there are many implementations that have not served so well the purposes of learning effectiveness. At best most implementations of online teaching are simply “stretching the mold” (Collis & Van Der Wende, 2002, p. 7). A few genuine success stories aside, the vast bulk of online learning fails to provide rich and effective learning experiences to students. Much of the online ‘experiences’ are no more than electronic page turning and a translation of traditional transmission approaches to the digital medium. The need for change or reshaping of teaching practice in online environments is well documented, and there is much literature encouraging educators to exploit the affordances of digital media to provide rich learning experiences. However, efforts to effect the needed changes in practice are not very successful.

Changing online teaching practices requires deep seated transformation in beliefs not only about the role of the teacher and the learning, but also about why technology is being used and how technology is mediating the interactions among teacher, learner, and course. As is the case for other sets of beliefs, belief related to online learning is the result of many factors including one’s own past experiences, and social expectations and norms. Thus, changing practice in online teaching is a complex process involving not only the individual but interaction with others in the social system. Of course, change in belief is not transformative unless the change manifests in activity. Such a view of change in online teaching aligns well with the core concepts found in activity theory. Hence, in the present chapter we adopt a framework of activity theory, and critical theory to better understand why change in teaching practices in online environments has been difficult to effect, and, we place emphasis on critical theory as a perspective that needs to be adopted in order to effect change in practice.

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