Facilitating Student Interaction and Collaboration in a MOOC Environment

Facilitating Student Interaction and Collaboration in a MOOC Environment

Stein Brunvand (University of Michigan-Dearborn, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9743-0.ch001
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Abstract

Collaborative learning facilitates the clarification of ideas, provides access to peer-feedback and promotes the sharing of diverse and alternate perspectives (Stacey, 2007). Guardia, Maina and Sangra (2013) identified collaborative learning as a key design principle for MOOCs and the interactions facilitated through this kind of learning are often considered to be as valuable as the direct instruction provided by the teacher (Stewart, 2013). This chapter explores a variety of technologies and pedagogical approaches that can be employed in a MOOC environment to promote collaboration and student interaction. Benefits and drawbacks of these strategies are considered in order to help guide decisions about the instructional design of MOOCs.
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Introduction

When Lev Vygotsky (1978) first posited his theory of socially constructed knowledge it isn’t likely he was envisioning a day when 100,000 students would sign-up for a single Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) (Breslow et al, 2013). Yet Vygotsky’s findings on the social nature of learning can directly inform the design of MOOCs and the opportunities to collaborate inherent within these types of learning environments. MOOCs are intended to emphasize socialized learning and promote peer-to-peer interactions through different forms of social media and technology (Conole, 2013). This is particularly true in the design of connectivest MOOC courses or cMOOCs (Milligan et al, 2013), which adhere to connectivism (Siemens, 2006) and social constructivism (Vygotsky, 1978) theoretical guidelines.

The theory of social constructivism suggests that, “knowledge is generated through social intercourse” (p. 3, Kanuka & Anderson, 1998) and that the construction of this knowledge is ongoing as social interactions persist and evolve (Young, 1998). Online learning environments such as MOOCs add a new layer of complexity to the social construction of knowledge because of the fact that online communication is often mediated through text rather than in face-to-face, synchronous settings (Gunawardena, 1995). The lack of non-verbal cues can make it difficult to interpret tone, inflection and emotion, which are all characteristics that would be present in a face-to-face interaction. In addition, learners must negotiate the technological interface of their learning environment, which can impact their ability to successfully construct knowledge (Hillman et al, 1994). Siemens (2006) offers an alternative theory to social constructivism known as connectivism, which posits that, “learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements” (p. 3). Within the framework of connectivism, learning is dependent upon the correct information or knowledge being connected to the appropriate people or learners at the right time. This theory seems tailor made for the online environment where vast amounts of information is available by the click of a mouse and that informational landscape is being continually updated and revised.

At the core of both social constructivism and connectivisim is the notion that learning exists when individuals collaborate to share ideas, engage in problem solving, brainstorm, produce artifacts and wrestle with difficult concepts. Collaborative learning facilitates the clarification of ideas, provides access to peer-feedback and promotes the sharing of diverse and alternate perspectives (Stacey, 2007). Guardia, Maina and Sangra (2013) identified collaborative learning as a key design principle for MOOCs and the interactions facilitated through this kind of learning are often considered to be as valuable as the direct instruction provided by the teacher (Stewart, 2013). This chapter explores a variety of technologies and pedagogical approaches that can be employed in a MOOC environment to promote collaboration and student interaction.

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