Herding Cats: Striking a Balance Between Autonomy and Control in Online Classes

Herding Cats: Striking a Balance Between Autonomy and Control in Online Classes

Donald N. Philip (University Of Toronto, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-878-9.ch018
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Teachers using online learning environments have found that traditional classroom control techniques do not work when applied online. Instead, other approaches need to be used. This chapter introduces the concept of knowledge-building as an approach that is effective in online learning, and the concept of protocological control as a means of controlling the communications networks that evolve during the learning process. Data from a study involving students in a gr. 5/6 hybrid (online and face-to-face) class are used to illustrate how the teacher controls the learning process when the students all work independently of each other. The use of social network analysis as a tool for visualizing the communications networks that form is demonstrated.
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Online learning is growing by leaps and bounds throughout North America. Christensen, Horn, and Johnson note that student enrolment in online classes has risen from forty-five thousand in 2000 to about one million by 2008 (2008, p. 98). Further, their extrapolations indicate that by 2019, fully fifty percent of U.S. secondary school classes will be online. Even if these predictions fall short, online education is positioning itself to be a potent factor in North American education.

One of the more popular and successful ways to conduct online learning is via the blended or hybrid class model (Palloff & Pratt, 2001). Such classes feature both live-class interactions in a traditional classroom, and online interactions through some form of online learning environment. However appearances are deceiving: such classes cannot be run in the manner of a traditional class, even though they may take place, at least partially, in a traditional classroom setting. Due to the asynchronous nature of online learning environments, traditional means of control of the learning process quickly reveal themselves as unworkable, and the teacher has to adjust to news ways of working. As Palloff and Pratt note, “Teaching in the cyberspace classroom requires that we move beyond traditional models of pedagogy into new practices that are more facilitative.” (2001, p. 20)

This chapter explores how one teacher in a Gr. 5/6 hybrid class manages the learning process in a through a combination of knowledge-building pedagogy (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2003b) and protocological control, a way of controlling networks (Galloway & Thacker, 2007).

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