Technological Interventions: Examination of Social Exchange as an Antecedent to Academic Achievement in Online Learning

Technological Interventions: Examination of Social Exchange as an Antecedent to Academic Achievement in Online Learning

Sayyid Cato (Keiser University, USA) and Rehana Seepersad (Florida International University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9577-1.ch013
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This chapter examines online learning practices and related administrative concerns at a small college just outside of New York City where educators constantly seek to meet the evolving needs of learners. The learning environment consists of multiple factors that influence social exchange and academic achievement. Learning and consequently degree completion appears limited in part because there are insufficient avenues for self-expression, social connections, and communication exchange, considered antecedents to academic achievement. In this case study, the institution serves as the research site for identifying impediments to an effective learning environment, assessing current technologies in education, and identifying strategies that educators and administrators may implement as they actively enhance learners' academic engagement and achievement. The study presents an evaluation of the institution, its current practices, obstacles, assessment of risks, and recommendations toward conventions of traditional Learning Content Management Systems (LCMS) and organizational infrastructure.
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Through others, we become ourselves. ~Vygotsky


Introduction: Online Learning By Design

In contemporary society, Web 2.0 has become a pervasively used tool due to its expansive reach that connects learners from diverse locations, cultures, and learning spaces via an online learning portal. The term Web 2.0 describes the second generation of the World Wide Web that enables collaboration, and information sharing, in a more dynamic and organized manner (Solomon & Schrum, 2010). Online learning allows educators to efficiently achieve objectives that can easily take learners beyond formal operations and interactions, as they access virtual resources and formulate connections that can be relatively immeasurable.

The interactivity of online learning is helpful within occupational realms as students; often professionals, rely on this dynamic to interact with stakeholders (Dizik, 2010; Lint, 2013; Vuong, Brown-Welty, & Tracz, 2010), i.e., faculty, peers within various learning contexts, and other college personnel. Through these interactions, learning processes constantly change. Consequently, learners’ needs and expectations evolve; therefore educators must design and redesign objectives and instructional delivery methods to meet changing needs within the learning environment. Administrators as well need to be both thoughtful and creative as they design strategies for students to engage with those in the college environment who are able to scaffold them toward success (Lemke, Coughlin, Garcia, Reifsneider, & Baas, 2009; Solomon & Schrum, 2010).

Online learning environments are parallel to work teams in the real world since students, who are professionals in many cases, constantly exchange knowledge and expertise using the virtual classroom (Dizik, 2010; Harlow, 2006; Lint, 2013). The quality and depth of interactional relationships based on attention, mutual interest, support, reduced stress, shared identity and interpersonal comfort is known as social exchange (Lint, 2013; Richardson & Ice, 2010; Ugrin, Odom, & Pearson, 2008). In the online learning space, individual performance, and team success gives rise to collective synergies that further enable learners to exceed their personal potential. When comparing academic goals to relational outcomes, we see that learners are positively influenced by strong social exchanges. For some, exchange within the online learning environment serves as a mediator, and even antecedent to successful learning.

U.S. Department of Education (2013) data shows that over eighty two thousand students in the State of New York are enrolled exclusively online. For these learners the virtual classroom or LCMS in this case, becomes a workspace or collaborative environment where the dynamics of the workplace are learned, and practiced, in preparation for a career (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989; Merriam & Caffarella, 1999). Therefore while some students are employed at the time that they enroll, and come with some work related experience, many others have the opportunity to learn critical interpersonal skills and communication strategies within the online classroom or learning content management system (LCMS). As such, the learning space becomes a multi-faceted academic and career related construct in students’ lives. Holistically, interaction among all college constituents serve as antecedent factors that contribute to an effective learning environment (Watkins & Marsick, 1993) that enhances academic success.

In this case study, social exchange (Bandura, 1977; Homans, 1961) and the Zone of Proximal Development-ZDP (Vygotsky, 1978) within the context of social learning (Piaget, 1995) form the conceptual framework for students’ experiences using the LCMS. The LCMS is neither flexible, nor versatile as it only provides interaction between teacher and student via simple discussion forums (Rodrigues, Sabino, & Zhou, 2011), and as such, interaction at College X is restrictive. Learners are limited because there are insufficient avenues for self-expression, social connections, or communication exchanges.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Academic Achievement: A current challenge facing both private and public post-secondary institutions, measured based on students’ successful completion of a two-to four-year degree program. There continued to be a concerted effort to enhance college completion rates nationally although students are struggling academically because they are juggling multiple jobs, families and educational responsibilities due to economic need.

Learning Content Management System (LCMS): Virtual classroom, online workspace or collaborative environment employed as a vehicle for learning through which critical interactions and communication takes place. Effective use of an LCMS models the dynamics of the workplace in preparation for a career.

Integrated Interactions: The manner in which students engage with course content, new knowledge, and one another – meaning that students bring knowledge and experiences to the learning space, and should ideally share in an interactive, and critically reflective learning process among peers ( Merriam, 1998 ). Integrated interactions demand a deliberate effort to build learner-centered instructional content and designs.

Social Networking: “The practice of expanding knowledge by making connections with individuals of similar interests” ( Gunawardena et al., 2009 , p. 4) that may be used in an effort to engage learners in meaningful ways. Social networking is a fundamental route to enhance student academic engagement ( Lint, 2013 ). It should entail guided discovery, reflective activities, journaling, contextualized learning and other exercises that imbue learner-learner interactions of a transactional nature, allow higher order thinking through which meaningful learning occurs ( Garrison, 1999 ; Hirumi, 2002 ).

Zone of Proximal Development: “The distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers.” ( Vygotsky, 1978 , p. 86). The ZDP connotes the differential between what any learner can achieve alone in contrast to how much more the learner may achieve in collaboration with peers, i.e., actual performance versus potential performance.

Social Limitations: These are impediments that reduce the capacity for interactive learning that should otherwise be highly collaborative, and should enable real-life integration of experiences and employment of meta-cognitive skills via group or team projects so learners harness each other’s strengths ( Johnson & Johnson, 1996 ). Social limitations occur in part because of the inadequacies of any given LCMS and partly because of the lack of training of instructors or instructional design teams.

Online Learning Environment: The virtual learning space where students exchange knowledge and expertise using the virtual classroom. Effectiveness in this learning environment should include measures of quality and depth of interactional relationships based on attention, mutual interest, support, reduced stress, shared identity and interpersonal comfort. Here individual performance and team success gives rise to collective synergies that further enable learners to exceed their personal potential.

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