From my prior knowledge and experiences, I understand the fundamental role relationship building plays in supporting student learning and engagement. As explored through humanistic and social learning models such as Dr Martin Brokenleg’s Circle of Courage framework, Alan McLean’s 3 A’s of Motivation and Vygotsky’s social-cultural theory, interacting with others is a vital part of the learning process – promoting open communication channels between students and teachers and creating an interactive space allows students to fully immerse themselves in their learning. Further, as argued by Garret Dickkers, “social presence is an essential literacy for cultivating emotions and relationships that enhance overall learning experience” (2018).
However, before diving into this week’s readings and activities, I had a limited understanding of the different types of learning interactions and how meaningful social interactions could be designed and effectively integrated into an online and open learning format. What factors need to be considered when learning occurs through an avenue that is not face to face?
Social Interaction in K-12 Online Learning
In the Handbook of Research in K-12 Online and Blended Learning, Garret Dickkers states that while the importance and necessity of social interaction is widely recognized, there is currently limited research on the topic as well as a lack of emphasis placed throughout the instructional design process within open and online learning.
Out of the three types of interactions which support learning (learner-instructor, learner-learner and learner-content), learner-instructor and learner-content have been used more frequently, and proven to hold higher educational and motivational value in improving grades and disposition towards course content. On the other hand, learner-learner interactions, which are also central to online learning design and important for group/peer socialization, are often supported far less. With collaborative activities and experiences, different learning needs must be considered.
Addressing the challenges associated with learner-learner interactions is essential for successful learning and relationship building to occur. Garret Dickkers recommends using Universal Design for Learning (UDL) guidelines to assist with supporting all learners. In addition, offering multiple pathways through a differentiated approach is critical component in supporting student choice and autonomy.
Moreover, Garret Dickkers suggests following the ‘social presence model’ as a guide to create an effective, interactive learning space that is conducive to fostering collaboration, communication and connection between peers. The five aspects of the model include:
- Affective Association – how students and teachers show emotion online
- Community Cohesion – seeing the class as a community
- Instructor Involvement – how the instructor shows involvement in student learning
- Interaction Intensity – what ways and how often students interact
- Knowledge and Experience – what ways students share their prior knowledge and experiences with course content
Overall, a clear focus on facilitating learning through making connections and building a strong sense of community is key for fostering deeper learning regardless of the teaching method (online vs face to face). Framing one’s pedagogy around the importance of relationship building by being purposeful in design, incorporating interactive opportunities, broadening definitions of success, providing additional learner supports and proactively evaluating and revising one’s approach are some of the ways to create effective learning spaces online.
In terms of our class activities this week, I really enjoyed the asynchronous ‘icebreaker’ introduction activity on Coursespaces. While relatively simple, I appreciated being able to learn more about everyone and put faces to names as opposed to simply labels on a screen. I thought that this was an effective way to start building a sense of community even without being together in the same room!
In the future, I hope to learn more about different strategies for designing effective learning activities which help build strong student connections. In particular, I am looking forward to possibly curating a resource list of a variety of educational technology applications that aid in developing social presence for both online and open learning.
Garrett Dikkers, A. (2018) Social Interaction in K-12 Online Learning. In R. Ferdig & K. Kennedy (Eds.), Handbook of research on K-12 online and blended learning (pp. 509-522 ). Pittsburgh, PA: Carnegie Mellon University ETC Press.
Roberts, Verena. (2020, July 5). Topic 1: July 6-9 introductions, privacy, and human-centred learning. Edtech UVic. https://edtechuvic.ca/vroberts/2020/07/05/topic-1-july-6-9-introductions-privacy-and-human-centred-learning/