Online and Engaged?

Is there a way to have an interactive, online environment? I have heard from many that the constructivist approach cannot be taught via online learning. I have found this statement to be false. I will give you my experiences and then link to several sources that not only support the idea of constructivism online, but provide empirical evidence that online discussions can be BETTER than F2F discussions.

I have discussions in most of my online courses. I use the discussion boards to a greater extent in Chemistry and Society and Introduction to Forensic Science. Both of these courses lend themselves very well to the online DB.

This is what I have found:
1. Students are more willing to engage in debate and discussion online than in the classroom.
2. All students contribute to the discussion.
3. Students have time to reflect and research when engaged in an online discussion.
4. I have the ability to reach out to all students online either privately through email or publicly through a DB post.
5. Students are more willing to share their opinions and ideas online.

Not surprisingly, these findings are also cited in the literature. MacKnight (2000) supports the use of online discussions to promote critical thinking. “With the availability of online discussion and presentation tools, faculty can engage their students in a wide range of activities that can contribute to intellectual growth” (MacKnight, 2000, p. 38).

As I have experienced, online discussions can be more robust than in the F2F setting. “Discussing topics online, asynchronously, can be just as beneficial (if not more) as traditional, synchronous, in-class discussion” (California State University, 2009, p. 1).

“The majority of students do not want to participate in classroom discussions” (Maurino, 2006, p. 3).

“A larger proportion of students participate (online) and they appear to do so more often than in the (F2F) classroom. This increased interaction could be caused by any number of factors. Among them would be the fact that most instructors require online participation in threaded discussions and enforce penalties for non-participants. Further, students may feel more of a need to connect to other students and the teacher due to the nature of the online environment. Increased interaction may be an effort to counteract the potentiality for misunderstanding caused by transaction distance” (Maurino, 2006, p. 3).

Reflection is the key. Many students don’t “think on the fly”. They need time to think about ideas, research different points of view, and draw conclusions. In a F2F environment, students (and the instructor!!) don’t have this time. In order to teach students to think critically, we need to teach them to reflect. An online environment is more conducive to reflection.

Introverted students are more willing to share opinions and ideas online. Normal class discussions are dominated by the extroverts.  Not all students are engaged in discussion in the F2F classroom.

There are some disadvantages to online discussions. There is not a way to “see” body language or “hear” voice inflection. These visual and verbal cues are important to conversation. However, with the use of emoticons 🙂 😉 😦 students and the instructor can express feelings to some extent.

Here are links to the sources cited above that support my observations. Please feel free to read them.

Teaching Critical Thinking 
Discussion Board Best Practices
Online vs. Traditional This article provides data that supports discussions online. (you will need to scroll down and go next page to read full article)

Our students are engaged online using social media.  They interact with their friends through Instagram, Kik, SnapChat, Facebook, Vine, and “old fashioned” texting.  Maybe we should take a peek into their world for a moment and view how they are connected in learning.  

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