To Be (Credible) or Not to Be (Credible)

I think the methodology sections sounds the easiest to write, but I think I might make it harder than it is.  

 
The methodology section has been repeatedly described to me as a recipe for others to follow if my study was to be repeated. So, I feel very confident in write a how to section for doing the study. However, the tricky side to this is that I have to have a research-backed process for doing the study they way that I do it (I think). This is tricky because I am not totally sure if this is what is expected and second, if it is what is expected, then how do you find the research to back me up? 

The good news is that this component of the methodology section forces me to evaluate my process more acutely. It makes me ask over and over why do I want to do things the way that I do? For example, if the population I want to study is faculty, I need to ask why? What other research has used faculty as their population? How did they approach studying them? Was is through a survey? Interviews? Video observation? Once, I get those questions answered, then it is on to the next set of questions: what options are available for me to do a survey? Are there already tested interview questions that I can use or imitate? If I record faculty, how will those files be stored, anonymity kept, and how do I analyze that data?  

 
So, yes the methodology section is potentially the shortest section of the paper; however, it might be the most deceptive section of the paper. Our methodologies is what makes or breaks our trustworthiness as researchers and writers. So, if I don’t take the time to justify my process decisions, then all the work of the paper will be useless or ignored if my methodology isn’t credible. 

Hopefully Useful

As a high school teacher, we are constantly coached and professionally developed to engage and motivate students. So much of my time as a teacher in a high school classroom is spent on thinking of ways to make my lessons more fun and more engaging. In order to do that, more often than not, some form of social engagement is included. So, when we were all forced to a fully virtual classroom this year in response to the pandemic, that component went missing.  

Without proper training and time for designing, constructing online courses for high school has been a real challenge. There has been very little consideration by our leaders is in preparing teachers for this transition. As a result, many teachers as well as students are struggling to do their respective jobs because it isn’t interesting, satisfying, or motivating to do class without social engagement.  

Working this problem backwards, it is clear that educators need practical and accessible training in both online course design as well as how to engagement and motivate students online. However, before you can train teachers to do this, it needs to be clear how it is currently being done that are producing successful results.  

 
I think my research on defining social presence in the online classroom will definitely contribute to this issue since it is a problem yet to be solved. The study I am interested in doing will also contribute to increase the body of work that aims to clarify the meaning of social presence.  

Don’t tell ’em I said that…

After my first assignment on the dissertation topic itself, it got me thinking about something that has been plaguing my thoughts since I first fell into this topic of social presence in the online classroom. Originally, when I read Patrick Lowenthal & Chareen Snelson’s article called “In Search of a Better Understanding of Social Presence: An Investigation into How Researchers Define Social Presence,” I was immediately curious if educators agreed with their results. I also wondered what students’ view was. So, it made sense to expand on this study and start with perceptions of the educator in defining social presence. However, at the end of the article in the Conclusion section, Lowenthal and Snelson (2017) stated that “This suggests that as useful as social presence might be for collaborative online learning experiences, it is not necessarily required or essential for students to learn online.” 

At first, I just thought that was a strange thing to say without any further explanation. As a writing teacher, I regularly train students not to bring in big statements at the end like that. I felt that the statement undercut the other results they described. So, I have definitely been wondering if designing for building social presence opportunities in an online class is even valuable. At the time, I saved that thought for later, for a future research project. However, it is dissertation time, so this statement must be accounted for in the literature review.  

 As a result, I have been considering different categories of research needed to prove my study has educational value. A few categories that initially come to mind are the following in no particular order: social learning in the online classroom, connecting social learning and social presence, defining social presence, the educational value of social learning, and the educational value of social presence. Other areas might also include communities of inquiry and social presence, teacher presence and social presence, and the connection between social presence and online learning. The good news is that these categories open up many doors of background that will help develop my topic in detail. The bad news is that these categories provide a lot of work to do!!!!  

So far, my article collection count is 100, covering the variety of topics listed above. I am nowhere near done collecting nor am I close to finishing evaluating on a deeper level the contribution each article will make. The majority of them are relevant for sure, but there are some I need to review, some that are new, and some that I am rethinking because of the age of the article. My goal this week is to actually add more organization to the articles I already have. I’d like to see some of the categories above used as banners to break down the kinds of information contained in each article. Ultimately, this will help me to focus the contributions of those articles.  

*sigh* What would be so helpful is if CoVid 19 shut the schools down again so that I could just work on this since this feels more interesting right now. Don’t tell my boss, or my students for that matter, I said that.  

Can You Hear My Tin-Man Fingers Screech?

It feels like ages since I have written here. What have I been doing? Oh right, there’s been a pandemic. My whole life slowed to an unexpected halt last spring, and I have been kind of floating along since.

However, it is time to refocus on the task at hand. I am so grateful to announce it is time to do a dissertation!!! WHOOHOO!! I know it seems strange to cheer on what seems like a long and arduous task, but this moment also marks the end of this phase of my life. I am not one to live by regret so that empowers me to go, with full gusto, into the moment that is this semester.

My topic for this momentous occasion is social presence in online learning. While that may sound tedious and boring, let me describe what it really means to me. You know when you are in a group of people, whether it is friends, family, a class, a dinner, any group setting really, and there is this atmosphere of equality, synchronicity, harmony, or like an all is right in the world moment? Or maybe: have you ever been in a discussion or debate and there was a fair give and take of ideas, opinions, information exchanged and you walk away feeling more alive than you had before you started the encounter? Well, I think somewhere in those moments of being is where social presence lies. It is this intangible presence that seems to link those engaged with something more. In a classroom, this presence can make or break a lesson for teachers, but when it really comes into being, social presence creates this life in learning that is irreplaceable and influential for an indefinite amount of time. I know this because I am both a teacher and a student. I have had these experiences on both sides of the spectrum. I know there is something to it, something more.

While so far this is all anecdotal, my research has also shown some of my experience to be similar to others in the same position. The literature echoes what I have said as well: the vague idea of social presence has yet to be clearly defined. According to Lowenthal & Snelson (2017), researchers do not use the same definition for this term, for this experience.

And now, with the jolt in the education world that has forced us all into a digital space, that experience of equality, synchronicity, harmony has been absent. With the unplanned moved to the virtual classroom, there has definitely been something missing because students are failing and teachers are dissatisfied. The future of education is unclear. This leaves me wondering if social presence couldn’t be a bridge from what has been to what can be in the digital classroom? In order to find out, we must first have a clear and coordinated understanding of what it means so that we can ultimately create it in a digital space.

Since the term “social presence” is still unclear in the literature, it makes sense to pursue this as my path for a dissertation. However, I would like edit the literature review I have so far. I think it would make this study more relevant to eliminate older studies and add any new studies published in light of the pandemic. Focusing on the last 10 years would be ideal since the “digital classroom” of today is vastly different than the one from the 1990s.

As far as how this study is going to work, that is up for design adjustments. Ideally, I’d like to apply a mixed-methods approach, utilizing both a quantitative survey as well as a qualitative follow-up interview. This is probably my biggest area of concern. I need to do more research on the best quantitative approach for this study as well as for the qualitative approach. I have a study in mind already to imitate for the qualitative portion, but then I need to know what method I will follow for data analysis. I wholeheartedly believe this is a relevant study if this topic is to warrant further research. Defining our terms is imperative. However, I don’t want to ruin its credibility by not having enough support in the methods section.

So, here we go!

NI: Needs Improvement

I think my research design is adequate, so it needs definitely needs improvement. Specifically, I don’t think that the literature to support my research plan is solid. I need to go back and review the sources I used for my literature review and expand on those. I also need to support my research plan with research-based methodologies for Computer Mediated Discourse Analysis and data collection. I know that I have the sources in my previous work collection, but I am not sure where. So, once I have those parts of my research plan, I think the plan itself will not be a clear method for others to follow.

I think my intended methods do make sense for Discovery Learning since the data I want to collect must come from those who experienced the instructional design with me actually knowing ahead of time what I will discover. Also, using open ended style initial survey allows for me to follow up for more extended feedback into areas for more clarity. These components directly align with the Discover Learning model.

Again, for improvement, I think I need sources that clearly support my methodologies so that my process is research based rather than what seems to make sense. I also need to improve on the clarity of my methodologies so that it can be a replicated study.

UCD & DL

User Centered Design (UCD) is very similar to the theory that I presented in class. Discovery Learning (DL) is meant to support the learner and the learner needs. Discovery learning aims to develop the higher order thinking skills on Bloom’s taxonomy: analyzing, evaluating, and creating. A primary goal of a discovery learning model is that students can creatively solve a real-life problem, so this type of learning model draws learners out of the traditional form of “learning” where information is memorized and regurgitated and puts students at the helm of their learning. In discovery learning, students are expected to actually do something with the new information they have gathered. Ultimately, that means they should be able to innovate with it.

In a traditional classroom, a teacher has the information and then delivers that information to students. The focus on the class design is on how best to deliver that content, not necessarily incorporating students into the lesson. They are simply on the receiving end, and sometimes expected to prove they understood the lesson. However, with UCD and DL, students become the center point that the lesson revolves around. The design attempts to meet students where they are with the prior knowledge, allows them to find for themselves, ideally through problem solving, whatever skills and content is required, and instead of grading the work, provides student feedback so that students can continue to grow.

Did I Do Too Much?

I pride myself in being practical, so if I need to create an instructional design document, I want the content to be applicable to real life classroom work. So, the work I did was fairly detailed since the skills I wanted to focus on were embedded in a larger assignment. As I went through the document one last time before submission, I, of course, am re-thinking my choice of topic. What I was hoping to do was hone in on student’s ability to recognize opinions versus facts. At first glance, this seems easy. However, students in AP Language courses are dealing with excellent writing, so the phrasing of ideas and facts often sound similar. The differences, therefore, are often subtle. So, I am wondering if I submitted the final research project today instead of the instructional design. I guess I am not feeling totally confident about the differences. Maybe the research plan includes how to collect data, how to analyze data, and limitations. I can think of a few other parts, but in general, what I submitted today seems like 90% of a research plan.

What went well for me is that I had a clear problem I wanted to design instruction to address it. What seems problematic is that I am not totally sure that what I envisioned came out clearly on the document. Where I go from here is revisions for clarity, and more than likely, revisions for simplicity. Something I’ve learned in this doctoral program is that topics for research are more achievable when they are simple rather than complex.

Instructional Design in a Time of Crisis

I am late. Somehow I missed this assignment! What’s interesting is that over the last few weeks in our current social distancing efforts, I have been thinking a ton about instructional design. It is 2020. Most people, including children, are carrying small computers in their pockets and purses. Social media and online access are an integral part of our day and ultimately for many, part of our identity. Yet, it is in the midst of this environment, our educators are struggling to adapt to both a cyber-security attack and a school shut down due to Covid 19. This inability to adapt, I think, is directly related to the lack of instructional design. So what happened?

 

The week before spring break, the school district I work for was attacked by ransomware. So, effective Tuesday March 3rd, access to our learning management system, printers, email, attendance, grades, and everything else on the servers stopped. Students and teachers alike couldn’t access their computers. So whatever teachers had planned hit the fan. Having to revert to Plan B is not a new thing for teachers though. So, the campus reaction was a little strange. Everyone started watching movies. Yes it was the week before spring break, but it was also four weeks before the first round of state tests. The justification (I am not innocent here) was that even the printers were down. So, what were we supposed to do?

 

Then, at the end of spring break, our nation took a heavy step into social distancing in an attempt to slow the spread of Covid 19. Part of this decision meant closing our campus for another two weeks with the possibility of longer. Now Facebook is alight with strategies for how to continue teaching and learning from home via online options. Yet, issues of accessibility for our students, protocols for communication with our classes, and options for picking up where we left off seems to leave my head in a cloud of confusion. My situation is different since we are still dealing with the cyber-attack, but other teachers from other districts are sitting in the same cloud because there has not been a real commitment to integrating technology in a practical way in our instructional design. In fact, I wonder what kind of design model would support this situation? What model attempts to account for so many unknown variables?

 

I think about the variety of instructional design models that were presented in class, and I cannot think of one that lends to prepare instructors for a complete overhaul in the midst of a cultural crisis like this. It gets me thinking about planning for the future. How do we avoid this if/when it happens again? My solution would be to intentionally design for online delivery where face to face meetings support what is happening online. This would require a real commitment to shift to the online classroom as the primary meeting space and for content delivery. So which instructional design model supports online delivery best? I don’t think we covered that in any presentation. For example, how does cognitive apprenticeship translate to an online structure? An expert/master is meant to teach the apprentice the skills through demonstration. So, for the online version of this model, how will the master demonstrate skills and processes? Video? Charts? Slides? In discovery learning, how does an instructor formatively assess student progress when the primary classroom is online? What tools will students use to collaborate in a way that isn’t hindered by the technology?

 

So, this all leaves me with the question of whether the advanced instructional design models we’ve covered so far are models geared for a face to face class or online or both? Right now, it seems most models are for face to face design. If I could go back and listen to our presentations again with this question in mind, I wonder what I would notice about each model that I didn’t notice the first time.

Discovery Learning Model: Timing Matters

The discovery  learning model is not a model that has no plan or structure. Like any student-centered learning model, the instructor must be prepared in advance so that in the midst of student learning, the instructor can anticipate needs, fill in gaps of understanding, and provide guidance to those who have fallen down the rabbit-hole of information without context.

Discovery learning is an advanced instructional design model because it aims to develop the higher order thinking skills on Bloom’s taxonomy: analyzing, evaluating, and creating. A primary goal of a discovery learning model is that students can creatively solve a real-life problem, so this type of learning model draws learners out of the traditional form of “learning” where information is memorized and regurgitated. In discovery learning, students are expected to actually do something with the new information they have gathered. Ultimately, that means they should be able to innovate with it.

The discovery learning model was originally presented by Jerome Bruner in 1961. He offered five components to apply this model: 1)problem solve, 2) student-led learning management, 3) knowledge integration & making connections, 4) information analysis & interpretation, and 5) learning through failure & instructor feedback. These components provide the model by which instructors, who want to implement discovery learning, should consult if they want to successfully integrate a student-led pedagogy into their courses.

If you are wondering if this learning model is research-based and studied, the answer is yes. One important indicator of discovery-based learning is its appearance in the New Horizon Report since at least 2010. The New Horizon Report is a report which identifies trends in education for future research and application into the classroom. In the 2010 Report, discovery-based learning was mentioned as part of gaming for learning as well as learning via augmented reality. In the 2012-2017 Report for STEM, discovery based-learning was listed as the better option over personalized learning because it was more effective than personalized learning in the classroom. In the 2015 Report Library Edition, creating discovery learning spaces in the library were a new trend as well as troubleshooting the competition between libraries and discovery systems like Wikipedia and Google Scholar. While all of these examples do not directly address the structured discovery learning model described above, these Reports imply the strong influence that discovery learning had/has on current learning trends.

If I opted to research this learning model in the future, I think I would be interested in identifying the right time for implementing discovery learning into a course. Since discovery learning’s intent is to develop higher order thinking skills, discovery learning should be intentionally used at the right time. Even if remembering, understanding, and applying are all “lower” order thinking skills, they are still necessary skills students need to enable their learning to go deeper into analyzing, evaluating, and creating. So, how can instructors know when the right time is to integrate discovery learning?

Multimedia

I have a strange relationship with the word multimedia. When I hear it, I totally disconnect from what is being said about it. I am not sure why. It is just a generic, boring word for me. The irony is that I love teaching technology, playing video games, and movies. After doing the readings this week however, I have realized that I don’t think I’ve really understood what multimedia means. That seems silly to say out loud, but I just think it’s a word I’ve been passing over for years. I just haven’t taken the time to explore what it means.

First, because of the assigned readings, I have learned that multimedia includes a variety of concepts. The one that stood out the most is eLearning. I currently teach in a blended high school environment. I regularly use eLearning as part of my class tools. So, when I read eLearning and the Science of Instruction by Clark and Meyer, I began to understand that while I don’t use the term multimedia, I use multimedia tools on a regular basis.

What’s more, I found the description of e-Learning Architecture in Chapter 1 surprisingly helpful. I have been teaching English for 12 years now, and since the first year, I have been toying around with different learning management systems (LMS) used for eLearning. I say toying around because every LMS I use doesn’t quite do the things I imagine it should do. So, over the years, I have been pondering what I want out of an LMS, and how it would serve my students. However, the kind of students I teach has also changed over the years, so I haven’t been able to really nail down what I want. So, after reading about learning architecture that serve different views of learning, a light bulb came on.

Specifically, Clark and Meyers (2011) say that there are three e-Learning Architectures: Receptive, Directive, and Guided discovery (p. 21). Each structure is designed for specific uses and different levels of engagement. Using this criteria would definitely help guide my choices for my current classroom. For example, I want an e-Learning environment that guides students in knowledge construction rather than content delivery. I want students to be able to use the tools in the system to help themselves rather than get lost in all the webpages that look alike. I am definitely looking for a high engagement platform rather than a passive encounter with online content. Knowing this, I can use the chart provided and know that I want to use a Guided discovery Architecture. Clark and Meyer (2011) say that “effective guided discovery forms of e-learning, including simulations and games, ask learners to perform tasks while receiving guidance and thereby engage learnings both behaviorally, and psychologically” (p.22). So, if I want these components, listed above, in my LMS, I need to look for game style structures or simulations.

While I haven’t found the right LMS platform yet, I now know what I should be looking for because I understand better both the concepts of eLearning which also deepens my understanding of multimedia.

 

Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2011). E-learning and the science of instruction: Proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.