When I think of student-student interactions, I have flashbacks to my undergrad. Not necessarily a good flashback either. I had a few courses with the “required discussion forum” where we needed to complete a reading or two or three, and then make comments or ask questions to our assigned groups. We HAD to post at least three times a week, and it HAD to be connected to the reading and material we were learning in class. Looking back, besides remembering that I HAD to do this type of assignment, I do not recall one single discussion topic we discussed. Is it because it’s been a few years? Probably, but I bet if someone asked me two weeks after the course was over if I remembered any of the discussions, I bet I still wouldn’t be able to remember anything about them. The Bates reading from this week made me realize, as well as aspects of this online course we are all taking, is that this form of discussion is completely inauthentic, and students do not care about things they don’t care about! If you asked me what I wrote about on my EC&I 831 blog, I could tell you about most of the topics and I think that’s because I cared about the subject matter, it was connected to me, and I got to discover what I wanted to know more about! The Bates article from this week’s reading stated that,
“Textbooks, readings and other resources are chosen to support the discussion, not the other way round. This is a key design principle, and explains why often instructors or tutors complain, in more ‘traditional’ online courses, that students don’t participate in discussions. Often this is because where online discussions are secondary to more didactic teaching, or are not deliberately designed and managed to lead to knowledge construction, students see the discussions as optional or extra work, because they have no direct impact on grades or assessment.”
I think the reason I don’t remember a single topic in those classes is because the discussion forum was always extra. It was additional work, instead of the discussion centering around ideas and questions, and FINDING the answers through readings and textbooks, we read first, and then added points about what we found. I agree that it should be the other way around. Fuel the discussion with ideas and supplement with resources!
This brings me to my point for the week. My course is a blended course and I do see my students daily. I’ll be honest; I didn’t think it was very important to include student-student interaction in my course, but after some feedback from my peers, and our class last week, my mind has been changed. Harasim (2012) states that “[Online Collaborative Learning] theory provides a model of learning in which students are encouraged and supported to work together to create knowledge: to invent, to explore ways to innovate, and, by so doing, to seek the conceptual knowledge needed to solve problems rather than recite what they think is the right answer.” The moment I read this statement, I thought “This is what my class is!” I am teaching AP Calculus to a bunch of students who need to work together to solve problems and develop an understanding of the material so they can apply it to the exam, and NOT just recite the right answer! (Insert Happy Dance for making the class meaningful for my students!)
So I began thinking of ways I could encourage more student-student interaction online. They collaborate daily on problems and assignments so it would be nice to extend it onto Google Classroom. I think I will start with encouraging them to post their questions on the class stream and allow other students to reply with their ideas for answers. To get this started, I might even post a couple of questions for them to work through online and to post their ideas on how to solve the problem, and not necessarily post the answer.
I also really like the idea of using Padlet for students to work through a problem together or even start a community where they can ask each other questions about the assignments and problems so that they do not have to ask me first. The beauty of Padlet is that they can post descriptions, write something, take a picture or even insert a video or audio for an explanation or question. What do you think? Will it work? I really think it would be a good example of the three phases: idea generating, idea organizing, and intellectual convergence that Alec discussed with us last week. Hopefully I can get my students to go through all three phases with this idea!
Another idea I might try since explanation and justification is a huge part of the AP exam is Flipgrid. I might try getting students to answer a problem verbally and explain how they arrived at their answer, as well as justify how they know a certain answer is correct as many questions give the answer, and the student needs to justify why it is correct. I think this would be a great opportunity of students to discuss their reasoning and ideas of problem solving and for me to evaluate their reasoning skills for the exam! This could also work as an assignment to show me how they walk through problems. It might help me figure out their thinking and understanding more, as well as help them discover the important concepts in the problem at an individual level.
I know that student-student interaction is incredibly important, and I am hoping I can get my students to buy into the online discussion ideas. If not this year, hopefully next year. In the meantime, I will continue to try, and keep up with my ever-present student-teacher interactions via Remind 101, and the comment section on Google Classroom! As the Bates article stated clearly, “with online collaborative learning, the aim is not to replace the teacher, but to use the technology primarily to increase and improve communication between teacher and learners, with a particular approach to the development of learning based on knowledge construction assisted and developed through social discourse.” This is what I aim to do, and hopefully make more connections between my students, and help them become stronger advocates for themselves, and better learners.