Category Archives: Week 2 Blog Posts

Week 9-Felix

This week I read reviews and wrote reviews of the group projects.  They were positive from both sides.  Most people seemed to like our group project and I did not see a bad group project.  I am happy that we are coming up on week 10.  I need a break!  This course has been fun, but sometimes the stress of this course, work, and life has gotten to me.

For week ten we have to re-work the final project.  I am not sure how much re-working we are going to do.  The peer feedback seemed to only suggest small tweaks and we have not gotten back instructor feedback.  My group will be meeting Tuesday night to discuss our plan of attack.

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Week 7 Post

We are trying to continue to work on our group project.  It seems that we are constantly changing our topic or how we want to do the project.  I think that we are going to be working very hard the rest of this week.

The discussion board was fun this week.  Looking at education in a different way.  I am not sure if I totally agree with everyone’s perspective, but that is where the fun is.  I have a lot to look at from these discussions and have found some great ideas.

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Week 6 Reflection

Week six was a nice break from last week (having to write two papers).  We now have a group project to get finished.  We started brainstorming and we are making progress.

This week was nice to re-look at my institution.  I found it nice to refocus on my target audience from my course that I am going to create.  It was also nice to see what everyone else is working with and how they deal with it.

For some reason, I do not have much to say this week.

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Chris’ week five reflectiion

Using this blog has taught me that I could not be a blogger.  I do not feel a need to blog.  Maybe it is because I do not find value to others in what I write in a blog.  It is nice for myself to re-read what I am writing.

Week five went better than I thought.  My midterm is done and I think that I did  a good job.  I am a little nervous about the group project.  I am not so sure about what we are supposed to do.  I will be heading to the group discussion board to find out how my group interprets the group project.  I also want to get an early head start on this project so that we are not rushing at the end.

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Group Reflections on Week Five or ‘The Aftermath’ of Week Five (Submitted by David)

Dear Comrades-In-Arms (Dena, Debra, and Christopher):

It is hard to believe that we are halfway through the course. I have personally found it rather challenging, but I feel as though MUCH has been learned by all.

I have noticed that our group has not ‘spoken’ to each other very much this week. There was some interaction earlier in the week when we all made comments on each others ideas, but it has been rather quiet over the last few days. I can well imagine we were all focused on our individual writing assignments!

In my own situation, the writing assignment  fiercely competed with a lot of other challenges in both my work life and personal life, but I managed to give it precedence over everything else. Life happens, doesn’t it!  It was very time consuming! I literally breathed a sigh of relief when I posted it on Sunday night.

I know that we are all looking forward to reading and sharing our writing submissions. There is a impressive amount of creative talent in this group!

 Cheers!

David

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Using Discussion Boards to Enhance and Build Community in the Online Environment

By Christopher Felix

2/11/2012

            Many people think that math is mainly a solo pursuit.  That is there is no benefit for students learning math to discuss math.  This opinion is changing with programs such as CPM (college preparatory mathematics) where students are encouraged to learn math through exploration and group discussions.  Even though this opinion is changing in the face-to-face environment, it still remains the principle way that math is taught online.  The online environment is an ideal place to create a community of mathematics learners.

Teaching math online has more difficulties than face-to-face for several reasons.  Probably the biggest of these hurdles is that in online math courses the student usually learns in isolation.  The student reads a lecture and sees a few examples.  He or she then tries to do the problems on their own not knowing if the work that they are doing is correct.  In a face-to-face setting the student can ask questions at any time when they do not understand the lecture.  In the online environment when a student has a question, they ask it via a discussion board.  They then wait for it to be answered.  This could take a few hours, depending on when the question is asked.  The student then hopes that the instructor fully answers all of his questions.  If the instructor does not fully answer the question then the student will have to wait again for him to answer clarification questions.  This process can be slow and time consuming for both the instruction and student.  When they are having trouble with the homework, they can attend office hours for extra help.

Many people do not like to ask questions for many different reasons: they are afraid they are the only one who does not understand, slowing down the class and making other students upset.  One of the advantages that online courses have over face-to-face courses is that students have the ability to hide their face behind the keyboard.  Most students are afraid to ask for help out of fear for asking “dumb” questions.  With an online course, questions can be asked through a discussion board.  With the discussion board, no one will know who is asking the question.  This will make students more confident to ask questions since they do not have to be worried about the student who is asking the “dumb” question.  This will make an environment where students are more comfortable to ask questions and therefore they will get the help they need before they are too far behind the class.

Students who are afraid to ask questions because they are afraid of slowing down the class do not have to be worried in an online class.  With discussion boards, students do not have to read every post.  So if a discussion post does not cover the topic that a particular student is having a problem with, they do not have to read the post.  This will make it easier for students with questions to ask them and for students who understand the material to not be slowed down by other students.

Using discussion boards an instructor can build a community that will become strong enough to teach itself. By requiring every student post questions and responses to the discussion board, the students will start to teach themselves.  Students who need help will receive it quicker.  Instead of waiting hours for the instructor to answer questions, students have multiple instructors in fellow students and therefore have the chance for students to get their questions answered quickly.  This will allow for quicker turn over from questions asked then there would be with no community.  Also, the benefit to the student answering questions is also great.  For a student to explain a mathematical concept/problem, they will need to have a deep understanding of the math.  So for a student to answer a fellow student’s problem, they need to reflect on their understanding to be able to address their problem.

With online courses discussion boards can be used.  Online discussion boards promote a sense of community and creates an opportunity for discussion that otherwise would not happen in a standard classroom (McDuffie, 2003).  One of the hardest things to do as a math teacher is to get students to ask for help when they are having difficulties.  In an online class, 44.6% of students ask questions everyday compared with 33.3 % with a face to face class (O’Dwyer, 2007).  Students also talk about math more online 84% compared to standard classroom at 68% (O’Dwyer, 2007).  This shows that there is more communication in an online class than there is in a face to face class.  This is probably due to the fact that many students are scared to ask question or speak out loud in front of the class, especially in a math class.  This is mainly due to the fact the most people are not confident in their abilities when it comes to math.  Using discussion boards, students feel more confident or, at least, more anonymous.  This confidence will help students ask questions that they would not have asked in class.  Students can use these discussions to find help with homework they cannot figure out.  Also, students value the use of discussion boards because it gives them the opportunity to go back and review previous statements (Curtis, 2001).  This ability to go back and review will give students the opportunity to go back and review how other problems were solved and apply that method to the problems that they are currently working.  Only using discussion boards will not be sufficient in an online course.  Curtis states that there is a need for students to use live chats as well as discussion board and they should be incorporated into online courses (2001).  Sometime students need instant response to a question or when they need help.  This is why live chats are also useful and will be used.  With chats question can be answered instantly and the student then can move on with their homework.  When these discussions are focused on math, they will become a collaborative group that will focus and derive the best methods for solving math problems (Stahl 2005).  Stahl states that using discussion boards will help the students “gain fluency in communicating mathematically” (2005).  When students talk to each other on the discussion boards, their understanding of the material increases.  This socialization will help these students succeed.  As Levy stated, “student socialization with other online students greatly affected their success in the course” (2003).

Another hindrance of teaching math online is mathematical notation.  Certain characteristics of math make it harder to teach online than other subjects such as writing mathematical notation online (Smith, 2005).  It will be hard for students understand math and apply it to other courses if they do not know how to write in proper notation.  Most computer programs do not have proper plug-ins to write mathematical notation.  For example, to write x squared it would have to be written as x^2.  This notation is confusing and difficult for most students to understand.  That is why tools like Doodletoo are a great resource that should be included in any online math course.  Doodletoo is an online chat tool.  What makes Doodletoo unique is that you are able to also draw messages.  This will give the students the ability to communicate about math using proper notation.  Without this tool, it would be hard to discuss certain math topics.  This tool will help continue to build community because it gives the class a great tool to discuss math.

At the beginning, the development of this community will be slow.  There will be a need of a constant presence of the instructor.  But as students get more comfortable discussing math, this community will grow.  Students will feel more comfortable discussing math and more confident sharing their knowledge.  As this community gets stronger, the instructor’s presence will go to the shadows.  They will only help when there is a great misunderstanding that is not being properly addressed.  Student will then take responsibility in their learning and the learning of their peers.  This community, once built, will benefit all.

 

 

References

Curtis, D., Lawson, M. (2001). Exploring collaborative online lerning. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 5(1), 21-34. Retrieved from:  http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.130.2039&rep=rep1&type=pdf

McDuffie, A. R., & Slavit, D. (2003). Utilizing online discussion to support reflection and challenge beliefs in elementary mathematics methods classrooms. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education [Online serial], 2(4). Retrieved from: http://www.citejournal.org/vol2/iss4/mathematics/article1.cfm

O’Dwyer, L., Carey, R., Kleiman, G. (2007). A study of the effectiveness of the Lousiana algebra I online course. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 39(3), 289-306. Retrieved from: http://eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/contentdelivery/servlet/ERICServlet?accno=EJ768882

Smith, G., Ferguson, D. (2005). Student attrition in mathematics e-learning. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 21(3), 323-334. Retrieved from http://ascilite.org.au/ajet21/smith.html.

Stahl, G. (2005). Proceeding of the 2005 conference on towards sustainable and scalable educational innovations informed by the learning sciences: sharing good practices of research, experimentation and innovation.  The Netherlands, IOS Press Amsterdam.  Retrived from: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.118.8985&rep=rep1&type=pdf

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The Role of Threaded Discussions in Successful Virtual Learning Communities (David’s MidTerm)

A high levelof interactivity that involves discussion among class participants is an important characteristic of any successful virtual educational community. The benefits of such interactivity include cognitive engagement, student satisfaction, positive learning outcomes and enhancement of critical thinking skills (Hamann, Pollock, and Wilson, 2011).

In a typical online course students are required to engage in some or all of the following activities: submit an individual assignment, which may consist of a reflective essay paper based on required readings or a research paper based on the student’s own readings; complete a quiz or test, which consists of testing the student’s comprehension of prepared lecture material; participate in smaller group activities, which may involve a collaboration of three to four colleagues on a common project; and participate in the threaded discussion forum, which involves posting responses to topics provided by the instructor, commenting on the posts of other students in the class, and posting original topics for discussion. In terms of interactivity or promoting discussion, individual assignments and quizzes are the least interactive since communication is between an individual student and the instructor unless, that is, the student posts his ‘draft’ paper on the discussion thread for comments or feedback from other students in the class. On the other hand, the highest degree of interaction takes place on the threaded discussion forum, in which all students in the class as well as the instructor participate. In the virtual classroom, therefore, student interaction and discussion takes place primarily though the threaded discussion forum.

The instructor, who assumes the role of facilitator, is primarily responsible for the quality of the threaded discussions in terms of encouraging the students to share experiences, ideas, and solutions as well as to provide continuous assessment and feedback. The instructor is thus viewed as a leader. It has been demonstrated that teachers or instructors who make students feelenthusiastic about coursework and assignments are more likely to have students who enjoy their courses and have higher levels of affective learning (Harrison, 2011).

This article will examine the factors that can either strengthen or compromise the effectiveness of student interaction through the threaded discussion forum and thereby affect the virtual educational community in either a positive way. In terms of the instructor’s responsibility there are a number of recommendations that, if followed, will result in a high degree of successful student interaction and discussion.

1). The instructor must actively participate in their course to avoid the perception of being invisible or absent. Students who cannot ‘see’ their instructor may not be motivated to fully participate (Mandernach, Gonzalez, and Garrett, 2006). Of course, the presence of an instructor in a face-to-face classroom is not questioned regardless of the nature of the interactions, or lack thereof.

2). The instructor should establish discussion parameters if for no other reason than to carefully manage the finite amount of time that is available in class as compared to the voluminous subject matter. Simply put, all discussion related to the subject being taught in class is acceptable, but all other topics should be avoided. It is also of value to make certain subjects clearly prohibited because of their inevitable deleterious effect on the class due to their ‘incendiary’ nature (Jeimzu, 2011).

3). The instructor should clearly specify beforehand a minimum number of postings for each student. In addition, it may be that students are required to respond to a topic or question before replying to the ‘answers’ posted by other participants.

4). The instructor should serve as a role modelfor student participation and behavior. ‘Setting the bar’ for reasonably quick responses as well as active participation in discussions is essential and sets the tone for students’ classroom performance (Goloboy, 2003). Time delays in a threaded discussion can be frustrating to students. This is especially true if the response was misunderstood and the students have attempted to clarify. Online instructors should try to post daily or on a regular basis that has been communicated to the students beforehand.

5). The instructor should encourage the students to share experiences, ideas, and solutions. In this respect, he/she should assume the role of a facilitator and review the students’ discussion contributions without trying to control them. For good discussion board facilitation, the instructor should randomly and selectively reply to students and provide prompt explanations or further comments regarding the topic of discussion. He/she should provide feedback even if it is merely a ‘cheerleading’ comment, redirection, or guideline submission. The instructor should intervene when the discussion seems to be struggling or headed the wrong way but should not over-participate in the discussion, as this will be considered stifling and restrictive by the students (Sheltonand Saltsman, 2004).

6). The instructor should find ways to prompt students to pursue given topics further: this may consist of finding unifying threads so that he/she can weave several strands of conversation into a summarization. They can also draw attention to opposing viewpoints, different directions, or conflicting opinions that could lead to debates and peer critiques (Berge, 1995).

There are other factors that may negatively affect the quality of discussion threads that are beyond the control of the instructor. First, despite the instructor’s best intentions students may be unwilling to participate for a variety of reasons. Second, faculty may be pressured by the administration to ‘maximize’ class sizes to make them more efficient or profitable. However, the instructor must consider not only the demands on their own time but also the quality of the educational experience for the students (Colwell and Jencks, 2004). It is reported that online learning best takes place in collaborative learning communities of 15-20 students, and no more than 25. Too few students usually have difficulty in generating meaningful discussions and too many create an excessive number of messages that may cause frustration for group members who cannot keep up. The class size must be sufficiently large to encourage activity, but not so large that the sense of group connectedness is lost. It is universally recognized that teaching a distance-learning course requires more time than teaching a traditional course.

Online courses require much more development time and much more interaction time to manage than do traditional courses. The consensus of online instructors seems to be that those who teach larger classes either have additional assistance from instructional aides or have sacrificed some levelof communication to maintain the large class size numbers. However, additional or supplementary help appears to be the exception rather than the rule.

The success of any virtual learning community is attributed to a high degree of participation or interaction together with a high quality of discussion among participants. Interaction takes place primarily through the threaded discussion forum. It is the responsibility of the instructor to initiate discussion, encourage students to share experiences, ideas and solutions, and provide continuous monitoring, assessment, and feedback. There are proven strategies that the instructor can use to maximize the quality of both discussion and participation. These include maintaining a ‘visible’ instructor presence; specifying minimum posting and parameters for discussion; modeling student participation and behavior; providing helpful feedback without controlling the discussion; and finding ways to stimulate discussion further. While the instructor is primarily responsible for promoting participation and stimulating discussion, other factors beyond his/her control may negatively impact the learning community such a reluctance of students to contribute or class sizes that are too large or too small.

References:

Berge, Z. (1995). The role of the online instructor/facilitator.

http://www.cordonline.net/mntutorial2/module_2/Reading%202-1%20instructor%20role.pdf

Colwell, J. and Jencks, C. (2004). The upper limit: the issues for faculty in setting class size in online courses. Teaching Online in Higher Education: Politics, Ethics, and Online Instruction Conference, Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne  http://www.ipfw.edu/tohe/Papers/Nov%2010/015_the%20upper%20limit.pdf

Goloboy, J. (2003). Top 10 secrets of successful online educators.  http://www.online-learning-solutions.com/Jgoloboy_Top_10_Secrets.pdf

Hamann, K., Pollock, P. and Wilson, B. (2011). Enhancing the quality of discussions in undergraduate online courses. Annual Meeting of the American Political Science

Association.

Harrison, J. (2011). Instructor transformational leadership and student outcomes.

Emerging Leadership Journeys, 4 (1), pp. 82-136.

http://www.regent.edu/acad/global/publications/elj/vol4/iss1/Harrison_V411_pp91-119.pdf

Jeimzu. (2011). Dead raccoons and other taboo online classroom discussion topics. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://www.brighthub.com/education/online-learning/articles/44124.aspx

Mandernach, B., Gonzalez, R., and Garrett, A. (2006). An examination of online instructor presence via threaded discussion participation. Journal of Online Teaching and Learning, 2 (4) http://jolt.merlot.org/vol2no4/mandernach.htm

Shelton, K. and Saltsman, G. (2004). Tips and tricks for teaching online: how to teach like a pro! International Journal of Instructional Technology, 1 (10) http://itdl.org/journal/oct_04/article04.htm

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