There is no doubt that new technologies occupy an increasingly important place in academic contexts, especially in the last year. Having an Internet connection has become a requirement in order to be able to access knowledge at practically all levels of education.
However, contrary to what many may think, using digital resources for the simple act of using them does not offer any benefits in and of itself. They must be able to be used in an appropriate way, in particular discussion forums which can be an excellent tool to facilitate the construction of new knowledge.
Then we will explain in detail collaborative online learning theory, A constructivist proposition that highlights the importance of asynchronous communication and the sharing of student and teacher perspectives when acquiring and creating new knowledge.
What is the theory of collaborative online learning?
The theory of collaborative online learning is a proposition resulting from constructivist currents on how to improve students’ ability to learn using new technologies, Especially discussion forums as knowledge building tools. It is the result of the combination of properly constructivist perspectives with today’s ubiquitous Internet, which has become a great ally of learning if properly exploited.
Originally this model was called computer communication (CMC) or network learning, although over time Linda Casa Harasim a key figure in this theory came to be called learning theory, collaboration online or OCL. This learning model it is based on various theories of cognitive development, Especially those who focus on conversational learning, the development of academic knowledge and their active construction.
This theory provides a learning model in which students are encouraged to work together, acquire and create knowledge through the benefits offered by new technologies. In this way, students can collaborate to invent, explore ways to innovate and thus seek out the conceptual knowledge needed to solve all kinds of new problems instead of reciting a single correct answer alternative as is usually the case. The norm in the most classic educational models, both face to face and with the use of digital resources.
Although from the collaborative online learning theory approach, students are encouraged to be active and engaged in their learning, this action alone is not considered sufficient to enable learning. effective or give building knowledge to the maximum. In this approach the teacher plays a key role not as a comrade, but by playing the role of what he really is, the bridge or the bond of the students with the community and the formation of knowledge.
The learning activities must be made explicit and oriented, specifying the disciplinary rules to be followed in the virtual space. Moreover, this approach emphasizes the participation and the discourse of the pupils, actions which make it possible to establish the theoretical and practical knowledge acquired in class or the obligatory readings but in a much more thoughtful and meaningful way.
One of the main advantages of the Internet, and in particular the discussion forums that can be opened in the academic virtual space, is that it allows the construction of knowledge gradually and without depending on physical space or time. A discussion board is a space where participants can talk, collaborate and discuss asynchronously, that is, being able to post responses over a long period of time but without losing them, allowing the discussion to resume at the time. wish.
In reality, online discussion forums are fundamental to the theory of collaborative online learningAs unlike debates in face-to-face seminars or lifelong master classes, these exhibit the following characteristics:
- They are based on writing and not on orality
- Asynchronous: participants can enter anytime and anywhere, without losing what has been said before.
- They can be organized into “discussion threads”, which means that they can attach responses to a comment, and in turn counter-responses to those same responses.
Stages of knowledge building
In its own model, Harasim places particular emphasis on the importance of three phases which are fundamental when it comes to building knowledge in collaboration and using office resources. These three steps are as follows.
1. Generation of ideas
The first step in creating collaborative knowledge is reflection. Students, whether in group work or in an online discussion, present various ideas, present their differing thoughts in groups, or show their concerns about a topic or something they have seen in the subject of the class.
2. Organization of ideas
The next step is to organize all of the creative and free thinking that was done during the brainstorming. Students share the ideas that emerged in the previous phase, compare them, analyze them and rank them. to structure group work or get them to join different positions or “sides” during the online discussion.
3. Intellectual convergence
Finally comes the moment of intellectual convergence, that is to say reach a level of synthesis of what was discussed during the discussion, Understand each other and reach a consensus on the topic of group work or on the different aspects that were discussed in the online discussion. Points of agreement and disagreement can also be evoked and oriented towards the joint construction of a project or a final work.
Once these three stages have been completed, what Harasim calls the “final position” passes. It is not really a position that ends discussion or ends the proposal of new ideas, nor that does not stop the building of new knowledge. The student, once he has started the process of generation, organization and convergence of ideas, continues to assimilate different contents at an increasingly deep and advanced level.
The role of the teacher throughout the process and also at the end of it is essential. This should not only facilitate online collaboration between all parties and give them the resources they deem most appropriate for them to have creative ideas or form an opinion on different topics, but also the teacher acts as a representative of the expert community, but not in an authoritarian sense, Who has the knowledge that he wishes to share and pass on to his students.
The importance of online forums
A key aspect of online forums in digital courses is that they are not simple additions to basic educational materials such as books, recorded lectures or links to recommended bibliography. In the theory of collaborative online learning, these forums acquire a fundamental role because it is through them that the three steps mentioned above are actually carried out.
Unlike traditional courses, here textbooks, required and optional readings and other resources presented to students are chosen to support and motivate discussion, not the other way around. This is a key tenet of online resource design from this point of view and, in fact, many teachers do not comply with the digitization of their topic, complaining that they have activated a section for discussion, but none of his students seem motivated to contribute.
This is because, despite being digitized, many of these courses are still delivered from a traditional perspective, in which the most weight is the pure content, i.e. the required readings. These readings are the priority in the mind of the student, who sees the discussion forums as something rather secondary, which he will already do if he has the time and the desire. Whether or not participation in these forums increases, few students try to participate in an interesting debate.
For this reason, educators who offer an online course and want their students to acquire knowledge through discussion they should design the course in such a way that participation in the forum has a direct impact on grades, In addition to encouraging reflective participation. It will be necessary to get the students to devote some reflection to what they share in the forum, since it is not the extrinsic activity that counts, that is to say simply commenting, but its intrinsic value, that is. is what types, whether it’s a new entry or a response.
Requirements to encourage collaborative online learning
For collaborative learning to take place online, especially via discussion forums, comments posted on Moodle must be organized and supervised by the teacher, who must also provide the necessary support to the students to facilitate the development of new ideas and knowledge building. So, these are a few aspects that will need to be taken into account when designing and managing a digital course.
1. Adequate technology
Ideally, the course software allows you to manage the threads, because, as we have already mentioned, it is ideal that in the same entry, sub-themes can be presented and generate response threads and counter-responses.
2. Clear patterns of behavior
Behavioral patterns allowed in chats and other digital collaboration spaces should be clarified. Although it is not given in person it never ceases to be situated in an academic context in which certain codes of etiquette must be respected when interacting with other classmates and the teacher.
Appropriate tone should be set, explicit ways of relating to others, accepting and discussing agreements and disagreements out of respect and tolerance, and arguing firmly about what is shared in the forum. In addition, it is essential to specify how many times per week students are to participate in the forum and what is considered meaningful participation.
3. Technological orientation
No matter how advanced the course is in technology, it will be absolutely useless if the students do not know how to use it. Many teachers invest time, effort, and money in creating very sophisticated lessons, but when it comes to the truth, they become very uncomfortable to use because the students haven’t learned how to use them. correctly.
While the students are likely digital natives, using many digital assets isn’t as instinctive as it might seem, so even the most experienced digital asset user doesn’t quite understand how. use them. That is why it is essential to put somewhere in the digital course a video or guide explaining how to manage resources.
4. Clear objectives
If the teacher presents a topic for discussion in the forums, it should be clear and specify its purpose. It is possible to present a topic that does not appear in the books but is related in some way and is of interest to the students.
For example, a biology teacher can open the discussion on transgenic organisms after explaining what these types of living things are. In this way, the students can be brought to express their impressions on the ethics of their use, if they are aware of cases of GMOs dangerous for health or, on the contrary, if they have a therapeutic aim and in what way. context.
5. Monitor individual participation
As is often the case with such a digital resource, there will be students who will participate more than othersEven have those who end up dominating the discussion and others who dare not contribute. That is why the teacher should check individual participation, know those who are not contributing and invite them in an attractive way to express their opinions, concerns or if they know of something interesting that could benefit others.
Advantages and disadvantages of the model
A point that differentiates this model from the most classic is its use of new technologies.. In the more traditional, computers, moodle or mail are computer resources used primarily to replace some of the activities traditionally carried out by teachers in the classroom. For example, instead of explaining the lesson in class by explaining it in detail, the virtual lesson allows you to download a presentation and wait for students to read and understand it on their own.
This is in no way shared by the theory of collaborative online learning. Although there are required readings that students should read on their own, it is the interaction between the teacher and the students and also between them that allows meaningful learning and the construction of new knowledge. Virtual resources should not replace what would be done in a classroom, but should extend and facilitate learning. Students reflect on what they see in class by discussing and internalizing while presenting their points of view.
However, not all are advantages for this model. To start it is not possible for all students to participate if the class group is very large, It is not recommended to exceed 8 to 10 people. In addition, the teacher will need to know who is participating and who is not, so the larger the group, the less viable it will be, the more time will come when even students will want to participate in the topic of the debate. has already been completely sold out.
To finish there are disciplines which can hardly adapt to this educational system, in particular pure sciences, computer science and engineering, While it would be applicable in areas of knowledge such as humanities, social sciences, education and business and health. The reason is that the latter disciplines are more questionable, in the sense that not all is white or black and that more particular points of view can be presented.
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