Lesson 5.3 Networked Teaching

OER foster collaboration among the producers, the users, the improvers, and the re-users of the content. Similarily , OEP are strongly based on collaboration, especially through social media. The Center for Open Learning and Teaching (University of Mississippi) defines Open Educational Practices (OEP) as ‘teaching techniques that introduce students to online peer production communities, (for instance, Wikipedia, YouTube, OpenStreetMap), which offer rich learning environments’. We have seen in Module 1 that other typical activities that characterise Open Educators are collaborative course design, open research collaborations, and many more. But, as a first step, being present on the most relevant social networks is a prerequisite, and being connected to peers in order to exchange ideas and knowledge is more and more the norm.

What is online collaborative learning?

Harasim (2012) describes online collaborative learning (OCL) as follows (p. 90):

‘OCL 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. While OCL theory does encourage the learner to be active and engaged, this is not considered to be sufficient for learning or knowledge construction……In the OCL theory, the teacher plays a key role not as a fellow-learner, but as the link to the knowledge community, or state of the art in that discipline. Learning is defined as conceptual change and is key to building knowledge. Learning activity needs to be informed and guided by the norms of the discipline and a discourse process that emphasises conceptual learning and builds knowledge.’

Online discussion forums go back to the 1970s, but really took off as a result of a combination of the invention of the World Wide Web in the 1990s, high speed internet access, and the development of learning management systems, most of which now include an area for online discussions. These online discussion forums have some differences though with classroom seminars:


Developing meaningful online discussion

There are several design principles that have been associated with successful (online) discussion, such as:


Cultural and epistemological issues

Students come to the educational experience with different expectations and backgrounds. As a result there are often major cultural differences across  students with regards to participating in discussion-based collaborative learning that in the end reflect deep differences with regards to traditions of learning and teaching. Thus teachers need to be aware that there are likely to be students in any class who may be struggling with language, cultural or epistemological issues, but in online classes, where students can come from anywhere, this is a particularly important issue. For example, in many countries, there is a strong tradition of the authoritarian role of the teacher and the transmission of information from the teacher to the student. In some cultures, it would be considered disrespectful to challenge or criticise the views of teachers or even other students. In an authoritarian, teacher-based culture, the views of other students may be considered irrelevant or unimportant. Other cultures have a strong oral tradition, or one based on story-telling, rather than on direct instruction.


Strengths and weaknesses of online collaborative learning

This approach to the use of technology for teaching is very different from the more objectivist approaches found in computer-assisted learning, teaching machines, and artificial intelligence applications to education, which primarily use computing to replace at least some of the activities traditionally done by human teachers. 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. Futhermore, this social discourse is not random, but managed in such a way as to ‘scaffold’ learning:


Thus there are two main strengths of this model:


There are however, some limitations: