What is the role of discourse, collaboration and technology for distributed learning in online courses?

Aleta May

EDTE674 With Dr. Lee Graham

Week 3 Initial Blog Post

There is a difference between cooperative learning and collaborative learning.  Cooperative learning groups divide the responsibilities between group members who in turn work independently on their role or assignment.  Collaborative groups are student-centered, work together to solve problem, and are based on “critical thinking and teamwork skills” (Qiu, Hewitt, and Brett, 2010, p. 426).  Within a social context, learners share meaning, then process and clarify meaning to make it concise.  Traditionally learning is viewed as something that is acquired and possessed within an individual’s mind.  Conversely, collaborative learning that occurs within a participation framework can be described as; “cognitive activities are always embedded in social and cultural contexts and cannot be understood in isolation” (Xie and Ke, 2011, p. 917).

The textbook names Online Collaborative Learning (OCL) as a theory to base course design on.  Pedagogy for online learning begins with generating ideas, organizing ideas, and culminates with intellectual convergence (Harasim, 2012).  To involve students from a variety of cultural backgrounds and experiences in online courses, OCL is exactly what is needed.  Previous didactic (exhortative and instructive methods) will not reveal whether students coming from a multitude of perspectives understand the academic content dispensed.  In an OCL environment, students not only listen to the instructor, the stop and discuss their learning along the way.  It is much like meta-cognitive reading.  Students think about their thinking as they learn (or read) before, during, and after the lesson.  One way they do that is from “reading other people’s notes but also from having to construct their own ideas in their own notes.  Writing is essential for learning, even more so than reading. . .” (Qiu, Hewit, and Brett, 2012, p. 430).  OCL is more than reading posts made by teachers for assignments, it includes reading, writing and creating for relevant purposes.

A digital or virtual platform provides space for collaboration to take place.  The Knowledge Age mindset expresses the need to collaboratively build knowledge, using technology as a means for bringing together communities of people who may live at a physical distance from one another.  Scientists, doctors, engineers, lawyers, are students within their own professions who may collaborate in a project or professional development setting.  Also, as in our class, we may have cross-disciplines working to create a credit-recovery class.

In our text on page 99, the online learning environment provides a place for knowledge-creation processes.  I am thinking about embedding links to You-Tube video clips for our literature class, and other educational video clips to make learning for accessible to students who are English Language Learners (ELLs), Limited English Proficient (LEP), or who may struggle with reading or writing, as in a learning disability.  Since meeting with our group on Tuesday through Skype, I expanded my thinking to scaffolding learning by using an iPod to upload pre-read poems or other documents related to the literature topics; these artifacts would be read by students in our literature class who would benefit from rereading practice for a real-world purpose.  Students taking the class would hear same age peers on a podcast.   This could be called high school Reader’s Theater if they take parts in a short story.  What do you think Literature Group?


Harasim, L. (2012).  Learning theory and online technologies.  New York, NY:

Routledge, an imprint of Taylor & Francis Group.

Qiu, M., Hewitt, J. & Brett, C. (2012).  Online class size, note reading, note writing and

collaborative discourse.  Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 7, 423-


Xie, K. & Ke, F. (2011).  The role of students’ motivation in peer-moderated

asynchronous online discussions.  British Journal of Educational Technology,

42(6), 916-930.

4 thoughts on “What is the role of discourse, collaboration and technology for distributed learning in online courses?

  1. jcrocker2

    I think the Reader’s Theater is a great idea and a good way for students to share and get to know each other, though I don’t know if all of our potential students would meet the technical requirements for doing that (the chances are pretty good, though). Just a few years ago, it would have been much more difficult, but these days they can upload audio and video to Facebook or YouTube so easily (even directly from their phones, if they have the right kind of phone). It might also be a possibility for discussion of their readings–they could do it with audio/video recordings instead of by typing their thoughts on a blog posting or something like that. It might be easier for some students, and it might feel more like a face-to-face discussion.
    If we could know ahead of time that the different districts using our curriculum had roughly similar summer school schedules, we could set up Skype conferences with different students from around the state who are at roughly the same place in our course. Until we know about that, though, I’m not really sure to what extent we’ll be able to have students collaborating between districts.

    1. aletakmay Post author

      I wonder how we could find out about statewide summer school schedules. There are many more possibilities if we had that schedule and found overlaps between schools. As I re-read my own post, I see that I did not make my idea clear at all. When I said “our class,” I meant at the school I am teaching in. Having students from the school in Tuntutuliak read into an iPod, and upload that as a podcast to the summer literature class we are creating might give the summer school students a way to listen to others who already took the class.

      Sorry for the confusion 🙂


  2. cen50812

    Your writing is very defining and you are able to explain things in a helpful way. I am currently working on a project that requires both collaborative and cooperative efforts on my part to complete the task, in that I have responsibilities that others I’ve collaborated with are depending on me to complete. It is a nice feeling to be ‘a part of the team’ until it is my turn to become responsible. All of a sudden, stress becomes an overwhelming factor and I worry I am unable to perform.
    I am one who likes to collaborate with others in problem solving (over coffee), and see it as a very social experience. I enjoy the thought process involved in pondering solutions and thinking critically, the teamwork, and the solution oriented process all members are focusing on and striving to bring together. In a school setting, this is a perfect example of teachers meeting together to solve systemic problems that affect all members, or creating a better method of lesson presentations (a group of high school teachers working to build a cohesive, unified strategy to modify student behavior).
    When I think of Online Collaborative Learning in building a course, as a special educator, I always have to at the first building block (in any subject area), and remember that learning is based upon prior knowledge. A pre-test gives me the basis of moving ahead, or remediating and teaching to an aspect the learner has not mastered. A missing step in building a ladder makes for hard climbing. So, I build step by step, adding in necessary details.
    The biggest use of online learning in our high school is when students have failed the course and are trying to take it in a different format. One of the problems with this model is there is no pre-test to find what prior knowledge the student may have nor what skill level and abilities the student brings to the table (or in this case, to the computer).
    Another aspect or consideration is learning environment, the format or layout that the lesson is being presented (I call this ‘platform’); such as read and answer, video clip and write a reflection of what was presented, or is there a live, face to face virtual teacher or moderator at the other end who can give answers to learner questions.
    This online technology will be the learning center of the world soon, but prior to that time better learning environments need to be developed. Scaffolding will be a critical factor in presenting educational materials at multi-skill levels so all can be learners. Your presentation has supported my position that through YouTube, Skype, and other learning environments yet to come, learners at all skill levels will be presented leveled entry points or learning portals (by skill and ability level) access to real Open Learning.


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