University of Toronto (CANADA)
About this paper:
Appears in: EDULEARN16 Proceedings
Publication year: 2016
Pages: 5594-5604
ISBN: 978-84-608-8860-4
ISSN: 2340-1117
doi: 10.21125/edulearn.2016.2336
Conference name: 8th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 4-6 July, 2016
Location: Barcelona, Spain
A structured literature review was conducted to examine the range of theoretically framed studies including online discussions within higher education. Key words to guide the retrieval were (“online learning” AND engagement or participation AND “higher education” or college or university not “MOOC” or MOOCs” AND teacher or instructor or professor. This preliminary study did not differentiate types of courses but did focus on higher learning, specifically University or college level courses that were not technical, certificate, graduate or professional. The study used four consecutive years of peer-reviewed Education Resources Information Center (ERIC) documents. Of the 132 documents retrieved in the initial broad search, only 55 in total fit the search parameters, and only four of these were literature review-based. The remaining studies were primarily empirical, often focusing on one factor of online teaching or learning.

The scarcity of current information is significant. Also interesting was the underlying emphasis on the Community of Inquiry (COI) framework, based on Garrison’s seminal work in 2000 which highlighted the importance of engagement and community in knowledge acquisition. COI or constructivism is directly referenced in 19 of the 55 works and 31 of the 55 works employed key terms of COI theory.

From a review of these papers, it appears that instructor decisions about how to structure a course, what to include, and how and when to become involved seem ad hoc: the end result is that instructors’ involvement in courses is variable and not guided by clear pedagogical principles. There are a great deal of creative ideas, a good working model within the COI framework, and a wide range of part of partial solutions and suggestions; nevertheless, there is no definitive guide.

This study organizes relevant findings in the area of technical and learner considerations, as well as within the teaching, social and cognitive presence of the instructor, taken from the COI framework. Information, presented in a cohesive, comprehensive document within a valid pedagogical framework can better inform busy educators who desire to transform their own teaching based on relevant research.

Future study could expand and critique this model, more fully integrating other models and looking at course-related variables more closely. Qualitative, quantitative and longitudinal studies can be designed which not only develop and expand the methodology suggested as currently viable within a learning community, but which also build on the potential for online learning to go beyond reproducing traditional courses online.
Online discussion, collaboration, Community of Inquiry, engagement, participation, instructor, constructivism.