In the last 10-minute talk Derek Chirnside described features of a constructivist, learner-centred, collaborative online course that he teaches. Here are some of the points that were discussed.

Blogs and journals encourage participants to reflect on the course content and their learning experiences, and interact with each other through sharing their stories and problems. Weekly postings and collaboration are a requirement of the course.

Learning experiences revolve around authentic (personally relevant) activities and projects.

While some parts of the course are open and public (for example the student blogs), there are closed environments and opportunities for private discussion between the course participants and individually with the lecturer. This stimulated quite a lot of discussion around the necessity for closed places in health courses where participants can safely share their experiences in private.

As the course progresses, students begin making connections beyond the course and become part of a wider learning community.

I was very interested in the strategies Derek used to encourage and support participation and interaction. He was realistic with participants about the challenges ahead in the course, was clear about course expectations and requirements, provided an environment that allowed participants to build up confidence, identified and supported at-risk students, used teaching activities that required contribution / peer feedback / collaboration (for example, sharing stories and problems), provided teacher feedback that invited more discussion and helped to connect people / ideas / examples, and linked participation to assessment.

I’m beginning to appreciate the complexity of online learning communities and achieving the optimal mix of challenge, participation, connection, independence, and support. And the roles that facilitators and participants play in bringing this all together to meet the needs of each particular group of learners and individuals within a group. This discussion certainly provided some useful insights and practical advice towards this.


  1. Sarah Stewart said...

    Great reflection. As for the challenge of facilitating online communities, how do you see yourself dealing with that challenge?

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