Creating an Increased Sense of Ownership in the Online Environment

Mon, Oct 14, 2013

Distance Learning, Uncategorized

by Gregory Mandalas

As a teacher and principal, my focus was always on student achievement. In the classroom my colleagues and I had our own term for student success; when a student demonstrated mastery we would say that the student “owned the information”. In my role as an online professor, I am faced with the same challenge. How can I create ownership opportunities for my online students?
We know that students own information and concepts faster when they have a chance to actually teach the information or concepts to their peers. As a classroom teacher, I would create these opportunities through cooperative learning groups within which the students would actually teach the information to other students. In the online world, this creates a challenge. What are some strategies that we could use to create this same experience in the virtual world?
Most online classes involve some sort of a forum or message board as a primary learning tool. Often, the instructor poses a question for the entire class to ponder through the forum board. The students then respond to the question using current research to back up their initial posts. Other students are to respond to the post, making an argument for or against the position of the original student.
This traditional form of forum posting may not meet our needs when it comes to knowledge ownership. Perhaps in order to create an environment where the students have more opportunities, the forums should be managed by students rather than by the instructor. Imagine asking our students to be forum leaders. They are to manage the forum just as the instructor would. They would be in charge of posing the initial question that the class is to respond to. They would ask questions that will allow for further exploration. What would this look like logistically?
This is only one tool that we could use to create learner ownership opportunities. Perhaps we could ask our students to design an assessment for the class. Perhaps the students could lead small group forums. Perhaps the student could even design portions of the class lecture.
The point is that our online learning environment should be just as engaging as the best face-to-face classes. We should be interfacing with our students in such a way that we absolutely expect learning to take place. Anything less is unacceptable.

Greg Mandalas is an elementary school principal in Western Pennsylvania. He has taught education courses for American Public University and the American Military University for several years. Prior to that he worked as an online adjunct professor for colleges throughout the country.

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