otl 201_post 2. presencing the social

In thinking about my intro post, I can foresee that it might both increase and decrease social presence – or maybe, the hypothesized ‘benefits’ of social presence. For example, seeing my picture, and assuming that I am a white male might  generate a negative reaction for some, which would still imply ‘social presence’ – however, is it good?

One of the challenges I see with theories of ‘social’ presence in the online learning world is that ‘social’ presences online and the tools to generate that presence, change rapidly. For example, a student (or instructor) of the millennial generation may have multiple social media platforms that could broadcast their presence.

Or, many academics have multiple published papers and books, that in turn generate a ‘social presence’. Sometimes when theories seem to fit too easily, it might mean there are some potential weaknesses. Like other theories, there are both potential advantages and disadvantages to adopting various theoretical paradigms such as COI, and related theoretical components, such as ‘social presence’.


OTL 201- Post 1

I did not yet provide an introductory post. Here are some details about me, which links to my current doctoral studies at Athabasca University, and EdD in Online Education – and a recent presentation I gave for the Faculty of Graduate Studies: “Tensioned Interfaces: Unsettling Settler Spaces and Places in Online Education.”  The link for a presentation given Nov. 20, 2018 will open an Adobe Connect window.

I also have a website, where I intend to post on my “research blog” as my doctoral research evolves.



Post 5 – reflective reflections?


  • What are 2-3 of the most important ideas that you have studied during this course?

I have explored and critically engaged in the concept(s) of cognitive presence in relation to the COI Framework, along with the topic and concept of ‘feedback’. Approaching these ideas/concepts with a notion to critically engage or interrogate, has facilitated a deeper understanding of the terms, and potential pitfalls.

  • What are 2-3 questions that you have as a result of this course? Identify ways that you can begin to answer those questions.

I remain curious about the relation of the some of the concepts explored in this course and the relation back to a ‘student-centred’ approach. I am curious about the notion of cultural presence(s) and whether the COI framework might have some ethnocentric views. I am curious, and exploring more, the notions of what ‘learning’ is and how it is defined. The brain is a deeply complex entity – and, yet, much literature in education may be guilty of speaking in absolutes, or large generalizations.

  • Identify 2-3 specific goals that you would like to achieve in light of what you have learned about cognitive presence, approaches to learning, and feedback;

I continue to explore definitions of ‘learning’ in relation to some of this material. I intend to incorporate some of those (e.g. Knud Illeris) into my current doctoral dissertation proposal which is due to be defended in the next 4-8 weeks.

Post 4, feeding back, feeding forward?

  1. Are there any gaps between your practice of offering feedback to students and what Hattie recommends?

Yes, significant. Much of my instructing experience has included isolated rural Indigenous communities. There is some reference to ‘cultural’ differences in the Hattie excerpt. However, using the three engagement questions, sometimes the ‘goal’ for students I have worked with and for in the past is to just be present at the session. In many cases, so many barriers have been imposed upon students to attend opportunities for learning and expanding credentials. For example, in many northern communities (Indigenous or non-Indigenous) a large barrier is access to good and reliable childcare. These types of links and connections to ‘learning’ are potentially lost when ‘scientific’ and ‘statistical’ measures start permeating throughout education (e.g. links to ‘big data).

There is a place for the types of analysis that Hattie explores. However, there are often more humanized and day-to-day realities that also need to be incorporated into these types of discussions.

2. In what ways can you improve the effectiveness of the feedback that you provide for your students?

Maybe this will be considered somewhat contradictory, or oppositional thinking; however, I think the effectiveness of the feedback that I can provide to students will be greatly improved by seeking more feedback on my performance and methods of instruction. For example, long-time educator and research Stephen Brookfield advocates for a Critical Incident Questionnaire.

This asks some important questions of students and provides vital feedback to instructors/facilitators. This type of tool also facilitates opportunities for students to self-reflect on their own learning process. This, in many cases, can be an even more important ‘feedback’ process than receiving from an instructor.

Curiously, the etymology of feedback (Online Etymology Dictionary) suggests that ‘feedback’ as a process, such as “information about the results of a process” is suggested to not have been common until the 1950s. Prior to that it had to do with electronics.

Post 3, simplistic metaphors and stereotypes?

I am an instructor for a course on interpersonal communication and conflict resolution with the following learning objectives.

  1. What are the intended learning outcomes of the course? Do the learning outcomes reflect high-level cognitive skills or low-level skills (pay attention to the verbs)?
  • Improve interpersonal communication by understanding the role of nonverbal communication and culture in how messages are sent and received, as well as providing students with skills and strategies to communicate assertively and turn conflict into collaboration;
  • Understand their own problem-solving and decision-making styles, and the impact these styles may have on others;
  • Learn group problem solving and decision making strategies;
  • Learn how to motivate others by managing their own behaviour and communication style;
  • Understand the cumulative impact of stress, and learn how to manage their reactions under tension, pressure, and stress.

2. How is student learning assessed in the course (essays, quizzes, journals, machine-gradable tests, portfolios)?

This particular course has a combination of assignments, classroom participation and a final exam.

3. In what ways are the intended learning outcomes and the assessments aligned or not?

A combination of alignment and complete non-alignment. For example, having a final exam on a course focussed on interpersonal communication and conflict resolution is not very aligned.

_ _ _ _ _

Rather than commenting on the other aspects of this suggested post – I was quite struck by some potential stereotypes in the videos provided for this module. For example, it seemed remarkable to me that the young woman was the ‘deep’ learner and what appeared to be a young male, and potentially a visible minority at that. I am curious whether the video producers were aware of the potential stereotypes.

Furthermore, there are interesting metaphors used repeatedly in this module and in the videos, with the potential for ethnocentric views. It seems simplistic to suggest that a learner is a ‘shallow’ or ‘surface’ learner because they are a “C” student simply looking to get through a course. This seems to be far more a reflection of the education system, than the learner. Focussing on the learner, has the danger of potentially pathologizing each individual learner, as opposed to exploring how different learners learn in different ways.

_ __ _ _ _ _

Part of the pondering I highlight here is related to the fact that as of late, I instruct the above course to 100% International students and face-to-face with Moodle support and foundation. In the previous semester, I had 15 students from the Punjab area of India, 5 students from other parts of India, 1 from S. Korea, 1 from Rwanda, 1 from Croatia, 4 from the Philippines, and 2 from Mexico.  The range of cultural differences in interpersonal communication styles, along with conflict resolution – was astounding at times.

Therefore, some reflection is required in linking learning objectives with the actual students, and respecting their differences and similarities. This would be part of a “student-centred” approach, no?

Post 2 – some skepticism

  • What questions would you like to explore on the topic of cognitive presence?

My explorations of the COI model and theorizing has left me with many more questions than learnings. Like many models, especially those trying to quantify and evaluate processes of the brain (e.g. critical thinking) – I find them lacking in various components. For example, I have found the COI model and explorations of cognitive presence are lacking significantly in explorations of multiple cultures, and other epistemologies and ontologies. The COI model is built upon a social constructivism foundation – a set of theories that are contested and debatable.

Yet, there are some aspects of the theories of cognitive presence that I also find useful. Like many things, I do not see it as as an either/or. However, I am still skeptical of the statement provided in the final sentence: “We believe such an approach is capable of refining the concept and model presented here to the point where it can be a reliable and useful instructional tool for realizing higher-order educational outcomes.”

I find this hard to fathom when this set of theorizing has not been explored in, for example, communities of Indigenous learners, or, English as a second (or third, or fourth, etc.) language – especially if it’s frequently been built upon content analysis as the methodology for confirmation. I have found too much of the COI literature to be promotional, as opposed to engaging in critical thinking, which it purports to explore and essentially quantify. We humans know so little about brain function and processes – and some of the theorizing and writing on this subject seems to stretch what ‘we know’ –  a little too far for my comfort. Thus leaving me with many questions to explore in relation to theories of cognitive presence.

Post 1

  • What is the most important characteristic of high quality online learning environments and why it is important?

I’m not sure how to answer this question as it is not entirely clear what is meant by “learning environment”; for example, visiting an online news service could be described as a ‘learning environment’. Visiting a blog could be considered the same. Watching a recording of a hockey game, could also be considered a learning environment – especially if one is a hockey player or coach. “Video” is used for coaching and learning on a regular basis.

I read a somewhat disturbing stat recently which suggested that a majority of teenage boys/men in N. America are ‘learning’ about sex from free pornography sites. It could be argued that this is also a ‘learning environment’ – as are propaganda websites, religious extremism, and the various battles over “fake news”.

Therefore, in the danger of sounding somewhat provocative, the most important characteristics of any online learning environment is that it is accessible – somehow. Thus, my current conclusion to this question suggests that the most important characteristic of a high quality learning environment is that it must, in fact, be “online”. Or, maybe just as importantly, one would need a device to access an ‘online’ learning environment.

  • What is one thing that you have learned about teaching online (or face-to-face if you haven’t taught online) in the last year and how has it impacted your practice?

I have been both an instructor and a student in online environments over this past year. I have also taught face-to-face. One of the courses I have taught face-to-face focussed on Interpersonal Communication and Conflict Resolution. The vast majority of students in this course were International students. In one class I had 15 Punjabi-speaking students, 5 from various other parts of India, 5 students from the Philippines, 2 from Mexico, 1 from South Korea, 1 from Croatia, and 1 from Rwanda.

For many of these students it was their first semester in Canada. At the beginning of the course, some of these students had only been in Canada for a few days – still suffering from jet lag. I am highly skeptical that this course could be taught as successfully in a purely online environment. Yet, there are theories in the online learning world that there is ‘no significant difference’ between online and face-to-face. I tend to disagree.

Part of my disagreement hinges on some aspects of ‘education’ or ‘learning’ that might be labelled intangibles. Those components that may not be captured in learning objectives and measurable outcomes, and the big data ‘revolution’. I have watched some impressive bonds develop between students from vastly different countries and first languages, as they navigate and struggle through strengthening English skills and a foreign countries’ values, norms and education systems. In turn, I have also frequently found myself a ‘learner’ as I navigate working with learners from other countries. Thus, the impact on my practice is one of approaching an instructor role as someone also open to learning – thus the ‘environment’ for learning can become a reciprocal one for all involved.

  • What questions do you have about online teaching and learning?

I have many questions about online teaching and learning. I am also currently a doctoral student at Athabasca University nearing completion of a doctorate degree specializing in online education and innovation. The field is ripe with theories (e.g. COI) and links to the older practice of ‘distance education’ (e.g. through the mail, or otherwise). However, sometimes the theorizing might get in the way of the reality for many learners (and instructors plus institutions) – especially those learners that may be marginalized by a variety of factors. Yet, on the flip side, there are also countless opportunities.

Many of my questions lie along that spectrum or continuum.