Unit 2: Week 1 Weekly Writing

Unit 2 Week 1: Weekly Reading

AnneMarie Mattacchione

September 20, 2014

Ally discusses and offers recommendations for best online teaching practices based on several schools of learning: Behaviorist, Cognitivist, Constructivist, and Connectivist. Ally’s article focuses on ensuring the reader is able to understand the importance of each school of learning as well as functionality in online learning communities. I appreciate the connection to valid theoretical approaches and the importance of application. His discussion is meaningful and timely. For some time, concerns about the validity of online teaching approaches and strategies have been worrisome to me. I see myself as a true novice in terms of online course development and teaching, hence the reason for my engagement in this course.

My teaching experiences are generally through face to face modalities: classroom semester-based courses, community workshops, seminars, intensives, and coaching. It is easy to relate to Ally’s differing schools of learning utilized in classroom-based teaching and learning. I teach each of the schools of learning to students in the Early Childhood Education degree. I use parallel process as a learning strategy when teaching adult students. Since children learn best by constructing their own knowledge, I use constructivist approaches when designing classes and assignments in hopes that the students will use similar approaches when teaching children. We discuss how behaviorist principles are employed in their learning as well as the children in early childhood classrooms. We weave cognitivist philosophies into all courses to emphasize the importance of assimilation and accommodation. I have no argument that these schools of learning are appropriate, equally useful and necessary for both online and classroom-based learning.

After reading the final school of learning, Connectivist theory for online learning, I concluded that the title is limiting. Since students are utilizing technology both in and outside the classroom setting, the principles are current and useful for classroom-based learning. So much so, I would advocate for a titled change from Connectivist Theory for Online Learning to Connectivist Theory. Ally describes these guidelines in terms of rapid information dissemination and evolution, innovative and globally influenced, learning in peer to peer and social constructs, and finally multidisciplinary. In my experience, classroom-based teaching and learning not only does not preclude such characteristics but are common inventions.

It seems reasonable to question the ability of students to embrace each guideline. For example: Connectivist theory supposes the rapid changes to and addition of information and knowledge. “The rapid increase of information available from a variety of sources means that some information is not as important or genuine as other information. As a result, the learner must be able to identify important information from unimportant information. (Ally, 2008, p. 34) While this is true based on the sheer number of available periodicals and technology resources, that information is not always accurate, valid and reliable. I find myself regularly helping students understand and navigate toward valid and reliable sources of data. Since this type of discrimination is taught as a pre-requisite at the B.A. level, but not for 100 and 200 level courses, students do not have the necessary skills to determine appropriate web-sources or peer-reviewed journal articles. Many want to use sources that are questionable, not because they know the difference, but because they think if it is published on the web or is found at the local library, it must be good enough to use in course assignments.

As well, I see another challenge to the current University degree structure. Ally speaks to the need for students to become more multidisciplinary, “Learners must be exposed to different fields so that they can see the connections between the information in the fields.’  (Ally, 2008, p. 35) After reading this guideline, I smiled. Finally, research that validates what I have long known, that it is more meaningful to integrate knowledge from other disciplines to help students understand foundational concepts. I use knowledge from family studies, psychology, human development, and brain research to explain common principle of child development. I am fortunate that my educational curiosity helped me to explore other disciplines, in turn, offering this knowledge to get students excited about cross-discipline study. In recent month, it seems that universities struggle to ensure timely completion and minimal expense to students. While, this awareness is valid both in terms of outcome measurement and affordability, inspiring students to go beyond the degree requirements to explore related disciplines will be a challenge.

Despite challenges, both online and face to face classroom learning experiences include many more similarities than differences in terms of applying school of learning theories outlined in Ally’s article. The more I think about the differences in each modality, the more I embrace what Ally describes as “the goal to any instructional system is to promote learning’. (Ally, 2008, p. 18) Ally goes on to indicated that “strategies should be selected to motivate learners, facilitate deep processing, build the whole person, cater to individual differences, promote meaningful learning, encourage interactions, provide relevant feedback, facilitate contextual learning, and promote support during the learning process. (Ally, 2008, pp. 18-19) Isn’t that a true statement no matter a student’s choice in learning environment?

Ally, M. (2008).  Foundations of educational theory for online learning. In  Anderson, T., & Elloumi, F. (Eds.).  The theory and practice of online learning  (2nd ed.)  (pp. 15—44). Athabasca, AB, Canada: Athabasca University.

4 thoughts on “Unit 2: Week 1 Weekly Writing

  1. Alda

    I agree with your point about 100 and 200 level students lacking the ability to discriminate among weak and strong web sources. I teach the basic speech course, and the URLs that wind up in my students’ References list can be appalling. Though we have a discussion about how web pages should have an identifiable author, .gov and .edu are generally more reliable, etc. they still want to start with Google and click on the first few links that pop up- which are often sponsored link-bait sites that are not offering original, research-based content. I try to point out the fact that anyone can put up a web page and claim expertise, and show them the Endangered Tree Octopus web page hoax, https://zapatopi.net/treeoctopus/. But I’m still looking for good activities that will help learn hands-on the vast difference in quality among web sources.

    I enjoyed the quote you picked out about learners needing to learn about and make connections among different fields. This is something that enhanced my learning experience greatly; about halfway through my first BA there were several “AHA” moments where the content in my seemingly unconnected “elective” classes began to overlap. I saw similarities in reasoning and practical application among my English, Communication, and Biology classes, for example. I strive in my own teaching to “prime” students for making such connections by encouraging them to reflect on how they can use information in my class in other areas of their life, asking whether they’ve encountered similar theories or concepts in other classes or situations.

  2. Owen


    It is a pleasure to read about your inquiry and I understand your perspective. I’ve long been intrigued by the little bit of pleasure we derive from that moment of connection, that moment of “Aha!” That little bit of pleasure is no accident, I think. A little pulse of endorphin, a relic from an age when our survival depended on our ability to repeatedly make those mental connections.

    And – I like that you pointed out Ally’s strategic suggestions should apply to all learning environments.

    Thank you for sharing.

  3. kgebauer

    As I read Ally’s article I found like you that most of what he described could easily be applied to the classroom setting. It was difficult at first to pick out what truly made the online learning environment unique from the classroom environment, especially when considering learning theories. This especially true because now we have classrooms that utilize technology more and more. Down here in Healy we have one-to-one classrooms and I could see the Connectivist Theory applying to such a classroom in many ways. I guess I didn’t put much thought into the title, but I didn’t read the article with the thought that the Connectivist Theory only applies to the online learning environment because it takes from the other theories as well to help one understand the online learning environment better. This only highlighted for me that there were more similarities than differences between the online learning environment and the face-to-face classroom environment.

    Teaching students to make cross discipline connections is necessary and helping them learn to choose appropriate sources of information is difficult. Before I came to UAF I took distance courses in high school, so I was taught how to discern appropriate information on the web through those courses, which helped me greatly when I embraced the college learning environment. As a K-12 educator I can also identify how difficult it is to teach students not just to Google, thankfully more of them are going to Google Scholar these days, but even in that area of the web one has to be careful, it can be a starting point in the least. Teaching students to access databases and learning how to enter search terms is difficult just because we don’t take the time to teach it well and let them practice the skills over and over again so it is embedded and becomes second nature. I hope that more and more students will have their aha moments about this before reaching college.

    Thanks for sharing.

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