Dialogic Classroom Web Environment
Dialogic Classroom Web Environment
Eugene Matusov, University of Delaware
Mark Smith, Chestnut Hill College
Ana Marjanovic-Shane, Chestnut Hill College
Katherine von Duyke, University of Delaware
Description of Problem
Web-support re-conceptualization: From the web-based course management to the web-based learning environments
Traditionally, class web sites have been conceptualized as web-based “courseware management” (Berg & Korcuska, 2009) that involve a set of powerful technological web tools (like chat, forums, blogs, wikis, and so on) to facilitate already existing conventional teaching, assignments, exams, course bookkeeping, and grading. Often, the purpose of web based course management is to serve conventional pedagogy and to make it more effective while reducing instructors’ time on mechanical tasks. In these instrumental web systems, instructors’ unilateral control is prioritized over participants’ collaboration. In our pedagogical judgment, we have found that the many existing web platforms designed and commonly used for education seem to build monologic educational ecologies, in which class web discussions focus on replies to singular topics (like in a FAQ forum), and the pedagogical design emphasizes instructor control and surveillance of students’ assignments and discussions.
The web-based software applications often have been developed and considered outside of the class pedagogy itself. Of course, for many instructors who systematically use class webs, these web applications do not just became tools for more efficiency and time saving, but often they become an organic part of their pedagogical practice with time. In the latter case, pedagogy itself becomes shaped by the class web. In turn, students’ participation and experiences with the class are shaped not only by the pedagogical practice but also by the class web.
This proposal for Dialogic Class Web Environments (DCWE) is based on the idea that pedagogical web environments founded upon pedagogical innovations, especially in the area of collaborative and dialogic pedagogy, promise to make learning more meaningful, responsive, relevant, and rewarding for the students especially from socially and economically disadvantaged groups. In moving away from the conventional instrumental approach to ‘course management’, technology no longer simply serves existing pedagogy, but rather technology and pedagogy can begin to organically evolve and support each other. Since 1996, we have designed and experimented with DCWEs that support a different educational ecology focusing on the participants’ messy exploration of ideas generated by the community of learners (this “messiness” embedded in our web design is deliberate as we do not wish to unilaterally organize or control the responsive discourse which emerges in the discussion). In this classroom community of learners, all participants, including the instructor, have equal rights on defining, exploring, and negotiating the theme of communal discourse.
Conceptually, we see DCWE supporting dialogic pedagogy as much more than just a “dialogic tool” to be added to an existing pedagogical framework and structure. It is, we feel, a radical departure from existing educational technology and pedagogy. Although we recognize that pedagogy and technology provide mutual affordances for each other, we consider educational philosophy as the guiding principle for the pedagogical and technological designs for a class web environment. We do not want to sound arrogant, but in our view, the design of many existing class web environments is consciously or unconsciously guided by a conventional monologic educational philosophy based on “covering curriculum” unilaterally preset by the instructor in advance. Consequently, in the current conceptual language used by many educational platforms (e.g., Sakai), each module is described as a pedagogy-free, self-contained tool. In contrast our approach is ecological rather than instrumental. For example, in a party, we wouldn't speak of a room, or a patio as “a tool” as much as we would consider it a space. Similarly, we look upon the DCWE as a learning space of educational ecology with its own ecology instead of a tool.
Diverse pedagogical chronotopes
Different pedagogical practices, especially those that include web-based activities can be described using the concept of chronotope. Russian philosopher of dialogue Bakhtin (1991, 1999) introduced this very useful concept. He defined chronotope as the unity of the time, the space, and the value system in which events occur. The values system in a chronotope dictates the ways that practices are organized and their rationales. For instance, in traditional pedagogy, events usually occur around class assignments unilaterally designed by the teacher: whether the assignments are submitted by the students on time, whether they are accomplished by the students according to the teacher’s expectations, whether the students did the assignments by themselves and did not cheat, and so on. In traditional pedagogy, instructors often attempt to eliminate the possibility for students’ discursive learning initiatives that are frequently seen by these instructors as disrupting the unilateral order of their assignments. Based on that value system, the traditional teachers often demand that their class webs highly limit or eliminate all together opportunities for students’ such mutually interactive initiatives. Courseware management software designed with this philosophical orientation helps to achieve these goals by incorporating modules that promote individual activities mandated for the students by the teacher: surveys, questionnaires, tests and individually based assignments, etc (Berg & Korcuska, 2009).
In contrast, educational chronotopes of collaborative dialogic pedagogies promote and involve students’ initiatives, inquiries, self-assignments, and learning journeys (Matusov, 2009). The teacher-initiated assignments can serve as jump-starts for the students’ learning activism. The web design for this pedagogical chronotope has to provide complexity both for students’ collaboration and for students’ autonomy. In addition, the web design has to enable the teacher, or the community of teachers to collaborate by sharing libraries of academic texts, media, internet links and bookmarks, class templates and reflections on one and another’s practices (Matusov, et al., 2005).
Approach to Solution
The most successful school reform was the introduction of the blackboard – we hope that introduction of DCWE will be next successful school reform aimed at deepening and democratization of education. In this DCWE proposal, we call for a further development and dissemination of class webs that support innovative collaborative and dialogically oriented pedagogies; that can organically evolve with the pedagogy; and that can be easily used in K – 12 Schools and Higher education across the world. We want to receive financial support for developing DCWE on one of the existing popular open source platforms such as: Sakai, WordPress, Tiki, or Moodle. The success of our enterprise will be measured by spreading DCWE in K-12 schools and higher education around the world.
In DCWE we want to push forward the concept of a class web as an organic aspect of pedagogies. In this case, a class web is aimed at the emergence of a certain desired learning environment. For example, in our experimentation with asynchronous, threaded, discussion forums, we found that when we organize the forums from old (on the top of the forum page) to new (on the bottom of the forum page) threads and reply postings, this organization generates longer and deeper discussions among our students then when the forum is organized in the opposite way (i.e., new threads are on the top). We speculate the reason for this is that in the former case, our students, probably, have to scroll the page down to see the newest postings and go through old threads with new postings that might attract their attention. Serendipity promoted by a web technological design can become an important feature for one’s pedagogy and students’ learning environment.
Dialogic class pedagogies are never bound to just class time and class space; by their nature they are open to collaboration across space, time, settings, and participants (Collins & Halverson, 2009). Some of these types and levels of collaboration are difficult and often impossible to achieve without a class web. For example, class webs can promote students-initiated asynchronous discussions and learning, where students and the teacher can recursively address previous points being raised, and where the class web discussion can become materialized collective memory.
DCWE promotes and involves students’ initiatives, inquiries, self-assignments, and learning journeys. The teacher-initiated assignments can serve as jump-starts for the students’ learning activism. The web design for this pedagogical chronotope has to provide complexity both for students’ collaboration and for students’ autonomy. In addition, the web design has to enable the community of teachers to collaborate by sharing libraries of academic texts, media, internet links and bookmarks, class templates and reflections on one and another’s practices.
Dialogic pedagogy involves a demand for the teacher to consider oneself as an epistemological learner of the subject matter in addition to being a pedagogical learner of improvement of his/her own teaching. Dialogue implies equally serious inquiry and interest:
1) in the subject matter from both sides (i.e., the student and the teacher) and
2) in each other.
In dialogic pedagogy, the teacher’s questions involve genuine, information searching questions from and with the students. This requires the web design of forums to become free from unilateral control of the teacher for the topic of the discussion. Such discussion forums promote both student-to-student and teacher-to-student/student-to-teacher discourse. With the ability to post original threads and to reply to other participants’ thought provoking discussions (continuing their threads), the forum conversations inevitably become complex, if not chaotically looking at times, rich multi-leveled and multi-branched webs of connected and inter-related topics.
In addition to student-student and teacher-student discourse- and project-based collaborations, we find it important that our class webs support other types of collaboration:
1) Teacher’s longitudinal collaboration with oneself. By that we mean course and class planning, design, instructional resources, and reflection that exists as database outside of the particular class web but connected to the class web, possibility of flexibly using old class webs as templates for new class webs;
2) Collaboration among instructors teaching the same course: they can share class web templates, lesson plans, reflections, class policies, assignments, and instructional resources;
3) Collaboration among instructors teaching different courses: they can share class web templates, lesson plans, reflections, class policies, assignments, and instructional resources;
4) Students’ collaboration with outside sources: academic literature, didactic materials and learning activities, media, professional web-based practices, and so on;
5) Teachers’ collaboration across universities about their classes, academic literature, didactic materials, media, topic planning, etc.;
6) For K-12 school, collaboration among teachers, parents, and students about homework.
A prototype of the DCWE has been developed by us since 1996 on a MS FrontPage and SharePoint 1.0 platforms and used successfully in diverse university classes (see a demo at http://www.web-ed.udel.edu/EDUC259.demo/). Our proposal’s objective is to further develop the DCWE and transfer it onto an open-source web platform which would enable it to be used by a wider community of innovative educators. We expect two main types of funded jobs necessary to implement this project:
1) Developing a pedagogical design of the DCWE that has an open structure for further modifications;
2) Programming support that can realize this pedagogical design on a popular open-source platform.
List of essential tasks of the web-design for DCWE on an open-source platform:
a) Asynchronous web discussion forums (WebTalk) with threaded replies similar to old NNTP newsgroups. In our experience, currently dominant web discussion forums do not easily promote cross-fertilization of ideas and discursive complexity. They appear to function well for a FAQ list but not for dialogic discussion. These newly designed web forums seem to promote thematic control of the discussion by the teacher, which would be important for traditional pedagogy but seems to limit and restrict dialogue among participants in our pedagogical practice;
b) Templates for class web environments for existing and new courses;
c) Weekly calendar topics templates with academic events that can be individually modified, reordered, and reused;
d) A web Resource Library has to be created at a level above of the class webs that includes diverse databases: weekly assignments, assigned articles, videos, interesting links, final projects, lesson plans, and so on and is shared among teachers in the same and collaborating schools;
e) Libraries of archived students’ final projects – a web, separate from class webs;
f) All completed class assignments are visible to all class participants;
g) Online fragment-by-fragment analysis and discussion of posted videos;
h) Participants’ anonymous feedback informs the instructor about his or her teaching;
i) A Progress Report through which students and the instructor can monitor whether students are meeting class participatory expectations. For example, the progress report can provide information about the number of postings and assignments completed, and whether or not the student owes something for the class, or is meeting or exceeding expectations. This is a tool for each student to be in control of their own progress by monitoring their own engagement with the class activities and assignments, and to respond on time when they start following behind. The progress report automatically monitors the student’s postings and web based assignments – saving the instructor time that is usually used to manually entering monitoring data and calculations. The input of the instructor is minimal, usually only entering occasional absences from class and the final project scores (the only graded class assignment);
j) Collaborative online projects inside and outside of the class;
k) Possibilities for students to do compensations for late work or absences during limited time of the class term that can be counted and interpreted by the Progress Report through the grading policy;
l) Instructors can modify class requirements as needed;
m) Different views of the class webs are available to instructors, students and the public.
Our strategy involves two phases that may cyclically repeat. The first phase includes building a DCWE environment on an existing popular open-source platform such as Sakai, WordPress, Tiki, or Moodle. The second phase includes dissemination of the new DCWE among our colleagues and former students, in-service teachers, and via scientific conferences and presentations. When DCWE becomes available and innovative educators interested in collaborative dialogic pedagogy start using it, we expect that their educational needs will begin to drive further web development and that communities of developers existing around these open –source platforms will support developing new tools and modules for the further development of DCWE. We expect that DCWE will enculturate innovative educators in collaborative and dialogic pedagogies and make them aware of new, currently unknown, pedagogical opportunities. In turn, these new users will need DCWE to further develop, thus increasing demand, needing to search for extra funding, and putting pressure on open-source software engineers to continue to develop and improve DCWE and disseminate the platform across educational institutions around the world, creating a snowball effect.
We plan to publicize both pedagogical and software design of the DCWE on the internet, professional networks, conferences, and in academic publications. An effort will also be made to make DCWE easy to install, with documentation which can be understood even for novice server administrators, to promote its installation in institutions which do not have significant IT budgets. In addition seminars could be organized for educators who are starting to experiment in dialogic and collaborative pedagogy using DCWE. These seminars would, on one hand, introduce and train the new users of DCWE and, on the other hand, they would support their initiatives in developing DCWE based on their needs.
DCWE promotes qualitatively new approaches to pedagogical experimentation in innovative collaborative and dialogic pedagogies at different levels. Such experimentation is very difficult, if not impossible, without DCWE. For instance, DCWE enables collaboration and resource sharing on many levels of educational design. It promotes students’ collaboration in class and asynchronously. Students are expected to share resources and collaborate on projects. DCWE also may bring the power of useful resources on the Internet, within the students’ reach. These resources include collaboration with other students and professionals in the field. Additionally, DCWE affords sharing resources and collaboration among faculty within and across institutions, creating a repository of shareable class materials. Sharing resources also promotes professional collaboration among the educators: joint discussion of the educational issues, exchange of ideas about lesson plans, and activities, as well as other instructional needs and different issues of assessment. All of this will reduce costs of pedagogical failures especially among economically and socially disadvantaged social groups by making education more meaningful, responsive, relevant, and rewarding for the students and for the faculty. It also will reduce costs associated with the use of expensive, copyrighted course materials, promoting a new open-source culture for the development of innovative pedagogy across different educational environments. This platform will be of particular importance for promotion of pedagogical innovation within schools and institutions in which funding limitations or lack of technological expertise would otherwise hinder instructional experimentation.
a) Developing pedagogical design – $10,000;
b) Programming DCWE – $20,000;
c) Consulting – $5,000;
d) Administration of the project – $5,000;
e) Dissemination of the project through conferences – $3,000.
Approximately two years.
Berg, A., & Korcuska, M. (2009). Sakai courseware management (the offical guide): A comprehensive and pragmatic guide to using, managing, and maintaining Sakai in the real world. Birmingham, UK: Packt.