A Constructivist Model of Mentoring, Coaching, and Facilitating Online Discussions

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Calgary]On: 17 September 2013, At: 03:46Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    A Constructivist Model of Mentoring,Coaching, and Facilitating OnlineDiscussionsKaren L. Murphy a , Sue E. Mahoney b , ChunYing Chen c , NoemiV. MendozaDiaz d & Xiaobing Yang da Western New Mexico University, USAb University of HoustonDowntown, Texas, USAc Transworld Institute of Technology, Taiwand Texas A&M University, USAPublished online: 19 Jan 2007.

    To cite this article: Karen L. Murphy , Sue E. Mahoney , ChunYing Chen , Noemi V. MendozaDiaz& Xiaobing Yang (2005) A Constructivist Model of Mentoring, Coaching, and Facilitating OnlineDiscussions, Distance Education, 26:3, 341-366

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  • Distance EducationVol. 26, No. 3, November 2005, pp. 341366

    ISSN 0158-7919 (print); 1475-0198 (online)/05/03034126 2005 Open and Distance Learning Association of Australia, Inc.DOI 10.1080/01587910500291454

    A Constructivist Model of Mentoring, Coaching, and Facilitating Online Discussions

    Karen L. Murphya*, Sue E. Mahoneyb, Chun-Ying Chenc, Noemi V. Mendoza-Diazd and Xiaobing YangdaWestern New Mexico University, USA; bUniversity of Houston-Downtown, Texas, USA; cTransworld Institute of Technology, Taiwan; dTexas A&M University, USATaylor and Francis LtdCDIE_A_129128.sgm10.1080/01587910500291454Distance Education0158-7919 (print)/1475-0198 (online)Original Article2005Open and Distance Learning Association of Australia, Inc.263000000November 2005KarenMurphySchool of EducationWestern New Mexico Universitymurphykl@wnmu.edu

    This case study of an online graduate course determines the message characteristics of the instruc-tor, volunteer teaching assistants, and students in online discussions, and proposes a mentoring,coaching, and facilitating model for online discussions. The researchers developed a coding systembased on the literature of mentoring, coaching, and facilitating to identify the characteristics ofconference discussion messages. The instructor fostered the development of volunteer teachingassistants into coaches and of student discussion facilitators into facilitators of learning. Theproposed constructivist model fosters active learning, provides scaffolding for students to becomefacilitators of learning, and suggests creative ways for online instructors to manage different typesof teaching responsibilities. Recommendations for further research are included.

    Introduction

    Online courses have become the hallmark of university-level distance teaching in theUnited States. Many higher education institutions acknowledge online education asa critical long-term strategy (Allen & Seaman, 2003). Severe challenges exist foronline learners who are not necessarily familiar with online technologies or knowhow to collaborate in online groups while participating in constructivist learningenvironments (Hara & Kling, 1999; Murphy & Cifuentes, 2001). Challenges alsoexist for instructors, who are caught in the role shift from content expert to facilitatorof learning, a shift that has precipitated a change from teacher-centered to learner-centered instruction (Gunawardena, 1992). With this role shift, online teaching has

    *Corresponding author. School of Education, Western New Mexico University, P.O. Box 680,Silver City, NM 88062, USA. Email: murphyk1@wnmu.edu

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  • 342 K. L. Murphy et al.

    redefined instructors schedules, duties, and relationships with students. Some insti-tutions have developed policies for instructors to reply to all online student emailwithin a set time (Waterhouse & Rogers, 2004), whereas anecdotal evidence showsthat many online instructors have an obsession when it comes to their onlinecoursesa mixture of curiosity and a sense that if they dont keep logging on, theymight fall hopelessly behind (Young, 2002, p. 38).

    The push for online courses in higher education has not necessarily been accom-panied by increases in resources (Bates, 2000). Indeed, the quality, quantity, andaccessibility of materials available to online instructors are inadequate (Hara &Kling, 1999). A typical university online teaching model is for an instructor to use acourse management system delivered via the Internet. Such systems allow theinstructor to post the syllabus and other learning materials, and provide for commu-nication with and among the students. Students may also have access to technicalassistance via a help desk, and large enrollment courses may have teaching assistants(TAs) or other types of assistance during the semester. More fortunate onlineinstructors receive support with course design and technical assistance prior to thebeginning of the semester.

    Other models of online teaching and learning exist. Downes (1998) triad model ofonline learning identifies three key players: the student, the instructor, and the facil-itator. In this model, the role of the student is to learn; the instructor plays three majorrolesa facilitator of learning, content-area specialist, and evaluator; and the facilitatorprovides technical support, advocates for students, and mentors students by providingsupport and encouragement, along with study skills and time-management training.In the Stover et al. (2000) Teaching Teams Model, the key players are the instructor,TAs, and undergraduate preceptors who are hired as role models for their peers.

    Many instructors use social constructivism to promote student-centered and activelearning. Social constructivist conceptions of learning assume that knowledgeconstruction is achieved by the interaction that takes place within oneself throughreflective thinking and by the interaction that occurs in communications and collab-oration with other people (Vygotsky, 1978). Collaborative learning through interac-tion with others requires learners to engage actively in idea exchange and meaningnegotiation by looking at and reflecting on the multiple perspectives of fellow students.

    Instructors may invest inordinate amounts of time and energy in designing andteaching online classes that require students to be self-directed and have authenticexperiences, which present the same type of cognitive challenges as those in thereal world (Jonassen, 1999, p. 221). Such experiences include interactive activitiessuch as small-group discussions, simulation games, project-based work, and collab-orative problem-solving activities to solve educational problems (Romiszowski &Mason, 1996). Without adequate resources to create and teach in this manner, theonline instructor must establish creative ways to manage different types of teachingresponsibilities.

    To help meet the challenges of online students and instructors, this case studyintroduces a model to mentor and coach students facilitation of online discussions.This online discussion model is designed to accomplish three tasks: to foster active

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  • Mentoring, Coaching, and Facilitating Model for Online Discussions 343

    learning among students by empowering them to step out of the passive learningrole; to provide a framework to help students become facilitators of learning; and toallow online instructors to reduce their load through creative management of theirteaching responsibilities.

    Theoretical Perspectives

    The theoretical underpinnings of this study about online discussions are socialconstructivism and its corollariesmentoring, coaching, and facilitating.

    Social Constructivism

    The pedagogical rationale for online discussion is social constructivism, or sociocul-tural theory, in which individuals create or construct knowledge by attempting tobring meaning to new information and to integrate this knowledge with their priorexperience in their communication with others (Vygots