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, UKDistance EducationPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cdie20A 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, 341-366To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01587910500291454PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLETaylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (theContent) contained in the publications on our platform. However, Taylor & Francis,our agents, and our licensors make no representations or warranties whatsoever as tothe accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of the Content. Any opinionsand views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors,and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor & Francis. The accuracy of the Contentshould not be relied upon and should be independently verified with primary sourcesof information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable for any losses, actions, claims,proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoeveror howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to orarising out of the use of the Content.This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Anysubstantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing,systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms &Conditions of access and use can be found at http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionsDownloaded by [University of Calgary] at 03:46 17 September 2013 Distance EducationVol. 26, No. 3, November 2005, pp. 341366ISSN 0158-7919 (print); 1475-0198 (online)/05/03034126 2005 Open and Distance Learning Association of Australia, Inc.DOI 10.1080/01587910500291454A Constructivist Model of Mentoring, Coaching, and Facilitating Online DiscussionsKaren 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.eduThis 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.IntroductionOnline 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.eduDownloaded by [University of Calgary] at 03:46 17 September 2013 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 activeDownloaded by [University of Calgary] at 03:46 17 September 2013 Mentoring, Coaching, and Facilitating Model for Online Discussions 343learning 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 PerspectivesThe theoretical underpinnings of this study about online discussions are socialconstructivism and its corollariesmentoring, coaching, and facilitating.Social ConstructivismThe 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 (Vygotsky, 1978). Building on socialconstructivism, cognitive apprenticeship theory (Collins, Brown, & Newman, 1989)emphasizes two issues: a method aimed primarily at teaching the process thatexperts use to handle complex tasks; and a focus of the learning-through-guided-experience (Collins et al., p. 457) on cognitive and metacognitive skills andprocesses, rather than on physical ones. Collins et al.s core teaching methodsmodeling, coaching, and scaffoldingare designed to help learners acquire anintegrated set of cognitive and metacognitive skills through processes of observationand guided and supported practice (p. 481). Dennen (2002) adds mentoring to thethree core teaching methods of modeling, coaching, and scaffolding.Modeling, coaching, scaffolding, and mentoring are but some of the terms used todescribe the roles and functions related to teaching, or assisting learning in a socialconstructivist environment. Other terms used in the literature to describe similarfunctions include teaching presence (Anderson, Rourke, Garrison, & Archer, 2001),cognitive presence (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2001), cognitive task structuring(Gallimore & Tharp, 1990), and high-level and low-level mentoring (Angeli,Valanides, & Bonk, 2003). Many terms have overlapping meanings. The followingsections focus on the concepts of mentoring, coaching, and facilitating as used insocial constructivist learning environments. Following each description is ourdefinition of the term.MentoringMentoring functions are those aspects of a developmental relationship that enhanceboth individuals growth and advancement (Kram, 1983, p. 622). Dennen (2002)defines a mentor as one who mediates expert knowledge for novices, helping thatwhich is tacit to become more explicit (p. 817). The many definitions of mentoringare related to the social constructivist model of cognitive apprenticeship and oftenincorporate collaboration, interaction, modeling, scaffolding, and communities ofDownloaded by [University of Calgary] at 03:46 17 September 2013 344 K. L. Murphy et al.practice. Mentoring relationships are usually hierarchical, one-on-one, and occur invaried environments: business and industry, higher education, and schools. Amentor supports the development of a learner, which includes helping the learnergain the necessary skills and knowledge to function effectively in a given environ-ment (Daloz, 1999).Mentoring support takes the form of expert-to-novice transfer of professionalinformation or life lessons from within a particular field such as teacher education(Price & Chen, 2003). As a result, mentors guide learners into a specific communityof practice, thereby allowing the learners, through legitimate peripheral participation(Lave & Wenger, 1991), to evolve into practitioners in a given field. Our definitionof mentoring is: A one-on-one relationship between an expert and a novice in which the expert guidesthe novice by behavioral and cognitive modeling, academic and career counseling,emotional and scholarly support, advice, professional networking, and assessment.CoachingAccording to Perkins (1992), coaching based on the cognitive apprenticeship model(Collins et al., 1989) should be used to guide learners in developing task managementskills. Online learners often need assistance in establishing strategies for managing theirtime (Hill, 2001), particularly in constructivist environments, which require learnersto be their own task managers (Vrasidas & McIsaac, 1999). A coach typically helpsothers in meeting a particular goal (Parsloe & Wray, 2000, as cited in Dennen, 2002).Coaching may be solicited by the learner seeking help, and it may be unsolicitedwhen the coach observes performance and provides encouragement, diagnosis,directions, and feedback (Jonassen, 1999, p. 233). Jonassen suggests four kinds ofcoaching in a constructivist learning environment: provide motivational prompts,monitor and regulate the learners performance, provoke reflection, and perturblearners models. He maintains that the most important role of the coach is the secondkind: to monitor, analyze, and regulate skill development of learners. The fourth kindof coaching, perturbing learners models, is critical for changing the mental modelsof nave learners. Kellers (1983) ARCS (attention, relevance, confidence, and satis-faction) motivational model describes the sequence of motivational events, whereasKeller and Kopp (1987) extended these concepts by suggesting specific motivationalstrategies. Our definition of coaching is: Observing learner performance and providing encouragement, diagnosis, directions,and feedback. Specifically, coaching involves providing motivational prompts, monitor-ing, and regulating learner performance, provoking reflection, and perturbing learnersmodels.FacilitatingFacilitating, or moderating online discussion and learning typically encompassesfour types of activities: technical, pedagogical, managerial, and social (Berge, 1995).Downloaded by [University of Calgary] at 03:46 17 September 2013 Mentoring, Coaching, and Facilitating Model for Online Discussions 345Technical activities center around helping students learn to function and feelcomfortable in the online environment, such as helping students get online andresolve technical problems with their hardware and software (Winograd, 2001).Pedagogical activities focus on mindfully engaging the learner throughout a course.Managerial activities address the process from an organizational, procedural, oradministrative standpoint, including setting the agenda for the conference: theobjectives of the discussion, the timetable, procedural rules, and decision-makingnorms (Berge, 9). Social activities create a friendly, social environment forstudents by promoting human relationships, developing group cohesiveness, andmaintaining the group as a unit. Our definition of facilitating is: Providing technical, pedagogical, managerial, and social activities that maintainsustained and authentic communication between and among instructors and students.The present study focuses on the following roles in an online class: the instruc-tors guiding role, the teaching assistants monitoring and regulating role, and thestudent facilitators discussion facilitation role. We refer to the teaching assistantsas TAs; to the student facilitators in online discussions as facilitators or cofacilita-tors; to the student-as-participants in online discussions as discussion participants;and to all learners in the sample online class as students. We asked these researchquestions: 1. What are characteristics of messages posted by the instructor, teaching assis-tants, and students in online discussions?2. What is the nature of a model for mentoring, coaching, and facilitating learningin online discussions?MethodCourse ContextThe semester-long online graduate course about the foundations of distance learn-ing took place at a large university in the southwestern United States in fall 2002.Throughout the semester, the 21 students accessed course information from theWeb site on WebCT and communicated via FirstClass computer conferencingsoftware. FirstClass software provides multiple functions that foster collaborativelearning such as threaded discussions in icon-based conferences; file attachments;private email; real-time, text-based chats (Persico & Manca, 2000); and collabora-tive document writing spaces, or whiteboards (Murphy, Cifuentes, & Shih, 2004).The top-level FirstClass conferences consisted of eight public conferences andtwo private conferences (see Figure 1).Figure 1. Top-level FirstClass conferencesSix 2-week student-facilitated unit discussions accounted for one-half of thefinal grade. For each unit students read the assigned readings and then contrib-uted to threaded online discussions of the readings. To satisfy the discussionrequirement, each student cofacilitated one discussion and participated in the fiveother discussions. Cofacilitators communicated with each other via threadedDownloaded by [University of Calgary] at 03:46 17 September 2013 346 K. L. Murphy et al.discussions, supplemented by real-time chats and collaborative documents. Thefacilitator groups organized their responsibilities in varied ways, as each grouphad complete autonomy as to how to conduct the unit discussion. The studentswere separated into one of two threaded discussion groups consisting of 10 or 11students each. The six discussion conferences each consisted of three subconfer-encesa private conference for the cofacilitators to develop discussion questionsand an action plan for their upcoming unit discussion, and two public confer-ences for discussions of the topics with the participants (see Figure 2 for anexample).Figure 2. FirstClass discussions conference exampleThe course design prepared the students for participating in and facilitating mean-ingful discussions related to the course content, and emphasized the expectations forlearning collaboratively. The syllabus explained that evidence of working effectivelyas part of a group is critical to the field of educational technology, and it outlineddiscussion participation requirements based on substantive contributions thattended to be several paragraphs long and included one or both of the followingcharacteristics: They demonstrate what you have learned from the readings. Do not merely quoteor repeat an authors point; your contribution should show that you have given anarticle some serious thought. For example, you may apply a concept taken fromthe readings to reflect on a personal experience, explain a change of opinion, orconnect ideas in new ways.DiscussionsForms Co-teachersResearchPaperHowdyCafe Q&A FirstClass InstructorsTalk JournalsNote: Private Conferences Public ConferencesOnline ClassFigure 1. Top-level FirstClass conferencesCo-facilitators Group BDiscussionsUnitGroup A Figure 2. FirstClass discussions conference exampleDownloaded by [University of Calgary] at 03:46 17 September 2013 Mentoring, Coaching, and Facilitating Model for Online Discussions 347 They build on the ideas of classmates and enrich the discussion. Presenting well-crafted counter-arguments, elaborating on the nuances involved in an issue, orproviding a poignant example of how a classmates point impacted your thinkingare all examples of ways to build substantively on your classmates contributions.To prepare for online participation and group facilitation at the beginning of thesemester, new online students completed four laboratory exercises to ensure thatthey knew how to use FirstClass. In addition, several activities helped studentsget to know each other while they developed skills with computer conferencing.After reading one of five articles about moderating online discussions, studentswrote a short essay in which they compared face-to-face and computer conferenc-ing discussions, described their anticipated behaviors, and wrote three guidelinesfor facilitating online discussions. To prepare for collaborating with classmates tofacilitate a unit discussion of required readings, students read Severns (1998)article about group learning contracts in advance of developing a contract withtheir cofacilitators. At an initial orientation session held face-to-face, accompaniedby streaming video and FirstClass chat, each group negotiated member responsi-bilities, learnt how to communicate with each other electronically, scheduled onlinechats, and made plans for facilitating the discussion (Murphy, Mahoney, &Harvell, 2000). Groups recorded those negotiations in their group learningcontracts, posted them to a public FirstClass conference, and referred to themduring the semester.ParticipantsParticipants included the instructor, two TAs, and the 21 students enrolled in theclass. The instructor was an experienced online instructor of educational technologywho had been teaching graduate-level distance and online classes since 1993 andhad been conducting research about distance learning since 1986.Two female doctoral students volunteered to be TAs in addition to their half-timegraduate assistantships in order to increase their content knowledge and to gainskills in teaching a graduate online class. Both TAs, who elected to assist with thediscussions, were international students. The TAs experience ranged from 4 to 12online classes, and they were familiar with the instructors teaching style, havingtaken most, or all, of her online classes previously.The class consisted of 7 doctoral students and 14 masters students. Their onlineexperience ranged from none to several online classes, and 12 of the 21students hadtaken at least one online class previously from the same instructor. With one excep-tion, all of the students were in the College of Education.The eight cofacilitators whose messages were used in the study included sevenfemales and one male; four were doctoral students and four were masters students;five were Americans and three were international students (one of whom took thecourse from her country in East Asia). Their previous online experience rangedfrom two cofacilitators with no courses, four cofacilitators with one course, oneDownloaded by [University of Calgary] at 03:46 17 September 2013 348 K. L. Murphy et al.cofacilitator with three courses, and one cofacilitator with four courses. The instruc-tor privately requested the three students who had previously taken an online classwith her to cofacilitate the first unit discussion while acting as role models for theother students.Data SourcesData sources were transcripts of selected online conferences. The conference tran-scripts described later included the coteachers private conference, three private unitdiscussion conferences, and three corresponding public unit discussion conferences.We sampled discussions from the beginning, middle, and end of the semester:Group B in Unit 1 (Foundations of Distance Education), Group A in Unit 3(Distance Technologies), and Group X in Unit 6 (Assessment and Evaluation inDistance Education).Coteachers conference. Private discussions for the instructor and TAs took placewithin the coteachers conference. Topics included reminders of dates and tasks tobe accomplished, drafts of messages to be sent to students, discussions of facilitatingproblems and solutions, copies of real-time chats with each other and of messagesposted elsewhere, and grading scales for discussions.Private unit discussion conferences. Within each unit discussion was a private discus-sion conference for the instructor, the TAs, and the discussion cofacilitators. Cofa-cilitators determined three to five key issues to introduce to the discussionparticipants and developed stimulus questions for each issue. The instructor moni-tored the private discussions and posted pedagogical intervention and supportmessages. The TAs took turns helping each group of facilitators develop discussionquestions and an action plan for their upcoming unit discussion. Facilitators main-tained contact with each other throughout the public discussions.Public unit discussion conferences. Each unit discussion also contained two publicdiscussion conferences for the discussion facilitators and participants. During each2-week unit the cofacilitators had multiple responsibilities, whereas discussionparticipants had more limited ones. The instructor and TAs monitored the publicdiscussions but did not participate in them. Facilitators opened the discussion byposting a welcome message and three stimulus questions in both public conferences.Their specific tasks were to promote lively discussion, to comment on the responsesof the participants, to tie participants comments to other points made in the read-ings, to make connections between the comments, to encourage elaboration andadditional debate of interesting points, to provide links to additional relevant infor-mation, and to query students directly using their names. Discussion participantswere to post a minimum of five substantive messages, and anywhere from two to fiveother shorter messages.Downloaded by [University of Calgary] at 03:46 17 September 2013 Mentoring, Coaching, and Facilitating Model for Online Discussions 349Data AnalysisThe phases for data analysis were coding system development, the pilot study, andthe main study. We conducted a literature review to develop the initial codingsystem. A mixed-method design, combining qualitative and quantitative contentanalysis, was used to conduct a pilot study to test the coding system. To develop thefinal coding system we used qualitative data analysis to confirm the findings from theliterature and obtain emergent findings that were previously unidentified. Weemployed quantitative content analysis for both the pilot study and the main study.Coding system development. Based on a synthesis of the literature, we constructed acoding system of mentoring, coaching, and facilitating online discussions. Our codingsystem is modeled after similarly structured coding systems of online discussions(Angeli et al., 2003; Henri, 1992; Rourke, Anderson, Garrison, & Archer, 2001). Theinitial coding system encompassed definitions, indicators, and approaches to explicatethe characteristics of each of the three categoriesmentoring, coaching, and facilitat-ing. Each category included an area for emerging indicators.Pilot study. The purpose of the pilot study was to compare our individual codingon printed transcripts to reach consensus on interpretations of definitions andindicators of the three roles of mentoring, coaching, and facilitating. Using theinitial coding system to conduct quantitative content analysis, each researcherindependently analyzed a specified portion of the data in one of the publicdiscussions and evaluated selected messages based on the meaning contained inthe message. The unit of analysis was a paragraph. We repeated this procedurewith a sample of messages in two other types of computer conferences. We pilottested and revised the coding system multiple times to incorporate emerging cate-gories, such as request for information, and refine our thinking in attempts toachieve consensus on the coded transcripts. See Appendix for the final codingsystem.Main study. Using our revised coding system, we employed quantitative contentanalysis to analyze the selected conference transcripts. The paragraphs within eachmessage in all seven conferences were numbered and real-time chat transcripts wereexcluded. The transcripts maintained message-identifying features and discussionthreads. To facilitate coding, the second author created coding templates for eachconference, which included the paragraph number, the participants formal role, thebeginning text of the paragraph, and empty columns for the two coders to post theircodes.Two teams of two researchers each performed independent coding of the sevenconference transcripts. One research team discussed their independent coding atthe beginning stages to ensure that they were on the same track, whereas the otherteam did their coding individually without communication. After the conferenceDownloaded by [University of Calgary] at 03:46 17 September 2013 350 K. L. Murphy et al.transcripts had been coded, the first two authors independently identified codingagreement within each conference. They ignored coding agreement of greetingsand closings, as well as very short paragraphs such as Good suggestion andGood point. They looked for coding agreement first in categories, then in indica-tors, and finally in codes, each according to the individuals formal role (instructor,TA, facilitator, or discussion participant).The trustworthiness of this study was tested using credibility and interrater reli-ability. We established credibility through persistent observation and triangulation(Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Persistent observation was achieved by reviewing theliterature, exploring the course Web site, and analyzing online discussion tran-scripts. We moved iteratively between a literature review and direct observationof transcripts to develop relevant and representative coding indicators (Rourke &Anderson, 2004, p. 10). Triangulation took place by sampling different discussiongroups representing different times during the semester.Interrater reliability is defined as the extent to which different coders, eachcoding the same content, come to the same coding decisions (Rourke et al.,2001). Interrater reliability was calculated using Holstis (1969) coefficient reli-ability. The interrater reliability for all conference transcripts was 64%, which islower than the recommended 80% (Rourke et al.). Several factors impacted thecoding processmultiple versions of the coding system, training of coders,coders level of research experience, and the diverse cultural composition of thecoders.ResultsData were gathered from a semester-long online graduate course for two purposes:to determine the characteristics of the instructors, teaching assistants, andstudents messages in online discussions; and to create a model for mentoring,coaching, and facilitating learning in online discussions. We acknowledged thefollowing participant roles at the outset: the instructors guiding role, the TAs moni-toring and regulating role, and the student facilitators discussion facilitation role.Results are presented according to research question.Message CharacteristicsQuestion 1 asked: What are characteristics of the messages posted by the instruc-tor, teaching assistants, and students in online discussions? To answer this ques-tion, we used the coding system as a guide to categorize the types of messagesposted. Figures 3, 4, and 5 illustrate the types of discussion messages that theinstructor, the TAs, and the facilitators posted in each of three types of conferences.Bold lines and arrows indicate private conferences, and double lines and arrowsindicate public conferences. One-way arrows indicate one-way interactions, andtwo-way arrows indicate two-way interactions. Explanations of the three figuresfollow.Downloaded by [University of Calgary] at 03:46 17 September 2013 Mentoring, Coaching, and Facilitating Model for Online Discussions 351Figure 3. Types of discussion messages posted by the instructor and TAs in the coteachers conferenceFigure 4. Types of discussion messages posted by the instructor, TAs, and cofacilitators in the private unit discussion conferencesFigure 5. Types of discussion messages posted by cofacilitators and discussion participants in the public unit discussion conferencesCoteachers conference. In the private coteachers conference designated for theinstructor and TAs, characteristics of instructor messages to TAs included mentor-ing and coaching functions; TA messages to the instructor were replies, progressreports, and requests for information; and TA messages to each other includedreplies, requests for information, coaching, and minimal facilitating functions. InFigure 3, the one-way arrows from the instructor to the TAs indicate one-way inter-actions (i.e., the instructor mentored and coached TAs). Coders agreed that thefollowing quotation illustrated the instructors coaching by monitoring and regulat-ing learner performance: You are preparing to chat with the two Unit 5 facilitators tonightgood! Im a bitconcerned that nothing is in their collaborative documents yet. My new message Getstarted: Tips for facilitation may be helpful The two-way arrows between TAs indicate that the TAs coached each other, asthis quotation from one TA to the other demonstrated, monitoring and regulatinglearner performance: Following there is a chat that took place between Dr. M and X after the chat withUnit 3 facilitators In order to fully understand the context it is necessary to readthe chat of Unit 3 facilitators of the same date located in the respective private section.Thanks.Instructor Co-facilitatorsCoachFacilitateCoachFacilitateMentorCoach FacilitateFacilitate FacilitateTAs Co-facilitatorsFigure 4. Types of discussion messages posted by the instructor, TAs, and cofacilitators in the private unit discussion conferencesInstructor TAs TAs MentorCoach Coach CoachFigure 3. Types of discussion messages posted by the instructor and TAs in the coteachers conferenceDownloaded by [University of Calgary] at 03:46 17 September 2013 352 K. L. Murphy et al.Private unit discussion conferences. In the three private cofacilitators conferencesdesignated for the instructor, TAs, and cofacilitators, the instructor and TAmessages to facilitators were characterized as mostly coaching and facilitating func-tions. The facilitator messages to the instructor and TAs were often replies andrequests for information, although messages to their fellow cofacilitators primarilydisplayed facilitating functions. In Figure 4, the interactions between the instructorand facilitators indicate that the instructor mentored, coached, and facilitated facili-tators, and that the facilitators facilitated discussion with the instructor. Codersagreed that the following first example illustrated how the instructor mentored facil-itators by providing editorial and publishing support, and the second examplereveals how the instructor facilitated facilitators as a pedagogical activity: Write preliminary stimulus questions and later some follow-up questions, in yourcollaborative document. Be ready to edit each others questions for clarity, thorough-ness, and understanding. Remember to begin with open-ended questions. Follow-upquestions are usually more specific.Be consistent in how you present your initial stimulus questions. Do they have the sametype of information? style?The interactions between TAs and facilitators indicate that TAs coached andfacilitated facilitators, whereas in some instances facilitators facilitated TAs. In thefollowing example, a TA coached facilitators by monitoring and regulating theirperformance: If you dont mind, before you post the welcome to the class, could you post it into the welcome collaborative document. I bet you will do a great job. I just want to take alook first. I will give my feedback right away.The next quotation illustrates how a TA provided managerial facilitation: You probably need to have a pre discussion with your group members [about] how toget started, like dividing readings in order to come up with questions, welcome page andfacilitating procedure. I would be very happy to join you all online if your guys inviteme. For this unit, I will be working with you all to prepare the facilitating activities. Mypreferred time online will be every night after 9:45 pm. I need to put my kids into bed.After they fall asleep, I can do my stuff.The two-way interactions between the facilitators indicate that the facilitatorscoached and facilitated each other. In the following quotation, coders agreed thata facilitator coached the other facilitators by monitoring and regulating theirperformance: Participants ParticipantsCo-facilitatorsFacilitate Coach Facilitate FacilitateFigure 5. Types of discussion messages posted by cofacilitators and discussion participants in the public unit discussion conferencesDownloaded by [University of Calgary] at 03:46 17 September 2013 Mentoring, Coaching, and Facilitating Model for Online Discussions 353You will not have to do it, because the activity that C was suppose[d] to do is the privateevaluation of the group members and that is private [for] each one with Dr. M., so youshould fill it out and send it to her individually.Public unit discussion conferences. In the three selected public unit discussions desig-nated for the cofacilitators and discussion participants, facilitator messages to theparticipants were primarily facilitating, although a few coaching interactions tookplace. In Figure 5, one-way arrows between facilitators and participants indicate thatthe facilitators facilitated and coached the participants, and infrequently the partici-pants even facilitated the facilitators. The first example shows how a facilitatorcoached participants by provoking reflection, and the second example was coded asa pedagogical facilitation activity: You mentioned the relationship between the two-way audio-video environment andpersonality. How can this limitation be overcome? What [are] the roles of instructors toovercome this limitation?I agree with that self-directed learning and having responsibility of own learning(ownership) are key success factor with familiarity with technology in distance educa-tion. These self-directed learning and ownership are the factors in authentic learning.Do you think these factors are requirements of distance learners or they are developingthrough the process of distance education?Two-way arrows between participants indicate that participants facilitated eachother, as in the following example that was coded as a social activity: Hi A: I just wanted to add how much I have appreciated you asking questions. Itseemed like when I did not know how to do something, I could go to Q&A and you hadalready asked it and gotten an answer. You sure saved me a lot of time!! And all becauseyou ask good questions!!Model of Mentoring, Coaching, and Facilitating Online DiscussionsQuestion 2 asked: What is the nature of a model for mentoring, coaching, and facil-itating learning in online discussions? To answer this question, we built a hierarchi-cal framework guided by the number and types of discussion messages posted by theinstructor, the TAs, the facilitators, and the participants, as shown in Figures 35.Figure 6 illustrates a proposed model for mentoring, coaching, and facilitating onlinediscussions. In a private coteachers conference, the instructor mentors TAs on howto work effectively with the student facilitators, and the TAs coach each otherthrough their assigned tasks. In a private conference designated for the instructor,TAs, and facilitators to plan for upcoming discussions, three types of interactionstake placethe instructor mentors, coaches, and facilitates the facilitators; the TAscoach and facilitate the facilitators; and the facilitators coach and facilitate eachother. In a public discussion conference designated for student facilitators to facilitatepeer participant learning, two types of interactions typically take placefacilitatorscoach and facilitate the participants, and participants facilitate learning for eachDownloaded by [University of Calgary] at 03:46 17 September 2013 354 K. L. Murphy et al.other. Also in the public unit discussions, depending on the participants onlineexpertise levels, participants can coach and facilitate the facilitators.Figure 6. A constructivist model of mentoring, coaching, and facilitating online discussionsDiscussionThis exploratory investigation of the management of online discussions in an onlinegraduate course resulted in an innovative model of mentoring, coaching, and facili-tating online discussions. The instructors role was to guide students, the volunteerTAs role was to monitor and regulate the online discussions, and the student facili-tators role was to facilitate the discussions for the participants. The proposedconstructivist model (Figure 6) fosters active learning, provides scaffolding forstudents to become facilitators of learning, and suggests creative ways for onlineinstructors to manage different types of teaching responsibilities.The model fostered active learning by turning students into discussion facilitatorswho elicited participants higher-order thinking and engagement with the content inan authentic (Jonassen, 1999, p. 221) context. Reflecting Anderson et al.s(2001) description of discourse facilitation, the discussion facilitators identifiedareas of agreement and disagreement; sought to reach consensus and understand-ing; encouraged, acknowledged, or reinforced student contributions; set a climatefor learning; drew in participants, prompting discussion; and assessed the efficacyof the process.Mentors CachesInstructor FacilitateCoach & FacilitateCoachFacilitateParticipantsCoach & FacilitateCo-facilitatorsCoach FacilitateTAs Private ConferencesPublic ConferencesPublic Conferences interaction dependent upon participant online expertiseCoachParticipantsCo-facilitatorsTAs Mentors CoachesFacilitatesFigure 6. A constructivist model of mentoring, coaching, and facilitating online discussionsDownloaded by [University of Calgary] at 03:46 17 September 2013 Mentoring, Coaching, and Facilitating Model for Online Discussions 355Volunteer TAs provided for an integral aspect of the constructivist model.Students, both TAs and facilitators, taught reciprocally through distributed exper-tise, a technique intended to create a community of learners who learn how to learnand in turn become intelligent novices who teach each other (Brown et al., 1993,p.190). This approach, based on cognitive apprenticeship theory (Collins et al.,1989), aided TAs in coaching facilitators on the complex task of facilitating onlinediscussions.Active learning has recently taken on different connotations. Due to the prolifera-tion of online courses in the past decade, university students have become accustomedto participating in discussions that the instructor facilitates (Hiltz, 1994; Mason,1991). However, when guided to adopt a facilitating role, students-as-facilitatorstend to engage actively with the content (Murphy & Gazi, 2001, 2003). The currentstudy supports research that student-led discussions are more efficient than instruc-tor-led ones (Tagg, 1994) and result in much greater levels of participation, motiva-tion, and student satisfaction (Rourke & Anderson, 2002). Students become expertsin the content that they facilitate (Murphy et al., 1997) while learning to emulate theinstructors and TAs discussion facilitating approaches. Interestingly, we found thatmany students who had already been facilitators earlier in the semester adopted facil-itating roles when they were participants in later discussions. This finding was similarto Andersons (2004) suggestion that role modeling is helpful for students lacking theskills to facilitate class discussion successfully. Reflective of vicarious interaction(Fulford & Zhang, 1993), some participants adopted facilitating behaviors thatprevious facilitators modeled, even though their own turn to facilitate discussions hadnot come.The model provided scaffolding, and the cognitive tool FirstClass allowedstudents to communicate asynchronously and synchronously, and both publicly andprivately. The instructors scaffolding consisted of presenting the overall student-centered course design on the Web and creating the FirstClass public and privateconferences and collaborative documents. The TAs provided scaffolding by assistingthe student discussion facilitators in developing their discussion questions and anaction plan for their unit discussion. The facilitators scaffolding was primarilydiscourse facilitation to maintain sustained and authentic communication (Andersonet al., 2001) of the readings with discussion participants.The model suggests creative ways for online instructors to manage different typesof teaching responsibilities. Several studies report that development and delivery ofonline courses require different types of tasks and approaches (Collis & Nijhuis,2000; DiBiase, 2000), which may require more time than for traditional courses(Visser, 2000) or simply create the perception of requiring more time (Thompson,2004). For instance, instructors who adopt a highly visible role in the online classspend more time building community online or facilitating discussions (Morris, Xu,& Finnegan, 2005), creating a sense of less productive time available for otherprofessional responsibilities (Thompson, 2004, p. 86). Striking a delicate balancebetween structure and dialogue (Murphy & Cifuentes, 2001), and between individ-ual freedom and cooperation in an online learning community (Paulsen, 2005), isDownloaded by [University of Calgary] at 03:46 17 September 2013 356 K. L. Murphy et al.critical for the online instructor because of the difference in the flow of tasks online(Thompson, 2004) or the types of tasks themselves (Collis & Nijhuis; DiBiase). Theconstructivist model of mentoring, coaching, and facilitating achieved a balancebetween structure and dialog through the use of TAs to guide student discussionfacilitators. In a social constructivist manner, the instructor acted behind the scenesas a facilitator of learning (Gunawardena, 1992), thereby giving credibility to facilita-tors while creating a model for TAs and facilitators to do the same. The instructorstasks were probably no less, but they were distributed in a way that assisted learningat several levels. In subsequent semesters we refined the approach, which requiredless instructor time.The data analysis phase involved five researchers who analyzed seven computerconferences. Developing an initial coding system based on a literature review ofmentoring, coaching, and facilitating was complex and time-consuming. Problemsthat we encountered were multiple versions of the coding system, training of coders,and a wide diversity among codersall of which contributed to a low overallinterrater reliability of 64%. The original coding system did not include examples oftext, merely approaches, leading to misinterpretation among coding teams. Trainingcoders was also problematic. At no time did all five researchers meet as a face-to-face group, although varying combinations of researchers met either face-to-face orin FirstClass chats. The wide diversity among coders also proved to be a chal-lenge. Three of the coders were experienced researchers, whereas two coders werenovices. In the initial stages of research, three researchers were internationalstudents, who usually bring with them different understandings and require explicitdefinitions of terms.Conclusions and RecommendationsCourse design is critical in promoting an online community of practice that allowsinstructors to reduce their load through creative management of their teachingresponsibilities. Aspects of constructivist course design included making use ofvolunteer TAs, providing private discussion areas for mentoring and coaching activi-ties to take place, and structuring activities for students to become facilitators oflearning. Thus the proposed framework expands the Stover et al. (2000) teachingteams model comprised of the instructor, TAs, and undergraduate preceptors whoact as role models to their peers. Our analyses enabled us to create a theoretical andpractical model for mentoring, coaching, and facilitating online discussions(Figure 6). This model is a reciprocal framework for online discussions in which theinstructor, TAs, and student facilitators learn from each other. The instructors socialconstructivist style of teaching was reflected in students messages at each level in amanner that encouraged learners to draw their own meaning from discussions as theygrappled with the course content. The group learning contracts fostered regulation oflearning and group interaction and cohesion by subtly forcing group members to lookat the various personalities, skills, and workloads (Murphy et al., 2000). Like otherresearchers, we have learned to give increasingly precise instructions on the courseDownloaded by [University of Calgary] at 03:46 17 September 2013 Mentoring, Coaching, and Facilitating Model for Online Discussions 357Web site about the way to communicate online (Carr-Chellman & Duchastel, 2000;Collis & Nijhuis, 2000).The facilitators adopted the democratic structure posited by Svensson andMagnusson (2003) in their description of peers (8), where all members are equaland nearly all group tasks are carried out in focused collaboration. Like Svenssonand Magnussons peers, the facilitators in this study resolved their problems collabo-ratively in their private unit discussions with the TAs and instructor, rather thanemailing the instructor directly. The instructor and the TAs developed a mentoringrelationship in a community of practice that enhanced learning in a manner resem-bling Tu and McIsaacs (2001) descriptions. Mentoring took place primarily duringthe semester that the course was offered, although the mentoring process continuedwith the same TAs who volunteered their services in subsequent semesters. Like theTu and McIsaac study, mentoring took place as a result of the instructors and TAssimilar interests in online learning; in addition, both TAs were the instructorsdoctoral advisees.In conclusion, studentsTAs, facilitators, and discussion participantstaughtreciprocally through distributed expertise (Brown et al., 1993, p.190). The coursedesign provided scaffolding to help students become facilitators of learning. Finally,our model would foster online instructors creative and expedient management oftheir complex online teaching responsibilities.Further research should broaden the understanding of mentoring, coaching, andfacilitating online discussions through conducting interviews with selected partici-pants to ensure triangulation, or by replicating this study with other graduatestudents or with undergraduate students. In large undergraduate classes, the useof TAs to coach student facilitators would be particularly advantageous in distrib-uting expertise through reciprocal teaching (Brown et al., 1993). Another fruitfularea of research would be a longitudinal study of individuals as they develop facili-tating skills over time. Further research should define more closely the mentoring,coaching, and facilitating categories by careful coding of online transcripts. AsRourke and Anderson (2004) charge, Examples of QCA (qualitative contentanalysis) research in which a coding protocol is developed methodically and vali-dated systematically are rare (p. 15). Thus, in future research using our codingsystem, coders must agree on a sample of their independent coding and discussany differences throughout the coding process to increase the interrater reliabilityscore to above 80%. Finally, although this study relied on volunteer TAs to coachdiscussion facilitators, further research should focus on a course design that doesnot rely on volunteer TAs but one in which the instructor directly coaches studentfacilitators.Notes on ContributorsKaren L. Murphy is Associate Professor Emerita at Texas A&M University, and iscurrently Visiting Associate Professor at Western New Mexico University,Silver City, USA.Downloaded by [University of Calgary] at 03:46 17 September 2013 358 K. L. Murphy et al.Sue E. Mahoney is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Urban Education atthe University of Houston-Downtown in Houston, Texas, USA.Chun-Ying Chen is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of InformationManagement, Transworld Institute of Technology in Taiwan.Noemi V. Mendoza-Daz is working on her Ph.D. in Human Resource Develop-ment with an emphasis on distance education at Texas A&M University, USA.Sally Xiaobing Yang is a Senior IT Consultant for Instructional TechnologyServices at Texas A&M University, and is also working on her Ph.D. in Educa-tional Psychology with a specialty in educational technology.ReferencesAllen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2003). Sizing the opportunity: The quality and extent of online education inthe United States, 2002 and 2003. Needham & Wellesley, MA: Sloan Center for Online Educationat Olin and Babson Colleges.Anderson, T. (2004). Chapter 11: Teaching in an online learning context. In T. Anderson &F. 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Murphy et al.CategoryMentoring is a one-on-one relationship between an expert and a novice in which the expert guides the novice by behavioral and cognitive modeling, academic and career counseling, emotional and scholarly support, advice, professional networking, and assessment.IndicatorDefinitionApproachesCodesRole-modelingDemonstration of overt behavior and covert cognitive processes by skilled performerModel performanceArticulate reasoningM1M2Academic and career counselingSkills and knowledge guidance and professional development adviceStimulate others to think critically about their own teaching; provide content expertise; agree upon academic and scholarly goalsM3Psychological supportEmotional supportProvide support and respond to emotional reactions; reassure learners that they can succeed; show respect for adult life situationsM4AdviceRelated to development and successOffer integration within the learning community (e.g., classmates, listservs); respond to learner inquiries; provide negotiation and guidance with politics and proceduresM5Editorial and publishing supportAssistance in writing and publishing scholarly workProvide academic resources and advice; editing adviceM6Organizational and professional network access in a shared value relationshipSupport in integration to the community of scholarsEstablish mutual relationships; enhance sense of belonging to the community of scholarsM7AssessmentEvaluation of TAs performanceDiscuss or give feedback on TAs teachingM8Appendix: The coding systemDownloaded by [University of Calgary] at 03:46 17 September 2013 Mentoring, Coaching, and Facilitating Model for Online Discussions 363CategoryCoaching is observing learners performance and providing encouragement, diagnosis, directions, and feedback. Specifically, coaching involves providing motivational prompts, monitoring and regulating learner performance, provoking reflection, and perturbing learners models.IndicatorDefinitionApproachesCodesProvide motivational promptsProvide learners with a good reason for becoming engaged and subsequently boost learners confidence levels through strategies of attention, relevance, confidence, and satisfactionattention by perceptual arousal: gain attention through novel or surprising eventsattention by inquiry arousal: stimulate information-seeking behavior by having learners generate questions to answer or problems to solverelevance relies on familiarity: use concrete language and examples and concepts related to the learners experience and valuesrelevance by goal orientation: present objectives and goals for accomplishing the objectivesconfidence through expectancy for success: make learners aware of performance requirements and evaluative criteriaconfidence through attribution molding: give feedback that supports student ability and effort as the determinants of successsatisfaction: help learners maintain their levels of motivation through positive consequences, or feedback and reinforcement to sustain the desired behavior; and through equity, or consistent standards and consequences for task accomplishmentCM1CM2CM3CM4CM5CM6CM7Downloaded by [University of Calgary] at 03:46 17 September 2013 364 K. L. Murphy et al.CategoryCoaching is observing learners performance and providing encouragement, diagnosis, directions, and feedback. Specifically, coaching involves providing motivational prompts, monitoring and regulating learner performance, provoking reflection, and perturbing learners models.IndicatorDefinitionApproachesCodesMonitor and regulate learners performanceMonitor, analyze, and regulate skill development of learnersprovide hints and helpprompt appropriate kinds of thinking (e.g., story-telling, generating images, summarizing results, drawing implications)provide for collaborative activitiesuse cognitive tools to assist articulation and understandingprovide feedback that informs learners about effectiveness and accuracy of performance and analyzes actions and thinkingCO1CO2CO3CO4CO5Provoke reflectionProvoke learners to reflect on their performance by monitoring and analyzing itask learners to reflect on what they have done, assumptions they have made, and strategies they have usedask learners to explain why they made a particular responseask learners to confirm an intended responseask learners to state how certain they were in a certain responserequire learners to argue with the coachCR1CR2CR3CR4CR5Perturb learners modelChange the mental models of nave learners to facilitate their understandingembed provoking questions (Have you thought about ?)require learners to reflect on their actions (Why did you ?)ask learners to confirm or clarify what happened (Why did that reaction happen?)provide dissonant views or interpretations in response to learner actions or interpretationsCP1CP2CP3CP4Downloaded by [University of Calgary] at 03:46 17 September 2013 Mentoring, Coaching, and Facilitating Model for Online Discussions 365CategoryFacilitating is providing technical, pedagogical, managerial, and social activities that maintain sustained and authentic communication between and among instructors and students.IndicatorDefinitionApproachesCodesTechnological activitiesHelp students learn to function and feel comfortable in the online environmenthelp students get onlineresolve technical problems with their hardware and softwareredirect students postings when they are in the wrong placeFT1FT2FT3Pedagogical activitiesMindfully engage the learner throughout a coursefocus discussions on crucial pointsask new questionsprobe responses: encourage students to expand & build on commentsarticulate reasoning and decision-makingfoster student reflection and self-awarenessadvocate student exploration and application of skillsinject new knowledgesolicit conflicting opinionsplay devils advocate (take a conflicting position)ask for clarificationdiagnose misconceptionsdeal with disruptive studentsweave discussion: identify important points, common threads, disagreementssummarize discussion: restate ideasget feedback from students about how things are going (formative feedback)FP1FP2FP3FP4FP5FP6FP7FP8FP9FP10FP11FP12FP13FP14FP15Downloaded by [University of Calgary] at 03:46 17 September 2013 366 K. L. Murphy et al.CategoryFacilitating is providing technical, pedagogical, managerial, and social activities that maintain sustained and authentic communication between and among instructors and students.IndicatorDefinitionApproachesCodesSocial activitiesCreate a friendly, social environment for students by promoting human relationships, developing group cohesiveness, and maintaining the group as a unitsend welcoming messages at the beginningsend thank you notices, invitations, apologies, & discussions of ones own online experience and humorencourage participation throughoutprovide feedback on students inputs (acknowledge student postings)use a friendly, personal toneFS1FS2FS3FS4FS5Managerial activitiesAddress the process from an organizational, procedural, or administrative standpointset the agenda for the conference: the objectives of the discussion, the timetable, procedural rules and decision-making normsset criteria for performanceFM1FM2OthersMessage not related to assisting teaching/learningEDownloaded by [University of Calgary] at 03:46 17 September 2013


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