Using reflective diagrams in professional development with university lecturers: A developmental tool in online teaching

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  • technologies for teaching and learning (Bell, Bush, Nicholson, O'Brien, & Tran, 2002). Nelson (2005), in Ouruniversities: Backing Australia's future minister's message focused on the vision on engaging universities in

    Internet and Higher Education 9 (2006) 1331451. Introduction

    There is a growing adoption of online technologies by academic staff for blended, distance, and flexible learningaround the world in response to the growing number of students enrolling for online classes and programs. Allen andSeaman (2004) revealed the rapid introduction of online teaching into higher education in the USA in which 1100colleges and universities responded to their study. According to their survey over 1.9 million students were studyingonline in 2003, and the expectation is that online enrolment would continue to rise at an average rate of almost 25% in2004 to reach over 2.6 million students learning online.

    A 2001 Australian survey into online courses commissioned by the Department of Education, Science and Training(DEST) suggested that there had been considerable activities within the universities in relation to the use of InternetAbstract

    The use of online technology within universities is increasing. However, this expansion is not accompanied by an associatedincrease in investment in lecturers' pedagogical knowledge to assist them in the transition. The major challenge now is toencourage the use of pedagogically sound technologies. At present, lecturers often lack the tools to describe the journey that theytake when embarking to teach online. This paper focuses on the journey undertaken by a group of lecturers at a Western Australianuniversity as they explored the relationship between their pedagogy and technology in a 1-year research project in which theyengaged in monthly professional development workshops. At the concluding workshop the lecturers drew diagrams in order to addvisual representations to their reflection process. The diagram, therefore, can be used as a diagnostic tool to identify lecturers'positions in relation to their pedagogy and use of technology and as a developmental tool to show their journey towards a moreintegrated approach in their online teaching. 2006 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

    Keywords: Professional development; University lecturers; Innovative pedagogies; Community of learners; Reflective diagramsUsing reflective diagrams in professional development withuniversity lecturers: A developmental tool in online teaching

    Dorit Maor

    Murdoch University, School of Education, South Street, Murdoch, Western Australia, 6150, Australia

    Accepted 7 March 2006 Tel.: +61 8 9360 7257; fax: +61 8 9360 6280.E-mail address: dmaor@murdoch.edu.au.

    1096-7516/$ - see front matter 2006 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2006.03.005

  • instructional objectives and to use the appropriate strategies (Diamond, 1989), most instructors struggle with thepedagogical aspects. Many teachers in higher education feel themselves pressured to use ICT to support studentlearning, and express concern that these developments are proceeding more rapidly than educational research mightjustify, and without access to adequate or appropriate support or development opportunities (Shephard, 2004, p. 70).Furthermore, some higher education academics are reluctant to integrate online teaching into their pedagogy and someeven completely reject online teaching.

    During 2002, as part of her ongoing research, the author designed and implemented a series of professionaldevelopment workshops to assist lecturers with the use of pedagogically sound technology. Ten lecturers were selectedto participate in the workshops, each having diverse experience with e-learning. In 2003, the concluding workshopinvolved a reflective exercise in which four of these lecturers were available to draw diagrams that were intended toprovide visual representation of changes in the way they perceived, used, and improved their teaching with newtechnologies during this 1-year research study. These representations resulted in one group diagram, summarizing thepedagogy and technology continua. In 2005 two of the previous participants were asked to reflect on this diagram infollow-up interviews. This paper presents the results from their interpretation of the visual diagrams and a discussion ofthe perception of the influence of online teaching in higher education.

    1.1. Pedagogical innovation and related technology

    In spite of the trend towards online teaching, many faculty members are not yet using this technology to a greatextent and, if they are, they are unsure about how to use it effectively (Conrad, 2002). One way to solve this issue is byoffering professional programs, which will emphasize the development of innovative pedagogy and the use oftechnology to match the instructional goals. However, many programs in higher education institutions tend to attractthe early adopters who are already using technology in their teaching (Bonk, Kirkley, Hara, & Dennen, 2001). Hagnerand Schneebeck (2001) described how faculty members view the new technologies. The first wave of teachersrepresent the entrepreneurs who are risk takers in teaching and learning; the second wave represent the risk aversiveswho need more instructional support to make the transformation; the third wave are the reward seekers; and the fourthwave are the reluctants. Another problem is that this type of program tends to teach the use of technology withoutintegrating pedagogical considerations. In an earlier report it was stated:

    Much attention has been given to the delivery of online material, but not enough has been given to the issue of theneed to change our conceptual framework and pedagogies to take advantage of the new technology (Maor, 2004,p. 214).

    Bonk, Wisher, and Nigrelli (2004, p. 205) also stated that scant research exists on the technological and pedagogicalvariables necessary to foster a virtual community:

    Instead of engaging learners in rich and intensive interaction and collaboration, most e-learning environmentsconcentrated on individualized, self-paced learning using tools for uploading and downloading of content, websearching, online quizzing and testing, grading, and tracking learner progress.

    One of the unresolved issues in digital education, according to Reeves (2003), is the dominance of traditionalteaching and the unlikelihood of academic staff to adopt pedagogical innovation, such as authentic activities with web-based interactive learning environments. Cuban (2001) suggests that, in spite of the significant penetration of newtechnologies to the education system, the majority of faculty is still engaged with traditional ways of teaching withoutis critical to their long-term strategy and success and three-quarters of all academic leaders believe that onlinelearning quality will be equal to or superior to face-to-face instruction in three years. In spite of this, the questionis whether academics are prepared for the new demand and whether they can create and maintain the quality ofonline learning.

    The phenomenon of growing use of online teaching suggests that online technology is something that mostacademic staff must confront today. Although the optimal approach to e-learning is to match the pedagogy with theintroducing reforms in diverse areas including research and cross-sectoral collaboration and quality in teaching andlearning.

    According to Allen and Seaman's (2004, p. 3) US report, the majority of schools also state that online education

    134 D. Maor / Internet and Higher Education 9 (2006) 133145taking advantage of the institutions' investment in technologies.

  • For this study, a community of learners was created (Hara, Bonk, & Angeli, 2000; Hendriks and Maor, 2004) amongthe group of educators and they were introduced to social constructivist pedagogy (Duffy & Cunningham, 1996;O'Connor, 1998; Tobin, 1993; Von Glaserfeld, 1990) in face-to-face workshops. In the same way as Garrison andAnderson (2003, p. 6) suggested that the value of e-learning is not in its faster access to information, but in its capacityto facilitate communication and thinking and thereby construct meaning and knowledge, a series of authentic activitieswere introduced during the workshops, such as solving and sharing problems, reflecting and collaborating, andadopting new technologies. These presented opportunities for the creation of a community of learners and for the groupof lecturers to experience social constructivist pedagogy. When Rovai and Jordan (2004) examined the relationship ofsense of community between the traditional classroom, blended, and fully online higher education learningenvironments, they found that blended courses produced a stronger sense of community among students than eithertraditional or fully online courses. This blended approach of face-to-face and online discussions was implementedduring the professional development program to support the sense of the community. In addition, the support providedby members of the community for technical and pedagogical issues allowed for greater learning to occur (Wenger,1998). The environment that was created during the professional development workshops was one in which peoplecould discuss authentic problems with others in the group who had different expectations and levels of understanding(Ackermann, 1995).

    2. Professional development: data collection

    A growing number of courses are offered online at the author's university and a technical centralized support isavailable for educators. However, there is no form to guide and support them in their journey towards online teaching.Thus, a combination of research and professional development goals were served by this study.

    The research project had these four goals:

    To recruit lecturers