Brenda is the Postgraduate Programme Director in the School of Education. She is course coordinator of the Masters of Secondary School Leadership course.
The course that Brenda describes is in the Master of Secondary School Leadership. This course is entirely online, and attracts a diverse student body, including people who have not studied in 20 years and many who have never studied in an online environment. This is what motivated Brenda to introduce innovations into her teaching
Three specific teaching and learning strategies contribute to Brenda’s innovative approach to fostering a dynamic online learning and teaching environment. Her goal is a learning and teaching space where interactions are reciprocal and collaborative. The three strategies are: (1) using VoiceThread for students to share video-responses to course materials and concepts, (2) placing the students into groups of approximately ten people, where they work collaboratively on a range of tasks such as reading a chapter and posting a video-commentary on Voice-Thread, and (3) uploading carefully constructed ten minute lectures, which are designed to provoke thinking rather than recall or ‘dump information’. They also provide impetus for students to further explore or investigate topics or concepts that interest them.
A number of other elements support and enhance the three strategies described above. First, in order to foster the students’ genuine engagement and autonomy in the mandatory weekly interactions, Brenda has built in elements of choice. For example, in their VoiceThreads, students can choose what they want to talk about in relation to the text or task. There is also choice and flexibility about the style and content of student-generated videos and other material, such as PowerPoints. Second, an important element of Brenda’s innovative approach is to foster authenticity of self and a sense of belonging. With regard to authenticity Brenda is “just herself” on camera, which invites students to also be themselves. An additional point is that Brenda models a relaxed-formal style (as opposed to a very formal approach), which potentially helps students to get to know each other. For instance, elements of their lives outside of study become apparent and this makes commonalities visible. This fosters an online community where students feel a sense of belonging and helps to overcome the anxiety that students may feel in the online space.
Finally, Brenda spent time studying the backgrounds of her students, such as their existing content knowledge, use of, and confidence in, using technology, and their return to study after a lengthy break in some cases. This enabled her to anticipate and respond to various needs that might arise. For instance, she included a ‘how to’ video, which helped students develop confidence and skill in using the technologies involved in the course.
Several effects have been evident. First, student completion of tasks has improved, the students seem excited about their learning and work, and are now giving each other positive and constructive feedback. In terms of relationships, the students and Brenda feel that they get to know each other much more. Brenda noted after seeing a student in her office, “I felt I knew her so well, but we had never physically met.” Additionally, Brenda finds that the group energises her and makes her rethink her practices and whether they are effective. Finally, her practices are inspiring other lecturers who are keen to learn more and try VoiceThread.
Brenda specifically identifies ‘Ako’ – the reciprocity of teaching and learning - as being an important concept, as she and the students learn from each other. Brenda identifies her pedagogy thus: “I just offer what we consider a sound, social constructivist way of learning.” This is evident in the fostering of belonging and social relatedness, whereby Brenda is interested in the emotional aspects of learners’ experiences on her course. This is important given that Ryan and Deci (2000) suggest that human beings are, by default, “curious, vital, and self-motivated” (p. 68); however, an insensitively attuned social context undermines that potential. According to Ryan and Deci, people have three psychological needs when it comes to their engagement: autonomy, competence, and social relatedness. When the three needs are fulfilled, an individual is potentially motivated. Enjoyable activity which fosters these aspects might incentivise students’ desire to participate (Hidi & Renninger, 2006).
Hidi, S., & Renninger, K. A. (2006). The Four-Phase Model of Interest Development, Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 111-127, DOI: 10.1207/s15326985ep4102_4
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78.
Brenda has a clear and coherent personal approach to her teaching. She thinks about creating a community environment where learning can happen in an online environment. In addition, she wants her online teaching environment to be dynamic and has a core belief that effective pedagogy has group learning as one of its essential tenets. As such, she rejects a didactic teaching in that mode. Her approach is experimental underpinned with an aspiration to continuously enhance her practices, not only for the students, but also to ensure her own ongoing motivation and enjoyment of teaching.
This case study was written as part of the Innovative Pedagogies research project.