Developing an Online Learning Community: Structures and Processes for Establishing Large-Group, Social Constructivist Learning Communities for Primary, Online, Distance, Pre-Service Teacher Science Education

By Michael Littledyke.

Published by The International Journal of Technologies in Learning

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Online distance learning courses provide challenges for developing social constructivist learning communities in a virtual environment. A further complication is that teacher education involves several levels of learning; in the case of science education, student teachers are learners of science to conceptually inform their teaching, learners about science pedagogy, and learners about how children learn meaningfully with constructivist support. To achieve proficiency, all three levels must progress together with an overarching metacognitive approach supported by the reflective teacher concept to create meaningful professional learning that will support good educational practice. An online environment provides another level of learning, as students must also develop proficiency in relevant ICT (Information and Communication Technology) to engage through asynchronistic communication. The paper discusses how these issues inform the development of online, virtual, distance learning communities in an Australian University context involving coordinating large numbers (up to 350 students) of primary pre-service teacher science education students where structures support social constructivist processes through individual and collective learning. Over four years of its development the learning management system was initially Sakai and later Moodle. The paper presents a critically analytical account of the rationale behind the development of the unit structure and evaluations of the effectiveness of how successful was the learning community at a whole group level, small peer support group and at an individual level. Evaluations, which confirmed the overall success of the project, are informed by analysis of students’ responses in small group and whole unit discussions, in assignments and in anonymous post unit evaluations. The key issues arising from the process are summarized and are of relevance to development of other social constructivist online structures for learning across a wide range of areas including education, but with relevance to any subject area where discussion and sharing of views is acknowledged to be important to inform meaningful learning.

Keywords: Online Learning Community, Constructivist Pedagogy, Large Group Management, Science and Technology Pre-service Teacher Education, E-moderation

International Journal of Technologies in Learning, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp.43-60. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 716.464KB).

Dr. Michael Littledyke

Senior Lecturer in Science Education, School of Education, University of New England, Armidale, New South Wales, Australia

My career spans 5 years as a research scientist, 14 years in primary and secondary education plus 20 years in tertiary education in East Africa, UK, New Zealand and Australia. University work includes 10 years as Faculty Research Director and Academic Director plus course coordinator and tutor for science, design and technology, music and drama education, as well as 15 years as university external examiner and school inspector and governor. I have an extensive publication record in entomology, science education, drama education and education for sustainability, with 8 books and over 70 papers and conference presentations. Some recent publications since 2008: Littledyke, M. (2008) ‘Science and environmental education: approaches to integrating cognitive and affective domains’, Environmental Education Research. Vol. 14, No. 1, February pp. 1–17. Lakin, E and Littledyke, M. (2008) ‘Health Promoting Schools: integrated practices to develop critical thinking and healthy lifestyles through farming, growing and healthy eating’, International Journal of Consumer Studies. Vol. 32, No 3, pp. 253 – 259.