AIR UNIVERSITY AND THE FUTURE OF EDUCATION: A REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE – COMMUNITY
Chapter 2 of the paper deals with the effect of Community in education.
Community in education is and always has been an integral component of learning. Without differing viewpoints, societal and cultural, the learning process stagnates and ultimately breaks down. Thus, the enrichment and bolstering of learning communities has become and remains one of the primary ways in which people learn. The following research compounds the reality of the value of learning communities through the analysis of several factors. The topics covered here will deal with collaborative inquiry, communication competence, student engagement, developing community in distance education, campus culture, the form of meeting in digital environments, and online open spaces.
In their article titled “Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions through Collaborative Inquiry”, Mills, O’Keefe, Hass, and Johnson discuss the interactions and connections made between teachers and students as well as students within peer groups. “Curriculum is created with and for students. A sense of wonder and thoughtfulness about knowledge, the learning process, and our world is fostered and negotiated in predictable and democratic ways” (Mills, O’Keefe, Hass, & Johnson, 2014, p. 36). The point of this type of learning is based on the student’s need to explore and grow, not merely regurgitate or passively accommodate pedantry. “Inquiry is a stance that promotes authentic, intentional, and systematic learning” (Mills, O’Keefe, Hass, & Johnson, 2014, p. 36). Through collaborative inquiry, the student is encouraged to search and experiment while having the process facilitated within peer groups with the injection of information and leadership. According to Mills, et al., the model operates under an apprenticeship construct that encourages students to act as an operator in the field in which they are studying. For instance, “Instead of teaching about history, we explore how historians use primary and secondary sources to reconstruct events and record stories of significant moments in time” (Mills, et al., p. 37). This approach allows students not to merely learn about things, but to actually operate and lead within each discrete subject area. “The decision to engage students as researchers is far-reaching. It impacts their identities and sense of agency. It also impacts the generative nature of knowledge and learning” (Mills, et al., p. 37). Through this collaborative engagement, learners are allowed to grow through the process while actually contributing to a higher body of knowledge in the field of study. This opportunity-based construct leads naturally into professional inquiry and allows all involved parties to expand a community knowledge base through collaborative synthesis and input.
In their study concerning the effects of communication competence and social networking centralities on learner performance, Jo, Kang, and Yoon uncovered several interesting outcomes regarding the use of social networking in the realm of community and education. “The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of college students’ communication competence and degree centralities of their social networks on learning outcomes in a collaborative learning situation” (Jo, Kang, & Yoon, 2014, p. 108). The ability to communicate effectively has long been a measure of how well individuals will interact and build within a group. This has become increasingly important with the advent of electronic communication and collaboration through email, chat, and now social media. “Social Network Analysis (SNA) has received attention both as a theory and as a method to understand and analyze the social attributes of a learning group” (Jo, et al., 2014, p. 108). Through the analysis of interactions within social groups across social media, educators have been able to grasp at least some of the dynamic of sharing and exploration that takes place within these virtual environments. “SNA considers that the network structure and individual position in the network are the key factors that decide the group action as collaborative learning” (Jo, et al., 2014, p. 108). In the study, the areas of communication skills and SNA were covered allowing the researchers a clear window into the social operations taking place within the groups. “The study participants were 63 students of “Theory of Corporate Education,” which was open in the department of educational technology from a women’s university located in Seoul, Korea. The objectives of this class, which was established by the principal researcher of this study, were to acquire the basic theories of corporate training and to analyze the current status of applying the approach of educational technology through business field survey” (Jo, et al., 2014, p. 112). Through the data collection, the researchers measured communication competence, the degree of centrality of social networking, and the results of learning. The results and implications of the study showed that communication competence affected collaborative learner outcomes, trust is an accumulated social experience, centrality of the knowledge network was highly predictive for collaborative learning outcomes, and trust is essential in collaborative learning within a social network. The social aspect of sharing, communication, and collaboration are remarkable and seem to shed light on a heightened need for safety and creating a trusting environment for learning within social networks.
Student engagement is a topic of great concern inside the traditional and online classroom. “One main problem with the traditional lecture format is that students’ levels of engagement tend to be low, which may cause their learning to suffer” (Sun, Martinez, & Seli, 2013, p. 234). The authors of “Just-in-Time or Plenty-of-Time Teaching? Different Electronic Feedback Devices and Their Effect on Student Engagement” parse information concerning how electronic feedback devices might ameliorate a lack of student engagement and enrich the learning environment. “Specifically, the use of electronic feedback devices (also called electronic voting systems or clickers, herein called “clickers”) is becoming more common in academic settings, especially at higher education levels” (Sun, et al., 2013, p. 234). The use of polling and response from students across various learning platforms has been shown to increase student engagement, but at various levels. This has special application in the areas of “Just in Time Teaching” (JiTT) where teachers receive immediate feedback and “Plenty-of-Time Teaching” (PoTT) where students answer questions and polls hours before instruction, allowing teachers to craft and mold their instruction based on pre-recorded responses. “this study aimed to determine how incorporating different devices (i.e., clickers versus web-based polling) affect the specific types of student engagement (i.e., behavioral, emotional, and cognitive engagement)” (Sun, et al., 2013, p. 236-237). The results of the study showed significant differences in emotional engagement, cognitive engagement, and total engagement between the clicker and the web-based polling groups. “The results showed that there was a significant difference between the clicker and the web-based polling groups. Contrary to expectations, students in the web-based polling group had lower levels of self-efficacy for learning and performance than those in the clicker group” (Sun, et al., 2013, p. 240). Overall, the implications of the study indicate that electronic feedback allowed for more involvement and a greater measure of self-efficacy overall than for web-based polling. This can be useful in the AU environment for implementation for online courses, allowing students to participate and help craft their learning experience.
Community is nowhere more important as a developing entity than in distance learning. Since distance learning is accomplished in a manner that literally separates teachers from students as well as students from students, the aspect of social interaction becomes probably the most addressed aspect of this learning method. “The separation of student and instructor is the core characteristic of distance education, contributing to one of the biggest challenges to distance education—–attrition” (Moore, 2014, p. 20). When students don’t feel engaged, they are more likely to see less value in the instruction, class environment, and their place in it. If a student feels isolated or undervalued, they are more likely to excuse themselves from that feeling. “In an online learning environment, the separation of student and instructor can lead to feelings of isolation which can adversely impact the student’s perceptions of learning and the actual learning itself” (Moore, 2014, p. 21). In a preliminary experiment conducted by Moore, students enrolled in a traditional Spanish-101 class and another group of students enrolled in a hybrid learning Spanish-101 class. “Students in the hybrid courses felt a significantly lower sense of community than their peers in the traditional course and a greater sense of community in their small groups” (Moore, 2014, p. 22). According to the study outcomes, the hybrid learning students felt more frustrated because they felt that they had to do more on their own. However, Moore then made adjustments to the course by interviewing students who had performed well in the course, then developing a course orientation that was presented to the students in the hybrid class. “This second iteration showed that the sense of community was significantly higher than in the previous semester and that the student perceptions of learning were much better as well. The levels of frustration for the hybrid course were more aligned with the traditional course, while learning outcomes continued to show no statistical difference in performance between the two cohorts” (Moore, 2014, p. 24). This study shows how minor adjustments and using basic educational principles can extend comfort and community to students who otherwise would drop out of or perform at a lower level. In AU, this practice can be used to tremendous effect when educating Airmen at a distance.
Campus culture is another area of concern for any institution of higher learning. Disenfranchisement can spell doom within a campus culture in the same way it can destroy the reputation of a business or military organization. Marylhurst University conducted a huge organizational change that took its campus from one of fear and low morale to a place where faculty and students felt useful and valued. “Faculty felt the university had endured years of bad decisions with no one being held accountable. Marylhurst had invested heavily in administrative structures, and though the budget was opaque, it was clear that the ratio of academic to nonacademic expenses was wildly different from the ratio at similarly sized institutions” (Dreyfuss, 2015, p. 4). Through faculty development, the hiring of a new president, and the establishment of a faculty union, things began to turn around for Marylhurst . “The new chapter has already had significant success in the areas of governance, university budgeting, the faculty role in administrative searches and evaluation of administrators, and program and quality issues” (Dreyfuss, 2015, p. 4). A great deal of the change was about empowering the faculty in a way that helped them to matter. This allowed them more control over their own careers as well as the value imbued by being successful and useful within their school and profession. As a result, there was an overflow of this attitude into the student body and across university culture. The same empowerment and structure can be used within AU to drive structural and pedagogical changes.
In her article titled “The motif of meeting in digital education” Philippa Sheail explores the way in which an online meeting space can be used in a nascent way, outside the philosophy of in-person meetings. “Digital education continues to be associated with ‘distance’ education and ‘online’ education, both of which are spatial imaginings, based on the location (and separation) of teachers, students and course materials. I move on to an exploration of theoretical work considers the meeting, followed by a ‘compositional interpretation’ of two digital environments used for educational meetings, ‘Collaborate’ and ‘Holyrood Park’, an area of the virtual world, Second Life” (Sheail , 2015, p. 37-38). Through this study, Sheail encourages teachers and learners to think outside the classroom when meeting in online spaces. “In a digital environment, participants may be in the same digital time-space, when communicating ‘online’, but they are not necessarily at one and the same time (where different timezones are connected, for example), nor necessarily in ‘one and the same place’ (appearing perhaps in the same digital, but not physical ‘place’)” (Sheail , 2015, p. 37). This use of asynchronicity and distance can be advantageous for those whose schedules are vastly disparate and usually can take place with little or no loss of discussion or content. Meeting design is very important for carrying out this type of meeting motif. “The design of the meeting depends up the forms and practices which have been anticipated by a design team with particular ideas of meetings and, in the current discussion, educational meetings, in mind” (Sheail , 2015, p. 39). The concept being used here to choreograph meetings are applied to distance education daily. The trick seems to be good management, organization, and collaboration. Though this method of community enhancement in education, the meeting and the classroom can move in and through time and space in ways that are flexible and dynamic enough to meet the needs of almost any organization.
“The rise of distributed work places and networked labour coincides with a privileging of individualised professional learning. Alongside this focus on the individual has been a growth in informal online learning communities and networks for professional learning and professional identity development” (Evans, 2015, p. 31). Working from the perspective of open online spaces for professional learning, Evans examines context, personalization, and facilitation. “This article examines a sample of these events as sites where the interplay of personal learning and the collaborative components of professional learning and practice take place” (Evans, 2015, p. 31). Evans starts by discussing context through distributed labor and learning. “As work practices become distributed, temporary and mobile, traditional models of professional learning that assume shared goals, proximity of fellow workers and the availability of mentors” (Evans, 2015, p. 32). Through the distribution of information and work and collaboration through online platforms, the educational process can be transformed and brought to more people with fewer restrictions and distractions. Facilitation is discussed in reference to behaviors and technology. Behavior is mentioned from the perspective of how to build communication and community. “Facilitation includes: (1) inspiring active involvement of all members and shaping of their useful roles, (2) attending to the explicit group process, (3) encouraging group communication, (4) summarizing and clarifying content of discussion, (5) acknowledging and connecting thoughts and feelings expressed, and (6) organizing the structure and format of the group” (Evans, 2015, p. 33-34). Finally, Evans explores structure within the online community. “The structure of the discussion events is similar to ‘an online, open brainstorm-like session’ or ‘Tweetstorm’” (Evans, 2015, p. 33). Through the use of this type of online open discussion motif, educators and students can share in a dynamic and thorough manner while experiencing the entire learning experience with flexibility and richness.
Dreyfuss, S. (2014). Making a Tangible Difference in Campus Culture in One Year. American Association of University Professors, 100 (5). 23-26.
Evans, P. (2015). Open online spaces of professional learning: Context, personalisation and facilitation. Association for Educational Communications and Technology, 59 (1), 31-36.
Jo, I.-H., Kang, S., & Yoon, M. (2014). Effects of Communication Competence and Social Network Centralities on Learner Performance. Educational Technology & Society, 17 (3), 108–120.
Mills, H., O’Keefe, T., Hass, C., & Johnson, S. (2014). Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions through Collaborative Inquiry. Language Arts, (92)1, 36-51.
Moore, R.L. (2014). Importance of Developing Community in Distance Education Courses. TechTrends, 58 (2), 20-24.
Sheail, P. (2015). The motif of meeting in digital education. Association for Educational Communications and Technology, 59 (1), 37-43.
Sun, J. C.-Y., Martinez, B., & Seli, H. (2014). Just-in-Time or Plenty-of-Time Teaching? Different Electronic Feedback Devices and Their Effect on Student Engagement. Educational Technology & Society, 17 (2), 234–244.