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Title: Designing and exploring student-led online learning environments
Designing and exploring student-led online learning environments
Authors: Teyssandier, Hanna Celina
Teyssandier, Hanna Celina
Issue Date: 2020
Publisher: Newcastle University
Newcastle University
Abstract: The recent surge in the popularity of massive open online courses (MOOCs) has demonstrated both the demand for, and potential of, self-directed online learning. Despite this success, prominent online learning platforms, such as Coursera, offer limited opportunities for learners to form lasting social networks. On the other hand, connectivist courses have enabled free flowing, learner centric interactions through a mix of mainstream social networking and communications tools, but have been criticised for creating a chaotic learner experience. Additionally, MOOCs have only recently started engaging with their potential for advancement in social skills (such as collaboration, bond-creation, negotiation) or offering the opportunity to study civic-minded content. This thesis aims to explore learner-led online environments that offer a well-organised learner experience as well as support the formation of diverse, impact-focused online learning communities. The research approach used is action research, in collaboration with an international organisation of high schools (United World Colleges). The research is based on a series of international, extra-curricular and civic focused 5 week online courses for high school students. Three different technological configurations are explored: mainstream social media, a custom built learning platform and a hybrid of the two approaches. The course data (including participation metrics, class forum discussions and post-course surveys) is analysed using a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods. The research uses a theory-based approach to propose a framework for the analysis of course discussion content, in order to build understanding of both cognitive and social learning. This framework is first used to highlight different aspects of the configurations of learning environments that can be used to support the building of learning communities. Then, a more refined version is applied in order to discuss pedagogical contributions of both learners and facilitators within the courses. Experiments with different sized courses in loosely-coupled social media environments found that while it is possible to build a sufficiently-structured, impact-focused student-led course using such an approach, learner experience becomes increasingly chaotic when the number of participants exceeds 100. Social media channels, whilst helpful for driving engagement, lack important features for community building and project development. These findings drove the design of a learning management system, The system was designed so that course participants could be subdivided into smaller groups (classes of 100 and groups of 10), as well as to provide a setting favourable to project discussions and feedback. In early experiments where only was used for courses, learners faced challenges relating to communication. This led to designing a hybrid environment (using a mix of bespoke platform and social media). When comparing interactions in loosely-coupled, platform and hybrid courses I found that there are two kinds of trade-offs that designers have to consider when thinking about structuring a learning environment. Firstly, there is a compromise between supporting contribution to course co-creation (favouring loosely-coupled media) and higher learner satisfaction with course experience (favouring more structured, platform-based approaches). Secondly, there exists a compromise between an increased risk of low learner interaction (significant in platform-only environment) and an increased challenge associated with the layering and scaffolding of interactions (significant in social media only environments). In addition to this developed understanding of the trade-offs of the different online learning configurations, and to the analytical framework developed alongside this understanding, this research also contributes a set of design recommendations for learning platform and course designers.
Description: Ph. D. Thesis
Appears in Collections:School of Computing Science

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