Several years ago I took an online class that was different than anything I had ever done before. It was a 300 level creative writing class that was technically way out of my league. Instead of the disaster that I feared, the class process turned out to be a very meaningful learning experience, one of the most effective I had experienced whether face-to-face or online. When I saw the prompt for this weeks reflective writing, I decided to take the opportunity to pick it apart a little and figure out why. Here is the set-up.
The first week of class, each student signed up for 2 different dates on which they would be responsible for turning in a 10 page short story. This provided 2-3 weekly stories each member of the class was then required to critique, line by line. Once those were completed the instructor also critiqued each story and provided a review of all the student critiques. This provided feedback to both the author of the story and the reviewers on their review. After receiving this feedback, the author could choose to rework their story, or not.
Also during the first week the instructor set up the ‘rules’ for critiquing and the class mechanics. A practice story was provided along with a critique of the practice story by the instructor. There was also a discussion board, though no points were associated with its use, and assigned readings throughout the course.
The second week of class, students were required to critique the practice story. Feedback was provided on the process. The instructor told us right then that we would learn very little from the reviews we received on our own papers, but that we would learn much more from writing the critiques and by reading the critiques written by our classmates. He was right.
By the 4th week I had started racing upstairs to the computer as soon as I got home from work each day. Dinner be damned, I couldn’t wait to see what had been posted during the day. Sure enough, I learned more from this process then I ever thought possible.
Before really thinking about these pieces in relation to the Ally (2008) article, I would have thought myself to be firmly in the cognitive camp. I even teach a student success workshop on memory with tips on increasing the depths of processing. Though elements of cognitive theory is evident in my example class, it seems that a heavy dose of constructivist techniques were also at work heavily influencing my learning experience.
The instructor acted primarily as advisor, facilitator, and occasionally, as moderator. As the writers of both papers and critiques the student role was very active rather than passive. Interactions between students were both frequent, and authentic, creating an extremely strong community of practice. I certainly didn’t like them all, but I definitely learned from them all.
About Constructivist theory Ally states, “interaction is critical to creating a community for online learners.’ In this case the community was as strong as the interaction was constant.