Who is in control?

I am not part of the Net-geners or Gen-Xers (Maclougher and Lee, 2008), I am definitely not a digital native, I am not capable of operating at a twitch speed, multitask, visualize while communicating in multiple modalities. Sometimes reading these descriptions make me feel that my brain has a “best before” date imprinted on it. And that this date was yesterday.

Do not get me wrong – I am not against development, I am not even a fan of static comfortness, but sometimes I think that the differences of “the new world” compared to the old is somewhat exaggerated. At least in terms of pedagogy.

Sure, it has been helpful to read Gilly Salmons five staged idea of how helping students onboard in an online environment (even though it is maybe questionable when exactly the transition happens) – I will undeniably dedicate more time to purposed online socializing and make first task very easy, perhaps even turn it into a “get-to-know-eachother”- challenge. And if I were to take on teaching at an online course I would definitely read Bates’ in depth. After his summary overview I will bring with me not to assume that online learning automaticly is time-saving for teachers. Quality online learning is not comparable to a MOOC (which is more like educational television) but highly depending on digitally skilled and confident subject experts. Online learning is moreover more suitable for students already high in self-discipline – or you might have to dedicate time to teach that too. Also important that the students feel that the teachers follows their work. Some kind of supervision is indeed interpreted as care.

In the summary of things to consider in online course design, Bates (2016) counts: A clear timetable of work based on a well structured organization of the curriculum, manageable study workload, appropriate for student conditions for learning, regular instructor communication and presence, a social environment that contributes to the knowledge and experience of other students, a skilled teacher or instructor and other motivated learners to provide mutual support and encouragement. For my part, I have a hard time seeing what would be the difference in face2face learning design. Same with the ADDIE-model: an easy-to follow structure, that emphasis the need for adapting to audience and take into consideration the time for the teacher to also train him or herself in the implementation. Not one single thing would be inappropriate in a face2face learning environment.

Instead I struggle with the same issues in both settings; the challenge of combining the two seemingly impossible friends: the control from the student and control from the teacher. How am I going to allow self-direction and learner control without depriving the student of structure and scaffolding?

There are forces that push us towards the instructor control and others that speaks for student control: Pedagogy 2.0, in which student autonomy suggests partnership and not leadership between teacher and student, and where allowing student personalization, participation and productivity are guidelines for all teaching designs, is part of the latter. In the other end there is the LMS where instructor control is emphasized. This past few months I got more and more aware of the more invisible structure and control that is embedded in LMS, a colleague of mine Karin calls it pre-figuration (Bolldén, 2015), but there is an option to take control of the environment and re-figurate it. Another solution is just to leave the LMS taking care of the things that it does best: handling the registration-, storing demands on a governmental authority. For the rest; collaboration, interaction and creativity – we do best in creating these opportunities outside of the LMS (Watson, 2014)

My recent experience of working in PBL group – guidance, leadership and structure proved to be essential to move the task forward, even (or maybe especially) when collaborating. Without a set goal and somebody keeping eye at it at all time, and making us all see it – it became hard to work up that community uniting around a shared reality (Wenger, 2010), we tended to hast into a final product of more or less unimportant quality. It really showed the importance of individuals being motivated for the group’s sake and not for an individual purpose. For that the group needed structure and organization.

Connectivism (Siemens, 2005) in some sort summarises the qualities required for thriving – or perhaps just surviving – in the digital era: Effective learners are those who can cope with complexity, contradictions and large quantities of information who seek out various sources of knowledge and who can create and sustain learning communities and networks (Siemens, 2005). It becomes quite obvious then, that you cannot teach somebody that independent mastery – it would be completely contradictory to foster a self-directed person by controlling the whole process towards it. That has to be learnt. Not taught.

However, complexity, contradictions, large quantities of information, impossible to overlook, would according to Karasek&Theorell (1990), correspond to a high level of stress: especially together with little or lacking social support. Stress in mild portions can create driving force but in mass it leads to conditions not very favorable for learning, harming both motivation and learning capacity (Selye, 1978). This seemingly emphasizes instructor role: teachers must scaffold and support: the student must feel control and support in order not to be overwhelmed by stress and thus losing motivation and learning ability. Probably this is what is behind Salmon’s (2015) guidelines for fist and second stage – however the transition into the more independent learner is delicate – what if the scaffolding, mild challenge and high support in the beginning cement the student into passiveness? How would you determine the right level of chaos that the individual learner could handle in each moment of the learning process?

The deeper problem here is that too much of instructor control actually can harm the motivation and initiative of the student – hindering him or her in their development. Deci, (1972) and Kohn (1993) were early in stating the potential harm of external rewards/control on intrinsic motivation. Klingberg (2016) suggest both in his own research and Fryer et al (2010) that incentives, especially when directed at the end product can harm intrinsic motivation. However, using it on process-related features might prevent or at least milder that effect, for example time on task or the number of times solving type problem. During topic 2, both Brindley, Walti, Blaschke (2009) and Capdeferro et al (2012) suggested awarding participation rather than production in group which is in line with the above.


If not receiving any clear answers during this topic, at least I got some sort of assent from McLoughlin & Lee (2008) and Anderson (2008) for example, this latter mentioned the potential problems with a teacher being too much guide-on–the-side – it is a bit nice to know that this apparently is “the thing” to struggle with.

My only personal answer for the time being is to try to instill these counter weigh to stress within the individual: capacity to take control (to which a good portion of confidence is needed – that is another issue) and to bond with others in order to both give and receive support. How do these fit into the 21st century skills?


Sources without hyperlink:

Deci (1972) Deci, Edward L. 1972. “The Effects of Contingent and Noncontingent Rewards and Controls on Intrinsic Motivation.” Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 8: 217-229.

Karasek R, Theorell T (1990) Healthy work: Stress, productivity, and the Reconstruction of working life. New York: Basic books

Kohn, A. (1993) Punished by Rewards. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. [53]

Seyle, H. (1975) Stress without distress.Vie médicale au Canada français, Vol 4(8), Aug 1975, 964-968.

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