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Effective online interaction: mapping course design to bridge from research to practice’.

There are papers so rich in ideas that they are worth thinking about further. My attitude to notes is that they form part of the knowledge forming process, something made real through discussion and use. By putting my notes in a blog I make them readily available for my own discussions and for those of others. Several key thinkers are quoted here: Thorpe, Conole, Haythornthwaite for example, with the ever-important ideas of Piaget and Vygotsky too.

Thorpe, M. (2008) ‘Effective online interaction: mapping course design to bridge from research to practice’, Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, vol.24, no.1, pp.57–72.


  • Interactive
  • Support
  • Retention
  • Participation
  • Argumentation
  • Dialogue
  • Sequence of structured activities
  • Compendium planning software
  • Integration of individual and group tasks
  • Towards a well- designed assignment

Two themes:

  • Interaction
  • Use of technology in education

Research on the design would reveal more an alternative pedagogies.
Insufficient understanding of the learning context.
Distinct kinds of interaction need to be studied.

Hirumi’s (2002) taxonomy of interaction types, she noted that ‘other types of interactivity… were minimally represented in the review, including learner-instruction and most learner-non-human types of interaction (learner-content, learner-interface, and learner-environment.

Haythornthwaite (2006) necessary to understand the context of implementation and such a diversity of computer v mediated approaches are possible.

And conflicts: collaborative VS. Individual; time to develop trust; co-operation VS. Collaboration; knowledge application VS. Knowledge construction.

The learning design intended to deliver these different forms of interaction will involve decisions about type and timing of learning tasks, structured or less structured task management, locus of control and duration of the interaction.

N.B. Design for the environment as well as the outcome,

Interaction might reduce the impact of distance. Moore (1989)

Littleton & Hakkinen, 1999). Littleton and Hakkinen highlight the developments in research from Piagetian cognitive constructivism, through the social constructivism inspired by Vygotsky’s work, to cultural psychology (situated learning). Each perspective has emphasised key features of interaction, such as perspective differences and socio-cognitive conflict between collaborating pairs, the content of discourse, particularly the degree to which argumentation and justifications are involved, and the powerful influence of social representations of self and others.

‘networked learning is learning in which ICT is used to promote connections: between one learner and other learners; between learners and tutors; between a learning community and its learning resources’. (Goodyear et al, 2004)

JV A learning community that is no longer set within water- tight institutional barriers.

‘Where interactive events are still scheduled and available only at specific times and places’.

JV An obligation that may counter the flexibility otherwise provided.

‘The use of conferencing has not produced easy wins in terms of high levels of participation and quality contribution by students.’

Despite resorting to near-compulsory participation for assignment reasons and skills training.

Success with The Environmental Web (U316)

Our overall aim is to provide you with the skills needed to develop your own environmental literacy and to take part in informed environmental debate and action, rather than to expand your environmental knowledge as such. (Course introduction).

JV i.e. The tools and opportunities to acquire knowledge but not the course content itself.

No tutorials, one day school and lots of interaction online.

  • Instructional activities
  • Learner involvement
  • Learner- environment interaction.
  • + environmental journalism
  • + computer modelling
  • + web-pages

Students thus interact in diverse ways – with their local environment, with other students on a continuing basis, with their tutor and with course resources and tools. All of Hirumi’s types of human and non-human interaction are represented in this way.

Retention is 10% up on other courses.

In 2005, 75.5% of all students who started the course achieved a credit, the highest percentage on this indicator for any level 3 course in the Science Faculty.

Used Ramsden’s Course Experience Questionnaire (Ramsden, 1998)

Students’ responses showed that the course successfully requires them to apply understanding in completing the assignments and to develop higher level skills, in particular problem solving and team work. These relate to key aims for the course as a whole. The course meets the most demanding test in terms of retention and successful completion of assessment requirements.

All tutors picked out aspects associated with interpersonal interaction, with three tutors commenting on the conferencing, the high rate of participation and continuity of student contact with peers as well as the tutor. Tutors also highlighted the beginning of the course as key to its success. The first six weeks of the course focus on a learning activity which feeds into an online debate and culminates in a day school.

That particular aspect of getting everybody involved right at the very beginning really sets the scene for the rest of the course. It blends tutor groups, it gets students involved with other students on a national basis and it starts in a very interesting way where students can get very involved. (Tutor 1)

The support comes as much from other students, they felt, as from tutors, with accessibility to online help being available at most times of the day and evening.

Bannan-Ritland notes, namely ‘Instructors report that they spend more time (interacting) in an eLearning course than in traditional courses’ (2002, p172) but also emphasises peer support as much more accessible where CMC is used:

This student identified task clarity as key to being able to ‘project themselves socially and emotionally’ (Rourke et al, 2001, p.3) and to make effective contributions from the beginning.

  • Uncompromising
  • Compulsory
  • High levels of interest and involvement.
  • Local decisions about timings.

Compendium mapping also creates a single ‘view’ of all the elements involved in the sequence, such as the input from the tutor that is required, and the role of resources and outputs in achieving the final result. Bringing together all these aspects into one ‘view’ enables the practitioner to get an overview of what Littleton and Hakkinen refer to as a ‘systemic whole’ – the many factors that together construct a collaborative learning environment. In using Compendium with practitioners at the OU, we are finding that a team can view a map and immediately reflect on its applicability for themselves, and on the various aspects that might be needed or adapted in their own context (Conole, 2007)

This kind of narrative detail is helpful in making judgements about what from a particular case might be adapted or applied elsewhere (Yin, 2003). The unpredictability of the impact of educational design and the complexity of the process leads Goodyear (2005)
In communicating the outcome of research to teaching staff, it has been essential to use both a narrative and a visual representation (as in Figure 1) to clarify the contextual factors and pedagogical practices associated with, in this case, positive outcomes from a particular technology in use!

Alexander’s framework of a pattern language. One element in the pattern framework is to identify the problem for which the design offers a solution.


Bannan-Ritland, B. (2002). Computer-mediated communication, elearning and interactivity: A review of the research. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 3(2), 161-179.

Conole, G., Thorpe, M., Weller, M., Wilson, P., Nixon, S. & Grace, P.(2007). Capturing practice and scaffolding learning design. Paper presented at the EDEN annual conference 2007 New Learning 2.0? Naples, June 2007.

Goodyear, P., Banks, S., Hodgson, V. & McConnell, D. (2004). Research on networked learning: Aims and approaches. In P. Goodyear, S. Banks, V. Hodgson & D. McConnell (Eds), Advances in research on networked learning. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Haythornthwaite, C. (2006). Facilitating collaboration in online learning. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 10(1), 7-23. http://www.sloan-c.org/publications/jaln/v10n1/v10n1_2haythornthwaite.asp

Hirumi, A. (2002). A framework for analyzing, designing and sequencing planned elearning interactions. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 3(2), 141-160.

Littleton, K. & Hakkinen, P. (1999). Learning together: Understanding the processes of computer-based collaborative learning. In P. Dillenbourg (Ed), Collaborative learning: Cognitive and computational approaches. Oxford: Elsevier.

Moore, M. G. (1989). Editorial: Three types of interaction. The American Journal of Distance Education, 3(2), 1-6.

Ramsden, P. (1991). A performance indicator of teaching quality in higher education: The Course Experience Questionnaire. Studies in Higher Education, 16, 129-150.

Rourke, L., Anderson, T. & Garrison, R. (2001). Assessing social presence in asynchronous text-based computer conferencing. Journal of Distance Education, 14(2), 1-16.

Yin, R. K. (2003). Case study research: design and methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks California: Sage Publications.

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