|Teaching and Learning Forum 2000 [ Proceedings
Scaffolding: A model for learner support in an online teaching
Teaching and Learning Centre
University of New
Kurongkurl Katitjin, School of
Indigenous Australian Studies
Edith Cowan University
In the design of online teaching environments, considerable
attention has been paid to the nature of the interface and to the
streamlining of activities for learners to engage with. Much less
attention has been given however to the nature of the learner support
system that is created for novice users learning online. Support systems
are essential for learners to engage in the processes of learning and
need to be developed in response to needs. It is also imperative that a
range of support systems be put in place to enable learners to become
competent in learning online, and to learn to interact in a virtual
environment. Such skills are now recognised as part of the lifelong
learning competencies or generic attributes that universities seek to
develop in their graduates. In this paper we offer a theoretical and
pragmatic rationale for the development of learning support for online
learning, which comprises both resources that learners can access in
order to achieve learning outcomes and procedural scaffolds that support
the communication process. Examples of support mechanisms are drawn from
two pre-tertiary bridging units offered to Indigenous external students
IntroductionWhen students are introduced to online learning, they are
faced with a new learning environment and the expectation that they will have
independent learning skills and the capacity to engage in activities that
require self direction and self management of learning. While universities are
now fostering lifelong learning skills and preparation for the workplace, the
cultivation of these skills is now core business at tertiary institutions across
Australia. The learning opportunities of Web based instruction are enormous.
Students can select and employ resources, employ strategies and assess their
overall progress. Yet, how do students respond to such environments? Are they
capable of maximising the learning potential of the Web, developing metacognitve
awareness, identifying learning needs and revising plans and actions?
In our experience, we have found that learners first need 'learning how to
learn' skills to be effective online learners, and that these skills need to be
explicitly supported and taught.
Learning to learn online: Deconstructing the notionEffective learning
online requires a number of skills and cognitive abilities that are not merely
intuitive, nor can they be assumed in novice university students or those
unfamiliar with learning online. These skills are drawn from an extensive range
of literature on learning, psychology and educational theory (Scardamalia &
Bereiter, 1994; Grabinger & Dunlap, 1994; Vygotsky, 1978; Shuell, 1992;
Vermunt & Verloop, 1999).
To illustrate each of these component skills that are essential for
study in an online environment, we provide examples of each showing strong and
weak dimensions in student performance.
- Articulation: being an aware learner; being aware of one's own
thinking and how one comes to conclusions
- Self regulation: Being able to plan one's own study and adjust
one's strategies in order to achieve a goal or complete a task.
- A repertoire of learning strategies: Being able to plan and
implement a flexible range of learning strategies (note making, analytical
reading, critical processing and metaskills strategies such as attention to
task, concentration and self motivation).
- Self assessment/self evaluation: Being able to anticipate problems
and areas in need of improvement, have the capacity to seek help when needed.
Table 1: Strong and weak demonstrations of learning to learn
||Able to articulate misconceptions and reflect/identify areas in need
||Does not think about the learning process, but simply follows
||Capacity to plan and study independently and formulate goals; adjusts
time to meet task demands
||Lacks skill in planning and goal setting|
|A repertoire of learning strategies
||Chooses and uses appropriate learning strategies, notetaking, self
testing and revision/application of ideas
||Is unaware of the range of possible strategies that can be used;
expects to understand by simply reading the material|
|Self evaluation skills
||Self tests and monitors own understanding; searches for ways to
improve and revise understanding
||Finds evaluation stressful; cannot self monitor understanding
effectively or plan for assessment|
Scaffolding: A conceptual framework for learner support onlineAssuming
that novice users of the WWW do not have the component skills needed to execute
tasks and access learning resources independently, how do we support learners to
develop these essential skills? We suggest that enabling contexts that provide
advice, support and guidance to learners are needed. Support provided to
learners also needs theoretical grounding in contemporary learning theory so
that there is a rationale applied to the design of such support.
Educational research in online environments has turned to socio-cultural
theory to evaluate and understand technology supported learning environments
(Vygotsky, 1978; McLoughlin, 1998; McLoughlin & Oliver, 1998). The
theoretical perspective is that learning involves social interaction and
dialogue, negotiation and collaboration and that 'scaffolded' or assisted
learning can increase cognitive growth and understanding. What is scaffolding?
Scaffolding is a form of assistance provided to a learner by a more capable
teacher or peer that helps the learners perform a task that would normally not
be possible to accomplish by working independently.
Integrated into pedagogical practice, scaffolding is intended to motivate the
learner, reduce task complexity, provide structure and reduce learner
frustration. Scaffolding can be provided both electronically and by an online
tutor. Electronic scaffolding might be a progressive self test, hints about
solving a problem or completing a task, examples of completed work or guided
tasks that lead the learner towards more complex, extended, independent
performance. The most important point about scaffolding is that it engages the
learner actively at his/her current level of understanding until the point where
the support is no longer required. In the present context, Indigenous students
completing a bridging unit online, we combine electronic scaffolding with tutor
scaffolding as this best meets learner needs.
Design principles to support component skills of learning to learnEach
of the learning skills in Table 1 was supported by designing tasks, monitoring
learners and providing appropriate forms of assisted learning and reducing task
Support articulation and goal settingGuiding students towards learning
to learn online requires understanding of social and motivational processes
underlying learning. Both Learning Pathways and Introduction to
Computing Applications have a number of design features that enable students
to express their ideas and to formulate realistic goals.
- Individual work areas: In these spaces, students can post their own
writing and share it with others.
- Forums where students can chat with others, discuss common concerns and
arrange to work collaboratively
- Resources area where students and add resources, comment on existing
resources and have access to additional resources.
Foster self regulation through task designIn designing environments for
Indigenous learners entering university, tasks must be planned for engagement,
relevance and constructive learning. A major goal of constructivism is to
emphasise the unique interests, styles and motivations and capabilities of
individuals so that the learning environment can be tailored to them. Jonassen
et al (1993) state that learners should be:
In the Indigenous online units, tasks are designed for independent
study and extension tasks were provided for those students wishing to extend
their skills. Many of the tasks require students to draw on experiential,
cultural knowledge that validates their particular viewpoints yet allows
practice of essential literacy skills (McLoughlin, 1999a).
- able to negotiate and formulate their own goals;
- given multiple perspective on knowledge;
- provided with relevant and real life learning tasks;
- given support and models for new skill development;
- encouraged to collaborate and share knowledge through interaction.
Support learner development of independent study strategiesPretertiary
students need to develop independent study habits and to develop self
responsibility. This is achieved by providing learners with an introduction to
learning online, examples of study timetables and guidance in creating their own
plan and study goals. In our experience, motivating students to create this plan
presented no major obstacles, although it became apparent the notion of planning
time and tasks was a new experience for many. Students are encouraged to set
short term or weekly goals, which could be reviewed and revised using an online
timetable template, created for this purpose.
Create an environment which enables reflection and self monitoringAn
online design for Indigenous learners can support community processes and
communication and thereby support learning. For example, Lave & Wenger
(1991) propose that social practice is the primary generative phenomenon, and
that learning within a social environment provides the supports that community
members need. The processes of learning are achieved through "increased access
of learners to participating roles in expert performance (Lave & Wenger,
1991: 17). In this framework, learning is fostered through active participation
and conversation, not merely by observation. Students make use of an online
journal where they record their progress, make note of difficulties and keep
track of the strategies they use in dealing with tasks. Metacognition is
fostered by encouraging self questioning and by prompting students to comment on
the efficacy of their study strategies (Boekaerts, 1997).
Scaffolding learning to learn processes through design features
Provide peer support and communication for learnersA key part of the
student experience in an online community is to learn to communicate and
participate. Opportunities for interaction are created throughout the online
module by allowing scope for students to work in groups, comment on each other's
work and offer suggestions, advice and feedback to each other. The tutors can
engage with students in dialogue though the message forums, and can provide help
when needed. Also, more able learners can share their skills with others through
Provide for learner control and autonomyStudents need to feel empowered
by the technology, not overwhelmed by it. Tools for empowerment in the online
environments are the navigation tools, the content provided and the form of
learning activities and assessment. The navigation tools allow for exploration
and multiple paths through the website, but also provide sufficient structure to
those learners who need support. The design is therefore a delicate balance
between support and autonomy.
Provide prompt relevant feedbackIn order for learners to develop new
skills they need to be supported and challenged by regular, prompt and
constructive feedback. In an online environment for Indigenous learners this is
provided through email, bulletin boards and other forms of text based messaging
systems. Students can ask for individual help and tutors are available both
online and via telephone to offer individualised support and guidance. Regular
quizzes and self tests allow students to check their own progress and predict
where they are experiencing difficulties.
Implement a multisensory approach to learningIn order to support
comprehension, the same information is presented in multiple domains
simultaneously. In an online environment for Indigenous learners, this is
achieved by use of visualisation tools such as graphics, illustrations and
pictures which make possible the association of new concepts with familiar
phenomena. In addition, various learning styles are catered for by incorporating
multiple modes of presentation of information (verbal, pictorial and
diagrammatic) to ensure that learners interact effectively with content. The use
of organisers and overviews of the content enable students to think
wholistically and supports visually oriented learning (McLoughlin, 1999b).
Clarify roles and expectation for learnersLearning online for the first
time can be a bewildering experience for novices. It is important to begin with
an orientation to the skills and communication protocols required and to allow
students to get to know each other. Sharing expectations about the course by
posting them to an online journal or work space which is shared helps students
to articulate their views. The first task in Learning Pathways asks
students to introduce themselves and talk about their interests and backgrounds.
This eases the isolation of distance learners and brings the group together.
Support technological literacy through hyperlinked resourcesIn a
flexible open learning environments students need to develop the skills of
searching, browsing and viewing hyperlinked resources. The study guide for
Pathways to Learning are placed on the website and materials are
organised into modules and topics with hyperlinks that allow students to relate
and connect different skills and course components. Additional resources are
provided for extension work and students also have the capacity to create their
own links to relevant Indigenous resources.
Conclusion: Scaffolding as an essential design feature in online
environmentsThe online environments described here are based on tertiary
bridging courses for Indigenous learners. The design features of the environment
are based on social constructivist pedagogies and address the learning needs of
the students. Assisting students to plan and manage their time are still major
concerns, and for the online tutors these aspects of the course require
instructor monitoring and observation. Stimulating and motivating students to
take responsibility for their own learning remains the biggest challenge. The
design, development and implementation of networked learning environments need
to be grounded in learning theory which recognises the central role of
scaffolding learning processes that enable students to learn how to learn
online. The research is still inconclusive about the forms of mentoring or
support that are most effective in networked learning environments, but our
research indicates that scaffolding self regulatory and communicative support
will remain a priority for bridging course students.
ReferencesBoekaerts, M. (1997). Self regulated learning: A new concept
embraced by researchers, concept makers, educators, teachers, and students.
Learning and Instruction, 7(2), 161-186.
Grabinger, S. and J. Dunlap (1996). Rich environments for active learning. In
P. Kommers, S. Grabinger and J. C. Dunlap (Eds), Hypermedia learning
environments, 211-223. Mawah, New Jersey, Lawrence Erlbaum.
Jonassen, D., T. Mayes, et al. (1993). A manifesto for a constructivist
approach to uses of technology in higher education. In T. Duffy, J. Lowyck, D.
Jonassen and T. M. Welsch (Eds), Designing Environments for Constructive
Learning. Berlin, Springer Verlag: 231-248.
Lave, J. and E. Wenger (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral
participation. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
McLoughlin, C. and R. Oliver (1998). Maximising the language and learning
link in computer learning environments. British Journal of Educational
Technology, 29(2), 125-136.
McLoughlin, C. and R. Oliver (1998). Scaffolding higher order thinking in a
telelearning environment. In T. Ottman and I. Tomek (Eds), Proceedings of
Ed-Media/Ed-telecom 98 World Conference on Educational Multmedia and
Hypermedia, 977-983. Charlottesville, VA, AACE.
McLoughlin, C. (1999a). Culturally responsive technology use: Developing an
online community of learners. British Journal of Educational Technology,
McLoughlin, C. (1999b). The implications of the research literature on
learning styles for the design of instructional material. Australian Journal
of Educational Technology, 15(3), 222-241. http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/ajet/ajet15/mcloughlin.html
Shuell, T. J. (1992). Designing instructional computing systems for
meaningful learning. In M. Jones and P. H. Winne (Eds), Adaptive Learning
Environments: Foundations and Frontiers. Berlin, Springer Verlag: 19-55.
Scardamalia, M. and C. Bereiter (1994). Computer support for knowledge
building communities. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 3(3), 265-283.
Vermunt, J. D. and N. Verloop (1999). Congruence and friction between
learning and teaching. Learning and Instruction, 9(3), 257-280.
Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher
psychological processes. Cambridge MA, Harvard University Press. (Original
material published in 1930, 1933 and 1935).
|Please cite as: McLoughlin, C. and Marshall, L. (2000).
Scaffolding: A model for learner support in an online teaching
environment. In A. Herrmann and M.M. Kulski (Eds), Flexible Futures in
Tertiary Teaching. Proceedings of the 9th Annual Teaching Learning
Forum, 2-4 February 2000. Perth: Curtin University of Technology.
[ TL Forum
2000 Proceedings Contents ] [ TL Forums
Search ] [ TL Forums Index
HTML: Roger Atkinson, Teaching and Learning Centre, Murdoch
Created 18 Jan
2000. Last revision: 18 Jan 2000. © Curtin University of Technology