In this post, I write about how the support a teacher may give to students is a valuable way to promote engagement in the course and contribute to collaborative learning.

When I think to support, the first thing that comes to my mind is “answering to questions”. But support can be many different things and can be provided in many ways, especially when teaching occurs in blended and online settings. I am thinking about support that can be given “asynchronously” and “to all” by, for example, recording the lab sessions and publish it on the course web-based management system [5].

Support can therefore vary from answering questions to preparing course material that is accessible by students with special needs.

In all cases support is given and received. To be given, there must be the “will of help”. To be received, there must be the “will to be helped”.

It is not always easy for students to seek for support. In online and blended teaching environments this difficulty could be exacerbated by the physical and social distances that may exist between the students and the teacher and among the students that prevents from creating the “environment for trust, open communication, and group cohesion” [1].

As a result, distance, in the meaning of insufficient social integration, can be a reason for the students to lose their interest in the course and drop out of it [2].

This implies, in my opinion, that support is strictly related to social integration in terms of the need to feel part of a friendly environment (the famous Coffee House metaphor [6]) to be able to ask for and provide support. So, a teacher should build the “awareness of the other” as a first step, the social presence as it is called in the Community of Inquiry framework [1].

So, I would encourage synchronous online meetings among students to meet each other. For example, the personas model suggested by Martin Weller in his webinar [3] could be used among the students to know each other through telling their “living situation”, “their previous education experiences”, or “any other details they would like to share” [3].

I would also implement synchronous active learning sessions in which students are invited to propose and discuss solutions about a common topic, where I would act as a facilitator of the discussions (the teaching presence in the Community of Inquiry framework [1]) and an active provider of feedback. In a blended setting, I would encourage groups of in-presence and online students.

Through building group cohesion and teaching students to “listen to one another with respect, build on one another’s ideas” [4], support becomes something more than answering questions. It becomes helping students to create their own “network” and rely on it to study. The teacher has also the opportunity to better know the students to support them more appropriately. That also means promoting collaborative learning.

ID References
 1 Vaughan, N. D., Cleveland-Innes, M., & Garrison, D. R. (2013). Teaching in blended learning environments: Creating and sustaining communities of inquiry. Edmonton: AU Press.
2   Weller, Martin, van Ameijde, Jitse and Cross, Simon (2018). Learning Design for Student Retention. Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice, 6(2)
3   M. Weller. Learning design. Webinar, May 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NS8rzIKw4hQ
4   Lipman, M. (2003). Thinking in education (2nd ed.). Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, p. 20


PBL5. I like how this course was arranged. Presentation topic 4,
ONL221, May 2022

Ragupathi, K. (2020). Being open: drawing parallels with the Coffee House model.

Support for engagement