Dimensions delimiting conceptions of online teaching – something to guide the indicators and the evaluation of LMS data?

Col Beer has been doing some work around the “indicators” project – an attempt to mine system logs and databases of a course management system (CMS) to generate data of some use.

One of the (many) potential problems with the work, and the work of its like, has been attempting to generate some sort of understanding about how you can rank or categorise the type of learning or activity taking part on on the CMS.

In the following I wonder if the work on teachers’ conceptions of teaching, particularly that associated with online teaching (e.g. Gonzalez, 2009) might provide a useful solution to this problem.

Research on teachers’ conceptions of teaching

There is a large amount of research, quite a research tradition, around understanding the different conceptions of teaching (and subsequently learning) that academics bring to their experience. Much of this work believes that the quality of student learning is directly influenced and constrained by the conceptions of teaching held by teaching staff. (Following from this is the idea that to improve the quality of student learning you have to target teachers’ conceptions of teaching, but that is another story.)

Teachers’ conceptions of online teaching

Gozalez (2009) extends the work on teachers’ conceptions of teaching to the online environment. One of the contributions of this work is some “dimensions delimiting conceptions of online teaching”. The following table is adapted from Gonzalez (2009) and represents these dimensions. I wonder if these dimensions could be used to guide the indicators project? More on this below.

Dimensions delimiting conceptions of online teaching (Gonzalez, 2009: p 310)
The web for individual access to learning materials and information; and for individual assessment The web for learning related communication (asynchronous and/or synchronous) The web as a medium for networked learning
Teacher Provides structured information/directs students to selected web sites Set up spaces for discussion/facilitates dialogue Set up spaces for communication, discussion and knowledge building/facilitates-guides the process
Students Individually study materials provided Participate in online discussions Share and build knowledge
Content Provided by lectuerer Provided by the lecturere but students can modify – extend it through online discussions Buit by students using the space set up by the lecturer
Knowledge Owned by lecturer Discovered by students within lecturer’s framework Built by students

The benefit that this provides is to give an existing framework, with some basis in research about what staff already do, to guide the design of statistics/indicators to be drawn from system logs and databases. Statistics that could indicate the conception of online teaching that is being used by the academics. This could be useful to identify “good” staff using more advanced pedagogy, identify the traditional ones, use this insight to guide training and interventions and perhaps as part of a research project to establish connections between the conceptions identified form the system logs and the outcomes of students in terms of final results.

For example, some potential indicators

  • A course where all content is provided by the academics indicates that the staff member is at the “lower” end.
  • The use of tools such as wikis, blogs (tools that encourage contributions from students) and which are actively used by students indicates a staff member/courses at the “higher” end.
  • A course site where the site framework is put in place by the academic and can’t be modified by students, indicates low end.
  • Large amount of discussions from students, that has low levels of interaction, indicates someone in the middle. High levels of interaction indicate someone at the higher level.

Implications and questions

There is probably many more than the simple ones outlined below. But it is getting late.

  • There is mention of the role context plays in limiting or influencing teachers’ conceptions (and thus the quality of student learning), should the nature and affordances of the technology available play a similar role?
    • Do the affordances of a CMS actively get in the way of teachers’ being able to, or even aware of, the “networked learning” (the “good”) approach?
    • Do the affordances of a PLE type approach actively encourage a more “networked learning” approach?
  • Can this work help expand/enhance the evaluation of learning and teaching, which is somewhat limited at most universities.
  • Is there a role in a design theory for e-learning for some of these ideas?


Gonzalez, C. (2009). “Conceptions of, and approaches to, teaching online: a study of lecturers teaching postgraduate distance courses.” Higher Education 57(3): 299-314.

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