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Online advocate takes cyberlearning to the firehouse

Janet Kiplinger Ciccone
Wed, 2013-10-09 16:50

Harnessing the power, potential of online learning

Frederick Kauser is deputy chief of the Mifflin Township Division of Fire, Gahanna, Ohio. He oversees three shifts of firefighters operating from four fire stations, supports battalion chiefs, and writes policy for firefighter training and development, some of it online. Because of his role, he knew he needed firsthand experience with online learning, but he was apprehensive. Would it lack the richness of a traditional, face-to-face classroom experience?

Connie Wanstreet, Fred Kauser and David Stein Connie Wanstreet, Fred Kauser and David Stein


To find out, Kauser enrolled in Adult Education in Society as part of his PhD program in Workforce Development and Education (WDE). Taught by David Stein, associate professor of educational studies, and Connie Wanstreet (‘07 PhD, WDE), adjunct assistant professor, the course uses bulletin board-style postings supplemented by live chats.

“What Dr. Stein taught me is, although online and classroom learning are different, rich learning and exchanges are possible in a virtual environment,” Kauser said.  “Online can even be more efficient than a traditional classroom experience. When we’re talking, we tend to use extra words, repeat ourselves. When we use text, our points were more focused.”

Kauser’s experience was especially vibrant because Stein has earned a place as a peer reviewer in Quality Matters (QM). The national, faculty-centered process certifies the quality of online and blended (both live and web-based) courses.

Creating critical, reflective student discussions

“With the country at the forefront of an explosion in online learning, interaction is the real power of a quality, online course,” Stein said. “What we want is a critical, reflective discussion in which students use reasoning processes to arrive at a deeper, shared understanding, but that requires a great deal of skill and practice. Our research focuses on how to help instructors guide their students in coming to well-articulated agreements based on evidence.”

In the course that Kauser took, Stein and Wanstreet, also a peer reviewer in QM, tested an intervention they created. Immediately after each of Stein’s online discussions, Wanstreet provided all participants with helpful coaching. She pointed out better ways to ask questions, how to critique another’s ideas constructively, and more.

The study showed that continuous intervention made a profound difference. It increased learners’ ability to judge when to change course and how to engage in higher order thinking. The process fostered more interdependent learners who modeled problem solving and collaborative learning.

“The benefit is that students took ownership of the course and their learning,” Stein said. “I became more a facilitator or resource providing guidance. More than that, the students modeled my behavior. They became instructors as well.”

Kauser said the course showed him the power and potential that online learning offers in the workplace. “The productivity of firefighters is measured by how many runs they make. Online learning lets them stay on call in their operating stations, available to respond to the public. This dramatically improves service, saves cost, and enhances community safety.”


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