What Should Trihn Do?

Trinh’s committed to delivering learner-centred courses, whether taught F2F, online or blended. But this course – and its over 150 student enrolments – is challenging for her to manage. There are no resources for hiring a teaching assistant or another instructor: Trinh meets half of her entire annual teaching workload requirement by teaching this by herself once per academic year. Email in particular can be onerous: on some mornings she finds dozens of messages. Some of these come to her university email address; others to her Blackboard email. She even gets student questions as comments to her blog and on Twitter! Were this a F2F course, she would set up office hours – but that’s not an option in an online course, is it? What would you suggest Trinh do to manage the communications workload for her course?


This weeks problem has a lot of stakeholders and a lot of variables. I purposely didn’t look at previous posts before posting, because I wanted a clean-slate perspective. I found it useful to play with visualization tools (icons) to map out the ‘story’ and all of the different variables (a remnant of my undergrad training).



The first critical concern addressed is the volume of solo student-teacher communications. Almost every online course I’ve had, has had controls in place to keep these communications from overwhelming the teacher. Having four or more means of this communication is not sustainable at this scale.


I think that Trinh needs to set down some firm rules regarding interaction and like John (our course instructor) has restricting email/personal communications to a singular mode of communication within/through Blackboard itself. Anderson states that “emerging best practices now recognize the flow of communication in online courses to be much less ‘teachercentric,’ […] teachers do not have to respond immediately to every student question and comment, and playing a less dominant role in class discourse can actually support the emergence of greater learner commitment and participation” (2008). Trinh can easily add an auto-responder to her own email instructing students to post questions in the forums, she can also add something to this effect on her blog and twitter. This means that she could perhaps employ a model of student-student help and interaction within Blackboard through the use of help forums and peer forums.


This supports the learner-centered model that Trinh is committed to where “appropriate combinations of asynchronous and synchronous voice, text, and video” can support a learner-centered environment. So far, there appears to be an emphasis on synchronous activity, so perhaps now is the time to develop on the asynchronous activities. She could use ‘technology as lever’ in this case to divide the large community of 150 students into smaller groups, employing a peer model of reciprocal co-teaching increasing critical social skills through peer tutoring and reciprocal teaching (Anderson, 2008). The scenario doesn’t state what version of Blackboard Learn is used, however there are a variety of tools in place to use : group management tools, discussion boards, wikis, blogs, ‘organizations’ (cross-campus working tools). At the beginning she could introduce virtual ice-breakers to explore the different cultural viewpoints and ‘overlays’ at play in those groups. This will also help to develop a sense of learning community. In short, I think that Trinh can work on developing the structure of her learning community.


I think that this peer model of co-teaching is both useful and innovative, and I see the work we do here in 565A to be in line with this. It actually reminds me very much of the design charrettes that were done weekly in my undergrad. I always loved charrettes : )



Anderson, T., (2008a). Towards a theory of online learning. In T. Anderson & F. Elloumi (Eds.), Theory and practice of online learning. Edmonton, AB: Athabasca University. Retrieved here.

Image source:  Benjamin Linh VU. (2011). 326. [Image file]. Retrieved from Flickr under CC by SA 2.0 license.

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