One of the activities in Week 7 of the H800 course goes into detail on how to deal with multiple perspectives in online learning. How do you stimulate collaborative discussion in online forums as a tutor? How can you make sure as a learner that people read your responses and react on them?
The Interpersonal Action & Learning Cycle (IALC) offers a framework to apply in online and offline discussions.
Zimmer argues that English and many other languages contain a communication trap. We often construct sentences that imply that what is said is a universal truth, and not merely the opinion or the belief of the speaker.
He identifies three consequences of this trap, all hindering collaborative discussion:
- Presenting a statement as evidently true, will press listeners to accept the statement in the same way, and doesn’t leave room for a different interpretation.
- Making no distinction between what someone says and my interpretation will let me assume that my interpretation is automatically the correct one. So I will not check explicitly with the other if my interpretation is the same as his/ her interpretation.
- Not recognizing the existence of other perspectives may result in not listening to the other, because I assume that what he/ she says must be the same as my interpretation. So, I will not listen attentively to identify clues of the other’s interpretation.
As a solution Zimmer also presents three components:
- First, offering your understanding to other people’s perceptions, even if this seems obvious. In this way, people feel understood and you will have more chance to be listened to, rather than ignored.
- Second, adding you own perceptions, explicitly stating them as personal opinions.
- Finally, listen to their responses for clues about personal interpretations.
The three solutions reinforce each other, creating a cycle. This cycle distinguishes clearly between offering your perceptions and blaming or praising the other. Both pass judgment to the other, thereby destroying the equality of the dialogue. Even worse are to subject the other to attack or approval, often including “inquisitorial accusation”. This means asking all kinds of questions, with the aim to find weaknesses in the other’s position.
Zimmer believes that the use of the IALC is not limited to discussion on online forums. The cycle can be applied in reducing confusion between teacher-centered and student- centered assessment. A teacher-centered tests students in how far they master the interpretation of the teacher. A student-centered assessment will invite learners to express their own opinions.
Also in module design the IALC can be applied. The cycle requires the teachers to share their perceptions, but allow learners to do the same. It found it interesting that he also made the link with professional conferences, where keynote speakers give an outline of the topic, telling the audience what to think about the conference theme, instead of asking the audience what they would want to learn. More worryingly, according to him, is that many conference visitors and students expect to be fed with perspectives and perceptions, rather be helped to form their own ones. In this way, learning becomes consuming. In Zimmer’s view the IALC can reverse this trend, because it helps to create collaborative discussion and learning.