Meaningful online learning: exploring interaction in a web-based learning environment using authentic tasks
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This study explored a Web-based learning case which was designed using authentic tasks and based on social constructivism to provide a deeper understanding of meaningful interaction through the lens of social constructivism. The case was a master’s level course offered online by a university in Australia and the participants in this study consisted of the students and instructor in the course. First, the study examined how the students interacted to accomplish the authentic task in the WBLE. The analysis of the transcripts of the online discussion forum, chat room, and interviews yielded a detailed picture of the interaction occurring in a WBLE structured around authentic tasks. Through the analysis, three major categories with multiple themes were identified: the nature of online interaction (i.e., means to an ends, authenticity, and scaffolding), the process of the interaction (i.e., getting into task, defining, accomplishing, and reflecting), and strategies for improving the quality of the interaction (i.e., designing incrementally more challenging tasks, and providing active facilitation). Second, the study explored what meaningful experiences the students had that supported their learning. Through the interview, which was conducted for better understanding students’ perspectives about the whole experience of being in a WBLE using authentic tasks, students were encouraged to reflect on their experiences in the course. The analysis of the interview transcripts yielded a category called the Learning Effect. Three themes emerged related to the main learning effects in the WBLE using authentic tasks: high motivation, opportunities for reflection, and meaningful experiences. The identification process described what meaningful interaction looks like in a WBLE and clearly showed using authentic tasks in a WBLE led to meaningful interaction that directly influenced students’ learning growth.