Comparative Analysis of Preservice Teachers’ Reflective Thinking in Synchronous versus Asynchronous Online Case Discussions

Comparative Analysis of Preservice Teachers’ Reflective Thinking in Synchronous versus Asynchronous Online Case Discussions
Barbara B Levin, Ye He, and Holly H Robbins

This study was undertaken to better understand the nature of preservice teachers’ reflective thinking during case discussions about classroom management in two online formats: synchronous versus asynchronous. Findings indicated that when participants engaged in synchronous online case discussions they had higher levels of critical reflection than when they engaged in asynchronous online case discussions. Also, participants’ initial preferences for asynchronous discussions changed from the beginning to the end of this study. Reasons for changes in participants’ format preferences and descriptions of participants’ levels of critical reflection are discussed.

How and what teachers learn from cases are questions that continue to intrigue teacher educators who use case-based teaching methods as part of their pedagogical repertoire (Lundeberg, Levin, & Harrington, 1999; Merseth 1996). Good cases that represent the messy, complex, and situated nature of teaching and learning are excellent catalysts for discussion (Levin, 1995, 1999b). Cases also present us with a way of connecting theory with practice and can provide a focus for developing reflective thinking and for engaging in problem solving and critical thinking (LaBoskey, 1994; Richert, 1992). However, the increased use of online and web-supported courses used in many teacher education programs (Wright, Marsh, & Miller, 2000) prompted this study of different formats for discussing dilemma-based cases in a web-supported course.

Online case discussions may be conducted in synchronous (occurring at the same time) or asynchronous (occurring over time) modes, which may be facilitated or unfacilitated. If a case discussion is facilitated this may be done by the course instructor or by students in the course (Hara, Bonk, & Angeli, 2000). Although course management tools such as Blackboard or WebCT are only delivery systems (Clark, 1994), and similar outcomes may be achieved from face-to-face (F2F) case discussions, this study was designed to (a) understand prospective teachers’ preferences regarding different formats for online case discussions, and (b) analyze the quality of reflective thinking about the content of cases discussed in synchronous versus asynchronous discussion environments during a web-supported course about the interaction of classroom management and instruction.

This article offers reasons provided by preservice teachers about their preferences for different formats for online case discussions and provides a content analysis of the discourse from a subset of the participants who each engaged in two synchronous and two asynchronous online case discussions. The research questions that guided this study were: (a) Do preservice teachers prefer synchronous or asynchronous online case discussions? What reasons do they provide for their preferences? (b) Do preservice teachers prefer peer-facilitated or instructor-facilitated online case discssions? What reasons do they provide for their preferences? (c) What can be learned about the level of preservice teachers’ critical reflection, as it was originally defined by Dewey (1933) and operationalized by Harrington, Quinn-Leering, and Hodgson (1996) and Hutchinson (1996), in synchronous and asynchronous online case discussions?

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