myDALITE, An Asynchronous Peer Instruction Platform Supporting Students and Teachers
A teacher is a detective on a perpetual investigation to uncover each student’s learning location so she can offer targeted and relevant support. An ideal assignment will communicate to the teacher how each student is progressing on her path to mastery of course material while also providing students an engaging task that supports the development of competencies and builds understanding of course material.
Research shows that assignments involving student collaboration and “Peer Instruction” provide students a productive opportunity to develop understanding of material. However, group dialogues may be difficult for a teacher to foster online as part of a “flipped” or online course; further, it can be difficult for the teacher to monitor how each individual student is progressing in a peer-based group discussion.
The myDALITE, Asynchronous Peer Instruction Platform solves this problem. It allows peer-communication and collaboration to productively unfold as students in classes communicate and dialogue around activities set up by teachers, asynchronously, online. Furthermore, the teacher is able to monitor the progress of each student as they move through the activity. The site has been adopted in a multitude of disciplines, increasing the effectiveness of online peer instruction in a pedagogically valuable and structured context. It improves individual student engagement in out-of-class activities, benefitting classes as a whole, while also enabling teachers to better understand the class and individual student’s progress.
How Dalite Works
The myDaliteplatform allows teachers to send students multiple-choice problems and activities to be completed outside of class. Students are required not only to submit answers to these problems but also provide a rationale for their answer, describing why and how they arrived to their proposed answer. Then, the student is asked to review and consider alternative rationales for the problem submitted by peers. Some of these alternatives support her own answer and others contradict or challenge her answer and rationale. By considering these varied rationales, the student is asked to examine the reasoning that led her to her own answer, a metacognitive activity that is authentic, socially inspired and supports deep understanding. Having considered her peer’s alternative rationales, a student can then choose to reorient her original answer.
As each student moves through this process, they are involved in an authentic and asynchronous peer-dialogue, a dialectic that deepens understanding.
Turning on DALITE
If a tool is this useful for the teacher and learner, it likely arises from the minds of teachers who are informed by educational research and the needs of their subject matter. In this case, we find a source in our own CEGEP system. DALITE’s roots reach back to a collaboration between learning science researchers, Dr. Jim Slotta at the University of Toronto, OISE (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education), and a college-level researcher team composed of faculty from Dawson, John Abbott and Vanier Colleges – i.e., Drs. Elizabeth (Liz) Charles, Nathaniel Lasry, Kevin Lenton, and Professors Michael Dugdale and Chris Whittaker, of SALTISE. This team took the initiative to build their own investigative technology, funded initially, in large part by Dawson College. The effectiveness of the early platform was studied by these same faculty-researchers as part of a PAREA grant. Their investigations show that DALITE, involving processes of self-explanation, comparison and reflection on answers, support improvement in students’ learning.
Over the last five years, collaborations between this team of faculty-researchers, headed by Charles and Lasry, have led to refinements of the DALITE platform. Professor Sameer Bhatnagar of Dawson College, a more recent member of the team, has played an important role in connecting the Open edX infrastructure to DALITE to create myDALITE. In 2014, when Dr. Colin Fredricks of HarvardX, a part of the Open edX network, discovered the platform, he believed it could be very useful for enhancing student experiences in MOOCs. Fredricks and Bhatnagar believed myDALITE, if well integrated, could make Open edX courses more interactive and collaborative and lead to greater student success.
DALITE found a partner in edX whose resources help maintain the tool and whose users continue to provide data to increase the quality of the platform. Students within Open edX courses are offered an enhanced experience in private MOOCs offered by MIT, Harvard and Berkeley using DALITE.
CEGEP teachers here in Quebec receive free access to the myDALITE platform, a wonderful opportunity for our reseau.
The myDalite platform can improve the effectiveness of flipped and active classrooms across the CEGEP network. By simulating an authentic experience of discussion in an online setting with a pedagogically impactful and efficient workflow that requires students to attend to the most potent objections to their own answers, online learning has received a powerful boost in the form of an online, pedagogically sound, peer-based Socratic dialectic hosted in an academic, virtual agora.
Have you considered bringing peer-instruction into an online context to support your students? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to check out DALITE, if you haven’t already.
See the French version of Gabriel Flack’s article.