Establishing Dialogues: Moral Reflection Within Online, Threaded Case Discussions

Jul. 01, 2011

Source: Action in Teacher Education, 33(3), p. 265-282, 2011.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The current study examines online, threaded case discussions with regard to the ways teacher candidates displayed a morally reflective stance toward teaching and how unique features of online discourse shaped this stance.

The authors define the morally reflective stance (MRS) toward teaching as a synthesis of the literature on moral dimensions of teaching.
The morally reflective stance is a sensitive awareness of a teacher's moral authority and agency and the sincere attempt to act in student's/students' best interest(s).
The challenge lies in navigating the uncertainty, the ambiguity, and the inevitable dilemmas that arise when making choices about what is good, proper, and/or best in any given situation

Two research questions that guided this study:
(1) In what ways did the teacher candidates display a morally reflective stance in the context of online, threaded case discussions?
and (2) in what ways did the features of the electronic discourse shape a morally reflective stance?

This study examines the asynchronous, online discussions that unfolded in two different sections of this course - one comprising secondary preservice teacher candidates, and the other of elementary candidates.

The participants were 46 teacher candidates: 21 elementary candidates 25 secondary candidates. The candidates participated in the case discussions, with each candidate responding to four cases.
Elementary and secondary candidates responded to different cases.
Five of the candidates were undergraduate students, whereas the rest were graduate students seeking a teaching endorsement.

Data Collection
The primary sources of data were the texts of 31 small-group case discussions posted online. The authors also analyzed the responses to seven of the instructor's syntheses of the small-group discussions.
The second source of data was transcripts of interviews conducted with 12 candidates one year after the online case discussions were held, when the teachers were employed in their first year of full-time teaching.


The case discussions provided evidence of a morally reflective stance toward teaching.
However, the candidates were more focused on working toward a solution versus fully exploring the complexity of the case.
The authors learned that when teacher candidates are asked to explore a dilemma with fairly open ended guidelines that their tendency is to want to move expeditiously toward the "best" solution.

Furthermore, the analysis shows that the asynchronous, threaded discussion format embodies several features that appeared to foster dialogue that engaged candidates in substantive moral reflection upon teaching.
In particular, the forum provided a voice for all participants and allowed the teacher candidates the time to be thoughtful in their deliberations.

Moreover, the experience, as recollected by the participants, was a constructive encounter with technology, one that appeared to be formative in their thinking about essential aspects of teaching.

Finally, this study provides a conceptual framework for case discussions that places on emphasis on the moral dimensions of teaching.

In conclusion, the current study highlights the possibilities inherent in using electronic formats to foster sophisticated discussions about the moral dimensions of teaching and raises questions about how best to exploit the dialogic nature of this format.

Updated: Sep. 02, 2013