Using Affective Pedagogy in Distance Learning

with Janice Holvoet

As online teaching increases in usage, it is important that we address how affective teaching methods can play out in distance education. Because online courses started with a reduced focus onpersonal interactions, Hughes (1995) identified the educator's perspective on caring as going in a different direction from online teaching, which was believed to detract from the ability to show caring in the classroom. If the issues were truly dichotomous, then one might find no common ground between affective teaching and the emphasis on online education. However, there have been a host of different technologies coming to the classroom today. Some systems have multiple viewing locations that are synchronous and allow for interaction that is live and clear. It is possible to employ an intersubjective philosophy that is capable of being distinct, and to bring a way of knowing that can arise in the moment and can also address the affective domain of teaching and learning in distance education.


With the growing gap between nursing education and practice, a movement exists to change the look of nursing education (NLN, 2003, 2005, 2012; TIGER, 2007–2010; Washington Center for Nursing, 2009). In order to work effectively in the health care industry, nurses are required to assimilate an extensive amount of knowledge. In practice settings, nurses are integrating technology and practice. Nonetheless, new graduates are unable to bridge the gap between what they learned and what they need to know as a working registered nurse. The problem in the learning sector that may contribute to this practice gap is seemingly compounded by having students registered in one course but assigned in many locations or just online. Creating uniformity and the right level of competency is difficult in situations where the students are dispersed. How will nursing education transition into the 21st century when it is still entrenched in the 1980s where the training is without current technology? How will nursing education transition when we struggle to have the same quality of nursing education in multiple locations? Compounding the problem are the antiquated curriculum models, which are in need of extensive revision; yet, we continue to do more of our teaching at a distance. It is possible that we understand the need for bringing students together through technology, but are losing site of how we need to connect affective learning to these various distance learning models. In addition, there are growing concerns regarding what this means for students who see such learning as less critical to who they are morally and ethically, making it easier to cheat in their learning process.


“Technology is us . . .” (Roblyer & Doering, 2010, p. iv) is the current theme for much of nursing education. Presently, computers and advancing technologies shape our teaching and nonteaching environments. In education, Clark suggests (in Roblyer & Doering, 2010) that computers continue to challenge educators' long-standing concerns regarding how we can use technology in the classroom and what might be lost in the process. We continue to hear the rumblings and debates that look at benefits versus the risks of losing pedagogical strategies with technology as an intermediary.

Authorities on using technology in classrooms (Milic´ & Škoric´, 2010; Roblyer, 2006; Roblyer & Doering, 2010) stress that computer technologies are an indispensable part of society and there is value in learning how to accept this as the future of education. Others (Clark & Mayer, 2008; Palloff & Pratt, 2011; Roblyer & Doering, 2010) affirm that computer use in education is purely an instructional tool that has many uses. It is “the raw materials for enhanced educational strategies . . . intended to be part of our path to a better life” (Roblyer & Doering, 2010, p. xv). Regardless of which viewpoint you may take, it is easy to see that both computers and educational technologies are shaping education in many different ways. Computers simply make our word processing less cumbersome and time consuming, compared with using the typewriter. In addition, computers allow us to access the Internet, create great looking presentations, and allow us to program and analyze data quickly for our statistics courses. “Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, said in 1943, 'I think there is a world market for maybe five computers'” (Kaku, 2011, p. 7). Contrary to Watson's statement, as we now know, our thinking and use of technology appears to be on a logarithmic path and there is no stopping the process.

The Internet created the huge jump in classroom use of computers around 1992 ( when they opened up Internet protocol (IP) addresses to commerce. Today, students can track on the web the latest issues regarding the topics being discussed in class. In addition, students can take notes, stream their classroom lectures without being in class, or even send this information to their cell phones or some other technology they enjoy using. In reality, content can be sent anywhere and be viewed at any time without ever going to class. The Internet is a storehouse of information, and global access is being described as “the American consumer's right” (The National Research Council Staff [NRCF], 2000, pp. 3–4).

Ease of information access has spurred new thinking and transformed education at all levels. It can be asynchronous with different students hearing the content at different times, or it can be synchronous where it is possible to have significant interactions from all locations at the same time with the right technology. As we start to think about the many ways of using technology in nursing education, we also can understand how we are starting to decrease real interactions—especially the nonverbal interactions that are a major part of affective pedagogy. It may be possible to address the student's level of affective literacy online, but it is mostly a theoretical idea without active research on the subject.

Most debates in recent years have centered on value differences found in what is teaching and what is the best learning, including the pros and cons of using technology at many levels in the process. These discussions contribute to a rich learning environment with each view stemming from a theoretical foundation, such as constructivism, and intersubjectivism verses objectivism (Roblyer & Doering, 2010; Schunk, 2012). Examples include Kozma (cited in Clark, 1994) who stresses that learners interact with computer technologies to construct knowledge or even have an intersubjective experience with what they found on these devices. The challenge for teachers who utilize computer technologies in the classroom is to find ways to guide that experience by having purposeful clips or html sites imbedded in the assignments. Veletsianos (cited in Clark & Choi, 2007) claims that the aesthetics of pedagogical agents are valuable to learning and that these experiences can be found on the computer. The objectivists (Clark, 1994; Clark & Choi, 2007; Clark & Mayer, 2008; Kushnir, 2009; Milic´ & Škoric´, 2010) push back with caution, and suggest that technology is only a support for the learning experience and must be substantiated by evidence and valid research methods before it can be called an effective teaching method.

Although computer use and educational technologies have provided a backdrop for controversy, both are important aspects of society. Roblyer and Doering (2010) list numerous reasons to integrate technology into teaching that include student motivation; instructional enhancement; increased learning; and building “information-age skills” (p. 15). However, how do we impact
the students' awareness of self? What motivates them? What emotions are touched by a certain assignment? How are they experiencing presence and care, and can they really build social and emotional literacy in distance learning? It takes a conscious effort to build in affective literacy methods, and even then, the instructor may not ever see the result. We constantly ask for reflections, but in my experience, most reflections are more cognitive expressions of a learning or a belief—not an expression of a new inner awareness.

The more recent use of video clips from YouTube brings about a consideration of deeper questions for the student. In one case, during use of this next clip ( as part of the discussion of an online question, students were asked how they would feel working with a patient like this if they covered for the parents for 6 hours, so the parents could have a break. In some cases the students had emotional responses to the cruel and abusive care the child received. But, they were also in shock at how cold and detached this reactive attachment disorder child was. It would have been great to continue a threaded discussion of this case, but unfortunately the question was used as a single reflection. As you watch this, what comes up for you? What would you do to keep yourself, this child, and her brother safe as you cover for the parents?

Use of affective pedagogy in online courses is going to take additional thinking as to how students learn, and what the learning goals are for the students who are using cognitive and affective methods at the same time. The debate will continue and we need to be more creative in our methods.

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