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Going Online with Protocols: New Tools for Teaching and Learning

reviewed by Michael B. Whisler - April 22, 2013

coverTitle: Going Online with Protocols: New Tools for Teaching and Learning
Author(s): Joseph P. McDonald, Janet Mannheimer Zydney, Alan Dichter, & Elizabeth C. McDonald
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807753572, Pages: 144, Year: 2012
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As I was looking for a clever anecdote to begin my review of the latest book by McDonald, Zydney, Dichter, and McDonald, Going Online with Protocols: New Tools for Teaching and Learning, I really did not have the slightest idea of what I wanted to say.  Then I started reflecting on how I got to where I am in public education and wondered if protocol teaching had played into my experiences at all.  As I look back at my undergraduate teacher preparation program, I can remember when I heard about using protocols in teaching for the first time.  Teaching with protocols was introduced to me in an introductory methods course and I believe the first one was “Think-Pair-Share.”  The Think-Pair-Share script starts out with the instructor posing a question or direction to a group of students.  Then, the students take a moment to consider the question independently.  Next, the students pair up and share thoughts with a partner.  Finally, the protocol ends in a whole-class discussion.  To this day, the Think-Pair-Share protocol proves to be a timeless, and effective, “go-to” discussion tool that I use, and recommend my teachers to use, with students of all ability levels.

There are many different protocols, or sets of specific rules to help facilitate learning, that are used by educators of all levels to assist students through the learning process.  McDonald, Mohr, Dichter, and McDonald published The Power of Protocols: An Educator’s Guide to Better Practice in 2007 to share their ideas on protocol-based teaching with the education world.  After going through two editions of that book, three of these authors have returned to share with 21st century classroom teachers protocol-based teaching in the online classroom.  

Along the way, the authors have picked up a new colleague, Janet Mannheimer Zydney, who, at the writing of Going Online with Protocols was a graduate student of educational technology at New York University. Zydney’s contribution is timely in that 21st century learning is increasingly occurring in a virtual classroom.  With that move comes a unique set of challenges.   Students are separated more and more by time, space, and life experiences.  Online learners may not share as many experiences as “traditional classroom” students are thought to share.  Nonetheless, because of the skills required to be successful in today’s colleges and careers, it is becoming almost a necessity for students to have at least one online learning experience.  McDonald, Zydney, Dichter, and McDonald have presented to online educators all over the world a practical tool in developing a strong learning experience for all those millions of online students.  The authors show how protocol teaching can help break down some of those time, distance, and common experience barriers that today’s students face.

The authors set forth a valuable map for how to utilize protocols in the online classroom.  Readers will find the book separated into easy-to-follow divisions.  First, the authors set the stage for the use of online protocols.  Through the first few chapters, they provide explicit explanations on what protocol-based teaching and learning is and the case for why online learning is becoming so necessary.  The reader should come away from these chapters with a very clear idea of the importance of, and practicality in, the protocols set forth; as well as online learning.  I feel as though the authors have made a very convincing argument for the use of protocol-based teaching and have set forth very plain-language explanations in how to use those protocols.  

One critical component of online teaching that the authors familiarize the reader with is the use of a Course Management System, or CMS.  Whether it is Moodle, Blackboard, Edmodo, or any number of others, most, if not all, online courses make use of a Course Management System. Course Management Systems give the facilitator the ability to hold a discussion between course participants despite the fact that the students are not sitting down and talking face-to-face.  The authors provide a protocol that can be used to facilitate that student discourse.  Protocols can also be used to structure online collaboration between student groups.  One particularly useful protocol illustrated how to hold course participants, who have never met in person, accountable for individual responsibilities in an online group-learning project.

The second section of Going Online with Protocols lays out the practical applications of protocols.  Throughout the remaining chapters, the authors outline specific examples of online protocols for all stages of a course; start to finish.  The remaining chapters are named accordingly–“Online Protocols for Starting Up” (Chapter Four); “Online Protocols for Delving In” (Chapter Five); “Online Protocols for Finishing Up” (Chapter Six); and “Jumping Into the Future” (Chapter Seven).   Chapters Four through Seven provide a manual of starter protocols for the online educator.  Here, the authors give multiple wonderful and practical examples of protocols that the professional can use all along the way; whether it be the first online course she has taught or she is a seasoned veteran in the virtual education world.

As students around the world increasingly move towards the virtual classroom, their educational institutions will need to find teachers who are qualified to meet the unique challenges of that virtual learning environment and prepare those who are not.  As a public school administrator looking to bring virtual learning environments to my students, this is one professional book that I would strongly encourage my online teachers to utilize as a resource in planning any student online learning experiences.  The clarity and organization of this book makes it a valuable tool.  Worded in easy-to-understand and professional language, educators will be able to take away and immediately implement the strategies presented by the authors–who, by the way, have shown that they know a thing or two about protocol teaching.

In the end, Going Online with Protocols strikes an appropriate balance between theory and practice.  This text emphasizes practicality and application.  The authors spend an effective amount of text dedicated to the practical utilization of protocols for online teaching.  This is not a professional book that will sit around on my office shelf, or anyone else’s, for too long.  The pedagogical teaching strategies outlined here should be put into place as the reader is embarking on teaching an online course.  

With my experience studying online education and effective teaching strategies, I believe Going Online with Protocols: New Tools for Teaching and Learning to be one of the best texts that I have read.  McDonald, Zydney, Dichter, and McDonald provide to the global online teaching community a comprehensive manual of sorts that will likely become one of those essential readings provided to prospective online educators during their introductory methods course.  Remember that Think-Pair-Share?  Well, that could be made into an online protocol too.  Open up the cover and take a look.  Be prepared to put your new knowledge to use right away.  I believe that “Going Online with Protocols” will be seen as a basic virtual classroom resource for all those teachers migrating to online education.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: April 22, 2013
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17103, Date Accessed: 5/26/2022 10:42:58 AM

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About the Author
  • Michael Whisler
    Glacial Drumlin School
    E-mail Author
    MICHAEL B. WHISLER JR. is the associate principal at Glacial Drumlin School of the Monona Grove School District in Cottage Grove, WI. He received his undergraduate degree in Special Education from University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2001 and later his Master's Degree in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis in 2007 from the same institution. His interests include school climate and culture, student behavior, school-community partnerships, and educational technology for teaching and learning.
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