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Design Pattern: Fishbowl

Simulate intimate interaction between teacher and students in a large scale online course by broadcasting sessions where selected students act as proxies for the cohort


In a traditional classroom setting, learners and teachers will occasionally pause the flow of educational activities and discuss their experiences, expectations, concerns - and any issues that have emerged. Such discussions, whether planned or ad-hoc, offer teacher and learners invlable opportunities to callibrate their view of the state of the course and make any neccesary adjustments in their practice.

This allows learners to understand if the issues they are struggling with are personal or common to others, to alert the teachers to specific obstacles, and to recieve confirmation for their chosen path and learning practices.

At the same time, these discussions offer teachers invlauable opportunities to validate their teaching stratagy and practices, and receive feeback from the learners.

MOOCs do not have the capacity to entertain such interactions: learners are dispersed geographically, the numbers are too big for synchronous sessions, and the teacher to student ratio is such that personal interaction is all but impossible.


Applicable to online courses where face-2-face sessions are not incorporated. It works best when the course size (in terms of student numbers) pass the tipping point at which providing indivdiual repsonses to queries/issues is unmanageable. The course tutor should be involved.


Set up a synchronous online conferecning tool to host the fisbowl session. An example would be the use of Google Hangouts to provide the bowl. Invite the fish and advertise the event to the intended audience. Composition of the group can vary but the recommendation would be one or two tutors and a few invited participants.

Conduct the session as a tutorial, where participants reflect on their experiences from the last week's activities, and tutors comment on those reflections and respond to participants questions.


OLDS-MOOC ( convergence sessions (

HandOn ICT (

MSc Systems Biology taster course


Data and References

See literature on the role of "teacher presence" in contributing to the success of online courses.

Anderson, T. et al. (2001). Assessing teaching presence in a computer conferecning context. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 5(2), 1-17.


Author(s): Yishay Mor, Steven Warburton
Published at: 09 Feb 2015 16:45 GMT
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