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Your supervisor has asked you to support the professional development of your online instructor colleagues. She would you like you to create a presentation that will help the online instructors better understand shaping learner behavior and scaffolding students’ learning. Complete the following two parts:

Part A: Calling on the Learning Resources and other outside research you conduct, construct a 500-word analysis of shaping and scaffolding students’ learning. Take a comparative approach, and identify the benefits and limitations of each.

Part B: Create a presentation with a minimum of six slides that illustrates the key similarities and differences of shaping and scaffolding. Include specific examples of how each approach can be used effectively with online learners.

Scaffolding in e‐Learning Environment 

Antonín Jančařík 
Charles University in Prague, Faculty of Education, Prague, Czech Republic 
[email protected] 
 
Abstract: The paper focuses on the potential and possibilities of use of scaffolding in e‐learning courses. One of the key 
concepts the author works with and builds upon is the concept of zone of proximal development, which was introduced by 
Vygotsky.  One  of  the  key  questions  every  teacher  must  ask  is  how  to  state  the  border  between  the  current  pupil’s 
knowledge and the horizon where it can be developed. Needless to say that determination of these limits may be of crucial 
importance for the educational process. The question becomes even more important in work with gifted pupils, in whose 
case the  limit of what they can achieve under convenient guidance  is very  individual, as well as the teacher’s role very 
specific.  The  author  presents  various  forms  of  scaffolding  based  on  his  longitudinal  experience  from  work  with 
mathematically gifted pupils in an e‐learning course Combinatorial Game Theory. This course is organized within the frame 
of the Talent project which is designated for gifted Czech upper secondary school students from all over the country. This 
course has been designed with respect to the principles of the method of problem‐based learning. Students are assigned 
problems that they solve either collaboratively or individually. Some of the problems are intentionally designed in such a 
way to bring students to situations in which they must overcome epistemological obstacles. In these situations scaffolding 
proves to be a very efficient method. However, its implementation in the environment of internet is specific and differs 
from its use in ordinary classrooms. As there is no face to face contact with the student, it is much harder to determine 
his/her real state of knowledge. Also the time lag in off‐line communication makes the process harder. The paper discusses 
different aspects of use of scaffolding in the internet environment in detail. This all is illustrated on specific examples of its 
use. The paper presents four forms of scaffolding realised by specific instructions. The aim of the paper is to illustrate by 
and demonstrate on concrete examples the benefits of the use of scaffolding in an e‐learning course for gifted students.  
 
Keywords: scaffolding, game theory, e‐learning, mathematical education 

1. Introduction 
The concept of zone of proximal development, introduced by L. Vygotsky (1978), is defined as “the distance 
between  the  actual  developmental  level  as  determined  by  independent  problem  solving  and  the  level  of 
potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with 
more capable peers.” However, this guidance does not have to be personified, it may also be provided e.g. by 
an e‐learning system. That is why Vygotsky introduced also the concept of “more knowledgeable other”. 

1.1 Scaffolding 
The  concept  of  scaffolding  is  close  to  the  concept  of  zone  of  proximal  development  but  is  not  used  by 
Vygotsky. The concept refers to the help and support provided to a pupil or student while solving problems in 
order to allow him/her to achieve the desired goals (German, 2011, Saffkova, 2011). The methods of providing 
scaffolding are manifold. Saye and Brush distinguish between soft and hard methods (Saye and Brush, 2002). 
Soft, or also contingent scaffolding is based on a teacher’s discussion with their pupils, their reactions to the 
pupils’ needs and on offer of support and guidance with respect to the momentary needs (Simons and Klein, 
2007). In contrast, in hard scaffolding the teacher analyses the problems that can be come across in advance, 
already when planning the lesson (Nováková and Novotná, 2011) and prepares supporting problems or hints 
to offer to the pupils or students when needed. Scaffolding can also be provided automatically (e.g. Wood, 
2011) by the e‐learning system. However, this paper focuses predominantly on situations when guidance and 
support is provided by the course teacher, or more specifically the lecturer.  
 
Wood and Middleton (1975) define three categories of support that can be provided to pupils: 

General encouragement  

Specific instructions 

Direct demonstration  

The following text demonstrates and specifies the use of all these three categories of support within e‐learning 
courses.    When  introducing  the  category  “Specific  instructions”,  four  different  forms  of  its  use  are 
distinguished: 

Pushing the limits 

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Antonín Jančařík 

Confronting a counterexample  

Providing the right answer but not the solving procedure  

Experimenting using Trial and Error method  

The advantages of each of the methods is classified with respect to the anticipated benefits of scaffolding into 
the following five categories (Wood et al., 1976): 

Gaining and maintaining the learner’s interest in the task. 

Making the task simple. 

Emphasizing certain aspects that will help with the solution. 

Controlling the level of frustration. 

Demonstrating the task. 

1.2 Course description  
The paper presents methods of scaffolding used by the author in e‐learning courses for mathematically gifted 
students.  These  courses  for  gifted  students  are  opened  repeatedly  and  the  here  reported  research  on 
scaffolding  is  still  in  progress.  The  paper  therefore  presents  its  interim  findings  and  work  in  process.  The 
courses are organized for small groups of students (5‐10 persons) from selected upper secondary schools from 
all over the Czech Republic. The syllabus of the course is Combinatorial Game Theory (Berlekamp, Conway and 
Guy,  2001,  Nowakowski,  1998).  The  course  is  designed  as  assisted  problem‐solving.  There  is  almost  no 
instruction, students are assigned a series of graded problems which they solve  in open discussion forums. 
Students may also enter private discussion with the teacher but this option is seldom selected. The lecturer’s 
guidance  has  the  form  of  his  intervention  into  the  discussion.  This  intervention  has  different  forms,  the 
lecturer uses both soft and hard scaffolding.  
 
The course is divided into two parts. In the first part students are introduced to different variants of the NIM 
game. The goal of this activity is to guide students to discovery of the winning strategy (Bouton, 1901). In the 
second part students get to know the game hackenbush. Their task is to find the value of given positions. The 
key  moment  of  the  course  is  discovery  of  positions  with  surreal  values  ,    a  .  Pupils  must  overcome 

epistemological  obstacles  (Bachelard,  1940)  connected  to  their  existing  understanding  of  real  numbers, 
number line and the concept of infinity (Cihlár, Eisenmann, Krátká and Vopenka, 2008). 

2. General encouragement in e‐learning courses 
It is often the case of e‐learning courses that pupils and students who find the presented problems too difficult 
stop being active. That is why the lecturer must observe activity of different participants of the course carefully 
and encourage the pupils and students as needed. It  is much easier for a teacher to see that a pupil  is not 
paying attention in the classroom – he/she starts disturbing, stares out of the window, reads something else. 
These evident signals are not present in e‐learning courses and the lecturer’s position is much more difficult. 
He/she may notice a participant’s lack of activity but may fail to interpret the reasons for this drop‐out. He 
must then carefully think what and how to do to encourage and motivate the student to get involved again. 
Sometimes it is very hard to discover the true reason of a student’s drop‐out. 

2.1 First example 
A student ceased to be active for several weeks during the course and did not even answer the  lecturer’s 
messages. Only later was he able to find out that she had had a serious injury and had spent some time in 
hospital where she could not participate in the course. Having recovered she got involved in the course again 
and completed it successfully.   

2.2 Second example  
The lecturer was facing the situation when several students fell silent for a longer period of time. He addressed 
them  by  personal  e‐mails  asking  for  reasons  of  their  inactivity  and  offered  help  with  difficult  problems, 
including organizing a videoconference. The following are some of the replies he received: 

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Student 1: I find the course very interesting and enjoy solving the problems. However, I’ve been a 
bit too busy recently and haven’t managed to do all the work in time. I apologize. Sorry.  

My plan is to join in again at the end of the week. As soon as I finish other things that kept me 
occupied. I hope I will catch up on coursework. 🙂 

Student 2: Hello, sorry for my activity but I have too many courses and am getting short of time. 
As it is I only have time to look at it at the weekend. But now I’ve been offered two scholarships 😛 
so I won’t get to the coursework before the weekend. Honza 

After the lecturer’s encouraging intervention the students joint in actively again.  

Soft scaffolding in the form of general encouragement helps to gain and maintain the learner’s interest in the 
task.  In  some  cases  it  may  also  help  to  control  the  level  of  frustration.  It  is  advisable  to  make  this 
encouragement very personal and to combine it with offer to help. This eliminates the potential risk of the 
student’s dropping out of the course for its difficulty.  

2.3 Comparison to the situation when no scaffolding was offered  
In the first course, the teacher repeatedly used mail merge to alert to deadlines. Despite these alerts, some 
students did not join in and often sent excuses for having dropped out of the course. An analysis of individual 
cases showed that these students’ drop‐out was most often the consequence of a sudden increase in difficulty 
of the tasks and problems. Having discovered this, the lecturer now informs students in advance that they are 
about to proceed to a more difficult level and offers them additional help if they fall silent at this point.  

3. Specific instructions – pushing the limits 
Pushing the limits is one of the forms of soft scaffolding. It may be in the form of lecturer’s reactions to the 
limiting conditions in a pupil’s or student’s reasoning and thinking. The lecturer tries to encourage the pupil or 
student to broaden and generalize his/her considerations. The aim of this type of guidance is predominantly to 
turn  the  student’s  attention  to  those  aspects  of  the  assigned  problem  that  he/she  failed  to  notice  or  to 
deduction of consequences the pupil or student has been not aware of.   

3.1 Example 
Lecturer: What is the relation between won and lost fields? 

Student: Is their structure always regular? 

Lecturer: A good question, but what do you mean by a “regular structure”? Try to find an answer, 
it is connected to the previous question. 

Student: With the exception of the fields before finish, won and lost positions always repeat in the 
same numbers. In case one cannot use a move by one field they are always two blue and four red 
fields.  

Lecturer: I thought you were asking whether a situation must necessarily have a regular structure 
regardless of the rules of the game. Is this not a more interesting question :‐)? 

This  example  shows  that  the  student  uses  the  concept  of  “regular  structure”  spontaneously.  This  enables 
introduction of the general topic of periodicity of a solution to a problem. The  lecturer takes the student’s 
concept which is yet not developed and hands it back to the student for further development. As the initial 
initiative was on the student’s part, the problem seems more real to the student and he/she is much more 
motivated to be solving it.  

3.2 Comparison to direct task assignment  
Tasks in which students are asked to find a regular structure of won and lost positions can also be come across 
in the course but only if they follow a series of lead‐in tasks. In this case, reaction to the student’s spontaneous 
idea  made  it  possible  to  skip  these  exercises  and  start  solving  a  more  demanding  task  before  the  student 
would have done if proceeding along the standard course trajectory. The idea of a regular structure had just 
moved into the particular student’s zone of proximal development, thus allowing the lecturer to make use of 
it.   

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Antonín Jančařík 

4. Specific instructions – confronting a counter example 
Another example of soft scaffolding is providing a counterexample to the presented hypothesis. Confrontation 
of  the  student’s  strategy  with  a  situation  in  which  it  does  not  work  makes  him/her  reconsider  the  whole 
situation. Moreover, a conveniently selected counterexample may guide the student to the correct solution. 

4.1 Example 
One of the games solved by the pupils in the discussed course is the game TIC‐TAC‐TOE (see fig. 1). In some 
cases students assess the game as won by the first player even though  it  is a draw. The counterexample  is 
offered by playing the game with teacher.  

Figure 1: TIC‐TAC‐TOE game (from Jancarik, 2007) 

Providing a well‐chosen counterexample to the presented hypothesis helps to emphasise some aspects of the 
problem  and may  help  with  the  solution. A counterexample  may  help  the  student  realize  where  he/she  is 
making a mistake and to correct his/her solution.  

4.2 Analysis of use of counterexamples  
Providing a counterexample is in some cases far more efficient than looking for and uncovering of mistakes in 
students’ logical reasoning. The reasons are: 

A student’s  justification may be  long and complicated.  In some cases explanation of different separate 
ideas  and  deductions  may  require  a  lot  of  time.  This  of  course  implies  that  in  an  e‐learning  course 
environment the effort to pinpoint the source of a mistake  in reasoning  is extremely difficult and time 
demanding. On the other hand, without any doubt  in some cases this time and effort are worthwhile, 
especially in case of complex problems.  

If a teacher or a lecturer points out a pupil’s or student’s mistake, it might demotivate the pupil or the 
student. In contrast providing a convenient counterexample enables the pupil or the student to succeed 
by discovering the source of his/her mistake in reasoning on his/her own. 

5. Specific instructions – providing the right answer but not the solving procedure 
This form of help is based on the teacher’s provision of correct answer and student’s search for justification or 
explanation  of  this  answer.  This  form  of  scaffolding  may  be  situation  based  or  planned  in  advance  by  the 
lecturer. It means this is a form of hard scaffolding.  

5.1 Example 
The example comes from a discussion forum about the Cat and Mouse Game (Tapson, 1977, see fig. 2). The 
goal of the game is to have the cat capture the mouse. The game has a very simple winning strategy but every 
time most students defend the possibility that the mouse can always escape.  

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Antonín Jančařík 

Figure 2: Cat and mouse game (from Jancarik, 2007) 

Student: Each hole neighbours at least with other two holes which means the mouse can never 
“be cornered”. The mouse can be escaping for ever. (This is the last of a number of comments 
expressing the same idea.)  

Teacher: You all agree here that the mouse can be running away as long as it wants, you present 
supporting arguments, but are you sure about this? Are you sure there are not any mistakes in 
your considerations? 

Teacher (after 4 days with no reaction): Well, nobody replied to my comment. So I am giving the 
right answer now: The cat, if it uses the right strategy, will catch the mouse quite fast, regardless 
of the mouse’s strategy. Will you find how the cat can do it? 

The Art of Teaching Online: Darci Harland – “Shaping” Student Learning

The Art of Teaching Online: Darci Harland – “Shaping” Student
Learning
Program Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

DARCI HARLAND: I have had the best success with shaping in a public setting
rather than individual. Public shaping occurs for me during discussions.
Remember that shaping has to do with wanting to change behaviors. And so you
can do this in an online discussion by how you respond to students.

So for example, one of the things I like to do that influences how the students will
behave in the future, and when I say behave in this case, I’m talking about how
they will post responses to their peers, by modeling. But I have found that
modeling in and of itself is not usually enough. They just think, well the teacher’s
smarter. Her responses are going to be different than mine.

And in actuality what I’m doing is I’m saying, the way I am posting my responses
to students is modeling what I expect you to do. And I overtly tell them this or
else it’s just lost on them. So I set the requirements for how I want them to
respond in the discussions. I tell them that I will be modeling them, and that they
should be using my responses to their peers as good examples, exemplars, of
how they also can be responding to their peers.

I also then remind them that if I respond to a student, I do kind of expect
everyone to be reading my responses, particularly early in the quarter, just so
that they can get a feel for– get insight on the content, and also how to behave
on the discussion boards.

Another thing I do in shaping, on the discussion boards, is when someone does a
really, really good job, you compliment them. You have to be careful because
you don’t want to isolate people, either really good or really bad, publicly. You
need to be careful about that. But when a student nails it, you want to make sure
that the student who wrote it knows it’s good, and that all the students who are
reading it knows it’s good.

And so you would put a post– a reply post to what they said and say, this is
exactly the kind of post that I am expecting in this course. Great job. Thanks for
your hard work in sharing this, and thank you for writing it so well. Something like
that.

Nearer to the middle and the end of the course, I expect my students to become
more autonomous. So I back off. I don’t reply as much. And I give them more
ownership of what it is that they’re doing. What I feel is very, very dangerous is if
I feel like they’re writing all of their discussion prompts to me. I do not want them
writing to me. I don’t want answers that they think the teacher will like.

© 2016 Laureate Education, Inc. 1

The Art of Teaching Online: Darci Harland – “Shaping” Student Learning

And so again I can shape those behaviors by asking follow up questions. When
they do something I don’t want them to do, I’ll say, oh, that’s a good point you
make, however, what would happen if? And you lead them to the point where
you want them in how you reply to them. Can you add something to this that
would help explain your reasoning on this? Those kinds of replies will help get
the critical thinking that you’re after, and allow students to become more
successful.

Another way you can use shaping in online teaching that you really couldn’t do in
a face to face situation, is use the data in the learning management system.
You’ve got access to how often students log on, how long they’re spending
places. If you have a student who’s struggling, that’s a good thing to do. Go look
and see. If they’re only logging in the day something is due, you have a little
insight into the problem. And so, that can give you information that can then help
you help the student.

© 2016 Laureate Education, Inc. 2

The Art of Teaching Online: Joshua Stern – “Scaffolding” Student Learning

The Art of Teaching Online: Joshua Stern – “Scaffolding”
Student Learning
Program Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

JOSHUA STERN: To employ scaffolding in you’re teaching, what you do is you
begin with simplified versions of a task, or whatever it is you’re teaching, and you
work your way up to the full task. It’s like a bridge or a scaffold. Think of the
scaffold on a building– it’s like that– or bridge. It supports the learner and allows
the learner to move forward, to progress.

It comes out of social learning theory and it was described by Lev Vygotsky. So
you’ve probably heard of Vygotsky, maybe in your foundations courses. His idea
is that by employing support and instruction and concrete goal setting, can
instructors help bring their students to higher levels of understanding?

It’s like a building. You don’t just start with an entire building built, you start with
the first floor and, with the scaffolding around it, the building grows. You build it
up from the bottom. It’s that same idea with learning.

OK, this approach– scaffolding– works best with individual workers and the key
to it is trust. So you need to build a– and this is a good idea no matter what in
your online classes and it makes your online teaching that much more enjoyabl–
but to build trust. And to create a safe and supportive environment for your
students where you’re able to really interact with them. And they can take
feedback from you and use it, OK?

You can really have substantial learning gains happen using scaffolding, but a
commitment is required by the student and by you as the instructor. So let me
give you an example. I build upon what students already know, slowly leading
them to what they don’t yet know, OK? So you find out where they’re at, meet
them there, and then start bringing them forward or up. Students benefit from this
personal attention and guidance– but, of course, it takes time– by you, the
instructor.

Baby steps– you build baby steps. That’s the scaffolding to help them keep from
getting overwhelmed, OK? I only intervene with the skills that are beyond the
student’s current capability. So if there is something that I know they already
know, that’s their business now. I’m focusing on what they don’t yet know and not
all the way over here, but just outside of what they know, OK?

And so I allow students to complete the tasks as much as possible unassisted.
So I’m not in there doing it for them, but I’m trying to give them a task that’s a little
bit harder than what they’re able to do and have them do it the best they can.
And I expect students to make errors. And I have in my mind time built in to give

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The Art of Teaching Online: Joshua Stern – “Scaffolding” Student Learning

feedback and prompting and specific, concrete instruction on how to move them
forward. But it is intended for students to make mistakes and learn that way.

I try to stand back, as much as possible, and watch students grow in their ability.
Rather than pushing them forward, I allow them to figure it out but make sure that
the task is only a little bit harder than what they already know how to do. So in
time, students grow in their ability incrementally and they also increasingly take
responsibility for themselves and their learning experience.

And they move forward until they master the task. And as they do that, as that
progression is happening, I slowly fade out. I fade out of the process. What that
means is I gradually remove the scaffolding. It allows the students to work
independently and have success.

OK, and a concrete example that I do in my teaching is when I’m teaching
educational foundations course, theory is complex in its nature and not all
students do well with it. For some, it’s brand new and they really struggle. And so
to introduce a really complex theory right out of nowhere is like trying to create a
building in one go. You need to lead students toward the most complex version
through scaffolding.

And so let’s say I’m teaching two theories that overlap, have some differences,
and ultimately I want them to be able to compare and contrast them and fully
understand them, OK? Do I start with that task? Not necessarily. Some students
can handle that, some can’t. And so, based on feedback that I’ve received in
previous times I’ve taught the course, I understand that this is an area that
students struggle with. And what I’ve decided to do is build some scaffolding in
so that most of them have the best chance of success possible.

And so I start by teaching the basic concepts of each theory and I teach them
separately, OK? And what I’m looking for is to see if students can differentiate the
two theories. Are they able to understand what one theory is and what the other
theory is? Maybe they understand that, right? But they’re not able to differentiate
between them in application, OK? So that’s where I want to get them to.

So I customize my teaching and what I do is I explain the differences in the
theories with lots of examples, OK? That would be the next step. And then, once
the class is able to understand the differences, then maybe I move on to more
complex subjects like how the theories overlap, exceptions to the rules in the
theories, counter theories that impacted them throughout history, et cetera.
There’s lots of different things that you would move on.

But so what I start out is the basic level of the theories, then the comparison and
contrasting of the theories, the theories in application, These are all pieces of the
scaffolding. And, as I move in those steps, students work their way up the
scaffolding and they tend to have more success. Takes a little more time– some

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The Art of Teaching Online: Joshua Stern – “Scaffolding” Student Learning

students can buzz right through it really quickly, other students are going to really
need it.

And so I highly recommend building this in. Now, I’m not saying to do this for
everything that you teach in your class, but do it for the things that seem complex
or that you see students are struggling with. Teach a class a couple of times and
you will know where the trouble spots are.

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