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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Repost from the AECT BlogTrack - We Don’t Get No Respect!

Keeping this as my regular Wednesday feature for until we conclude the series - I apologoze for all of the re-posted of simply collected content, but I have less than three weeks left to submit my dissertation. Hopefully once I have submitted it I'll be able to get back to some more original content. This entry from the AECT BlogTrack is the first and only entry for the month of September and the twenty-first overall in the re-posts from this series.

Okay, I’ve been sitting on some of these entries for a while in my Bloglines account, and since it has been a while since I posted here and since AECT is coming up in less than a month, I figured I should deal with them.
The first that I’ve wanted to chat about was an entry called Research in Distance Education in Canada that I found at e-Learning Acupuncture. Essentially the entry is about an article in International Review of Research in Open and Distance Education about that status of distance education research in my home country. The author of this entry goes on about the interesting things that can be found in this article (and I’m not disputing that) and somewhat of a commentary on the overall state of research in distance education in general. The problem for me is that when I look through IRRODE or any of the other main distance education journals, I see very little in the way of research that is focused upon a K-12 audience.

This is probably best evidenced by the article described by Darren in his entry on A Review of Research on Teaching Courses Online over at Teaching and Developing Online. This was a recent Review of Educational Research article that we read as a part of our group last year. A comprehensive look at online distance education. Not one mention of the K-12 environment.

Now I understand that virtual schooling has only really be around for a decade, but distance education at the K-12 level in North America has been common in rural areas for the past thirty to thirty-five years. Even online distance education at the K-12 level has been around (although not as extensively) for the past fifteen to twenty years. So, why is the K-12 environment alays dissed?

Maybe it is partly our own fault. I’m only a doctoral student, so I haven’t been at this trying to be an academic thing for that long a period of time. But most of that time my interests have been squarely focused upon distance education at the K-12 level and, specifically, on virtual schooling. For example, I came across this article this past week:

A Comprehensive Look at Distance Education in the K–12 Context
Kerry Lynn Rice
Read more…

And given that I am working on my dissertation and I was sure that if I didn’t include something like this in my chapter two, I’d never be given the chance to defend, I downloaded a copy of it and began to read.
To be honest, I was a little disappointed. The comprehensive look wasn’t that comprehensive at all. The title of the article, and even the abstract, imply that all forms of distance education at the K-12 level would be considered, but the majority of the article looked at online forms of distance education with a real focus on virtual schooling. But even more disappointing than that was in looking through the bibliography and seeing how much was missing.

So I ask, are K-12 distance education researchers partly to blame for the fact that everyone else ignores us, particularly when we also tend to ignore much of our own area of interest?

This was actually one of the few entries that received some discussion.

Kerry Rice Says:
September 28th, 2006 at 3:49 pm

Part of the problem is inherent in the nature of the beast – distance education (DE) as it appears now is vastly different than DE of the past and continues to mutate into forms that we never would have conceived of. Unfortunately, emerging technologies and quickly changing delivery mechanisms result in old terms being used to define new paradigms. (This disconnect itself is quite often illuminated in the research.) Perhaps the use of “virtual” or “online” would have been more appropriate in the title of the article, but my use of the term “Distance Education” was intentional; I was looking at varying models of virtual schools and did not want to give the impression that I was only looking at schools that delivered curriculum through the Internet. Although most do, not all virtual schools use technology to deliver curriculum. For example, Connections Academy, a provider of services for managing virtual schools, uses a text-based curriculum but courses are managed electronically. So we have a conundrum. “Online” and “virtual” are too restrictive and “Distance Education” is too broad.

Another part of the problem, in my opinion, is a missing theoretical construct that is uniformly embraced by the DE research community for framing our work. A theory provides the underlying foundation by which a field is defined and supported. Do we work under the old theories of DE or is our work guided by emerging theories of teaching and learning in this new context of Internet and web-based instruction?

Finally, a part of the problem is simply in the amount of space allotted within a journal. Unfortunately, we are limited in words – in fact for this review I asked for special permission to submit a lengthier article than usually accepted (over twice the number of words). I would argue that the references included in this literature review are quite extensive and present a comprehensive picture of the current state of K-12 distance education…virtual education…e-learning…online education…

mkbvs Says:
September 28th, 2006 at 4:26 pm

Dr. Rice,

Glad that you have joined the conversation (and I welcome you to it whole heartedly), I don’t disagree with a single comment you have made. And since I have you hear, I was hoping to ask you a few questions about your article.

I agree with your comments that a comprehensive look at K-12 distance education would never fit into the confines of most journals and then how one defines online learning or virtual schooling can be problematic because there hasn’t been a lot of consistency in the literature. With regards to this explanation, I was wondering why some of this wasn’t teased out in the article to provide the reader with the realities of the challenges that you were facing with this task. As a doctoral student who has devoted much of the last three years to looking at this topic, I believe that my thouht when reading the title was how will she accomplish that in 3500 words or less, but for someone who hasn’t been in this literature before, they could easily finish your article without the understanding of the caveat that you have just provided.

While you didn’t raise it in your comments, I would argue that another limitation of your task was the nature of how research into distance education at the K-12 level is dissiminated in general. If I used virtual schooling or cyberschooling as an example. A quick search in ProQuest for dissertations containing “virtual school” or “cyberschool” in their title or abstract gives me almosta hundred instances. Yet, in the journals that you list in your introduction I can only think of three articles that have been pubished that have been included. For that matter, if I expand the net to all peer reviewed journals that I know of, I can still only think of about a dozen and a half articles that have been published that would have “virtual school” or “cyberschool” in the title or abstract (and most of those have been by two authors).

When I look at my own literature review for my dissertation, the vast majority of items that I have used related to “virtual school” or “cyberschool” have come from book publishing the experiences of those engaged in providing these oportunities, external evaluations of existing entities, or research sponsored and published by educational laboratories. Where are the articles detailing sound research studies in the American Journal of Distance Education, the Journal of Distance Education, Educational Technology: Research and Development, the Quartlery Review of Distance Education, Open Learning, Distance Education, International Journal of Distance Education, the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, etc.? Unfortunately there simply isn’t much there - which I think was my larger arguement, that the research that is being done isn’t getting published and what is getting published, because there is little conformity in the language and such difficulty in figuring out exactly what is out there, isn’t inclusive because of where it is being published.

However, if someone who was ot familiar with this reality were to pick up your article, I’m not sure they would put it down with the same conclusions.


Kerry Rice Says:
September 28th, 2006 at 5:38 pm

You raise some very good questions and I honestly wish I had the time necessary to answer each as thoroughly and completely as I would like. Let me say though, that I do make mention of the confusing state of research in the field in my article, but it was my feeling that a long discussion was not appropriate in the context of that journal and would better be served in a different forum.

Regarding the lack of availability of quality research –

First, once again we get into the terminology debate. If you expand your search to include “distance education”, “distance learning” or any of the other descriptors outlined in my introduction, you will undoubtedly generate more articles.

Second, this is a relatively new field and although you may have located “almost a hundred” dissertations concerned with virtual or cyber schools the general research community has simply not caught up. I think we’re in agreement on this point but, although I think research is being done, I don’t believe it’s being conducted on a large scale – the field is simply too new. I also know from personal experience (as do you) that there are very few journals addressing this specific research topic, with the majority decidedly committed to adult distance education.

Third, an interesting discovery that I made during my search for relevant research (and this is something you alluded to as well) was that large educational laboratories like NCREL (Learning Point Associates) and SREB are managing research initiatives in this field and publishing the results within their organizations rather than through the traditional channels. I’m not sure if this is because of the lack of appropriate outlets or if this is the wave of the future.

This has been an interesting discussion and I appreciate the opportunity to contribute my “two cents.” Thanks and I wish you well with BlogTracks!

Care to add your own comments?

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