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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Repost from the AECT BlogTrack - Where To Next?

Keeping this as my regular Wednesday feature and concluding the series. This entry from the AECT BlogTrack is the first and only entry for the month of October and the twenty-second and final overall in the re-posts from this series.

At present I am currently finishing my dissertation study, which was a case study that looked at how a virtual high school was being implemented in one rural school. As a follow-up to that, I have copied below a section of a proposal that I wrote for a one year post-doctoral fellowship to continue research with this virtual school. I believe the proposal below is a good example of the type of research that is needed with virtual schooling. What do you think?

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Many of the early examples of distance education programs across North America were primarily designed for a select group of high school students, specifically those with higher aptitudes, higher achievement, and greater aspirations for postsecondary education. For example, in their second year evaluation of the Virtual High School (VHS), Espinoza, Dove, Zucker and Kozma (1999) stated that “VHS was serving a fairly narrow range of students, those who were academically advanced and college bound” (p. 48). Roblyer and Elbaum (2000) concluded, “only students with a high need to control and structure their own learning may choose distance formats freely” (p. 61). In distance education programs where student selectivity is not maintained, retention rates have decreased significantly (Ballas & Belyk, 2000; Barker & Wendel, 2001; Roblyer, 1999). These findings have led some to question whether web-based distance education is suitable for all secondary-level students (Mulcahy, 2002).

Cavanaugh (2001) found that there was “a small positive effect in favor of distance education” (p. 73). Given that distance education for high school students in North America had primarily served a more selective group of students, it should not surprise anyone that these early comparative studies in K-12 distance education yielded better results than most other comparative studies in other technology-based fields (Clark , 1983; Reeves, 2005). Interestingly, Cavanaugh, Gillan, Kromrey, Hess and Blomeyer (2004) reported a small negative effect size in their meta-analysis of an additional 14 studies representing over 7500 students from 1999 to 2004. It seems reasonable to conclude that this more recent sample of distance education comparative studies was conducted with a more diverse population of students.

The Centre for Distance Learning and Innovation (CDLI) in Newfoundland and Labrador came into existence in 2000 and offered its first courses during the 2001-02 school year. During that first year a limited number of enrollments were made available in an effort to field test the method of delivery and the content material that had been developed. Beginning with the 2002-03 school year, any student from across the province was given permission to enroll in any course offered by the CDLI. No longer was secondary distance education just for the elite students. Indeed, with their decision to develop a number of non-highly-academic courses, such as Art Technologies 1201, Communications Technology 2104/3104, and World Geography 3202, their student population has come to include students of all ability levels. Given these developments, the CDLI is an ideal context for conducting this research study.

An analysis indicated that over the four year period that the CDLI has been in operation there has been some fluctuation in both public exam scores and final course averages when delivery model and location are considered. However, little difference was observed in the overall performance of students on both performance measures based upon delivery model alone (Barbour & Mulcahy, 2006). Given the fact that some performance results of distance education students in Newfoundland and Labrador run counter to what is traditionally found in the literature, i.e., “no-significant differences,” discovering what factors account for these results is an important undertaking.

The purpose of my dissertation study, entitled What are they doing and how are they doing it? Student experiences in virtual schooling, was to examine the nature of web-based learning in Newfoundland and Labrador secondary education. Specifically, this qualitative case study examined how students at one rural all grade school interacted with their web-based courses and the process they undertook when they needed help. Two of the findings from this study were that the students’ use of their scheduled asynchronous learning time was often inefficient and that teachers’ nature of asynchronous instruction typically assigned practice problems from the textbook as asynchronous instruction. While there were some deviations from these patterns, overall there was regularly little more than independent seat work such as that assigned by the typical classroom teacher. This is troubling because the original model proposed for the CDLI was to be based upon the web-based model that was not “totally dependent on high bandwidth technologies [and have a] minimal reliance on synchronous communications, fixed schedules or other constraining elements” (Sparkes & Williams, 2000, p. 65). Students’ minimal reliance on synchronous communications is a concern and worthy of further research.

At present the model of delivery utilized by the CDLI includes anywhere from 30% to 80% of the students’ scheduled time (which is 10 one-hour periods over a fourteen day cycle) in synchronous instruction using Elluminate Live®, a real-time virtual classroom. One of the main differences between the CDLI and the majority of other virtual schools in North America is the CDLI’s high percentage of synchronous instruction. As the original proposal of minimal reliance on synchronous communications is still one of the overall goals of the CDLI, and one on which they hope to act in the near future, there is a concern that without more effective asynchronous teaching strategies, students in the CDLI will report the same achievement as students in other virtual schools – where only a select group of students are able to perform at levels comparable to their classroom counterparts, but these online learning opportunities will no longer be available to the majority of students because of this change in delivery model that relies on higher levels of internet access.
The purpose of this study is to identify effective asynchronous teaching practices and develop strategies that can be implemented by e-teachers within a context of secondary distance education. This general purpose lends itself to two primary research questions:
  1. What effective asynchronous teaching practices are currently in use?
  2. What asynchronous learning strategies do students find useful?

The theoretical framework is focused on social constructivist learning theories (e.g., Vygotsky, 1962, 19 through a lens of increasing the instructors’ social presence (e.g., Tu, 2002) in an effort to minimize the transactional distance (Moore, 1973; Moore & Kearsley, 1996). Given the goals of this study, naturalistic qualitative approaches are appropriate. The specific case for this study will by the CDLI. I will conduct interviews with teachers to explore their current strategies for asynchronous instruction and students to determine what they do and their impressions of their scheduled asynchronous learning time. I will also use participant observations of both teachers using asynchronous learning environments, which include the course materials and assignments available to the students in their learning management system, and students engaged in asynchronous online learning, along with surveys of students as a means of triangulation.
The CDLI is an optimal choice as the site for this research study for a number of reasons. First, prior research (see Barbour & Mulcahy, 2006) indicates that CDLI students have had success despite their diverse range of abilities. Second, the researcher is familiar with this setting and has built a professional relationship with the organization in many facets over the past five years. Finally, the purpose of this study is well aligned with the second theme of the recent [description of an existing research grant secured at a post-secondary institution].

To date, much of the published literature on K-12 web-based distance education is based upon the personal experiences of those involved in the actual practice, while much of the research is only available in unpublished Masters’ theses and Doctoral dissertations. The results of this study will have useful implications for web-based distance education programs in other jurisdictions. Meta-analysis, such as the ones reported in Cavanaugh, 2001; Cavanaugh, et al., 2004; Ungerleider and Burns, 2003, do not go far enough in specifying design guidelines for practitioners. Research studies such as the one proposed here are clearly needed to examine in a systematic way best practices for these practitioners.

Bibliography and Citations

Ballas, F. A., & Belyk, D. (2000). Student achievement and performance levels in online education research study. Red Deer, AB: Schollie Research & Consulting. Retrieved on July 31, 2005 from http://www.ataoc.ca/files/pdf/AOCresearch_full_report.pdf

Barbour, M. & Mulcahy, D. (2006). An inquiry into achievement differences in traditional and virtual high school courses. Roundtable presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco, CA.

Barker, K., & Wendel, T. (2001). E-learning: Studying Canada’s virtual secondary schools. Kelowna, BC: Society for the Advancement of Excellence in Education. Retrieved July 31, 2005 from http://www.saee.ca/pdfs/006.pdf

Cavanaugh, C. S. (2001). The effectiveness of interactive distance education technologies in K-12 learning: A meta-analysis. International Journal of Educational Telecommunications, 7(1), 73-88.

Cavanaugh, C., Gillan, K. J., Kromrey, J., Hess, M., & Blomeyer, R. (2004). The effects of distance education on K–12 student outcomes: A meta-analysis. Naperville, IL: Learning Point Associates.

Clark, R. (1983). Reconsidering research on learning from media. Review of Educational Research, 53(4), 445-459.

Espinoza, C., Dove, T., Zucker, A., & Kozma, R. (1999). An evaluation of the Virtual High School after two years in operation. Arlington, VA: SRI International. Retrieved on July 31, 2005 from http://ctl.sri.com/publications/downloads/evalvhs2yrs.pdf

Moore, M. G. (1973). Toward a theory of independent learning and teaching. Journal of Higher Education, 19(12), 661-679.

Moore, M. G., & Kearsley, G. (1996). Distance education: A systems view. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Mulcahy, D. M. (2002). Re-conceptualizing distance education: Implications for the rural schools of Newfoundland and Labrador. The Morning Watch, 30(1-2). Retrieved on July 31, 2005 from http://www.mun.ca/educ/faculty/mwatch/fall02/Mulcahy.htm

Reeves, T. C. (2005). No significant differences revisited: A historical perspective on the research informing contemporary online learning. In G. Kearsley (Ed.), Online learning: Personal reflections on the transformation of education (pp. 299-308). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

Roblyer, M. D. (1999). Is choice important in distance learning? A study of student motives for taking internet-based courses at the high school and community college levels. Journal of Research on Computing in Education, 32(1).

Roblyer, M. D., & Elbaum, B. (2000). Virtual learning? Research on virtual high schools. Learning & Leading with Technology, 27(4), 58-61.

Sparkes, R., & Williams, L. (2000). Supporting learning: Ministerial panel on educational delivery in the classroom. St. John’s, NL: Queen’s Printer for Newfoundland.

Tu, C. H. (2002). The measurement of social presence in an online learning environment. International Journal on E-Learning, 1(2), 34-45.

Ungerleider, C. S., & Burns, T. C. (2003). A systematic review of the effectiveness and efficiency networked ICT in education: A state of the field report to the CMEC and Industry Canada. Retrieved on October 26, 2005 from http://www.cmec.ca/stats/SystematicReview2003.en.pdf

Vygotsky, L. S. (1962). Thought and language (E. Hanfmann & G. Vakar, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: The M.I.T. Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychologist processes (M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, E. Souberman, Eds.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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