MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching

Vol. 3, No. 2    June 2007

Abstracts of Papers in This Issue

Online Collaborative Discussion: Myth or Valuable Learning Tool, Jianxia Du, Vance A. Durrington, and Jerry G. Mathews

This study was designed to examine online group discussions from a student’s perspective to determine what characteristics students identify as meaningful to their learning. Quantitative data were collected, analyzed, summarized in six tables. The overall results indicated that students preferred to have time to reflect on their discussions before having to give their answer. They also indicated that critical thinking skills and goals for course achievement were enhanced in online collaborative discussions. Students did not have a clear preference for group size whether for small groups or the entire class. Technical discussion projects were a preferred component of group discussions. Students were divided on their preferences for group work but overall preferred to work alone on online projects.  Taking students’ perceptions into consideration, this study provides valuable implications for instructors to help students effectively self-regulate their online discussions, and positively enhance their online collaborative learning experience.

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Virtual Labs in the Online Biology Course: Student Perceptions of Effectiveness and Usability, Tracey A. Stuckey-Mickell and Bridget D. Stuckey-Danner

The purpose of this study was to investigate student perceptions of virtual biology labs used in two online introductory biology courses. Students completed an online survey, containing Likert-type and open-ended items, about perceptions of the CD-ROM-based virtual biology laboratories and face-to-face (F2F) laboratories they completed during the courses. Findings indicated that though most students (86.9%) perceived the F2F laboratories as more effective than the virtual laboratories across several criteria, many of them (60.8% on one criterion) perceived the virtual laboratories as effective as well. The authors conclude that student-identified issues related to interactivity and feedback could be influenced by the design of the virtual laboratory or the lack of synchronous collaboration tools. Additionally, the authors include suggestions for future research on the use of virtual biology laboratories in the online setting.

Keywords: Virtual experiments, online science instruction, web-based instruction, community college, higher education
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Testing An Experimental Universally Designed Learning Unit in a Graduate Level Online Teacher Education Course, Melissa Engleman and Mary Schmidt

The recent rapid increase in online training offers a potentially powerful solution to teacher shortages. Yet, while we quickly develop online courses for this purpose, we must continue to examine our pedagogy to assure high quality learning experiences. This study explored outcomes of designing an online graduate level unit for a teacher education course using universal design for learning (UDL). Using UDL, students receive, interact with and demonstrate proficiency in ways that best highlight their strengths. The methods included (1) surveying online student preferences and experiences, and (2) comparing an experimental UDL course unit with other online units. Most participants reported a preference for the UDL design on all measured parameters. Conclusions point to recommendations for further examination of effective methods for designing and evaluating online learning experiences. 

Keywords: accessibility, higher education, learning styles, universal design for learning, special education, graduate education
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Questioning the Student Use of and Desire for Lecture Podcasts, Laura Guertin, Matthew J. Bodek, Sarah E. Zappe, and Heeyoung Kim    

The use of audio files, specifically podcasts, has become more visible and accessible to students in higher education.  Despite a lack of pedagogical research on the benefits of podcasting, several universities have adopted the technology of using audio for instruction outside of class and sharing of information.  Although institutions and instructors have embraced the technology, have the students?  A professor in an introductory geoscience course for nonscience majors recorded the audio from classroom lectures and made these audio files available through the university’s online course management system.  Student accesses of the audio files were tracked.  The students were surveyed about their knowledge on how to utilize the audio files and if they believed the audio to be of some use.  Although percentages were not high in terms of student accesses to individual lectures, and a little over half the students were aware of how to access and utilize the files, all of the students reported a perceived value to having lecture podcasts available. 

Keywords:  podcasts, technology, pedagogy, MP3, audio                
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Promoting Learner-Learner Interactions through Ecological Assessments of the Online Environment, Evelyn S. Johnson   

As the number of learners engaging in online education increases, a growing body of literature is developing to recommend best practices for instructors. Typically, these recommendations are oriented to a particular aspect of interaction based on Moore’s (1989) extended framework, to include learner-instructor; learner-learner; learner-content; learner-interface interactions, with a recent emphasis on the importance of learner-learner interactions. However, online instructors and learners operate within a complex environment in which many aspects can have a direct impact on the instructor’s ability to facilitate learner-learner interactions. If online education providers and instructors hope to successfully adopt practices to promote learner-learner interaction, an assessment of the environment in which they operate to determine appropriate courses of action is warranted. In this article, a tool for examining the learning environment is presented, and implications for practice are provided.

Keywords: collaborative learning; ecological assessment; learner-learner interaction; online education
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Pre-registration for Online Courses, Nanette Johnson-Curiskis

Because online learning is still relatively new to most institutions, many students consider online courses easier than on campus courses.  When they enroll after reading only the course description, they can experience frustration and may not complete the course because they are not prepared for the text based environment, do not understand the self-motivation necessary for online learning, or are not computer literate enough to use software or do web searches, etc.  This manuscript presents a process the author uses to pre-register students for online speech communication courses at Minnesota State University, Mankato (MSUM), a midsize public university.  Information and a pre-registration assignment allow the instructor to gauge student commitment to completing an online course and to present students with necessary information before they enroll in the course.

Keywords: Online readiness, Permission to register, Online success, Registration assignment, Pre-register for online class
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Web Mining as a Tool for Understanding Online Learning, Jiye Ai and James Laffey


After an introduction to Web mining and e-learning and a brief review of Web mining applications in business and education, this paper presents an experiment with pattern classification for student performance prediction in a WebCT learning environment. The results illustrate that recognition for a certain class (with good grades) on a large data set can be obtained by a classifier built from a small size data set. The paper concludes that Web mining can be an approach to build knowledge about E-learning and has potential to help improve learning performance.


Keywords: e-learning, Web mining, Course Management Systems (CMS), Data mining, WebCT
rial"> Collaboration:  Leading and Learning by Example, /b>Diane H. Parente, Janet Duck, Xin Zhao, and John L. Fizel

In this paper the authors discuss a case study in which three instructors in disparate disciplines collaborate to enhance the experience of online MBA students.  Collaborative behavior modelling of the faculty in our scenario is different from team teaching in that the transfer of the behavior to students is a critical element of success.  While MBA students are expected to collaborate and work effectively in teams, faculty do not typically model collaboration in course design, delivery or evaluation.  A collaborative environment is made more difficult by an online asynchronous program. This paper describes the experience of three instructors’ concerted effort to improve the student’s understanding of collaboration by modelling collaborative behavior in design, delivery, and evaluation.  The paper identifies both direct and indirect examples of collaboration as well as lessons learned for instructors wishing to emulate this approach.

Keywords:  online, collaboration, higher education, modelling behavior, case study
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Evaluation as Impetus for Innovations in E-learning – Applying Personas to the Design of Community Functions, Stafanie Panke, Birgit Gaiser, and Benita Werner

The necessary intertwining between the evaluation on the one hand and the implementation of e-learning environments on the other hand is often hampered by organizational settings and political conditions. A possible solution for bridging the gap between evaluative processes of quality assurance and the creative activity of design is the Personas approach. These fictional, but data-based user archetypes serve as a foil to embed the needs of different user groups in the design process. Based on findings from evaluation research and experiences gained through a case study, the article incorporates the Personas method into an overall model of quality assurance for the design of educational web-portals. The transferability of the personas approach into other e-learning related settings is critically discussed.

Keywords: Personas, Portal Engineering, Quality Assurance, Educational Portal, User Centered Design

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CREST+ Model: Writing Effective Online Discussion Questions, Lynn Akin and Diane Neal

Research on online classes strongly identifies participation as a positive variable. Research on online teaching also reveals the time intensive practices involved with providing individualized attention and feedback. An online instructor must negotiate the balance between being responsive and managing time effectively. To that end, writing sound discussion questions, based on a model, is one way to invite and increase participation and maximize the time element. The CREST+ model, a model for writing effective online discussion questions, covers the cognitive nature of the question, the reading basis, any experiential possibility, style and type of question, and finally ways to make a good question last. This model encourages students to participate in online forum discussions, provides a template for new online faculty to use in creating effective discussion questions, and promotes a higher level processing of the material.

Keywords:  Asynchronous discussions, constructivist learning, discussion forums, facilitated discourse, models, online community, online education, student engagement, instructor immediacy

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Improving Learner Motivation with Online Assignments, Marco Pollanen

Motivation is one of the most important elements of learning. Keeping students motivated is particularly critical for successful online education, where students take more control over the learning process. In this paper a new model for online assignments is described, as well as its implementation in two mathematics service courses, one a traditional course and the other a completely online course. In these assignments students are permitted an unlimited number of attempts at highly randomized groups of challenging questions, with solutions provided after each question. This model is analyzed using Keller's ARCS Model of Motivation, and both quantitative and qualitative survey results are presented to gauge its effectiveness and impact on motivation and learning outcomes.

Keywords: Design of Online Learning Environments, Adaptive Learning, Improving Student Confidence, Improving Learning Outcomes, Learning and Technology

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Last Modified : 2007/06/14