MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching

Vol.4, No. 2,  June 2008

Abstracts of Papers in This Issue

Blackboard as the Learning Management System in a Computer Literacy Course, Florence Martin

This study reports the evaluation results of using a learning management system (LMS) in a computer literacy course. The goal of the present study was to explore the usefulness of content delivery and how it helped students in learning computing skills. Using Blackboard as the LMS, 145 undergraduate college students enrolled in a computer literacy course in a large southwestern university responded to an online survey and seven instructors who taught the course were surveyed over email to determine value and usefulness of the features in the environment.

Overall, assignments, course documents and gradebook were reported as the most useful features. Immediate feedback on quizzes, accessing the materials at all times, and getting comfortable in use of technology were rated as most helpful areas. Both students and instructors responded positively to the LMS experience and provided evidence that numerous learning outcomes can be enhanced by the presence of such a system.

Keywords: learning management system, Blackboard, computer literacy, blended learning.


Lifelong Learning and Systems: A Post-Fordist Analysis, Patricia McGee and Marybeth Green

Learning/Course Management Systems (L/CMS) have become an instructional backbone for online instruction. Yet over the course of their inception as a management framework, our knowledge of learning theory had advanced tremendously, resulting in what the authors feel is an antiquated instructional system. This study analyzes five most used L/CMS in K-20 education within a post-Fordist framework that analyzes current capacities of systems to support current learning theory. Findings indicate that L/CMS are largely lacking in effective instructional functions.

Keywords: Virtual learning environment, managed learning environment, CMS, learning management system, learning platform, Learning Content Management System (L/CMS), etc.


Learning Management Systems of the Future: Theoretical Framework and Design, Farhad Saba

While American institutions of higher education still lead the world in quality of instruction, research and service, certain trends are challenging their future. Immediate attention to resolving these issues is necessary if the American university is going to maintain world leadership in the foreseeable future. The theory of transactional distance is put forward as a roadmap for changing the industrial system of education to a post-industrial one in which each learner receives differential instruction based on his or her prior knowledge of the subject matter, learning preferences and metacognitive states. Management of learning and teaching is described in a dynamic environment in which learners can participate in defining the level of autonomy with which they are comfortable, and instructors can set the required level of structure according to the characteristics of each discipline taught thus providing the appropriate level of transactional distance at each point in time for each individual learner. Ramifications of this environment for the structure of the university are discussed and components of a future educational management system are specified. 

Learning management, dynamic instructional design, transactional distance, learner autonomy, instructor control, distance education


 Wikis as a Tool for Collaborative Course Management, Mark Frydenberg

There are growing expectations among college students to be able to access and manage their course materials over the World Wide Web.  In its early days, faculty would create web pages by hand for posting this information. As Internet technologies and access have matured over the past decade, course and learning management systems such as Blackboard and Web CT have become the norm for distributing such materials.  In today’s Web 2.0 world, wikis have emerged as a tool that may complement or replace the use of traditional course management systems as a tool for disseminating course information.  Because of a wiki’s collaborative nature, its use also allows students to participate in the process of course management, information sharing, and content creation. Using examples from an information technology classroom, this paper describes several ways to structure and use a wiki as a course management tool,  and shares results of a student survey on the effectiveness of such an approach on student learning.

Keywords:  Wiki, Course Management, Collaboration, Web 2.0, Content Creation, Student Learning.


Defining Tools for a New Learning Space: Writing and Reading Class Blogs, Sarah Hurlburt

This paper uses specific issues surrounding course blogging to provide a series of reflections regarding the articulation between pedagogy and technology in creating a next generation learning space and discourse community. It investigates the underlying structure and necessary constituent elements of a successful blog assignment and examines the notion of natural and unnatural virtual environments and the roles of the reader and the writer-reader. It suggests that blog assignments may not succeed equally well in all subject areas and gives a number of possible reasons. Furthermore, it posits a more nuanced criterion for the definition of goals and the evaluation of the success of a blog assignment as a learning community beyond the presence or absence of comments.

Keywords: Web 2.0, learning communities, reader anxiety, constructivist learning, discourse communities, comments


The LMS Mirror: School as We Know IT versus School as We Need IT and the Triumph of the Custodial Class, Gary Brown and Nils Peterson

In the context of the future of learning management systems, this paper examines the concept and perception of a learning environment from the classroom to the internet and their relationship to perceptions of teaching and learning.   Examples and research, including an example of an activist Web 2.0 pro-social effort, are used to demonstrate the distinction between the current state of teaching and learning, and an emerging model and vision.  The implications for necessary future directions to mediate the contrast are discussed.

Technology, Learning Management Systems (LMS and CMS), ePortfolios, Personal Learning Environments (PLEs), Learning Environments, Student Agency, Pedagogy. Web 2.0


Deepening the Chasm: Web 2.0, Gaming, and Course Management Systems, Bryan Alexander

Web 2.0 has emerged into a large, growing, and developing world of content and platforms.  Gaming has rapidly expanded into a global industry.  In contrast course management systems have developed along very different lines.  We examine ways for the CMS to connect with these two worlds, outlining areas for possible development: increased hyperlinking, internal platforms and instances, and extruded applications.  Additionally we consider ways by which the CMS can learn strategically and conceptually from Web 2.0 and gaming.

Keywords: Web 2.0, gaming, course management systems, learning management systems, virtual learning environments, social media


Identity, Power, and Representation in Virtual Environments, Frank Vander Valk

The proliferation of immersive, three dimensional virtual environments presents educators with a moment of creative possibility in designing the next generation of computer-assisted learning. At the same time, the fact that these environments may be inscribed with particular value sets and power relations presents educators with a burden of pedagogical responsibility. This paper attempts to begin a conversation about some of the hidden considerations that may be confronted as virtual learning environments become more accessible, acceptable, and assessable. The author challenges the view that virtual environments are reliably neutral venues for the creation of virtual identities that escape the culturally constructed power configurations of the offline world. Indeed, the very dichotomy between real and virtual is itself questionable. While the promise of virtual learning environments is real, it is often unrealized. Educators have a responsibility to critically engage the implicit assumptions embedded in the technology they would ask students to use. 

Keywords: critical pedagogy, online identity, new media, software theory, virtual worlds, synthetic worlds, immersive environments


Breaking into the Fulcrum Arena: A Concept Paper Looking Beyond Next Generation LMS, Shalin Hai-Jew

In the spirit of futurist probes into what a next-gen learning management system (LMS) may look like, the author uses a sci-fi scenario to touch on some distant possibilities.  This fictional work follows J4 in his quest to break into the Fulcrum Arena and emerge with the information and strategic relationships he needs to achieve mysterious aims. 

This story envisions a learning space that integrates various databases, global positioning systems (GPS), and other technologies into an integrated digital enclosure.  It focuses on informational elites, those who have the rawest and freshest information, vs. those who get processed versions through public channels.  Here, identities are persistent and coalesced through information collected by ‘bots.  The learning is all strategic, it’s immersive, and it directly applies to the lived world. 

Keywords: next generation learning management system, future learning, forecasting, immersive learning


Structuring Asynchronous Discussions to Incorporate Learning Principles in an Online Class:  One Professor’s Course Analysis, Andria Young

Eight sections of one online undergraduate course were analyzed to determine if the  structure of the online discussions enhanced learning of course objectives as measured by course exams. Discussions were structured to incorporate learning principles associated with storing information in long term memory through control processes of meaningful learning, elaboration, and rehearsal in the form of distributed practice.   Results indicate that grades on discussions correlate with exam grades and students who fully engage in the discussion activities have higher test grades than students who do not fully engage in discussion activities. The implications for online instruction and future research are discussed.

Key Words: Asynchronous discussions, learning principles, long term memory, storage processes, meaningful learning, elaboration, distributed practice


The Overall Effect of Online Audio Conferencing in Communication Courses:  What do Students Really Think?, Lynn M. Disbrow

The use of online ancillary tools in technology based pedagogy is growing. This paper examines student reactions to an online audio conferencing tool used as a part of both online and traditional communication courses. Students were e-mailed four broad, open-ended questions to gather the most authentic reactions to their experience with the conferencing tool. Most frequently, students cited convenience and increased interactivity as positive aspects of using the conferencing tool.  “Technological problems” was the most frequently cited drawback to the tool.

Key Words:  instruction, interactivity, convenience, learning

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Investigating the Connection between Usability and Learning Outcomes in Online Learning Environments, Gabriele Meiselwitz and William A. Sadera

Online learning is used in many institutions of higher education with course offerings ranging from complete online degrees to hybrid virtual and physical courses. Online learning environments are complex environments using a variety of technologies and tools to overcome time and location restrictions. The research presented in this article focuses on a web-based asynchronous learning environment and the integration of usability factors into the evaluation of student learning outcomes. Usability tools are often employed in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) to measure the quality of a user’s experience when interacting with a web site and could potentially impact learning in web-based online learning environments. This study investigates the relationships between usability factors and learning outcomes in an online learning environment as well as differences in learning outcomes and system usability between several selected student groups, including student computer competency scores, gender, age, and student standing. The results of this survey-based study highlight the importance of integrating usability factors into the evaluation of learning outcomes in online learning environments.

Online learning, usability, learning outcomes, evaluation, assessment


Self-aware and Self-directed: Student Conceptions of Blended Learning, Susan L. Greener

This paper reports on an investigation into student conceptions of “blended learning”, (hybrid in US) in the light of their experience of a Higher Education Masters level module at a British university. The small scale study used a rigorous qualitative method to discover in the students’ words a range of conceptions relating to this learning experience. The students’ conceptions were related to the stage of study and an analysis of motivations for learning in this context. The study identified a new dimension of learning motivation with practical implications for attempting to blend traditional face-to-face teaching methods with online support and study options.

Keywords:  Higher Education, online learning, motivation, learning approaches, qualitative research


Teaching People to Bargain Online: The Impossible Task Becomes the Preferred Method, Carolyn D. Roper

The author traces her attitude-reversing experience developing, against her professional judgment, an online version of a skill-based, interactive collective bargaining class for undergraduate college students. She explains the methods used to teach the class and lists the advantages and disadvantages of teaching a skill-based class online. Finally, she relates this class to best online instructional practices, concluding that the significant advantages compensate for the absence of in-person communication in a traditional classroom.

Key Words: Collective Bargaining, Negotiation, Best practices, Interaction, Skill-based instruction, Distance education




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