MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching

Vol.6, No.1, March 2010


Abstracts of Papers in This Issue

A Case Study of Wikis’ Effects on Online Transactional Interactions
Wen-Hao David Huang

Increasing interactions between learners and instructors is critical to help learners attain learning outcomes in online learning. Wikis, among a suite of Web 2.0 emerging learning technologies, are suggested to be effective in enhancing online interactions by mediating collaborative knowledge development processes. To enable online instructors to confidently utilize wikis to enhance online interactions, existing online learning theories must be applied to examine learning activities in wikis. Therefore this exploratory case study, grounded in transactional interactions, observed a graduate level learning module on (1) what activities learners experienced and (2) how they interacted with their peers and the instructor in an educational wiki. The collected responses indicated that learners perceived a significantly higher level of online interaction with their peers than did with the instructor. Their responses further revealed their activity patterns in accomplishing the weekly wiki assignments. The study suggested that the role of interactions in the wiki might differ from those seen in other online learning tools (e.g., e-mails, online discussion forums) due to its unique utilities. Online instructors also need to implement strategies that consistently support learners’ wiki activities while allowing learner autonomy in order to support authentic wiki collaboration experiences .

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A Comparison of University Student Perceptions and Success Learning Music Online and Face-to-face
Agi Horspool and Sandra S. Yang

This study compares two sections of the same Introduction to Music course taught at a public university in winter 2008 across face-to-face and online formats. Data collected from student surveys regarding their own perceptions of success revealed some significant differences, such as in the areas of performing musical scales or simple pieces on a keyboard. The authors found no significant differences in success learning music online vs. face-to-face as measured by final grades. This study contributes uniquely to the literature by examining differences in a performance-based course. A blended approach to teaching music may be an effective solution that addresses the feedback component essential in performance-based courses, while retaining the benefits of an online-learning approach.

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Comparing Student Achievement in Online and Face-to-Face Class Formats
Cindy Ann Dell, Christy Low, and Jeanine F. Wilker

A research project was conducted to analyze student achievement using submitted assignments for two sections of a graduate course in human development and learning, taught both online and face-to-face, as well as three sections of undergraduate educational psychology, two of which were taught face-to-face, and one taught online. Results suggest there were no significant differences between the work submitted by students from the online sections and from the face-to-face students, and that the methods of instruction are more important than the delivery platform.

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Techniques for Enhancing Reflection and Learning in an Online Course
Nancy O’Hanlon and Karen R. Diaz

The authors designed new content for an online research skills course, to provide instruction and expert modeling of the process for determining bias when evaluating information sources. They also introduced a specific metacognitive strategy (self-questioning) to enhance student self-awareness. Students were encouraged to complete a self-regulated learning survey to raise their awareness of metacognitive strategies. The instructional content, an Adobe Captivate movie, described a cognitive strategy for identifying bias, MAPit, and included activities and questions throughout for students to assess their understanding. Instruction was followed by an online quiz that provided practice in applying the MAPit strategy. Metacognitive prompts within the quiz encouraged students to reflect on and assess their learning. The final course assignment (Capstone) also included application questions, with a reminder about the MAPit strategy. A review of performance on both assignments showed improvement after this intervention. When compared to a later offering of the same course where a more efficient approach to encouraging student self-questioning was applied, the improvement was sustained. This approach can be effectively implemented in a large enrollment online course.

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Weighing the Risks of Excessive Participation in Asynchronous Online Discussions against the Benefits of Robust Participation
Brian G. Wolff and Monique R. Dosdall

Many online courses require participation in asynchronous online discussions. While various studies aimed at measuring the efficacy of these discussions indicate that participation enhances learning, course design consultants commonly warn instructors to avoid schemes that could foster excessive student participation. Excessive participation should be of concern, for example, if students are likely to be distracted from more important coursework. The authors examine the relationship between student participation in asynchronous online discussions and final exam scores via regression and non-parametric analyses. Participation was determined to be a statistically significant predictor of final exam scores and course completion rates. No indication was found that participation, even at the most robust levels encountered (posting >19,000 words per semester), interferes with learning.

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The AETZone Experience: A Qualitative Analysis of the Use of Presence Pedagogy in a 3D Immersive Learning Environment
Robert L. Sanders and Shanna J. Melton

Faculty in the Department of Leadership and Educational Studies at Appalachian State University have utilized AETZone, a 3D virtual world to deliver graduate coursework for the past nine years. Instruction has been guided by the Reich College of Education’s social constructivist conceptual framework, resulting in a learning environment that emphasizes the social construction of knowledge through interaction with others within virtual communities of practice. Over time, certain teaching and learning behaviors and practices that reflect both the tenets of the social constructivist framework and the features of the virtual world have organically developed through faculty and student engagement in this unique learning space and have been referred to as Presence Pedagogy (P2). However, for this new pedagogical approach to serve as a model for future instruction, a more articulate operational definition of this model is needed. Therefore, the research question discussed in this paper is: To what extent is the Presence Pedagogy framework reflected in the actions and behaviors of students and faculty in the AETZone? The authors conclude that while the overall characteristics of P2 are supported, a gap exists in the model regarding interactions that are more social in nature. While social interaction may be implied in the P2 framework, more attention and emphasis is needed in terms of creating and maintaining this AETZone experience.

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Interactivity/Community Process Model for the Online Education Environment
Janet L. Lear, Charles Ansorge, and Allan Steckelberg

According to this mixed methods study, interactions with the content, peers, and instructor are important as students become active, engaged learners. Results show that students in 30 online classes at four Midwestern post-secondary institutions believe that interactivity was significant to building community, r = 0.61, p<.01. A Pearson correlation was also computed for sense of community correlated to learner engagement and found to be statistically significant, r=0.557, p<.01. A model of the process for creating engaged learners was developed based on the findings. Because active participation is critical to student success and quality of online education, developing these feelings of belonging or sense of community that will lead to learner engagement are key components in the online education environment. The relationship of interactivity and sense of community, which leads to engagement, is really a process with the student, the course, and the instructor all interacting in ways that will promote feelings of belonging and community.

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Using Wikis to Facilitate Communication for Rural, Remote and At-risk Practicum Students
Serena Davie and Richard G. Berlach

The practicum experience is often highlighted as the core of any pre-service teacher education course. Unless effective communication mechanisms can be established to support students in off-campus locations, the practicum experience can be compromised if students feel isolated and abandoned when faced with difficulties. Such a scenario may be particularly relevant to students in remote placements or for those who have been identified as being at-risk. The main goal of this project was to determine whether a Wiki could be an effective tool for facilitating meaningful dialogue between the university, school-based personnel and students during the practicum. A Wiki was selected as the tool for the project as most students are familiar with this second generation web-based social software. This paper reports on the nature, organisation and results of the project.

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Online Student Success: Making a Difference
Gregory M. D. Beyrer

How do students prepare to succeed in an online learning environment? This research project examines the effectiveness of one answer to this question. Cosumnes River College offers a course to meet this need, Online Student Success (OSS). This research project examines the effect on success rates for students who enroll in OSS. Two comparisons are made. One is of online students who have enrolled in OSS compared to online students who have not; the other is a comparison between the online performance of students before and after their enrollment in OSS. Historical data (academic performance, enrollment, and demographic) were collected and analyzed, and an online survey of students who enrolled in the class was conducted.

Results indicate a positive relationship between enrollment in OSS and success rates, both in the historical data and in comments from participants. Students who passed OSS were more successful in their online classes than students who did not enroll in OSS. In addition, students who passed OSS were more successful in the online classes they enrolled in after taking OSS. Future implications are discussed, including recommendations for future studies that could contribute to the understanding of how to increase student success in online education. These suggestions include broadening the sources of historical data to include enrollment and performance in online classes at other colleges in the same district and investigating why certain students enroll in this class. A final research suggestion is how to identify the online students who would benefit from this class and how to encourage them to take it before they risk poor performance and thereby alienate themselves from the increased access to higher education offered by online education.

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A Closer Look at Instructor-Student Feedback Online: A Case Study Analysis of the Types and Frequency
J. Garvey Pyke and John J. Sherlock

It is widely recognized that good teaching includes instructor-student feedback, and in online courses, feedback takes a variety of forms, including both synchronous and asynchronous interactions. To understand better the types and frequency of instructor-student feedback interactions, this case study used document analysis to examine feedback in an online course over a full semester. Feedback interactions were coded as either individual or team feedback and also then coded as corrective, motivational, or technology-related. With 1,744 recorded instructor-student feedback interactions, corrective feedback accounted for nearly 70% of all feedback (given more often to teams than individuals); motivational feedback was 20% (given more often to individuals than teams); and technology feedback was 10% (given more often to individuals than teams). Additionally, feedback differed over the duration of the semester, with motivational feedback being the greatest at the beginning of the term. An examination of individual versus team differences revealed that teams tended to receive a greater amount of corrective feedback, whereas individuals required greater motivational feedback.

Implications of the study include that instructors may not be conscious of the proportions of corrective versus motivational feedback to their online students. Instructors are also encouraged to take certain measures to reduce the burden of technology feedback required of the instructor, since students will constantly demand such non-pedagogical assistance.

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Why Wikis? Student Perceptions of Using Wikis in Online Coursework
Faye Deters, Kristen Cuthrell, and Joy Stapleton

In recent years, Web 2.0 tools such as blogs, wikis, and podcasts have skyrocketed in the number of users. These applications have lead to new innovations for teaching and learning. Elementary education professors at a large southeastern College of Education conducted a study for the purpose of exploring student perceptions regarding the use of wikis in online instruction and potential uses for wikis in the K-12 classroom as perceived by respondents. Participants in the study were 40 students enrolled in 1 of 3 graduate level social studies methods courses. Data were collected using surveys and written reflections. Though students reported initial hesitation at learning a new technology, their overall experience using the wikis was positive. The students felt that wikis were a great collaboration tool. Principle themes that emerged from the data were the potential uses of wikis as instructional tools, potential uses for information dissemination, benefits or advantages to using wikis, and limitations regarding the use of wikis. The authors provide a list of questions developed as a result of the study that, when used prior to implementing wikis as a learning tool, will minimize the limitations associated with their use.

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Using Virtual Classrooms: Student Perceptions of Features and Characteristics in an Online and a Blended Course
Michele A. Parker and Florence Martin

Virtual classrooms are online environments that enable students and instructors to interact as if they were face to face in a classroom. In this study, the researchers compared the perceptions of 57 undergraduate students who used the virtual classroom in a fully online and a blended education course. Students in the fully online course rated the virtual classroom features and characteristics higher than students in the blended course. There were statistically significant differences for 9 out of the 16 features that were investigated. Three of the four characteristics were statistically significant. Instructors can integrate this information in their course design and delivery to ensure that students benefit from a rewarding learning experience.

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Does Relational Communication Training Improve Student Satisfaction with Web-assisted Courses?
Jollean K. Sinclaire, Judith C. Simon, Charles J. Campbell, and Ronald B. Wilkes

The purpose of this study is to explore factors affecting differences in student satisfaction between a traditional classroom environment and a Web-assisted (online) course environment. Specifically, the objective of this study is to determine whether relational communication training can positively influence student satisfaction. This research utilized survey data collected from undergraduate students enrolled in an introductory Management Information Systems (MIS) course. Although it was hypothesized that students in the traditional learning environment would report a higher level of satisfaction with the course than students in the online learning environment, this hypothesis was not supported. Instead, the significant main effect for learning environment and satisfaction with the course was in the opposite direction: Students in the Web-assisted group reported a higher level of satisfaction with the course. Other comparisons showed that students in the Web-assisted group who received communication training reported greater satisfaction with the course and greater satisfaction with the group process/project than students who did not receive training, although the difference between satisfaction with the course scores was not statistically significant. Findings will help guide the development of course management practices for Web-assisted (online) courses.

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Animated versus Static Images of Team Processes to Affect Knowledge Acquisition and Learning Efficiency
Jennifer J. Vogel-Walcutt, Juliana Beatriz Gebrim, and Denise Nicholson

In this paper, the authors replicated previous work demonstrating that animating mechanical systems leads to more efficient knowledge acquisition and extended it by applying the same processes to human systems. Based on these data, it appears that using static images, rather than animated human relationships within a team structure, better supports learning of procedural and conceptual knowledge by novices. Additionally, using static images led to a reduction in the amount of effort required to apply that knowledge. It remains unclear however, if the static images will continue to support knowledge retention long-term.

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Technology and Instructional Communication: Student Usage and Perceptions of Virtual Office Hours
Jennifer T. Edwards and Lora Helvie-Mason

This study examines 81 undergraduate students' perceptions of virtual office hours (VOHs). VOHs enable students to interact with their professors through Yahoo Instant Messenger from on-campus and off-campus locations. The purpose of this study is to examine college students’ perceptions and usage of virtual office hours in four undergraduate courses. These students’ perceptions and VOH usage were examined by focusing on the following research question, "What are undergraduate students' perceptions of virtual office hours (VOHs)?" A majority (70 percent) of the students contributed favorable responses towards VOHs. However, only 12 percent of the students in this study actually used the VOH feature. Through this study, the authors present undergraduate college students’ perceptions and usage of VOHs to communicate with faculty.

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The Effects of Peer- and Self-Referenced Feedback on Students’ Motivation and Academic Performance in Online Learning Environments
Tae Seob Shin and W. Patrick Dickson


This study examined how graphical feedback on students’ performance in the class affected their motivation and academic performance in an online course. The study applied motivation theory to contrast two forms of feedback (self- vs. peer-referenced) and used innovative graphical displays to present this feedback. A cross-over experimental design was used to compare two types of feedback on students' achievement goal orientations, interest in the course, punctuality of assignment submission, and essay length. In one condition, students first received peer-referenced graphical feedback, designed to have them compare their performance with their peers, on the punctuality of their assignment submission for the first half of the course. They then received self-referenced graphical feedback, designed to prompt them to reflect on their own performance over time, on the length of their essays during the second half of the course. In the other condition, this feedback was given in reverse order. Results showed that students became more performance goal-oriented after receiving peer-referenced feedback and that they became more interested in the course after receiving self-referenced feedback. The findings were consistent with predictions though not statistically significant. Further theory-guided research is crucial for continuing to provide effective, individualized, real-time feedback in online environments.

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Teaching and Learning Public Speaking Online
Nick Linardopoulos

The increased availability of online coursework in higher education has prompted a number of research studies regarding the academic rigor and marketability of those courses. However, the existing literature pays little attention to the opportunities and challenges of the online delivery of skills based courses that require the mastery of a practical component in addition to the theory. This paper is a case study in the teaching of a public speaking course in a fully online setting. The format of the online setting of the course is analyzed and the challenges faced from an instructional and student perspective are described. The paper also discusses the effectiveness of teaching this specific course in an online setting based on student feedback. The paper concludes with a discussion of the educational implications and opportunities stemming from the development of teaching and learning skills based courses in an online setting.

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Cognitive Apprenticeship as a Framework for Teaching Online
Mary D. Oriol, Gail Tumulty, and Kathleen Snyder

For many nurses, especially those in remote areas, underdeveloped countries, active military service around the world, and even working practitioners with families, online education is their only avenue to pursue a graduate degree and to acquire the skills necessary for success in leadership positions. A major challenge for faculty is to create an online environment that encourages working professionals to remain actively engaged and focused on achieving course competencies throughout their master’s program as they struggle to balance school, employment, and personal responsibilities. This article describes how effective instructional strategies found in the cognitive apprenticeship framework and the use of innovative software tools can be applied in an online learning environment to facilitate rapid learning of essential skills necessary to achieve course competencies. Using screen capture software to teach the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences ( SPSS) is the exemplar used for implementation of the framework components. Adobe Captivate, a screen capture software program, is used to model the step-by-step process for using the basic functions of SPSS. When supplemental coaching is required, Dimdim, a free open-source computer screen-sharing program, is used as a real time environment for tutoring individual students as they conduct statistical analyses using SPSS.

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Integrating Onsite and Online Learning in a Teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Education Program
Pam Millett and Connie Mayer

Teacher education programs with a specialized focus, such as preparing candidates to become teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing (D/HH), continually face the challenges of providing quality programs with small numbers of students and faculty. Online learning may offer opportunities for programs to maximize student access to such programs, enhance instructor effectiveness and provide new ways for students to learn and interact through technology. However, the challenges in teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing education program are in many ways unique, and require faculty to significantly adapt the few models of online teacher education that exist. This paper describes the experiences of a Canadian teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing education program in incorporating an online learning program into its existing onsite program, creating cohorts of traditional and online learning students together in the same class.

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Improving Online Course Design through Usability Testing
Elizabeth A. Fisher and Vivian H. Wright

Usability testing has been the industry standard for assessing the usability of products for quite some time. Business and industry routinely implement usability testing to test their products. Consequently, the literature is rich in this area. Despite the tremendous growth in online learning, there is little research regarding the implementation of usability testing in academia, especially in online course development. This qualitative study investigated the effectiveness of implementing usability testing into online course development for improved course design. For the purposes of this study, usability testing refers to iterations of testing that inform changes in course design in a cyclic fashion. Data were collected during the spring 2009 semester at a major research university in the Southeast. Fourteen freshmen participants took part in the study. Participants were observed as they completed predefined tasks. Data were collected through video recordings, surveys, observer logs, and journaling. Findings indicated that usability testing may provide a model for improved online course design.

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Two Heads Are Better Than One: Collaborative Development of an Online Course Content Template
Michelle D. Miller and Michael E. Rader

The authors collaborated to address an institutional need for a high-quality, high-enrollment online introductory psychology course. The course needed to be teachable by different types of potential instructors, including permanent, full-time faculty and temporary, part-time faculty, with a minimum of preparation time needed to set up the course. Although a successful web course had been developed in the past, it was tied to one specific instructor; this fact, plus the low capacity designed into the course, made it cost-prohibitive to offer on a regular basis. Prior efforts to create a course content template teachable by temporary faculty had run into faculty resistance around ownership of the course and quality concerns. This collaboration emphasized the strengths of each contributor, resulting in a final product equal or superior in effectiveness to the face-to-face version of the course.

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Online Highway Robbery: Is Your Intellectual Property Up for Grabs in the Online Classroom?
Stephanie Reese Masson

Do you own the rights to materials in your online course? Many in higher education face the task of creating online materials before considering the issue. This paper examines evolving intellectual property policies for online materials, informing educators that copyright law alone is not the final word on this issue. The author demonstrates that intellectual property policies vary greatly, even among institutions in the same university system and the same geographic area. Knowledge of policies is stressed as an important element in the job market and solutions are offered for faculty faced with outdated ownership policies.

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Netiquette: Make it Part of Your Syllabus
Alma Mintu-Wimsatt, Courtney Kernek, and Hector R. Lozada

Just like in face-to-face classes, students engaged in online education communicate, participate and interact via computer-mediated discussions (CMDs). While online instructors presumably monitor the CMDs’ contents and undercurrents, it is recommended that specific rules are set to ensure that students comply with established online classroom etiquette or “netiquette.” Developing netiquette rules at the onset of the course and including these guidelines in the students’ course syllabus can help avoid future conflicts.

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Switching Gears: Moving from e-Learning to m-Learning
Robert Crow, Ieda M. Santos, John LeBaron, Anna T. McFadden, and Christine F. Osborne

This paper examines institutional practice regarding integration of mobile technologies into electronic teaching that has previously depended on computers alone. More specifically, this study explores challenges, opportunities and constraints reflected in efforts to transition from reliance on formal learning management systems for course development and delivery toward the infusion of media targeted to students' mobile devices. Based on three e-course case histories, this paper illustrates how the participants’ university is addressing the transformational challenges found in the study and examines instructor perceptions about University support. The researchers conducted two in-depth semi-structured interviews which took place at different times to reflect the longitudinal experiences of the three participants over time. Main findings of the research suggest that institutional faculty need technical support, training and professional development to understand not only how to work with mobile devices but also the means to achieve clear instructional purposes with them.

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Spontaneous Group Decision Making in Distributed Collaborative Learning-- Toward a New Research Direction
Geoffrey Z. Liu

This paper attempts to identify and establish spontaneous group decision making in collaborative learning as a new research direction, with particular attention to collaborative learning in distributed online environment s. After a brief introduction, related concepts and theories are examined for differentiation of interpretation. The concept of “spontaneous group decision making” is established in the context of collaborative learning. Literature review is conducted to glean anecdotal observations from past research to identify potentially influential factors, and a diagram framework is proposed to charter the territory. The paper also reports findings from a preliminary survey of 159 graduate students on their group decision making activities in online collaboration. The findings indicate that spontaneous group decision making is prevalent in distributed collaborative learning activities and suggest that this area be investigated from a perspective different from the mainstream research on group decision making in other settings.

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Online Assessment Strategies: A Primer
Jeanne P. Sewell, Karen H. Frith, and Martha M. Colvin

Instructors who design online courses have an opportunity to develop assessments to monitor students’ progress toward achievement of learning objectives. When combined with well-designed learning objectives, assessment techniques can close the feedback loop and provide excellent artifacts not only for course evaluation but programmatic and campus wide assessment. The purpose of this paper is to d iscuss the essential elements for the design and use of formative and summative online assessments including discussion postings, assignments, SCORM modules, and proctored and non-proctored tests or quizzes. Issues associated with online test security and “cheating” will also be discussed. The paper is designed to provide an overview about design and use of assessment strategies for instructors who are novices to online learning.

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Computer Mediated Communication and Scaffolding Toward New Literacy in Preservice Teacher Education Courses
Tomás Galguera and Julie Nicholson

The efforts of educators to reduce the digital disconnect that exists between schools and pervasive digital communications and media present problems in developing New Literacies for all involved. Participation gaps among students add a social justice dimension to this work. This paper suggests a typology of scaffolding for language development in preservice teacher education courses incorporating computer-mediated communication (CMC) for pedagogical purposes that are applicable to other contexts. Scaffolding can help develop beginning teachers’ digital literacy skills and reduce the participation gap that threatens to create a cultural divide between educators and their increasingly “wired” students. Practical suggestions and lessons learned are included.

Keywords: Assisted performance, pedagogy, digital disconnect, participation gap, social justice, digital genres, text types, Web templates

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