MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching

Vol. 8, No. 4, December 2012


Abstracts of Papers in This Issue

Contribution of Learner–Instructor Interaction to Sense of Community in Graduate Online Education
Jo L. Shackelford and Marge Maxwell

Instructors striving to facilitate the building of community in online courses must make evidence-based decisions in choosing the most effective interaction types during the course-design process. The study reported in this paper sought to identify which types of interaction contribute most to students' sense of community (SoC) in online graduate courses at a regional comprehensive university. Rovai's Classroom Community Scale was used to measure SoC, and Likert-scale questions were employed to measure frequency and perceived importance of seven kinds of learner–instructor interaction. The results indicate that the interactions that are most predictive of SoC include instructor modeling, support and encouragement, facilitating discussions, multiple communication modes, and required participation. Instructor modeling was found to offer the greatest yield to instructors as a balance between effort and benefit. Implications for online course design are discussed.

Keywords: distance learning, online learning, distance education, learner–instructor interaction, building online community

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Examining Differences in University Implementation of iTunes U
Randy K. Yerrick and Joseph A. Johnson

This paper reports on a study that was conducted at a large Research I university in the Midwestern United States to examine perceptions toward the use of iTunes U as a venue for supporting learning and teaching in higher education. Faculty and students were asked to evaluate iTunes U in comparison to a broader collection of tools and their effective use across the departments of the University. The Graduate School of Education was found to use iTunes U most prolifically, and further study revealed specific student preferences toward personalized instruction. Implications for future research and implementation are discussed.

Keywords: iTunes U, perceived implementation, resistance, mixed methods, MANOVA, case-study research

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Video Conferencing Guidelines for Faculty and Students in Graduate Online Courses
Cynthia Gautreau, Barbara C. Glaeser, L. Carl Renold, Shariq Ahmed, Joyce Lee, JoAnn Carter-Wells, Mark Worden, E. Douglas Boynton, and Jim Schools

A review of the literature revealed that established guidelines were not available to assist faculty who use video conferencing in their online graduate courses. In an effort to address this need, a self-evaluation study was completed with faculty who teach such courses. Drawing on the results of this study together with published Netiquette guidelines and a survey of other extant literature, a set of Video Conferencing Guidelines was created.

Keywords: video conferencing, practical guidelines, online instructors, instructional designers, graduate online courses

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Student Perceptions of a Hybrid Discussion Format
Yuankun Yao

Utilizing Wang and Chen's notion of online learning spaces, this study examined student perceptions of a hybrid discussion format that required students to interact within their designated small groups while giving them access to discussions in the other groups of the class. The discussion format also featured a high level of instructor presence during discussions. A survey was developed and used to obtain student views of the various features of the discussion format. Forty-two students enrolled in three online courses participated in the study. Both summary statistics and an independent samples t-test were used to analyze the quantitative data from the survey. A review of the qualitative data from the survey was also made to obtain an in-depth understanding of the students' perceptions. The students felt there were benefits and limitations in both small-group and whole-class discussions, and indicated their preference for a hybrid discussion format that combined the positive features of both small-group and whole-class discussions. The students who did not like online discussions were less likely to enjoy whole-class discussions. Students in general welcomed the presence of the instructor during the discussions.

Keywords: online instruction, group discussion, student perceptions, instructor facilitation

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Instructor-Made Videos as a Scaffolding Tool
Guohua Pan, Sandipan Sen, David A. Starrett, Curtis J. Bonk, Michael L. Rodgers, Mohan Tikoo, and David V. Powell

Instructors have frequently found that some content, such as mathematical formulae, chemistry laboratory experiments, and business practices, are unusually difficult for students to comprehend through text-centered approaches, and that this is especially so for online students. In response, instructor-made videos (IMVs) of three to 10 minutes in length on problematic topics or subject matter areas were produced for business, chemistry, and mathematics courses. The IMVs were intended to scaffold student learning. Initial findings revealed that multimodal IMVs involving the demonstration, illustration, and presentation of key terms, knowledge, skills, and resources can help students understand important procedures, structures, or mechanisms in previously problematic content. Simply stated, IMVs can have a positive impact on student learning.

Keywords: instructor-made videos, scaffolding, zone of proximal development, online learning

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Proactive Intervention Strategies for Improving Online Student Retention in a Malaysian Distance Education Institution
Lai Cheng Tung

Online distance education has become another way for institutions of higher learning to reach out to learners. However, learner retention rates in online distance education tend to be well below those in traditional full-time higher education. A clear understanding of what factors contribute to learner attrition, including withdrawal from or non-completion of courses, is necessary in order for online distance learning institutions to formulate appropriate retention strategies. This case study looks at the role of proactive interventions practiced by institutions to retain learners through an examination of data collected from departments within an online distance institution in Malaysia. Results suggest that among the top reasons learners drop out are those related to family matters, job commitments, and poor time management practices. This preliminary study aims to assist online distance institutions in better understanding the pattern of their learners' withdrawal, with the hope that it will lead to the development of guidelines for a more systematic evaluation of proactive retention intervention techniques to be implemented to reduce attrition rates in such institutions.

Keywords: attrition, dropout, retention, proactive intervention, online learning, distance education

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A Three-Step Model for Designing Initial Second Life-Based Foreign Language Learning Activities
Feihong Wang, John K. Burton, and Jane Falls

The use of three-dimensional virtual worlds such as Second Life (SL) to support foreign language learning and teaching has been receiving increasing attention over the last decade. A review of the literature revealed a lack of activity design models for SL-based foreign language learning. This paper proposes a model that may be used by foreign language educators to design initial SL-based learning activities for their students. The suggested model integrates three language-learning features to contribute to effective language learning, to satisfy students' preference for working in groups, and to reduce SL's chances of crashing. The model also provides a mechanism for moderating SL's steep learning curve.

Keywords: Second Life, foreign language learning, computer-assisted language learning (CALL), learning design

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"Which Technology Should I Use to Teach Online?": Online Technology and Communication Course Instruction
Carolyn S. Carlson, Philip J. Aust, Barbara S. Gainey, Stephen Jake McNeill, Tamara Powell, and Leonard Witt

Over the last few years, higher education has been transformed by numerous technologies available for course content delivery. Whereas university instructors once asked, "Should I deliver course content online?" the emphasis has shifted so that instructors are now asking, "Which technology works best for which desired teaching outcome?," "Which technology can I quickly learn?," and "Which technology can I manage (while fulfilling my research and service duties)?" To answer these questions, the authors used and evaluated 10 different online instructional technology tools, analyzing each one's potential application in communication courses to address Angelo's four dimensions of higher learning (declarative, procedural, conditional, and reflective). The tools are compared and contrasted to assist university instructors in making informed decisions about which to use in their courses.

Keywords: new media, instructional technology, online instruction, communication courses, teaching effectiveness

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