MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching

Vol. 10, No. 1, March 2014

Abstracts of Papers in This Issue

Challenges to Research in MOOCs
Helene Fournier, Rita Kop, and Guillaume Durand

Over the past five years, the emergence of interactive social media has influenced the development of learning environments. Learning management systems have come to maturity, but because they are controlled by educational institutions and are subsequently used to support institutional learning, have been seen by learning technologists as not capturing the spirit and possibilities that new media have to offer for learning. Academics and researchers are currently investigating a different learning environment, more open and networked, while the underpinning learning theory is moving from social constructivism towards connectivism. Research in open learning environments is only in its infancy and researchers have only started to become interested in massive open online courses (MOOCs) as a topic of investigation. Recent research and development efforts have focused on generating technologies that might facilitate learning within a self-directed information and communication stream. In this paper, the authors report on an exploratory case study of PLENK, a connectivist-style MOOC, and highlight some of the challenges in the research and analysis process, especially as significant amounts of both quantitative and qualitative data were involved. Important findings related to activity levels and important dimensions of self-directed learning in an open learning environment are presented.

Keywords: massive open online course (MOOC), connectivist massive open online course (cMOOC), connectivism, lurking, networks, active participation, passive participation


Participants' Perceptions of Learning and Networking in Connectivist MOOCs
Mohsen Saadatmand and Kristiina Kumpulainen

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are growing exponentially in higher education. They have attracted the attention of higher education institutions, course designers, and policy makers. They challenge the mainstream of higher education and provide global learning opportunities to a huge number of students so they can learn anytime and anywhere. The value and applicability of the MOOC model in the current era of higher education and the nature of learning in such an open online format need to be investigated. This study focused on participants' experiences and perceived value of participation in connectivist MOOCs (cMOOCs) in terms of dealing with an abundance of resources and tools, learning activities, and network engagement. The results suggest a high extent of technology deployment for learning and interactions by the participants in cMOOCs. Creating networks and developing professional connections through networking technologies are advantages of participating in cMOOCs. The study's findings contribute to a better understanding of the nature of learning and participation in MOOCs from the perspective of students, who are the main stakeholders of such new learning experiences.

Keywords: massive open online course (MOOC), connectivist massive open online course (cMOOC), connectivism, networked learning, open education


MOOCs: Striking the Right Balance between Facilitation and Self-Determination
Tita Beaven, Mirjam Hauck, Anna Comas-Quinn, Tim Lewis, and Beatriz de los Arcos

Recent research suggests that a growing proportion of formal learning occurs outside formal educational settings, where information and learning opportunities are mediated by technology. The rise of massive open online courses (MOOCs) in the last few years bears witness to this phenomenon. This contribution considers whether MOOCs afford a collaborative environment in which participants can develop the necessary literacy skills to become successful self-directed learners and members of online communities. It also discusses the extent to which self-determination and participatory literacy might be relevant for success in different types of MOOCs. The paper draws on data from OT12, an 8-week MOOC on open translation tools and practices run in 2012 by the Department of Languages of The Open University in the United Kingdom. The data consist of pre- and post-course surveys covering learners' backgrounds and prior experience of translation, expectations and challenges envisaged, and evaluation of outcomes. The authors conclude that to conceive of MOOCs as environments where individuals coalesce around a common endeavor is to raise a series of under-explored challenges. For organizers, the challenge lies in learning design and facilitation, and the extent to which their assumptions about the participants match the learners' capabilities. For learners, the challenge rests in self-determination and participatory literacy skills.

Keywords: massive open online course (MOOC), participatory literacy skills, self-determination, heutagogy, open practices, open translation


MOOC Pedagogy: Gleaning Good Practice from Existing MOOCs
Maha Bali

The revolutionary potential of massive open online courses (MOOCs) has been met with much skepticism, particularly in terms of the quality of learning offered. Believing that a focus on learning is more important than a focus on course completion rates, this position paper presents a pedagogical assessment of MOOCs using Chickering and Gamson's Seven Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education and Bloom's taxonomy, based on the author's personal experience as a learner in four xMOOCs. Although most xMOOCs have similar characteristics, the author shows that they are not all offered in exactly the same way, and some provide more sound pedagogy that develops higher order thinking, whereas others do not. The author uses this evaluation, as well as reviews of other xMOOCs in the literature, to glean some good pedagogical practices in xMOOCs and areas for improvement.

Keywords: massive open online course (MOOC), xMOOC, pedagogy, Bloom's taxonomy, Seven Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education


Teacher Experiences and Academic Identity: The Missing Components of MOOC Pedagogy
Jen Ross, Christine Sinclair, Jeremy Knox, Siân Bayne, and Hamish Macleod

The way teachers are represented in relation to massive open online courses (MOOCs) has created a limited and unhelpful characterization of an important role. The key argument put forward in this position paper is that attending to the complexity of the MOOC teacher’s experience and identity will ultimately support productive dialogue about retention, access, and the meaning and purpose of the MOOC – dialogue that, at present, typically focuses on the student or the technology, but is silent on the matter of the teacher. The paper begins by exploring how common constructions of “the teacher” – as the charismatic celebrity professor, the co-learner or facilitator, or the automated response – have emerged in the MOOC literature, and challenges the underlying assumptions about teaching. Its central section comprises an account of a team of MOOC teachers’ reflections on designing and teaching a MOOC – E-learning and Digital Cultures, on the Coursera platform – and an exploration of how their experiences problematize common perceptions of the MOOC teacher. Finally, taking as an alternative starting point the higher education literature on academic identities, the authors highlight the complex effects of academic discipline, institution, and personal and professional values.

Keywords: massive open online course (MOOC), teachers, instructors, facilitators, professors, complexity, repertoire, scale, Coursera


Online and Face-to-Face Teaching: How Do Student Ratings Differ?
Suzanne Young and Heather E. Duncan

This paper reports on a study whose purpose was to compare student ratings of instruction in online and face-to-face (F2F) higher education courses in an effort to better understand how faculty can strengthen their teaching in the online environment. Student ratings of instruction in online and on-campus courses were examined in two different ways that yielded similar findings. First, more than 8,000 student ratings of online and on-campus, traditional courses were compared. The ratings were based on 172 online courses and 470 on-campus courses. Results indicated that on-campus courses were rated significantly higher than online courses in Communication, Faculty/Student Interaction, Grading, Instructional Methods, and Course Outcomes; effect sizes were small. Student Effort was rated significantly higher for online courses than for F2F courses, also with a small effect size. A second analysis, using 11 pairs of the same course and same instructor, yielded similar findings. Students rated on-campus courses significantly higher than online courses in Communication, Faculty/Student Interaction, Grading, Course Outcomes, and Overall Evaluation; effect sizes were large. Overall, both analyses indicated that students are more satisfied with traditional, F2F courses compared to online courses. General recommendations include increased support and professional development for online instructors.

Keywords: student ratings of instruction, course evaluations, distance courses, face-to-face courses, traditional courses


Questions that Get Answered: The Construction of Instructional Conversations on Online Asynchronous Discussion Boards
Dorothy J. Della Noce, Debora L. Scheffel, and May Lowry

On online asynchronous discussion boards, instructor questions are considered a driving force in student engagement and learning. Yet, students can and do choose not to answer questions from instructors. In this paper, the authors report on a qualitative study in which they analyzed instructor–student interaction on an asynchronous discussion board in order to determine which instructor's questions students were more likely to answer and why. They found that students were more likely to answer those instructor questions that were authentic and exhibited uptake of students' comments. Moreover, the students' orientation to those features suggests that students actively choose to engage in – and construct – coherent instructional interactions that characterize conversation rather than recitation.

Keywords: coherence, instructor uptake, authentic questions, instructional conversation, interactive written discourse (IWD)


Task Value, Self-Regulated Learning, and Performance in a Web-Intensive Undergraduate Engineering Course: How Are They Related?
Oenardi Lawanto, Harry B. Santoso, Wade Goodridge, and Kevin N. Lawanto

In this paper, the authors report on how students' perception of course material in terms of importance, utility, and interest is related to their self-regulated learning (SRL) skills and project performance in a web-intensive undergraduate learning environment. The data from 57 students were analyzed. Data sources included survey instruments, ranking questions, and project grades. The research highlights important components of online education by evaluating the connections between students' perceptions of web-intensive course value, SRL, and project performance. Findings show a significant positive relationship between task value and performance, specifically between importance of the activity and performance. From a SRL perspective, the results show a positive correlation between goal setting and performance. Significant positive correlations were also found between task value and goal setting, task strategies, help seeking, and self-evaluation. Discussion and recommendations are presented.

Keywords: web-intensive learning, task value, self-regulated learning (SRL), distance education, performance


Testing the Effect of Hybrid Lecture Delivery on Learning Outcomes
Oskar R. Harmon, William T. Alpert, and James Lambrinos

Empirical studies have yielded mixed results with regard to the issue of whether the online and traditional modalities have equivalent effects on learning outcomes for courses taught at the Master of Business Administration (MBA) level. A majority of these empirical studies support the conclusion of no significant difference between the modalities. However, only a small percentage of these studies address the issue of self-selection bias, and fewer study the hybrid format. This paper reports on a study that contributes to the existing MBA literature by employing a research design that appropriately handles self-selection bias in the context of a hybrid course. The key finding of the study is that the effect of the online format on learning outcomes does not handicap outcomes relative to the traditional format.

Keywords: hybrid delivery, blended learning, business education, economics education, MBA courses


Audio Feedback versus Written Feedback: Instructors' and Students' Perspectives
Andrew J. Cavanaugh and Liyan Song

Providing feedback to students on their writing represents perhaps the most important task of a composition instructor and also possibly the most time-consuming task. In online composition classes, this task becomes more daunting, as there are no opportunities for face-to-face conversations with students. Typically, online instructors provide comments to students in text form. The use of audio comments through MP3 files has become an alternative. The purpose of this case study was to examine students' and instructors' perceptions of audio feedback and written feedback for student papers in online composition classes. Data were collected through surveys and interviews. The results show that instructors had mixed feelings about the use of audio, while students tended to have positive feelings toward it. The findings also reveal that teachers tended to give more global commentary when using audio comments and more local commentary when using written comments. Finally, the findings indicate that students' methods of revising their papers based on the feedback they receive may impact their preference for one modality over the other. Implications for further research are discussed at the end of the paper.

Keywords: online writing instruction, audio feedback, written feedback, composition classes


Facilitating Group Discussions in Second Life
Charles Xiaoxue Wang, Scott Anstadt, Jamie Goldman, and Mary L. M. Lefaiver

This paper reports on a case study of group facilitation in Second Life, a three-dimensional virtual world that simulates places either in the real or imaginary worlds with capabilities of synchronous communications in text, gesture, and audio formats. The participants were four graduate students facilitating group discussions in a virtual world called Second Life. The study took a qualitative approach revealing the essence of group facilitation in a virtual world (e.g., Second Life). The article discusses five important themes that emerged through data analysis and offers implications and suggestions for group facilitators to work in a virtual world like Second Life.

Keywords: virtual world, 3D multi-user virtual environment (3D MUVE), Second Life, group discussion, group facilitation, synchronous communication


Strategies for Creating a Community of Inquiry through Online Asynchronous Discussions
Aimee deNoyelles, Janet Zydney, and Baiyun Chen

Asynchronous discussions are often utilized in online courses to provide a venue for students to openly communicate and build shared understanding, and for instructors to skillfully facilitate the process. While discussions can be invaluable toward creating and sustaining an online community of inquiry (CoI), they are not effective if not optimally designed. It is the authors' position that it is helpful to identify research-proven online discussion strategies and conceptualize them into the CoI framework, which has been extensively studied and validated. This framework posits that there are three interrelated presences – social, cognitive, and teaching – that must be perceived by members in order to facilitate a successful educational experience. Classifying strategies within this framework may guide instructors to purposefully select and employ methods that encourage productive, efficient, and meaningful discussions. Strategies, such as providing prompt but modest feedback, peer facilitation, protocol discussion prompts, and providing audio feedback, were found to support multiple presences in a review of the literature. Based on these findings, it is argued that educators need to employ discussion strategies that integrate all three presences in order to support an effective online CoI.

Keywords: social presence, cognitive presence, teaching presence, online facilitation, distance learning, asynchronous, community of inquiry (CoI)


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