MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching

Vol. 2, No. 3, September 2006


Abstracts of Papers in This Issue


High-Tech Tools for Teaching Physics: the Physics Education Technology Project, Noah Finkelstein, Wendy Adams, Christopher Keller, Katherine Perkins, Carl Wieman, and the Physics Education Technology Project Team

This paper introduces a new suite of computer simulations from the Physics Education Technology (PhET) project, identifies features of these educational tools, and demonstrates their utility. We compare the use of PhET simulations to the use of more traditional educational resources in lecture, laboratory, recitation and informal settings of introductory college physics. In each case we demonstrate that simulations are as productive, or more productive, for developing student conceptual understanding as real equipment, reading resources, or chalk-talk lectures. We further identify six key characteristic features of these simulations that begin to delineate why these are productive tools. The simulations: support an interactive approach, employ dynamic feedback, follow a constructivist approach, provide a creative workplace, make explicit otherwise inaccessible models or phenomena, and constrain students productively.


Faculty Learns Curriculum and Teaching Capacities: Online Training Evaluation, Luis M. Villar and Olga M. Alegre

This article addresses the choice of an appropriate procedure for the assessment of digital portfolios used in academic staff development at the two Canarian universities. The study includes a comprehensive definition of Curriculum and Teaching Capacities (CTC) in higher education and a formative assessment of a Professional Development of University Faculty (PDUF) programme as a model for faculty training. Using purposive sampling, twenty-nine university teachers were involved in an online course over an 11-week period. Criteria used for analysis were measures of instructors' attitudes and learning tests. Overall, faculty reported a change in their acquisition of CTCs, heading towards a more comprehensive and quality teaching. Examining the learning experiences of faculty has university significance for PDUF and CTC.  


Adoption of the Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching (MERLOT) Among Higher Education Faculty: Evidence from the State University of New York Learning Network, Peter Shea

This paper examines higher education faculty adoption of the Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching (MERLOT) through a case study of 710 online faculty teaching at thirty-three institutions in the State University of New York.  This research is framed in the literature of technology adoption and diffusion of innovation theory.  These conceptual approaches focus on the stages that individuals traverse in the process of adopting technologies and other innovations.  Results presented here indicate high levels of awareness of MERLOT, but lower levels of use among the targeted population. Data analysis reveals heterogeneity in adopter profiles, indicating that the most committed online faculty were significantly more likely to adopt MERLOT. Results also suggest that the stage-approach common to technology adoption models is appropriate in understanding some aspects of the data (the design of professional development); however, a more powerful organizing principle may be contextual relevance of the innovation, which precedes and predetermine levels of concern and stages of adoption.  Suggestions for faculty development and further research are included. 


Barriers on ESL CALL programs in South Texas, Shao-Chieh Lu

This paper proposes a methodology to discover the barriers that influence English as second language (ESL) teachers in the use of computers in their classrooms. The participants in the study were sixty-seven ESL teachers who applied computer assisted language learning (CALL) in the classroom or computer lab in schools in Corpus Christi Independent School District (CCISD) and Kingsville Independent School District (KISD) in South Texas . The survey study included the participantsí demographic data, twenty variables influencing the use of CALL, and five open-ended questions. The researcher designed and verified the reliability and validity of the questionnaire. The resulting survey data were then analyzed using Exploratory Factor Analysis (EFA) to capture the information in the survey and to identify a set of factors that hinder the use of CALL in ESL. The findings demonstrate that there are three key barriers that impact teachers who use CALL programs to teach ESL, and ESL teachers may change their roles as they implement CALL programs. These barriers are technology skills, funding for teaching through technology, and acceptance of technology. The results can help educators to understand better the impact of CALL and to anticipate the barriers of CALL program they may face.


Coming out in Bytes and Pieces: Self-identification Online, Cathy Bray 

This position paper explores the statement that online teachers should disclose their gender, race, class, age, values, interests, politics, capacities, heritage, sexual orientations and/or preferences, in the interests of valuing and advancing the recognition of diversity. Teachers, especially in the social sciences and humanities, should also encourage their students to do the same. Self-disclosure is advocated as the cornerstone of vital and empowering educational relationships and transformative learning. The use of various methods of teacher and student self-disclosure in a multi-media environment are explored, with a particular emphasis on coming out as a lesbian.†


Developing eLearning Policies at the Department Level, Laura McGrath 

This article focuses on key issues related to the development of departmental guidance documents that govern those who do or would teach online. Using one departmentís process and resulting policy statement as an example, the author examines the challenges and pitfalls facing departments as they develop eLearning policies. 


Effective Online Office Hours in the Mathematical Sciences, Jeff Hooper, Marco Pollanen, and Holger Teismann 

In this paper, we describe our introduction of anonymous online office hour sessions for mathematics courses and outline a number of ways in which these sessions are more effective than traditional office hours. Our study is based on our experience with conducting the sessions as well as on data from student surveys. Our sessions make use of the enVision communication software (freeware), which permits easy, real-time communication of complex mathematical ideas. 


Integrating Liberal Learning Principles into the Information Technology Classroom, Mark Frydenberg and Angelique Davi   

While much has been published about integrating technology into liberal arts courses and the benefits of doing so, little has been written about integrating liberal learning principles into technology-based courses. The authors examine one introductory technology course at a New England business college and describe some of the assignments and subject matter that empower students to apply their knowledge of technology in contexts that transcend the technology domain. The authors share classroom practices, assignments, and student feedback to show how students develop an understanding of how to apply technology to new forms of creative expression. By encouraging students to lead technology-enabled lives, faculty can simultaneously encourage students to espouse the very essence of what it means to be life-long liberal learners.


A Space of Our Own: Bridging New Media and Traditional Scholarship with Southern Spaces in the Classroom, Sarah Toton and Katherine Skinner 

This case study explores the use of new media and online content in U.S. classrooms of higher education through an examination of the internet journal, Southern Spaces. We argue that Southern Spaces provides a forum for innovative scholarship and provides for unique teaching opportunities by taking advantage of the internet's capabilities to deliver audio, video, interactive imagery, and text in a rapid and timely fashion while also facilitating new ways of organizing, presenting, and updating research. Our case study offers a detailed overview of the philosophies behind Southern Spaces, three examples featuring Southern Spaces in the classroom and a brief discussion of pedagogical implications for the website. 


Leading Online Learning Through Collaboration, Candace Roberts, Michael Thomas, Anna T. McFadden, and Jacque Jacobs 

The purpose of this paper is to describe the evolution, activities, and benefits of the Faculty Online Teaching and Learning Community at Western Carolina University (WCU). The university itself has become a national leader in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning with its annual Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Faire (this year drew attendees from 23 different higher education institutions) and with its international referred journal Mountainrise. In addition, WCU has seen rapid growth in online programs as well as the need for faculty preparation for digital instruction. The Faculty Online Teaching and Learning Community represents one strategy for such preparation. The authors review the literature on faculty support for training and professional development for online teaching as well as the literature on faculty learning communities. They describe the grassroots development of the learning community and its development as a formal group. Included are descriptions of the groupís involvement in new faculty orientation; the transition to a new course management system; strategies that have evolved from the group such as peer-to-peer feedback; the use of voice technology, and the creation of virtual learning environments; the transfer of the groupís experience to other collaborations; and the mentoring and support for untenured faculty in the group. 

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