MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching

Vol.6, No.2, June 2010

Abstracts of Papers in This Issue

Twenty Years of Research on the Academic Performance Differences Between Traditional and Distance Learning: Summative Meta-Analysis and Trend Examination
Mickey Shachar and Yoram Neumann

This meta-analysis research estimated and compared the differences between the academic performance of students enrolled in distance education courses, relative to those enrolled in traditional settings, as demonstrated by their final course grades/scores, within the last twenty year (1990-2009) period, further broken down to four distinct sub-periods. A large k=125 of experimental and quasi-experimental studies met the established inclusion criteria for the meta-analysis (including data from over 20,000 participating students), and provided effect sizes, clearly demonstrating that: (1) In 70% of the cases, students taking courses by distance education outperformed their student counterparts in the traditionally instructed courses; (2) The overall effect size ‘d+’ (random method) was calculated as 0.257 (0.17< 95% CI <0.35); and (3) a clear upward trend of overall effect size ‘d+’ exists for the 2000-2009 decade after a decline in the second half of the 1990s. A polynomial regression confirmed a parabolic solution with a clear minimum point. The research, theoretical, and policy implications of these results are discussed.

Keywords: Traditional Learning, Distance Learning, Meta-Analysis, Summative Evaluation, Trend Analysis, Academic Performance.


Understanding Students’ Online Learning Experiences in Virtual Teams
Jennifer Loh and Robyn Smyth

As distance education becomes increasingly popular, instructors and administrators are working hard to improve students’ online learning experience. Although, the dynamics of online learning experiences in an educational setting have been well studied , the use of virtual teams presents a set of problems in relation to how physical, temporal and social separation of learners affect learners’ learning processes. This paper is a case study reporting an action research project investigating the experiences of using virtual teams in a new Organisational Psychology unit at a regional Australian university. Online group challenges were identified with potential solutions to these challenges trialed during the action research cycle.

Keywords : Virtual teams, online group interactions.


From Cyberspace to Print: Re-examining the Effects of Collaborative Discussion Board Invention on First-Year Academic Writing
Florence Elizabeth Bacabac

This descriptive study analyzes the use of the Discussion Board asynchronous invention forum for composing argumentative research-based essays. Microanalysis and analytical coding were used to investigate the transfer of invention ideas from online transcripts to student rough drafts, and interpret teacher-student interviews. Both quantitative and qualitative data suggest that the Discussion Board forum should be used as a collaborative invention tool for distinct essay categories – i.e. topic, purpose, and thesis statement; and main ideas and supporting details – as it enables socialization, meaningful conversations, and critical reflection. However, longer invention sessions are needed when discussing potential ideas on sources and counterarguments for more productive results. Though responses are delayed, the teacher and students affirm the capacity of the Discussion Board to sustain focused dialogues and equal opportunities for interaction. Implications for theory and practice in teaching writing with computers are also addressed.

Keywords: asynchronous computer-mediated communication; online collaboration; online discussion; freshman composition; descriptive study


Student Perceptions and Learning Outcomes in Asynchronous and Synchronous Online Learning Environments in a Biology Course
Latchman Somenarain, Shylaja Akkaraju, and Rajendra Gharbaran

This paper presents data from a two-semester study of the effects of distance learning on student achievements as well as their perceptions and attitudes towards online education. Students’ course grades and satisfaction survey results from two internet-based instructional groups were compared. The results showed no significant difference in course grades and student satisfaction between the two online groups.

Keywords: Asynchronous, Synchronous, Distant Education, Learning Outcomes, Internet-based Environments.


The Lived Experience of Online Educators: Hermeneutic Phenomenology
Jennie C. De Gagne and Kelley J. Walters

Assuring that quality is provided in rapidly expanding online programs is important to ensure student retention, maintain accreditation, and create a positive reputation. Although several studies have been conducted on the topic of online teaching, little research has been published on the lived experience of online educators that has utilized a hermeneutic, interpretive approach in gathering data. Therefore, a research expectation of this study was to ascertain an understanding of online educators’ experiences that could serve as a basis for developing strategies that would promote better practices in higher education. Using a hermeneutic phenomenological design, a purposeful peer-nominated sample of 11 online educators from various geographic locations throughout the United States was obtained. Through the process of selecting, focusing, simplifying, and transforming, five key themes emerged from11 respondents’ narrative accounts, including: (a) flexibility and convenience, (b) time- and labor-intensiveness, (c) communication skills, (d) learner-centeredness, and (e) continuing education and training. These identified themes were important in illustrating online educators’ experiences, which provided new perspectives and recommendations for the development and promotion of successful communities of online learning.

Keywords: Online teaching, qualitative study, hermeneutic phenomenological study, higher education, distance education


Student characteristics and motivation orientation of online and traditional degree program student
Cindy Stewart, Christine Bachman, and Ruth Johnson

The interaction among demographic variables and motivation orientation were compared in students interested in completing online and traditional degree programs. Two hundred and sixty-five students enrolled at an open-enrollment state institution completed an online survey examining student interest in online degree programs. Results demonstrated similar student motivations for completing online and traditional degrees, age, gender, and ethnic interactions with motivations for completing of online and traditional degrees, and intrinsic motivation as a predictor of online student interest in online degree programs. Taken together, these data are useful for developing online degree programs that support online learners’ needs and increase retention rates.

Keywords : online degree, online student characteristics, intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation, traditional degree


The Impact of Text Messaging on the Community of Inquiry in Online Courses
Cindy L. Kovalik and Kim A. Hosler

Text messaging is emerging as a tool educators are using for multiple purposes in both face-to-face and online courses. This research study investigated the impact of using text messages to convey course information for six online courses, taught by one instructor, as measured by the Community of Inquiry survey. Text messages communicated course information, including reminders of assignment due dates, notification that assignments have been graded, and short feedback on discussion postings. Students completed two surveys for the study; 1) the Community of Inquiry (COI) survey and 2) a survey created by the first author to gather information on student reaction to using text messages in the courses. Overall results indicate that students reacted positively to receiving text messages. COI survey results indicated, however, that there were no significant differences between students who received text messages and students who did not receive text messages in their perception of social presence, cognitive presence, and teaching presence as represented by the COI framework. This lack of significance may be partially attributable to the instructor’s extensive prior experience and success in online teaching.

Keywords: online learning, cellular telephones, mobile technologies


Late-Career Adults in Online Education: A Rewarding Experience for Individuals Aged 50 to 65
Amy S. Gaumer Erickson and Patricia M. Noonan

Adults over age 50 are increasingly pursuing online instructional modalities of higher education coursework. While research shows that late-career adults typically prefer traditional, face-to-face instruction, some are embracing the flexibility and convenience inherent in online instruction. This mixed-method study examined both the academic performance and instructional support needs of late-career adults (aged 50-65) in an online course as compared to early-career (aged 21-35) and mid-career (aged 36-49) adults. Surprisingly, results of the study indicate that not only are late-career adults satisfied with the online delivery, but they actually find the experience to be more rewarding than their early- and mid-career peers despite the differences in technical abilities. Additionally, results reveal that for late-career adults to be successful in online classes, they initially require higher levels of technology support and digital interaction. However, after receiving the technical assistance, they perform as good as or better than their younger peers.

Keywords: postsecondary education, older adults, continuing education, online instruction, distance education


Exploring the use of social bookmarking technology in education: An analysis of students’ experiences using a course-specific account
Tricia M. Farwell and Richard Waters

With more than 4.6 million people, mostly undergraduates, enrolling in at least one online course in fall of 2008, students are showing that they are comfortable with the concept of technology in education. Many students in online classes, however still have to deal with the high cost of textbooks and supplemental materials. Online technologies, however, can provide other alternatives to costly coursepacks and textbooks. Faculty and students may be able to replace or supplement coursepacks and textbooks with social bookmarking sites. This study shows how social bookmarking, specifically, can be used in a course to provide an inexpensive answer to the question of rising course materials costs. Through a series of online focus groups, 53 students enrolled in a “Social Media and Public Relations” course revealed their apprehension toward using an unknown technology and discussed their positive and negative experiences with using the course-specific account. Implications for how social bookmarking can impact online and offline learning are discussed.

Keywords: Social bookmarking, higher education, focus groups, Web 2.0, e-learning,, Digg, textbook replacement, coursepack replacement, online resources, social media, online education


Using the Four Questions Technique to Enhance Critical Thinking in Online Discussions
Martha Alexander, Nannette Commander, Daphne Greenberg, and Teresa Ward

This article describes the effect of a four-questions technique used to enhance critical thinking in online discussions. Students in a graduate educational psychology course participated in three online asynchronous discussions in reaction to case studies. Prior to the second discussion only, students responded to questions designed to encourage critical thinking through the four-questions technique of analyzing, reflecting, applying, and questioning. The researchers measured evidence of critical thinking by rating students’ comments in an online discussion with The Washington State University Critical and Integrative Thinking Scale. Results suggest that the four-questions technique is effective in enhancing critical thinking in online discussions.

Keywords: online learning, online asynchronous discussions, active learning, measurement of critical thinking, higher education, teaching educational psychology


Teamwork and Team Performance in Online Simulations: The Business Strategy Game
Steve Jenner, Meng Zhao, and Tom H. Foote

Many variables affect teamwork and team performance on assignments, including student characteristics, the delivery mode, and instructors’ decisions about assignment design. In this study, the online assignment was a computer simulation of a competitive industry, the Business Strategy Game. Links between student teams’ performance and the delivery mode (online versus on-campus) and some of the instructors’ decisions regarding how to structure the simulation assignment were examined. Online delivery was correlated with significantly lower student team performance compared to on-campus delivery. On the other hand, while larger class size and smaller team size had negative effects on a student team’s performance for on-campus courses, class size, and team size did not matter online. In other words, team performance with online delivery was not constrained by class size or team size as it was on-campus. It was determined that instructors can improve team performance by making key choices when designing and delivering online simulation assignments. For on-campus delivery, allowing more class time for more frequent teamwork discussions was found to lead to higher team performance. Larger teams of 4-6 students outperformed smaller teams using on-campus delivery.

Keywords: teamwork; team performance; strategic management; online simulation, Business Strategy Game.


Teacher Moderating and Student Engagement in Synchronous Computer Conferences
Shufang Shi

The purpose of this study was to develop a deeper understanding of the relationship between teacher moderating levels and student engagement in synchronous online computer conferences. To achieve this understanding, the researcher developed new constructs and measurement methods to measure teacher moderating variables (number of teacher postings and quality of teacher postings) and student engagement variables (behavioral, social-emotional, and intellectual engagement). The researcher investigated the relationships between and among the teacher moderating variables and student engagement variables, with the final goal of identifying the critical factors that influence student intellectual engagement. The data for the study consisted of 44 transcripts of automatically archived online conferences from four groups of students over 11 weeks in a synchronous online course.Quantitative analysis revealed that student intellectual engagement was a function of both students’ participation and the number and quality of teacher postings. The findings of this study contribute to a better understanding of how students can become invested behaviorally, social-emotionally, and intellectually in the collaborative discourse of a community of inquiry through the medium of synchronous computer conferencing.

Keywords : teacher moderating levels, intellectual engagement, social-emotional engagement, behavioral engagement, transcript analysis.


Systematic Improvement of Web-based Learning: A Structured Approach Using a Course Improvement Framework
Liz Romero and Noela A. Haughton

The Course Improvement Matrix was designed to provide a structured approach for online instructors – critical but sometimes marginalized stakeholders – to become more involved in the continuous improvement of online courses. This paper describes the development of this tool and its application at an online university. An online instructor successfully spearheaded the improvement of an undergraduate course by using the tool to: identify instructional issues based on student feedback; examine the course content; and propose theoretically sound prescriptions for solving these instructional design issues. The authors propose that the use of Course Improvement Matrix and similar tools can help online institutions to leverage the knowledge and potential contribution of part-time instructors to support the design team’s effort to maintain online course quality.

Keywords: Online instructors , part-time instructors, course quality , online learning, higher education


Reflective Practice and Inquiry in Professional Development for Online Teaching
Susan Eliason and Christine L. Holmes

This article is a resource for those new to online professional development. It describes professional development training for faculty preparing to teach online. The primary focus of the training is on pedagogical rather than technical skills. This focus is central for encouraging reflection and inquiry to improve teaching practices. The discussion and summary of results provide an overview of the training and evidence of reflection and inquiry.

Keywords: Faculty development, online teaching and learning, assessment, student-centered learning,constructivism


A Case Study: Enhancing Critical Thinking Skills in an Online Health Care Ethics Course
Nicole Marcisz and Sandra Woien

This case study describes the journey of revising an online health care ethics course in an accelerated nursing program. The primary goal was to incorporat e additional opportunities for fostering critical thinking along with updating the course design to reflect the university’s standard of academic rigor . This required health care ethics course has been known to be challenging from the student’s perspective, due not only to the volume of the work involved, but also to the inclusion of sensitive topics that are addressed such as beginning of life issues and whistle-blowing. The revisions, constructed from student feedback, were aimed at stimulat ing critical thinking, providing spaces for reflection, and adding engaging activities that could solidify concept acquisition while reducing both redundancy and temptations to participate in academic dishonesty.

Keywords: critical thinking, engagement, reflection, Socratic Method, course revision, health care ethics, online teaching and learning


The Emergence of “Educational Networking”: Can Non-commercial, Education-based Social Networking Sites Really Address the Privacy and Safety Concerns of Educators?
Lori B. Holcomb, Kevin P. Brady, and Bethany V. Smith

As distance education continues to grow in its popularity, so does the use of social networking. Hindered by concerns associated with privacy and safety, social networking sites (SNSs) are frequently banned from educational settings. The following article presents the implementation of an alternative social networking site in distance education. Findings from this study highlight the benefits and drawbacks of using a safe and secure SNS in an educational setting. More specifically, this manuscript presents the educational value and gains that the use of SNSs can have in distance education.

Keywords: distance education, social networking, technology, online learning, privacy and safety concerns


Developing New Schemas for Online Teaching and Learning: TPACK
Cheryl L. Ward and Susan N. Kushner Benson

Online education has grown dramatically over the past decade, as have the technology applications that support these environments.  Although technology applications are an important consideration in online education, a comprehensive view of the online teaching and learning process is needed.  The TPACK (Technological, Pedagogical, Content Knowledge) framework explains the complex relationship between content, pedagogy and technology knowledge and how these knowledge domains intersect to create the new kinds of knowledge needed to support online teaching and learning.  Understanding TPACK may help instructors develop a new schema for transitioning from face-to-face to online teaching and learning. New schema development allows learners to incorporate new information and experiences into the framework of their pre-existing knowledge. Instructors can become more aware of the complexities of online course development, and they can realize the importance of developing competent consumers (learners). Institutions that provide time for individualized professional development, resources for initial course development, support for ongoing course modification, and systematic evaluation of learning outcomes facilitate the development of online instructors who use technology seamlessly to support content and pedagogy for 21 st Century Learners.

Keywords: technological pedagogical content knowledge, TPACK, technocentric, e-learning, faculty professional development, online learning


A Model for Developing Multimedia Learning Projects
Brabara Frey and Jann Marie Sutton

The purpose of this position paper is to present novice faculty and designers with a succinct multimedia development guide based on a review of the literature and a Delphi technique with expert educators, designers, and programmers. After two rounds of review and feedback from a panel of experts, the following steps were identified to comprise a multimedia development model: (1) define the instructional goals, objectives, and audience, (2) review and investigate existing options, (3) determine format, budget, and timeline, (4) determine the content, activities, and assessment strategies, (5) develop evaluation strategies, criteria, and instruments to determine the effectiveness of the project, (6) develop the flowchart, site map, and/or storyboard, (7) develop a prototype, (8) perform a formative evaluation, (9) complete the design, and (10) perform a summative evaluation of product and process. These steps are demonstrated through the development of a specific multimedia project, an Architect’s Scale to measure distances.

Keywords: Cognitive load; Instructional design; Online learning; Learning objects; Computer-based projects


Exploring the Advantages of Blended Instruction at Community Colleges and Technical Schools
Laura Lloyd-Smith

Given recent economic instability, attendance at community colleges and technical schools is expected to increase. While many community colleges and some technical institutes have embraced online education, others might benefit greatly from the continued development and expansion of blended instruction which seeks to infuse Web-based technologies into the teaching and learning process. Blended delivery offers advantages for the institution and student body, maximizing classroom space and school resources while at the same time offering greater flexibility for adult students who often have multiple responsibilities outside of the school environment.

Keywords: blended instruction, distance education, hybrid courses, community colleges, technical schools


Digital Citizenship and Web 2.0 Tools
Reshan Richards

This concept paper explores citizenship in a digital age. The potential of Web 2.0 tools highlights the importance of educational institutions’ consideration of the use of these tools in school settings to promote citizenship at a time when students are already exposed to powerful online communication platforms. First, a description of three Web 2.0 tools, blogs, wikis, and online social networks, is provided. This is followed by an exploration of digital citizenship. Then, several cases in recent history where Web 2.0 tools played an important part in promoting democracy and social justice are examined. Finally, using a lens of digital citizenship, several instructional suggestions are provided for educators to help students experience and understand multiple layers of citizenship in a 21 st century technological landscape.

Keywords: Social justice, blogs, social networks, wikis, Twitter, democracy, K-12, Digital Citizenship and Web 2.0 Tools


Meeting the Challenges of Deaf Education Teacher Preparation: Innovative Practices in Online Learning
Chad E. Smith and Tamby Allman

Bond (2000) and Scheetz and Martin (2008) identified characteristics of effective teachers, and qualities of master teachers of the deaf. Combining those characteristics and qualities into a single teacher of the deaf training program allows for the creation of effective teachers of the deaf. Methods for applying the characteristics into teacher training courses in an online format are detailed. Included are suggestions for promoting effective learning strategies in online environments. By combining effective pedagogy and innovative technology, online learning can clearly be an effective tool for the delivery of teacher of the deaf training content.

Keywords: distance education, Web-based training, Internet, hearing impaired, technology training, educator, special education


Towards Best Practices in Online Learning and Teaching in Higher Education
Jared Keengwe and Terry T. Kidd

This article examines a review of literature related to online learning and teaching. The authors provide a brief historical perspective of online education as well as describe the unique aspects of online teaching and learning. The barriers to online teaching, the new faculty roles in online learning environments, and some implications for online learning and teaching are also provided. This article is intended to stimulate reflections on effective strategies to enhance faculty success in their transition from traditional pedagogical platforms to online learning and teaching.

Keywords: Online Learning; Online Education; Online Pedagogy; Technology Integration; Learning Environments; Faculty Support


A Top Ten List for Successful Online Courses
Richard J. Wagner, Jeff P. Vanevenhoven, and James Bronson

Many of us have been teaching online courses for several years. In that time we have learned what works and what doesn’t from a mix of hands-on-experience, fellow online faculty, platform specific training, and exposure to pedagogical research. While training and research have their value, we learned the most about preparing an effective online course from personal experience and working with our peers. When asked to prepare a presentation for new online faculty we sat down and pooled our knowledge with respect to course design and course management. The result of this collaborative session was a list of pragmatic practices required for a successful online course. While the list could be longer, and certainly doesn’t include all our favorite practices, we believe we have included those practices that are the key to success.

Keywords: course design, course management, online, module, training


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Last Modified : 2010/06/15