More Reading around the Virtual Classroom Environment

Karaman, S., Aydemir, M., Kucuk, S., & Yildirim, G. (2013). Virtual classroom participants’ views for effective synchronous education process. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education, 14(1), 290-301. Retrieved from http://tojde.anadolu.edu.tr/tojde50/index.htm

Description:

In this case study, 20 participants associated with a theology degree programme were interviewed about their virtual classroom (VC) experiences. The aim of the study was to identify the key components that make the VC environment and teaching and learning methods effective.

In this study the common features of the VC included file presentation and screen sharing, chat, audio and video conversation, and whiteboard capabilities. All the VC sessions were supported by technical staff, who installed video and audio materials prior to the sessions and supported the instructor throughout the lesson. All sessions were recorded and subsequently published for students by technical staff.

Analysis of the interviews identified four aspects of the VC environment that were essential to success. Different communication formats were important for interaction between instructor and student, especially for motivation and when clarification was required. The lack of technical stability and technical problems diminished effectiveness, and motivation was linked to the amount and immediacy of technical support. Scheduling of classes must suit students and instructors noted that the typical one-hour classes were not long enough. Finally, students were more motivated when different learning materials from those on their Learning Management System were used, and in different formats. Students wanted video summaries and problems to solve.

The other key component to success is teaching method. Active participation, through questioning techniques as well as problem solving, was an effective motivator. However, some participants wanted specific times for questions so as not to disrupt flow. Even though online, the instructor should express enthusiasm through voice and body movements but should not engage students in ways that could be distracting to others. The material should be related to real-life issues and situations wherever possible to increase motivation. The degree to which the students are prepared before the lesson (ie. previewed the reading material) greatly affects engagement in the VC session.

Evaluation:

Semi-structured interviews were conducted with only 20 participants (8 instructors, 10 students and 2 technical staff), which reduces the ability to generalise the findings. Another limitation was that participants all came from one programme. The focus on the VC teaching environment and methods has identified keys concerns for both instructors and students, as well as highlighting the importance of comprehensive and timely technical support. While the article was light on detail, the qualitative interview approach gives me some insight into the thoughts and feelings of those involved in VC instruction.

Reading Around Research Topic (Annotated Bibliography)

Hawkins, A., Graham, C. R., & Barbour, M. K. (2012). “Everybody is their own Island”: Teacher disconnection in a virtual school.The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 13(2), 123-144.

Description:

The authors note that a factor in the growth of synchronous online learning in the US is recent research that online instruction is as effective as face-to-face learning. Hawkins, Graham and Barbour acknowledge that the online environment requires new teacher roles, responsibilities, and teaching and learning strategies. In their study, teachers had to assume greater managerial and technical roles to solve problems and encourage participation. Constant feedback was central to student motivation. In addition, teachers had the added pressure of facilitating the social environment as well.

The research explored the experiences and perceptions of teachers at Utah’s Electronic High school (EHS). They had access to a wide range of personal development opportunities, including multiple face-to-face workshops and online webinars. A major theme that emerged was disconnection from students. The absence of physical cues and lack of responsiveness meant teachers found it difficult to gauge the level of understanding. It was also difficult to “reach out and engage” the students (p. 133). In addition, teachers at EHS tended to limit social interactions as they saw them as a distraction and not something the students actually want. Somewhat contradictorily, they also often struggled to build a rapport with students, which sometimes led to student disengagement.

Another finding was that teachers felt disconnected from the traditional role of teacher and “more like someone standing on the sidelines ready to offer support when asked” (p. 137). They felt frustration that they connected with the content but not with the individual students. They also felt disconnected from their teaching colleagues as they were less accessible if not a close physical community. They concluded that new ways need to be established for sharing best practice.

Evaluation:

This is a well-structured research article written in an international refereed e-journal. The case study was based at secondary level rather than a tertiary environment, which limits the generability of the findings. In addition, there was little distinction between synchronous and non-synchronous environments. Some of the findings were paradoxical or contradictory, in that teachers felt frustrated at the level of contact with individuals yet tended to limit the degree of social interaction. However, there were also some interesting findings around the level of disconnection that teachers feel with online learning that would also be relevant in my tertiary context.

Something that could be useful when implementing an online teaching innovation is the Community of Inquiry (COI) framework to articulate the importance of teacher presence, cognitive presence and social presence. For effective online learning, the quality of teacher-student interactions is measured through clear expectations, group collaboration, productive discourse, and meaningful feedback.

The Technology Acceptance Model (TAM)

Chuttur, M. (2009). Overview of the technology acceptance model: Origins, developments and future directions. Sprouts: Working Paperson Information Systems, 9(37). Retrieved from http://sprouts.aisnet.org/9-37

Description:

This article outlines the development of the Technology acceptance Model (TAM), proposed by Fred Davis in 1985. Initially, the TAM identified two main determinants of technology adoption by users; perceived usefulness (PU) and perceived ease of use (PEOU). Davis used psychometric likert scales that were context focused to assess these two determinants at three stages; pretesting, an empirical field study and a laboratory experiment. Davis and later researchers found that perceived usefulness had the greatest influence on the intention to adopt a technology.

Later changes to the TAM included the consideration of external variables, such as the nature of user training and the implementation process, as further refinements. Antecedent factors were also taken into consideration, such as general belief systems about computers and adjustments that occur from experiences with the technology being introduced.

Criticisms of the TAM include that self-reported use data in controlled environments has been used in most research, therefore is subjective and may not reflect usefulness in real world situations. Other research found contrasting results when the new technology use was mandatory rather than voluntary. Bagozzi (as cited in Chuttur) questioned the theoretical strength of the link between intention to use a technology and the actual behaviour, based predominantly on PU and PEOU. He also questioned the usefulness of theorising about intentions to understand behaviour patterns.

Evaluation:I’m not sure whether the TAM would be very useful in my context, and in fact, I find it quite confusing. While it might be useful to predict behaviour patterns, the focus on perceived use and perceived ease of use may not identify other important factors that influence behaviour. The TAM does not seem to consider the process of innovation adoption and all the factors and concerns that may arise at different stages. From what I have read, there also seems to be limited attention paid to practical strategies that address concerns and behaviours as they occur. So what it does do, is highlight more clearly for me the usefulness of concerns-based models.

More on CBAM – Learning Adoption Trajectory Model (LAT)

Sherry, L., & Gibson, D. (2002). The path to teacher leadership in educational technology. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education 2(2), 178-203.

Description

According to the Learning Adoption Trajectory Model (LAT), teachers progress through five distinct stages as they move along the path from learning about a technology to becoming leaders in its use and diffusion in schools. In stage one, the teacher is learning about the technology and requires training and support in understanding the skills and pedagogical purpose of the technology. In stage two, teacher as adopter, teachers trial and share experiences of using the technology in their teaching, requiring ongoing technical support and mentoring. The authors note that, unfortunately, many schools fail to provide training and support to develop teachers beyond this stage.

When they become expert learners at stage three, called teacher as colearner, they are concerned with developing the tool to improve its use and effectiveness in the curriculum. The authors note that this requires a necessary shift in the teacher’s perspective on the ability of technology to enhance teaching and learning. In the progression to stage four, teacher as affirmer or rejecter, the teacher makes a conscious decision to observe and analyse the impact of the technology on student engagement and performance. Alternatively, teachers may consciously reject the tool if they perceive negatives, such as increased workload, outweigh the positives. The final stage five sees the teacher as leader, empirically observing and reporting teaching with the technology and sharing their knowledge and skills with others.

The Learning Adoption Trajectory Model (LAT) demonstrates similarities to Davis’s Arena of change in that it acknowledges “embedded [social] systems” at different levels including external “change facilitators” (p. 180). The authors note the importance of a connected community, where the successful adoption of a learning technology depends upon providing mutual benefits across different areas. For example, if the institution provides professional development time and opportunities to teacher adopters, they in turn may provide peer leadership and mentoring to others.

Evaluation

The LAT model provides a relevant and clear shopping list of strategies necessary for the diffusion of technologies in teaching. The descriptions of strategies are a little simplistic, not addressing how the implementation is achieved. Nevertheless, it is a useful model for identifying what supports need to be in place to stimulate teachers’ adoption of technology use. I found it interesting to note the emphasis on the convergence of resources at an appropriate level and to appropriate persons. In my context of developing online teaching capabilities, it may be important to concentrate professional development resources on those advisors whom we identify as potential leaders.

Annotated Bibliography – Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM)

Evans, L., & Chauvin, S. (1993). Faculty developers as change facilitators: The Concerns-Based Adoption Model.To Improve the Academy, (Paper 278). Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/podimproveacad/278

Description:

The Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM) is a framework for assessing the impact an innovation has on all individuals involved. It is very individual focused, addressing the thoughts, feelings and concerns an individual has at different stages in the process of innovation adoption and the changes it brings over a period of time. It identifies seven stages of concern, from finding out about a technological innovation at the beginning of the process to needs once the technology is well established. It uses a questionnaire to find out what stage an individual is at and the feelings and concerns they have.

This allows for relevant strategies and interventions that target the needs of individuals, who may not all be at the same stage. It has important professional development implications. Also, as individuals begin to use and resolve their personal concerns with the technology, other concerns may occur around workload, sharing resources and measuring impact that involve interventions from wider management and institutional groups.

Evaluation:

I think looking at the concerns – the thoughts and feelings – that people who are using the tool is very important in my context, because advisors are being asked to adopt and use a technology that is chosen by management (ie. people in the stands), not initiated by themselves. Understanding their personal feelings and attitudes is important to successful adoption. Because we focus on the ‘just in time’ approach to teaching academic skills, the implementation is likely to be sporadic. Therefore advisors are likely to be at different stages of adoption with different concerns. The impact and concerns of students can also be taken into account.

Also, because an online teaching tool like Adobe Connect has a range of affordances to encourage engagement and interaction, it will be relevant to identify the level of use by teachers, that is, whether it is being used in a very perfunctory way to deliver information, or whether it is being used to maximum effect to encourage student participation.

Bibliography entry – Davis

Davis, N. (2008). How may teacher learning be promoted for educational renewal with it? In J. Voogt and G. Knezek (Eds.), International Handbook of Information Technology in Primary and Secondary Education (pp. 507–520). Amsterdam, Netherlands: Springer.

Description

Technology is changing the ability to access information and way it is used, therefore is a catalyst for change in 21st century education. Davis takes an ecological perspective to change in education due to technology, identifying a series of nested ecosystems from the global perspective to the classroom. She has mapped a number of categories that influence the change in education due to technology, namely “commercial, political, bureaucratic and professional” influences (Davis, 2008, p. 509).

At the global level, change in education due to technology adoption in one country can influence change in other countries. Multi-national technology companies can influence what goes on in the classroom through their commercial operations and own educational needs. According to Davis, technology corporations can influence governments to develop strategic visions and plans for the utilisation of technology in education, resulting in benefits for all. Davis also identifies change at regional level as educational organisations utilise technologies and collaborate to connect classrooms and share resources.

Within the school, Davis talks of the “keystone species”, those people who most disrupt the traditional classroom practice through the introduction of technology. Davis contends that technology adoption starts with the teachers with outward stimulation to adoption by other teachers until integration is achieved. The degree to which that integration is achieved depends upon support (eg. opportunities to explore and training) and, if the school has a strategic plan, change is more effective. It also depends upon the level of IT coordination with people in that area of responsibility having the ability “to spread or retard innovation” (p. 513).

At the classroom level, IT adoption will occur if the teacher identifies a personal need that technology can address. In many cases the teacher is the leader of pedagogical innovation with technology. Its adoption and evolution depends on two factors; teacher as advocate for change and the characteristics of the technology itself, for example its complexity. Ultimately, the article’s purpose is to show that there are many variables in the diffusion of technology in education and it is a complex issue.

Evaluation

Davis talks about the problem of equitable access to resources in education. Utilising technology in online learning is an attempt to provide flexible, equitable learning opportunities. However, in my context it can potentially lead to inequitable situations as face-to-face students generally have access to more academic support than distance students. It is important that student support services like Learning Services ‘catch up’ to find ways to meet the needs of this growing cohort of students.

I can identify CPIT as having reached the mature stage where the institution has a strategic plan to transform educational practice and further embed IT into teaching pedagogy with the creation of dedicated ‘technology-enhanced’ learning spaces, and in its partnership with other tertiary institutions to extend the programmes delivered, both face-to-face and online.

The article helped me identify that IT coordination is very formal at CPIT, with a steering group that brings together IT experts, managers and educational developers. Certainly individual tutors, as the ‘keystone species’ can introduce IT innovations but it is also true that adoption is controlled by that ‘IT coordination’ group. A recent example of that was the work done in my department to develop a database to improve our reporting capability, only to be told it would not be supported by IT itself. Without that support, it can never get off the ground.

Research topic – initial thoughts

It’s at this time of year that I most miss secondary school teaching. While others rejoice in two weeks holiday, I’m still fronting up at the office at 8am, often covering for colleagues who have taken time off with their young children. Or maybe I’m just lamenting the fact my two teenage boys would rather stay home and spend time with their mates than have a holiday away with their less-cool parents (am reluctant to admit to being totally uncool yet). OK, enough self-flagellation of the ego…

It’s proving a difficult process to hone in on a research topic and some of that has to do with the dual expectations of also orientating myself to the structure of the course and new technologies. However, I’ve found the shared forum on research ideas invaluable for understanding that the focus is on change in education as a result of the implementation of technologies. To me that means focusing on whether a digital technology intervention results in improved learning outcomes and how it is achieved. That’s not just the affordances of the technology itself but how it alters teaching and learning practices.

I’m the coordinator of Learning Services at CPIT, so my own teaching and learning context is providing tertiary students with the academic literacies and support to pass their courses and become independent learners. In narrowing down possible topics, I’m aware that technology is playing an increasingly important role in how we support ‘struggling’ students. A limited staffing resource and increasing numbers of blended and distance courses means that we need to develop an online presence and digital resources. In addition, some students struggle through their programmes due to specific learning disabilities and we need to support them the best way we can.

So, there are two relevant research areas of focus for me that only some wider reading can further clarify:

1. the effectiveness of online resources as a means of meeting students’ academic literacy needs
2. the impact of digital technologies in enhancing the learning of students with dyslexia

I don’t know if two are allowed but I feel I need to do further reading before finalising the topic.
Question: Do we reference the sources as retrieved electronically if they come from the course Moodle site?

Annotated Bibliographies

Hughes, J. A. (2004). Supporting the online learner. In T. Anderson & F. Elloumi (Eds.), Theory and Practice of Online Learning (Ch. 15, pp. 367-384). Athabasca, Canada: Athabasca University.

Description:
This chapter focuses on the importance of a supportive online learning environment. In order to ensure student success, educators must know the learners in order to identify their needs. That knowledge includes their students’ language, cultural, literacy and digital readiness for online learning. The chapter then focuses on the resources that should be put in place to support the learner, from administrative and technological support to academic support in the form of study resources and asynchronous “online educational counselling.” The chapter finishes with a case study outlining the lessons learnt in developing an online degree programme by a consortium of universities.

Evaluation:
The book is published by a reputable university and the author has doctorate level educational qualifications. A useful section on study skills assistance identified both the type of resources students require and the tools for facilitating communication with expert mentors and peers. In particular, what Hughes calls educational counselling, I understand as the need to provide asynchronous online academic support when an intervention is required.

Schwartz, L. M. (2004). Technical evaluation report 2: Using internet audio to enhance online accessibility. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning 5(2), 1-7.

Description:
This article addresses the accessibility of online content to persons with any form of disability. In particular, it explains the benefits of the Voice-over Internet Protocol medium (VOIP) that enables the digital transmission of speech and other types of digital data over the Internet. It facilitates the use of speech-to-text and text-to-speech conversion which benefits persons with disabilities, including dyslexia. The article identifies a number of barriers to such a protocol, such as requiring additional assistive hardware, and interoperability with different operating systems and network providers.

Evaluation:
The article is peer-reviewed before being published in a refereed e-journal. The content focuses on the technical aspects and issues of VOIP, therefore is of limited relevance in answering my research question on the impact of the technology on learning for students with dyslexia. I also think that many of the technical issues raised around the implementation of VOIP may have been solved in the intervening years since publication. That said, the article has identified that audio digital technologies do supports students with learning disabilities, an aspect that requires further investigation.