19th Annual Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference Las Vegas, Nevada, USA March 5, 2008

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1 19th Annual Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference Las Vegas, Nevada, USA March 5, 2008 Creating Online Learning Communities: A Cross Disciplinary Examination of Student Perceptions and Engagement Chris Street, CSU Fullerton, USA; Kristin Stang, CSU Fullerton, USA; Cynthia Gautreau, CSU Fullerton, USA; Hillary Kaplowitz, CSU Fullerton, USA About the MSIDT Online Program California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) offers an online Master s Degree in Instructional Design and Technology (MSIDT) as the first fully web-based online degree program for CSUF accredited by WASC in June, 2002 (http://msidt.fullerton.edu). This master s degree is designed for professionals who wish to further their skills and education in direct applications of instructional technology for teaching, learning and curriculum development. Currently the majority of students come from the business/corporate sector including automotive design, banking, insurance, biomedical, pharmaceutical, financial, and travel industries and are responsible for employee or client training or educational programs within the corporate setting. The program continues to be a success. Due to our shared commitment and working experience as an interdisciplinary TEAM of faculty (both on and off campus) for over 5 years now, it was part of our philosophy to establish a community of learners to help solidify the program and provide a unique learning experience for our students in a online environment. Purpose The purpose of this study was to analyze the characteristics of two online learning communities from the perspectives of 35 adult learners, all of whom were taking online courses in two different graduate programs in a College of Education. (Due to limited data from students in one of the courses, only the data from the IDT course were used for this researh poster.) The Students gender Valid male female

2 gender Valid male female Total Ethnicity Valid Caucasian Asian American Other Latino/a Total Degree Valid Bachelors Masters Other Total K16teach Valid yes no

3 K16teach Valid yes no Total Theoretical Framework The creation of an online learning community serves as the foundation for a successful learning environment (Palloff & Pratt, 1999). Brown (2001) has emphasized that students can overcome feelings of being alone when they support one another in a community of learners. Moreover, the feeling of connection to the learning community is especially important because students who feel connected to learning communities often place a higher priority on the class and spend more time devoted to course content (Brown, 2001). Communities of practice develop over time, evolving and reshaping themselves according to the needs of the learners who comprise them (Squire & Johnson, 2000; Wenger, 1998). Roger s (2000) work demonstrates that Wenger s (1998) core concepts of mutual engagement, joint enterprise, and shared repertoire are present in effective online learning communities. Rovai (2001) identifies four components of classroom community while Palloff and Pratt (1999) highlight other stages in the development of online learning communities. What is significant in both of these stage models of community development is the fact that these virtual communities do indeed develop over time (Davenport & Hall, 2002; Johnson, 2001). Moreover, research suggests that while community cannot be mandated, it can be nurtured by instructors who maintain the goal of developing a sense of community within their online classes. But as Schwier (2001) proposes, doing so requires instructors to actively support the natural development of relationships (p. 6) within these learning communities. As students acquire the ways of being members of a virtual community, they are learning the ways to enter a distinctive community of practitioners. As students learn and come to see themselves as full members of this community, their changing knowledge, skill, and discourse are part of a developing identity (Lave & Wenger, 1991, p. 122). Without this changing identity, students lack a firm sense of themselves as members of communities. Since Lave and Wenger link identity/membership and motivation, it would appear that students who see themselves as lacking membership may take isolationistist stances common among disaffected learners. By contrast, if students see their learning activities as being part of an accepted learning community, then the motivation to sustain and enhance that community may well cause students to value and contribute to their newly found identity. As such, they will likely begin to identify with other learners, thus adding to the learning community in productive ways. Learning in virtual communities is a complex process; as such, the ability to work within a community of learners allows students a means to test, examine, and clarify the many ideas and conceptions they bring with them to the online classroom. Moreover, an open environment allows students to gain access to the craft knowledge and the thinking processes of their more experienced peers and teachers. Thus, a successful learning community enables students to reexamine preconceived notions of what it means to be a student in the context of a supportive environment. In the view of Lave and Wenger (1991), online learning communities might be considered as providing the social settings in which situated social practices are enacted. These situated social practices are crucial to understanding the learning processes of highly valued skills and knowledge. Methods A mixed-methods research design was used in this study (Creswell, 2003). Quantitative data included responses from a pre and post survey. Demographic information and likert responses were collected and analyzed quantitatively. Descriptive statistics, including response frequency and mean response, were calculated to describe the data. In addition, a paired samples t-test was run to see if any significant differences existed between the pre and post responses both within courses and between courses.

4 The qualitative data sources included several naturally occurring artifacts that were created by students in both courses under study (online discussion board postings, course papers, midpoint and final reflections, class assignments, etc.). Patterns in how the students developed online learning communities were examined. Qualitative data collected throughout the study was analyzed using a variety of qualitative methodologies recommended by Lincoln and Guba (1985), including emergent category designation (Erlandson, Harris, Skipper, & Allen, 1993). Limitations Firstly, this was a semester long study; therefore, it only captured students in this phase of their professional development. Secondly, this small group of participants was not representative of teachers/trainers as a whole, but this sample does provide an initial examination of the development of online learning communities. Finally, the participants were selected due to convenience, all being members of the graduate course. (Due to limited data from students in one of the courses, only the data from the IDT course were used for this researh poster.) Conclusions Currently, no universally accepted definition or agreed upon set of rules or procedures for constructing an online learning community at the graduate level exists. However, this study reveals several significant factors that facilitated community development in this online graduate course. Question: Collaborative and small group work was more important in this online course when compared to a face-to-face course. 7 6 Number of Students PreCourse Evaluation PostCourse Evaluation 0 Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree Responses

5 Question: My colleagues in this class contributed more to this online learning environment than they would in a face-to-face class Number of Students PreCourse Evaluation PostCourse Evaluation 0 Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree

6 Question: During this online course, I felt connected with others in this class. Student Responses PreCourse Evaluation PostCourse Evaluation 0 Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree

7 Question: If provided with a choice, I would rather take this class as an online course rather than as a face-to-face course. Student Responses PreCourse Evaluation PostCourse Evaluation 0 Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree Qualitative Themes The sense of community that developed was greatly appreciated by the students in the course. Students learned from one another and appreciated the additional additional resources and perspectives brought by the various students in the class. The discussion board was the primary community building tool in the course. It was also where the majority of the teaching and learning occurred. The cohort model was a major factor in the development of this online learning community. The programmatic structure of this online program facilitated the sense of an online learning community. The active participation by the instructor was appreciated by the students and helped to forge a sense of an online learning community.

8 Student expectations regarding the work load and time needed to complete this program were naïve. The students reported that the time and work commitments for this course (and program) were at least on par with those in traditional face to face programs. References Brown, R.E. (2001). The process of community-building in distance learning classes. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 5(2), Creswell, J. W. (2003) Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (2 nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Davenport, E., & Hall, H. (2002). Organizational knowledge and communities of practice. Annual review of information science and technology. 36, Erlandson, D.A., Harris, E.L, Skipper, B.L., & Allen, SD. (1993). Doing naturalistic inquiry. Newberry Park, CA: SAGE Publications. Garrison, D.R. and Anderson, T. (2003). E-learning in the 21 st century: A framework for research and practice. New York: Routedge/Falmer. Johnson, C. (2001). A survey of current research on online communities of practice. Pergamon: The Internet and Higher Education. 4, Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. New York: Cambridge University Press. Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E. G. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage. Maki, R., Maki, W., Patterson, M. & Whitaker, P. (2000). Evaluation of a web-based introductory psychology course: Learning and satisfaction in on-line versus lecture courses. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments and Computers, 32, Palloff, R.M., & Pratt, K. (1999). Building learning communities in cyberspace: Effective strategies for the online classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers. Palloff, R., & Pratt, K. (2003). The virtual student: A profile and guide to working with online learners. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Rogers, J. (2000). Communities of practice: A framework for fostering coherence in virtual learning communities. Educational Technology & Society, 3(3), Available Online at: Rovai, A. P. (2001). Building classroom community at a distance: A case study. Educational technology research and development. 49(4), Schwier, R. (2001). Catalysts, emphases, and elements of virtual learning communities: Implications for research and practice. The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 2(1), pp Squire, K., & Johnson, C. (2000). Supporting distributed communities of practice with interactive television. Educational Technology Research and Development, 48(1),

9 Tolmie, A. & Boyle, J. (2000). Factors influencing the success of computer-mediated communication (CMC) environments in university teaching: A review and case study. Computers and Education, 34(2), Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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