Ready to Teach Online?: A Continuum Approach

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1 Ready to Teach Online?: A Continuum Approach Raejean C. Young Program Coordinator/Adjunct Instructor, Department of Adult Education Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis Mary A. Chamberlin Director, Division of Educational Options Indiana Department of Education Teaching online doesn t mean what it used to. It has moved from generally being considered an avenue for self-paced, independent learning to including blended instruction and the virtual classroom. There are now many options for organizing online instruction and supporting online learning, both synchronously and asynchronously, and for combining online with face-to-face in a blended format. With these changes, opportunities have opened for those who may have previously thought that online teaching was not a viable option. This paper discusses the continuum of blended learning options and the development and pilot testing of a questionnaire to assist instructors in assessing where on the continuum may best fit their instructional needs and preferences. The Blended Learning Continuum The basis of the continuum described here is a 2004 Sloan Foundation report that defined blended learning having between 30%-80% of the learning experience online and the remaining percentage in face-to-face delivery. Courses that had between 1%-30% online were defined as Web facilitated, and courses with 80%-100% online were defined as online. Web facilitated courses use Web-based technology to enhance the essentially face-to-face course, while online courses typically have no or only very rare face-to-face meetings (Allen & Seaman, 2004). The following interaction-based continuum provides a visual framework for thinking about blending online and face-to-face learning. The top and bottom tracks differentiate between strategies that revolve around learner-learner interaction and those that focus on independent learners interacting with content. The two main points of this framework are that (a) blended instruction can be implemented at a variety of levels; and (b) when you move from faceto-face toward completely distance-based there are two tracks you can take based on the quantity and type of interaction. Figure 1. A Continuum of Blended Learning and The Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning 1

2 Table 1. A Continuum of Blended Learning Defined Environment Continuum Location Definition Face-to-Face "Supplementing" face-to-face instruction supplemented with online instructional materials. Independent Learning Environment Interactive Learning Environment "Parallel Play" "Oriented Self-Study" "Traditional Self-Study" "Self-Directed Self- Study" "Small-Scale Blending" "Moderate to Substantial Blending" "Virtual Classroom" learners using self-study online materials in a classroom setting with instructor facilitation online instructional materials supplemented with a group orientation and/or wrap-up and occasional instructor/student interaction online instructional materials supplemented with occasional instructor/student interaction completely self-study using online instructional materials with no facilitation or interaction face-to-face group instruction supplemented with online group interaction and instructional materials online group interaction and instructional materials occasionally supplemented with face-to-face group instruction online group interaction and instructional materials with no scheduled face-to-face meetings The independent learning environment includes such possible scenarios such as: a group orientation (which could be face-to-face, teleconference, or videoconference) comprises all of the learner-learner interaction in the course; learner-instructor interaction provides minimal, as-needed, support for selfpaced, self-learning; or a completely independent learner completing a tutorial for a software program. In the interactive learning environment, the possible scenarios tend to focus on a gradual shift from a situation where online interaction supports face-to-face interaction to one where face-to-face interaction supports online interaction or is eliminated completely. However the combination is made, Garrison and Kanuka (2004) pointed out that the real test of blended learning is the effective integration of the two main components such that we are not just adding on to the existing dominant approach or method (p. 96). Several researchers and organizations have developed e-learning readiness questionnaires for students to take before they participate in e-learning. These questionnaires tend focus on the top track of the blended learning continuum the Independent Learning Environment and those not considered self-directed, independent learners were often steered away from e-learning experiences. To this point, very few questionnaires have been designed to help teachers understand their readiness for online teaching. With the continuum of blended learning opportunities, readiness questionnaires (as well as educators, students, institutions, and organizations) must recognize that there are different options for different learners and instructors with their associated strengths and weaknesses. Instructor Readiness for Teaching in a Blended Environment The use of blended learning can help instructors enhance learning, recognize the diverse needs of students, and support more independent learners, however it is important that instructors understand the potentially transformative nature of blended learning (Sammons, 2003). Instructors should recognize that their style of instruction, communication skills, level of adaptability, and their views of learning in general can impact which positions on the continuum are more comfortable and effective for them. Additionally, it is important for instructors to consider the demands of the different blended and fully and The Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning 2

3 online settings, including the need for time management and organization, certain technological skills, and the ability to collaborate online. For this project we isolated three categories based on current research related to factors important to success in online and blended teaching: technology, affect, and course design. Technological Factors The few existing questionnaires regarding teaching online tended to begin and end with access to, support for, and efficacy with technology. It is certainly true that in any blended learning environment, teachers and students need to be able to use technology and adapt to difficulties that may arise. Instructors must have sufficient capabilities to implement the technology and effectively integrate it into the course. Instructors who have never before worked in blended or fully online environments may not be familiar with the most appropriate ways to integrate technology (Maguire, 2005) and may not consider themselves a good candidate for teaching partially or fully online but there are other factors to consider in addition to technology efficacy that can outweigh shortcomings in that area and provide motivation to pursue training and mentoring to increase efficacy. Affective Factors There are four factors related to instructor success in this area. The first is flexibility in designing and implementing the course. Instructors must be able to adapt to both technological and learner difficulties and take advantage of the improvements technology changes may offer. The second is the level of organization preferred in a course. Face-to-face courses offer more opportunities for spontaneity where online, asynchronous courses (especially in independent learning environments) require much higher levels of up-front organization. The third is the level of interaction preferred in a course. Instructors that consider face-to-face interaction very important may be less comfortable in a more fully online class than one who believes it is possible for productive and satisfying interaction to occur online. The final factor is self-efficacy as a teacher. Teaching in such a different manner than they have previously and using technology with which they may not be completely comfortable is a risk. Higher self-efficacy can make that risk more manageable. Teachers must be confident enough in their own abilities to change roles, moving constantly from instructor, to facilitator, to moderator, and even to learner (Sammons, 2003). Course Design and Pedagogical Factors Some view blended learning as a way of encouraging learner-centeredness and allowing learners to construct knowledge in the way that is most appropriate for them (Ausburn, 2004). Others view it as a way to enhance instruction and make material interesting, up-to-the-minute, and relevant for learners, especially busy adult learners (Kerres & DeWitt, 2003) with the use of technology (such as real-world cases, simulations, or conversations with experts) in combination with traditional face-to-face instruction. The four factors that were chosen here relating to course design and instructor readiness begin with the question of time. How does the instructor prefer to organize time in the course and how much time are they willing to devote to interaction within an online environment? The second factor is feedback. Teachers must ensure be able to manage the ways in which feedback will be given to students, as well as the frequency with which feedback will be given. Often in the online or blended environment, students may expect constant and immediate feedback (just like they would receive in the fully face-to-face setting), which may not be feasible for instructors. Thirdly, instructors must be able to facilitate the class in such a way that students are encouraged to participate and collaborate, so that they are not reliant on the teacher to instigate every collaborative experience (Oren, Mioduser, & Nachmias, 2002). Finally, the ability to design a course that is relevant to the needs and life experiences of the learners becomes more vital as the course progresses along the and The Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning 3

4 continuum toward the fully online end. Entertaining presentations and social interaction can mitigate lack of relevant learning activities to keep learners engaged in more face-to-face classes but less so in online (especially independent) classes. Questionnaire Development and Pilot Testing Methodology The questionnaire was developed by examining existing online learning readiness questionnaires as well as the literature on factors related to instructional success in fully online and blended learning settings. Additionally, questions were solicited from practitioners working in various areas along the blended learning continuum. Questions were intended to be related to the identified factors that are related to success in the various settings. The survey creators discussed various questions for perceived validity, clarity, and reliability before the surveys were posted and administered. The 25-question pilot was administered to 59 purposefully selected respondents from higher education and corporate training settings. Respondents were selected based on their prior experience with online teaching. Three demographic questions were asked to determine the breakdown of settings in which respondents work and to determine level of support for teaching online and previous experience as an online learner. In addition, respondents were asked to choose which type of setting in which they preferred to teach from the options of: Group 1) interactive, fully online classes/training programs (8.47%); Group 2) design selfpaced online classes and/or work on-on-one with independent learners (5.08%); Group 3) blended classes/training programs where some face-to-face time is replaced with online activities (28.81%); and Group 4) face-to-face classes/training programs (57.63%);. Based on their responses to this question, they were asked an additional 5 questions that were purposefully selected for each preference. All respondents were then asked 16 questions about the factors described above. Participants were asked to answer based on a 5-item Likert scale: strongly agree, agree, undecided, disagree, and strongly disagree. Overall reliability for the 16 questions asked to all respondents yielded a Cronbach-alpha value of.793, higher than the.70 generally acceptable by social science standards. Corrected item-total correlations for 14 of the 16 questions were.35 or higher. Two questions yielded lower corrected item-total correlations and may need to be eliminated from future variations of the survey. Table 2 shows average scores for each group broken down by question type with the two lower yielding questions removed. Table 2. Average Scores for Each Group by Question Type Preference Tech Support Tech Access Tech Efficacy Selfefficacy Course design Overall Score Group Group Group Group Not surprisingly, Group 4, which prefers face-to-face teaching, reported the lowest levels of access to technology and efficacy with technology. Interestingly, they also reported the highest levels of support for using technology, which may mean that they recognize that they are being encouraged to try teaching online. Group 1, who prefers fully online and interactive courses, reported fairly low levels of support for using technology and access to technology. This group may have higher levels of experience using a wider variety of technology, and thus may feel that support and access for more advanced types of technology are lacking. Higher levels of experience and comfort using more advanced technology is supported by the group s average score of 3.21 on question 11 ( I am comfortable using more advanced technology. ), the highest average score of all groups. Group 3, who prefers teaching blended courses, and The Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning 4

5 scored the highest overall, which may be a result of the fact that this group is most likely to have experience teaching in various settings, including fully online and fully face-to-face settings. Future Directions While this questionnaire is still in the development phase, it is possible that, once it is further tested and refined, it could be used to inform corporations, institutions of higher education, and eventually, perhaps even K-12 education about the readiness of instructors for blended and fully online education. Individual instructors could use it as a starting point for investigating new options for their teaching. Educational institutions could use the results of the questionnaire to help understand the support needs of their instructors and provide resources to help them ready themselves to teach in other settings. References Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2004). Entering the mainstream: The quality and extent of online education in the United States, 2003 and Needham, MA: Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Ausburn, L. (2004). Course design elements most valued by adult learners in blended online education environments: An American perspective. Educational Media International, 41(4), Garrison, D. R., & Kanuka, H. (2004). Blended learning: Uncovering its transformative potential in higher education. Internet and Higher Education, 7, Kerres, M. & DeWitt, C. (2003). A didactical framework for the design of blended learning arrangements. Journal of Educational Media, 28(2-3), Maguire, L. (2005). Literature review: Faculty participation in online distance education: Barriers and motivators. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 8(1), Spring Oren, A., Mioduser, D., & Nachmias, R. (2002). The development of social climate in virtual learning discussion groups. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, April Sammons, M. (2003). Exploring the new connection of teaching and learning in distance education. In Moore & Anderson (Eds.), Handbook of Distance Education (pp ). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. Biographical Sketches Raejean C. (Jeani) Young is the Program Coordinator and an Adjunct Instructor with the Department of Adult Education at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. She has an M.S. in Adult Education, an M.S.Ed. in Higher Education Administration, and is currently completing a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology at Indiana University, Bloomington. She has taught both face-to-face and online classes at the graduate and undergraduate levels as well as taken fully online and blended classes as a graduate student. Address: 620 Union Drive, #129D Indianapolis, IN URL: Phone: Fax: and The Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning 5

6 Mary A. (Molly) Chamberlin is the Director of the Division of Educational Options at the Indiana Department of Education. She oversees four program areas at the Department, including charter schools, the McKinney-Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youth program, alternative education programs, and Title I Supplemental Educational Services programs. She has a B.A. in liberal arts from Middlebury College, and an M.S. in Education from Indiana University. She is currently completing a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology at Indiana University, Bloomington Address: Room 229, State House Indianapolis, IN URL: Phone: Fax: and The Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning 6

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