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«A Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty Of Drexel University by Jory Andrew Hadsell in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of ...»

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The Online Instructional Dynamic: A Study of Community College Faculty

Teaching Online Courses and Their Perceptions of Barriers to Student Success

A Dissertation

Submitted to the Faculty

Of

Drexel University

by

Jory Andrew Hadsell

in partial fulfillment of the

requirements for the degree

of

Doctor of Education

December 2012

© Copyright 2012

Jory Andrew Hadsell. All Rights Reserved.

Abstract

The Online Instructional Dynamic: A Study of Community College Faculty Teaching Online Courses and Their Perceptions of Barriers to Student Success Jory Andrew Hadsell, Ed.D.

Drexel University, December 2012 Chairperson: W. Edward Bureau, Ph.D.

Online students at some California community colleges are experiencing lower success rates than their peers in face-to-face versions of the same courses. Insight into the forces shaping student success in online courses is needed to address such disparities.

The purpose of this study was to explore, in-depth, the lived experiences of faculty teaching courses online at a California community college to inform instructional practice so barriers to student success may be avoided. This online instructional dynamic is defined as the experiences surrounding instructor-student interaction, including factors impacted by the use of various technologies and instructional design approaches.

The following questions guided the study: 1) How do faculty perceive their interactions with students in an online course? 2) What instructional practices do faculty believe have a positive impact on student success in their courses? 3) Why do faculty members believe the identified instructional practices have positive impacts on student success? A phenomenological research design was employed. Participants consisted of eight community college faculty with significant teaching experience in online Math, English, or Business courses. Data were gathered via in-depth interviews, observation, iv and artifact analysis. A computerized qualitative analysis software program was used to code and analyze the data for emergent themes.

The study included five major findings: a) Challenges teaching in an online environment, b) Communication issues, c) Potential hindering factors for online students,

d) Overall perceptions of the online instructional dynamic, and e) Practices that promote engagement and success. Results of the study included: a) The online teaching model presents unique challenges for faculty, b) Communication challenges may hamper online effectiveness, c) Student population differences may make comparisons difficult between face-to-face and online, and d) Online teaching is both frustrating and enriching for faculty.

The study conclusions were: a) Challenges adapting technique and content to the online environment, b) Dominant communication strategies may lead to frustration, c) Student perceptions and attitudes may hinder success, d) Teaching online is both frustrating and rewarding, and e) Six identified practices faculty believe have positive impacts on student success. Recommendations for institutional leaders and further research are provided.

–  –  –

The creation of this research project and my travels along the pathway of researching, writing, and analysis have been the product of more than just myself. In fact, it has been a transformative project that has come to pass with the help of so many wonderful and talented people. In particular, I would like to thank my supervising professor, Dr. Ed Bureau, for being the guide on this journey. You were never afraid to let me wander off the path, knowing that I would learn something from it, and being there to help me re-focus when the time came. I will always owe you “the iceberg.” I would also like to thank Dr. Kathy Geller, whose critical eye, reminders of the “recursive process” and good humor helped me form the basis of this study so early on. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. Henry Burnett, whose perspective gained from his years of expertise as a leader in technology within California community colleges and the University of California strengthened the research.

In addition, I would be remiss if I did not thank Dr. Rhonda Rios Kravitz for the gentle nudges she gave me, encouraging me to pursue doctoral study and her unwavering personal and professional support and encouragement throughout this process. To my partner in crime, fellow technology guru, and a genuine speaker of truths—Melissa Green. You do not know how important your contributions have been, both in content and in spirit. You have reminded me that sometimes it is necessary to be disruptive, just as the sand must irritate the oyster to eventually produce a pearl.

Also, to those from my Drexel University doctoral cohort who have been with me every step of the way—we have encouraged one another while also providing the

–  –  –

next projects and new opportunities to collaborate.

To all of my family and friends who have put up with me as my nights and weekends were spent in solitude, thank you for tolerating me, bringing me nourishment when necessary, and encouraging me to keep going. Your thoughtfulness and support are appreciated.

Finally, I wish to thank the participants in this study, who willfully gave their time and their words to this research. It is through your experiences, your stories, and your vulnerabilities that you have given life and depth to this study. You are the true pioneers, and I hope my work brings honor to your voices and the important work you do every day for your students.





–  –  –

Abstract

LIST OF TABLES

LIST OF FIGURES

1. INTRODUCTION TO THE PROBLEM

Statement of the Problem to Be Researched

Purpose and Significance of the Problem

Research Questions

The Conceptual Framework

Definition of Terms

Assumptions, Limitations, and Delimitations

Summary

2. LITERATURE REVIEW

Introduction

Conceptual Framework

Literature Review

Summary

3. RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

Introduction

Site and Population

Research Design and Rationale

–  –  –

Ethical Considerations

4. FINDINGS, RESULTS, AND INTERPRETATIONS

Introduction

Findings

Results and Interpretations

Summary

5. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Introduction

Conclusions

Recommendations

Summary

LIST OF REFERENCES

APPENDIX A: INTERVIEW PROTOCOL

APPENDIX B: OBSERVATION PROTOCOL

APPENDIX C: ARTIFACT REVIEW PROTOCOL

APPENDIX D: INVITATION TO PARTICIPATE IN A QUALITATIVE

RESEARCH STUDY ABOUT ONLINE EDUCATION

–  –  –

1. SCC Online Course Success Rates (in %) by TOP Codes (Fall 2008)

2. Timeline for Data Analysis and Reporting

3. List of Single-word or Phrase Responses

–  –  –

1. Examining the online instructional dynamic

2. A conceptual framework of the online instructional dynamic

3. A conceptual framework of the online instructional dynamic

4. Simplified version of the Stevick-Colaizzi-Keen method

5. The stages of data collection

6. Findings and sub-findings of the study

7. Word cloud of single-word or phrase responses

–  –  –

This study focuses on understanding why community college students taking classes online in some disciplines experience lower success rates than their counterparts in face-to-face sections of the same course. A phenomenological approach is used to gain insight into the lived experiences of faculty teaching courses online, including identification of effective instructional practices and potential barriers to student success in the online learning environment. The goal of this study is to better inform institutional and individual faculty practices aimed at raising student success rates in online courses at community colleges. The research was conducted at Sacramento City College, one of four colleges within the Los Rios Community College District (LRCCD). The LRCCD is one of the largest community college districts in California and serves the greater capital region.

–  –  –

Online education is rapidly growing in prevalence within the higher education segment of the United States. Institutions across all segments of higher education are steadily shifting programs and enrollments toward a model in which online learning comprises a significant share of instruction. Advances in online technologies, personal connectivity, emerging systems of collaboration, and social networking tools are creating exciting opportunities for learning in the virtual space. The growth of online course offerings as a share of overall instruction has been phenomenal.

In California, the community college system, the largest system of higher education in the United States, with over 3.8 million students per year, has experienced a surge in the demand for online course offerings (California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office [CCCCO], 2010). Between the 2006-2008 academic years, California’s community colleges experienced a collective 17.57% growth rate for distance education (primarily online) courses, versus a rise of 3.26% in traditional oncampus courses during the same time period (CCCCO, 2009). This trend is not limited to the Golden State. In 2008, distance education courses comprised roughly 9% of all course credits in the Minnesota public higher education system. That same year, the state legislature approved an aggressive plan to offer 25% of all college credits via online learning by the year 2015 (Bonk, 2009).

The rapid growth of online education over the past decade has come with plenty of controversy and concern from the academic community. There have been calls for increased scrutiny of online courses and programs by critics, accreditors, and legislators concerned about instructional quality and rigor. Generally, concerns about online coursework tend to center around two primary issues: course completion and success rates.

This chapter begins with a statement of the problem to be researched, which is then framed by the study’s purpose, significance, and research questions. Then, as part of the conceptual framework for the study, the researcher’s own philosophical stances are outlined and his own experiences related to the topic are bracketed in order to set the stage for the phenomenological study. This conceptual framework also includes three synthesized streams of literature forming the basis for the study of the phenomenon.

These elements are followed by the definitions for key terms used in the study, along with a section outlining the assumptions, limitations, and delimitations of the study.

The chapter ends with a brief summary.

–  –  –

Within California’s community colleges, students taking online courses in some subject areas are experiencing lower success rates than their peers in face-to-face courses, and greater insight into the forces shaping student success in online courses is necessary for institutional leaders and faculty to address such disparities.

–  –  –

Purpose The purpose of this phenomenological study is to explore, in-depth, the lived experiences of faculty teaching courses online at a California community college in order to inform instructional practice so barriers to student success may be avoided. This online instructional dynamic is defined as the experiences surrounding instructor-student interaction in the online environment, including factors impacted by the use of various technologies and instructional design approaches. The various expectations, experiences, and general perceptions of individual faculty will be explored so approaches leading to broad achievement of student learning outcomes may be identified. Through this research, institutions of learning can become better equipped to support faculty-student interaction in ways that support student success in online courses, and individual faculty can better prepare themselves and their students for success in online courses.

Significance of the Problem Online learning has exploded onto the higher education scene, largely within the past decade. The rapid growth of this instructional modality has outpaced the ability of researchers to fully understand the implications of online learning across various student populations. In 2009, in what appears to have been an attempt to provide educators with insight into effectiveness of online learning, the U.S. Department of Education conducted a meta-analysis of 28 separate studies of online learning. The findings, embraced by proponents of online learning, indicated that learning outcomes in online courses were equivalent to or better than those in face-to-face courses (Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia, & Jones, 2009). The findings included that “on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction” (Means et al., 2009, p. ix).

The U.S. Department of Education report was criticized by some researchers, and in a separate review, Jaggars and Bailey (2010) conducted an independent analysis of these same studies but controlled for various factors which, in the researchers’ opinions, limited the broad applicability of several of the studies. For example, several of the studies included in the report did not use student populations enrolled in semester-length undergraduate or graduate courses. After tightening the criteria for inclusion of research studies in the analysis, the result was a narrowing from the 28 studies included by the U.S. Department of Education down to a meta-analysis of seven remaining studies.

Based on these studies, Jaggars and Bailey concluded there were no statistically significant differences in achievement of learning outcomes in online and face-to-face courses. However, they did find that underprepared and lower-income students, many of whom study at community colleges, may struggle to succeed in fully online courses.



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