Friday, March 11, 2011

11. Class Sizes and Teaching Load in Online Learning

The Impact of Online Teaching on Faculty Load: Computing the Ideal Class Size for Online Courses

Lawrence A. Tomei
Robert Morris Univeristy, Pittsburg, PA USA
Journal of Technology and Teacher Education (2006) 14 (3), 531-541

This article reflects a study conducted to investigate the impact of online delivery on faculty load in comparison with more traditional teaching and delivering methods. This seems to be a recurrent theme in the research, about the worries that faculty members raise in changing the approach and methods for delivering courses in online environments.

The study two key questions were around teaching demands and ideal class size for online delivery of post-secodnary courses. Curious enough the study indicates that about 14% increase in teaching time was found to be taken in online deliveries, and that this was dedicated mainly to spending more time in delivering content. Given the research conducted to date in this lit review blog, one would have easily assumed that the increased amount of teaching time was needed more for personalized feedback, rather than instructional delivery.

One fundamental basis that the article supports is the idea of professionalism in teaching. The article states:

"Professional preparation, academic excellence, lifelong learning, and personal commitment are the hallmarks of the successful traditional teacher. (page 532).
These seem to be fundamental elements of any teaching environment and certainly one can assume they would transfer in online learning.

Secondly, the article states that:"Of all the peculiarities of teaching at a distance, none appears so crucial to successful student learning than teacher-student interaction." (page 532). This also greatly affects students' attitudes towards the experience.
One more reason it was to be expected that feedback and community building activities would actually constitute the increase in commitment and time for online learning.

Another finding from the research and the study indicates that the greatest use of technology in online learning environments happens in discussion postings and asynchronous communication.

The study findings about time and class size should be taken with a grain of salt. The scope of the study was too small to let a great number of generalizations be drawn with a sense of validity outside of the scope of the study. however, as stated in the article, this was a great attempt to bring about data that demonstrates that online learning does require an increase in resources and time for instructors to set up. So the idea that online learning can be more economic for institutions, as there is no need of physical spaces and time lines can be more flexible, needs to consider greater need for design and delivery time for instructors.

Additionally, the reference to ideal class size can be a starting point to consider (the article suggests around 12 students maximum). This would change dramatically based on subject area, nature of the course, language level of students and additional access to technologies and tools.

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