Friday, March 4, 2011

7. Readings from a Lit Review

Meeting the Need: Students Success in the Online Environment. Teaching - Learning - Development - Administration - A Literary Review

Bow Valley College - Murray Ronaghan, Academic Foundations, June 30, 2010
Retrievable at: 

A review of a review? Sounds a bit strange and maybe superfluous, but this review about online environments (not specifically ESL but certainly digital!) is something great. besides the wealth of articles and references that it compiled, it provides some really great foundational considerations very pertinent to our research and some of them already reaffirming discoveries and ideas considered to date. So Here I come with my highlights of the document. This is a must to read for novice and more experienced online practitioners. Much to learn at all levels.

  1. The review divides the research into four key categories of inquiry: teaching, learning, development and administration. Although the last category is at the moment on the sideline of my research, the idea of considering these different aspects as part of a complex set of interacting elements that all play a role in the online education set up is a comforting and reassuring thought.
  2. While the review as well as many other articles refer to the idea of research and working practices as "best practices"it may be also worth considering the fact that a term such as "promising practices" may be considered. With the idea of promise one can consider a commitment to ongoing excellence.
  3. The definition offered about online learning is: learning facilitated online through network technologies" (Garrison, Anderson, 2003). On top of the idea of different ways of offering courses the introduction considers variable not only in hybrid versus purely online offerings, but also cohort-style classes, ongoing intake, an so on.
  4. In the teaching section the review offers a set of nine guidelines to consider around the teaching factor of online learning, ranging from quality of instruction, to motivating students, to feedback opportunities and promoting self-study. All suggestions could be very easily applied to any learning environment at hand. Ultimately it is the teaching that defines the greatness of online courses and not the technology (page 5).
  5. Elements to consider from the teaching perspective include: presence of the instructor, which of course transcend the live synchronous and rigorous limitations of the classroom settings, but can still be tailored to meet students' needs. Several research studies conclude that learners feel successful when they perceive the instructor pays attention to their contributions and can offer individualized support. The idea of presence impacts the ability to keep organized records, structured workload, monitor students' contribution integrity and promote self-study. All important elements of learning as a whole experience and certainly more challenging through digital environments but certainly not impossible as a task.
  6. Instructors who are present in the online learning become by default reflective practitioners.
  7. In the area of learning and the learner, the review focuses on the idea of self-directed learners and how adults fit in this image of ongoing discovery. While adults are highly self-motivated learners they are certainly not immune from anxieties, such as sense of inadequacy and poor studying habits or inability to cope, to say a few. In this perspective the idea of constructivist approaches to learning is a sure recurrence and meaningfulness of learning lies ultimately in solving real life, highly contextualized and "wicked" problems. A number of studies around Problem Based Learning are listed in the review section. Engagement in highly meaningful tasks also directly affects retention and attrition rates in online learning.
  8. Besides listing a number of valuable sites about online developments, the idea around development has sparked a number of projects and initiatives that have began proposing guidelines for future designs and deliveries. These include the nine principles of Online Design from the Florida Golf Coast University, and the four unique qualities of elearning that seem to have emerged around automated feedback, collaboration with self-study, simulations and games and dynamic instruction opportunities (see Clark and Mayer).
  9. In the conversation around UDL (Universal Design Learning) three important modes continue to be reiterated: the show me; tell me and let me modes. 
  10. Finally the administration element of the elearning formula: issues around education that directly affect the implementation of digital approaches include funding, accessibility, demonstration of learning and translation of learning research into practice. Like in an inevitable circle, this element draws back the idea of communities of practice, sharing of resources and reflecting practice.
The review is definitely a good starting point for a very global if not comprehensive review of the key research steps in online environments.

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