NATIONAL FORUM OF APPLIED EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH JOURNAL VOLUME 21, NUMBER 1, 2007-2008 ONLINE EDUCATION SUCCESS FACTORS: ALIGING TECHNOLOGIES WITH INSTRUCTION Seung Won Yoon Western Illinois University ABSTRACTThis article presents two conceptual frameworks, one for course instructors to balanceinstructional events, learner interactions, and technologies, and the other foradministrators to create a simple, stable, sustainable, and scalable technologyinfrastructure that enables important learner interactions identified from the firstframework. Discussion is also presented regarding how these two frameworks canfacilitate constructive and supportive dialogues between instructors and administrators.H aving worn numerous hats for distance learning and having taught courses using numerous delivery technologies in the field of corporate training and instructional technology, I canstrongly agree with the literature stating that distance learning in theU.S. higher education, especially online education which uses theInternet as a delivery tool is not only here to stay and grow (Allen &Seaman, 2003), but is viewed among more than half of the universityprofessors as a very effective instructional medium that is capable ofpulling an equal or greater quality course compared to theircounterpart onsite courses (Allen & Seaman, 2004). The traditionaldistance education before the age of the Internet was characterized bythe physical and temporal distance between the students and theinstructor. And the nature of delayed or technology-mediatedcommunication was not regarded as effective as that of the face-to-face. However, online education that utilizes modern communicationand multimedia technologies at affordable cost has been rapidly 30
31 NATIONAL FORUM OF APPLIED EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH JOURNALadopted to reach approximately 3.2 million college students in 2005.Our daily instructional practices on campus seem to indicate a furthergrowth of online education in that more online courses are beingproposed to be developed and some onsite courses are continuouslybeing converted to online in order to reach more or new groups ofstudents, especially those who work. If not a full-pledged onlinecourse, very interesting trends are also happening for onsite courses tointegrate more of online components, such as resources and cybercommunities on the Internet or discussion forums on a CourseManagement System (CMS). New educational practices caused by changing technologiesare challenging the higher education system in the U.S. Leaders mustmake prudent technology-related decisions in multiple areas, such ascyber security, information systems and services, reliable network,policy, quality distance education, IT funding and human resourcemanagement in the middle of limited budget (Gandel, 2000). Myexperiences in the area of online education, as a programmer, student,CMS consultant, development project manager, technology staffmember, and an instructor support that tools of the trade will come andgo, change, and advance, but a quality course is one that has beendesigned and implemented well regardless of technologies used. It isalmost impossible to repeat a success unless the whole efforts todistance learning are the blend of pedagogy, technology, andorganizational support which involve active feedback loops amongkey participants: instructional and technology staff members, leaders,and the learners (Yoon, 2003). Having these elements at hand willhelp the institution better prepare and manage their technologicalresources and also respond to the changing and growing demands ofthe users. Whether it is about migrating onto a new CMS (which hasbeen reported as a time consuming and resource intensive task),assisting with the faculty members develop and deliver an onlinecourse, or adjusting course scheduling and enrollment policies,cooperation among multiple groups is crucial. The literature points outthe particular importance of collaboration among administrators andfaculty members (Milheim, 2001). Expecting instructors to be versatile
Seung Won Yoon 32and adaptive to technological changes is a risky and imposing solutionthat is not likely to succeed. Milheim (2001) states that a high-level ofinteractivity should be ingrained into any distance learning programsand faculty members who deliver the educational experiences directlyto the students need to be advised to know the needs for time andresources that administrators should put forth to ensure constructivepolicies and support. This paper aims to provide a framework throughwhich dialogues can take place among those two parties to aligntechnology-related decisions to support high interactivity in onlinecourses. Distance Learning Success Factors Studies reported major factors contributing to the success orhindrance of distance learning at a program level. Phipps andMerisotis (2000) reported that institutional support, teaching andlearning, course structure, student support, faculty support, andevaluation as important for successful distance learning, while theteaching and learning category was recognized as most critical. Incontrast, factors such as ineffective administrative structure,organizational change, lack of technical expertise, poor socialinteraction and quality, lack of faculty compensation and time, threatof changing technologies, legal issues, ineffective evaluation, andpoor student-support services were found as common distancelearning barriers (Muilenburg & Berge, 2001). Although individuals’ learning styles and backgrounds canaffect the student’s course experiences and how they learn from it,major success or barrier factors identified above commonly lead to theprimary importance of interaction experiences enjoyed by the learnerswith various stakeholders, such as instructional, technology, andstudent-support service staff members, course contents, and resourceson the Internet. Students’ course experiences will be largely shaped bytheir interactions with those and they in turn will affect their learning.
33 NATIONAL FORUM OF APPLIED EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH JOURNALIn online education, all the students’ interactions are facilitatedthrough the students’ interacting with and via technologies. Interactivity: Responsibilities of the Instructors An online course that does not balance the quantity, variety,and quality of student interactions runs a risk of becoming a busy,boring, or superficial course. With all good intentions, a course in theU.S. Civil war, marketing, or geography can be designed to utilizeauthoritative readings, video or audio recordings from the instructor,and diagnostic quizzes followed by peer discussions or a terminalexamination. Hearing the benefit of reflecting and sharing of thoughts,instructors may want to add more activities or assessments hoping topromote collaboration among the learners. In onsite courses, with alittle more planning and preparation, instructors can utilize variousactivities and resources on the Internet (probably at the speed of theirthoughts and acts). However, in distance learning, they would soonfind that not a single technology, even a very powerful and feature-rich CMS comes up very short to accommodate the instructor’sfamiliar course events and activities. The Internet provides numeroustutorials and if lucky, computing support on campus providesoccasional workshops and laboratory visits for the instructor to betterimplement technologies to support their instructional practices.Unfortunately, my experiences indicate that this pattern is reactive andless than effective, particularly when technological features change. Amore scalable and sustainable approach is necessary. Given that instructors are primarily responsible for designingthe structure of a course and by teaching the course over time, knowthe most about the goal and contents of the course, utilizingtechnologies can be planned and determined around their familiarinstructional events and expertise. The following template has beendesigned adopting Hirumi’s (2002) proposed framework for designingand sequencing online interactions. The first column lists instructionalactivities or assessments and the item can be drawn from established
Seung Won Yoon 34instructional methods, such as Gagne’s nine event of instruction,guided discovery, or problem-based learning. Hirumi (2002) statesthat the online learners’ interactions can be classified as learner-human(instructor, peers, and others, such as workplace managers) or learner-non-human (content, interface, and environment) entities. Hechallenges that distance learning can encompass off-line activities,such as visits to a local library or field experts. The last two columnsidentify available technologies and the type of technologies being usedas a real-time (synchronous) or different time (asynchronous) deliverytool or an information resource or community. I would like to note thatthe same technology can be used in more than one delivery type and atype of technology can utilize more than one tool. For instance, email(asynchronous) can evolve as a mailing list (community), while acommunity can be created among class members only or on theInternet (to interact with others outside the course) and utilize a chat orasynchronous discussion forums. Given the upsurge of numerousonline communities and resources, and the fact that our nextgeneration students spend more time on the Internet than books (forgaining knowledge and information), the last two columns willstimulate instructors to make better use of various technologiesconverging on the Internet. A sketch plan to teach a course in onlinemarketing may look like the following (using the nine events ofinstruction strategy):
35 NATIONAL FORUM OF APPLIED EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH JOURNALTable 1 Interactions TableActivity Interaction Technology Delivery TypeGain attention L.C Images on the Asynchronous(Examples: Email Internetand banner ads )Inform objectives L.C CMS, Chat Asynchronous,(launching an e- synchronouscommerce site)Relate to prior L.P Discussion Asynchronousknowledge(catalogue sales orfundraising, sharing)Present stimulus L.C,P Internet, Resource, asynchronous(case study: Google discussion– scavenger hunt)Provide guidance L.C,O Internet, Asynchronous, resource,(viral marketing – wikipedia communityresource /professionalorganizations /interview experts)Elicit performance L.T,P Chat, Synchronous,(brainstorming / whiteboard, asynchronousgroup report) emailProvide feedback L.IS,P Conferencing, Synchronous,(instructor or group) email, asynchronous discussionAssess performance L.C CMS Synchronous(online quiz)Memory aid and L.C.O Internet, blog Asynchronoustransfer (managerfeedback, subscribeto famous bloggers)L: Learner, C: Contents, IS: Instructional Staff, P: Peers, O: Others, T: Technology Experiences, technical expertise, trials and errors, and feedbackfrom colleagues will lead to the refinement of this approach. Here,technologies are selected for the purpose of facilitating crucial learner
Seung Won Yoon 36interactions. A balance among quantity, variety, and quality can bealso made in determining the sequence and type of learner interactionsand the types and frequency of technologies used for contents,communications, and assessments. Technology Alignments In an onsite classroom, when technological failures occur,there is at least a teacher present to carry out the course. In onlineeducation, however, a glitch in technology may mean a helplessteacher or a learner with frustration from failed systems or inability toparticipate. Quality learner interactions identified as important formeaningful course experiences are only feasible when technologies aresimple to use for the instructor and the students, stable, sustainable,scalable (in view of desired growth or changes), and most of all arecapable of enabling social interactions for the learner (4S+1S, Vaccare& Sherman, 2001). Other technology selection frameworks also exist.Reiser and Gagne (1982) show how different media, such as papers,video, and computers compare in terms of capacity to produce,disseminate, and replicate information. The ASSURE model (Analyzeneeds, State objectives, Select methods, media, and materials, Utilizemedia and materials, Require participation, and Evaluate and revise)can help an instructor to consider major instructional factors inselecting technologies. However, unlike the 4S+1S model, these seemto be more appropriate for the course instructor to choose technologieswithin a single course. The strength of the 4S+1S model is that itapplies a standardized methodology for planning and selectingtechnologies addressing the needs of both instructors andadministrators. These frameworks are not mutually exclusive though.The 4S+1S model can be used alone or in conjunction with the othermodels in assessing whether technological arrangements are consistentacross multiple course environments or at a program level.
37 NATIONAL FORUM OF APPLIED EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH JOURNAL Expectations and Responsibilities of the Leaders Leaders may feel comfortable in seeing that their institutionhas a faculty development center, provides online student-supportservices, and offers workshops or monetary incentives for onlinecourse development. However, if little feedback or dialogue is takingplace related to how the distance learning infrastructure promotes orinterferes with the students’ interacting with rich content materials,instructional, technology, and student-support service staff members,and various resources over the Internet, constructive and cooperativecollaborations can take place by centering dialogues around howinteractions are managed across different distance learning courses andhow technologies are effective or efficient in accomplishing thoseinteractions. Unless the structure of the course has been established,instructors feel comfortable in using various delivery technologies, orproper arrangements be made to assist with online course developmentor delivery, faculty development initiatives can run into strongresistance due to the fact that enabling important learner interactions indistance learning course take greater amount of time and efforts on thepart of the instructors and require a strong interaction-supportingtechnological infrastructure. Given that advancements and innovationsseem to better describe the current and future direction of technologiesand distance learning, leaders are in a position to ensure thatadministrative, technology, and policy infrastructures are establishedand supported to help the instructors implement various learnerinteractions required for quality course experiences. Two perspectivespresented here, the conceptual framework of online interaction and the4S+1S technology selection model should be helpful for dialogues tohappen for both the administrators and the instructors who are equallycharged to provide quality educational experiences for the studentsand whose roles are mutually affecting and improving the practices ofthe other.
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