MUN 2011 - What Do We Really Know? Examining Research into K-12 Online Learning


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Barbour, M. K. (2011, November). What do we really know? Examining research into K-12 online learning. An invited presentation in the Doctoral Speaker Series in the Faculty of Education at Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John’s, NL.

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  • Benefits = Expanding educational access; Providing high-quality learning opportunities; and Allowing for educational choice Challenges = Student readiness issues and retention issues
  • American Journal of Distance Education (United States) - 8 US Journal of Distance Education (Canada) - 4 Cdn / 1 Aus Distance Education (Australia) - 2 Aus / 4 US Journal of Distance Learning (New Zealand) - 1 NZ / 1 Cdn / 1 US-Cdn Last five years - 24 articles out of a total of 262 related to K-12 distance education
  • Common link between both assessments is the pre-occupation of researchers with comparing student performance in an effort to show the effectiveness of online
  • As research into comparing student performance between face-to-face and online environments is both the common theme and, by far, the dominant theme... Let ’ s take a closer look at this body of research.
  • Canadian province of Alberta - online students do as well as classroom students in Social Studies and English, classroom students better in other areas
  • In their two-year evaluation, Bigbie and McCarrol found that more than 50% of Florida Virtual students get As in their courses and very few students failed I n examining 6 virtual schools in 3 Canadian provinces, Barker and Wendel found that online and classroom students performed the same
  • In a NCREL funded study, Cavanaugh and her colleagues found online students in Florida performed better than classroom students Similarly in another NCREL funded study, McLeod and his colleagues found online students in Florida performed better in algebra
  • But does this tell really tell the full story???
  • Ballas & Belyk had dramatically differing participation rates - how would the 20%-30% missing from the online group have scored? Bigbie & McCarroll had a significant drop-out rate in the online courses - how would the results have differed had those students stayed enrolled?
  • Cavanaugh and her colleagues speculated that the online students were simply better students McLeod and his colleagues speculated their results were due to the fact that weaker students had dropped out of the online course
  • Let ’ s examine who the literature says is enrolled in K-12 online learning...
  • First year evaluation of VHS - majority are planning to attend a four year college Second year evaluation - most are honors students and college bound
  • Highly motivated, self-directed, self-disciplined, independent learners who could read and write well, and had a strong interest in or ability with technology
  • need to control and structure their learning highly motivated, high achieving, self-directed, independent workers
  • A or B students half are academically advanced or AP students
  • However, is that really the description of all K-12 online learning students?
  • Supplemental - algebra Full-time - higher proportion of at-risk students
  • The research is based upon the best and the brightest.
  • However, we know from practice that this does not reflect all or even the majority of K-12 online learners. So the population of students the research focuses on is one of the main limitations of the usefulness (and even the believability) of much of that research.
  • Another problem is what we measure... 1. Correlation does not equal causality 2. Single studies measure if there is a difference between two groups beyond chance Need for meta-analysis...
  • A K-12 online learning example from earlier Cathy took 16 individual studies and combined the results to determine an overall effect size.
  • Things that hurt student learning
  • 0.15 - The amount a student would increase simply from being a year older and a year wiser / maturity
  • 0.25 - The amount student learning increases based upon an average teacher
  • 0.40 - The magic number... If it doesn ’ t reach beyond 0.4, it likely isn ’ t worth it. Some scholars have argued as high as 0.6 or 0.8. Recall earlier I mentioned three different meta-analysis related to K-12 online learning.
  • Cavanaugh (2001) - developmental effects Cavanaugh et al. (2004) - reverse effects Means et al. (2009) - online = teacher effects & blended = developmental effects + teacher effects
  • In fact, if you look at many of the factors that proponents of K-12 online learning trumpet, most have little impact on student learning beyond what an average teacher and the normal process of aging would have. So, what do Hattie ’ s findings tell us?
  • Good teachers and the act of teaching well can have significant impacts Some design and delivery lessons applicable to K-12 online learning: direct instruction, mastery learning, worked examples, concept mapping, setting goals But this is just the research on student performance, what about the other research?
  • Most of the remainder research is also problematic - primarily due to methodological limitations and overreaching Barbour - principles of effective online course design based upon interviews with teachers at a single virtual school DiPietro et al. - best practice in online teaching based upon interviews with teachers at a single virtual school
  • Which naturally leads to the question of how should we be doing educational research when it comes to K-12 online learning?
  • Begins with the involvement of the local stakeholders in identifying the challenges to be addressed and the interventions to be used. In addition to trying to solve the local problem, there is a focus on the development of theory to explain what occurs in the local context. Finally, there are multiple cycles of analysis and revisions to ensure that changes become part of the routine of those involved in the system. Probably the only example or closest example of DBR in the K-12 online learning field is the Virtual High School Global Consortium.
  • MUN 2011 - What Do We Really Know? Examining Research into K-12 Online Learning

    1. 1. What Do We Really Know? Examining Research into K-12 Online Learning Michael K. Barbour Assistant Professor Wayne State University
    2. 2. 2
    3. 3. Literature Reviews1. Rice (2006) – Journal of Research on Technology in Education1. Barbour & Reeves (2009) – Computers and Education1. Cavanaugh, Barbour, & Clark (2009) – International Review of Research in Open
    4. 4. What does the literature say?• “based upon the personal experiences of those involved in the practice of virtual schooling” (Cavanaugh et al., 2009)• described the literature as generally falling into one of two general categories: the potential benefits of and challenges facing K- 12 online learning (Barbour & Reeves, 2009)
    5. 5. What about research?• “a paucity of research exists when examining high school students enrolled in virtual schools, and the research base is smaller still when the population of students is further narrowed to the elementary grades” (Rice, 2006)
    6. 6. What does the research say?1. Comparisons of student performance based upon delivery model (i.e., classroom vs. online)2. Studies examining the qualities and characteristics of the teaching/learning experience – characteristics of – supports provided to – issues related to isolation of online learners (Rice, 2006)1. Effectiveness of virtual schooling2. Student readiness and retention issues (Cavanaugh et al., 2009)
    7. 7. So, what does the studentperformance research say?
    8. 8. Student Performance• performance of virtual and classroom students in Alberta were similar in English and Social Studies courses, but that classroom students performed better overall in all other subject areas (Ballas & Belyk, 2000)
    9. 9. Student Performance• over half of the students who completed FLVS courses scored an A in their course and only 7% received a failing grade (Bigbie & McCarroll, 2000)• students in the six virtual schools in three different provinces performed no worse than the students from the three conventional schools (Barker & Wendel, 2001)
    10. 10. Student Performance• FLVS students performed better on a non-mandatory assessment tool than students from the traditional classroom (Cavanaugh et al., 2005)• FLVS students performed better on an assessment of algebraic understanding than their classroom counterparts (McLeod et al., 2005)
    11. 11. Barbour & Mulcahy (2008)
    12. 12. Barbour & Mulcahy (2009)
    13. 13. Let’s look a little closer...
    14. 14. Students and Student PerformanceBallas & performance of virtual and participation rate in theBelyk, 2000 classroom students similar assessment among virtual in English & Social Studies students ranged from 65% to courses, but classroom 75% compared to 90% to students performed better 96% for the classroom-based in all other subject areas studentsBigbie & over half of the students between 25% and 50% ofMcCarroll, who completed FLVS students had dropped out2000 courses scored an A in of their FLVS courses over their course and only 7% the previous two-year received a failing grade period
    15. 15. Students and Student PerformanceCavanaugh et FLVS students performed speculated that the virtualal., 2005 better on a non- school students who did mandatory assessment take the assessment may tool than students from have been more the traditional classroom academically motivated and naturally higher achieving studentsMcLeod et FLVS students performed results of the studental., 2005 better on an assessment performance were due to of algebraic understanding the high dropout rate in than their classroom virtual school courses counterparts
    16. 16. Student Performance and StudentsSo are we reallycomparing apples toapples?
    17. 17. The Students• the vast majority of VHS Global Consortium students in their courses were planning to attend a four-year college (Kozma, Zucker & Espinoza, 1998)• “VHS courses are predominantly designated as ‘honors,’ and students enrolled are mostly college bound” (Espinoza et al., 1999)
    18. 18. The StudentsThe preferred characteristicsinclude the highly motivated,self-directed, self-disciplined,independent learner whocould read and write well,and who also had a stronginterest in or ability withtechnology (Haughey &Muirhead, 1999)
    19. 19. The Students• “only students with a high need to control and structure their own learning may choose distance formats freely” (Roblyer & Elbaum, 2000)• IVHS students were “highly motivated, high achieving, self-directed and/or who liked to work independently” (Clark et al., 2002)
    20. 20. The Students• the typical online student was an A or B student (Mills, 2003)• 45% of the students who participated in e-learning opportunities in Michigan were “either advanced placement or academically advanced” students (Watkins, 2005)
    21. 21. But does this represent all of our online students?
    22. 22. Student Reality???• two courses with the highest enrollment of online students in the US are Algebra I & Algebra II (Patrick, 2007)• largest proportion of growth in K–12 online learning enrollment is with full-time cyber schools (Watson et al., 2008)• many cyber schools have a higher percentage of students classified as “at-risk” (Klein, 2006)• at-risk students are as those who might otherwise drop out of traditional schools (Rapp, Eckes & Plurker, 2006)
    23. 23. Literatureindicates K-12online learningstudents are...
    24. 24. Reality of most ora large segmentK-12 onlinelearningstudents?
    25. 25. Mulcahy, Dibbon and Norberg (2008)• study of rural schooling in three schools on the south coast of the Labrador• found two had a higher percentage of students enrolled in basic-level courses• speculated because the only way students could do academic course at their school was online, some students specifically chose the basic stream to avoid taking an online course
    26. 26. Enrollment - English Language Arts
    27. 27. Enrollment - Mathematics
    28. 28. Problem With Student Performance Studies
    29. 29. Cavanaugh (2001)• Allen & Thompson (1995) • Libler (1991)• Blanton et al. (1997) • Martin & Rainey (1993)• Burkman (1994) • McBride (1990)• Center for Applied Special • Riel (1990) • Rudolf (1986) Technology (1996) • Ryan (1996)• Erickson (1992) • Sisung (1992)• Gray (1996) • Smith (1990)• Hinnant (1994) • Wick (1997)
    30. 30. Problem of Effect SizesReverseEffects
    31. 31. Problem of Effect SizesDevelopmentalEffects
    32. 32. Problem of Effect Sizes Teacher Effects
    33. 33. Problem of Effect Sizes Zone of Desired Effects
    34. 34. Synthesis of Meta-Analysis• Cavanaugh (2001) - 16 studies – +0.147 in favor of K-12 distance education• Cavanaugh et al. (2004) - 14 studies – -0.028 for K-12 distance education• Means et al. (2009) - 46 studies (5 on K-12) – +0.24 favoring online over face-to-face – +0.35 favoring blended over face-to-face*
    35. 35. Results of Interest• Second and third chance programs (d=0.50)• Matching style of learning (d=0.40)• Computer assisted instruction (d=0.37)• Decreasing disruptive behavior (d=0.34)• Programmed instruction (d=0.24)• Individualized instruction (d=0.23)• Class size (d=0.21)• Charter schools (d=0.20)• Web-based learning (d=0.18)• Home-school programs (d=0.16)• Teacher training (d=0.11)• Teacher subject matter knowledge (d=0.09)• Distance education (d=0.09)• Student control over learning (d=0.04) 35
    36. 36. Results to Consider• Self-reported grades (d=1.44)• Piagetian programs (d=1.28)• Providing formative evaluation (d=0.90)• Micro teaching (d=0.88)• Acceleration (d=0.88)• Classroom behavioral (d=0.80)• Comprehensive interventions for learning disabled students (d=0.78)• Teacher clarity (d=0.75)• Reciprocal teaching (d=0.74)• Providing feedback (d=0.73)• Teacher-student relationships (d=0.72)• Spaced vs. mass practice (d=0.71)• Meta-cognitive strategies (d=0.69)• Prior achievement (d=0.67)• Vocabulary programs (d=0.67
    37. 37. What about the other research?
    38. 38. Problematic ResearchOnline 7 principles of Interviews with teachers and courseCourse effective online developers at a single virtual school,Design course content with no verification of whether the for adolescent interviewees’ perceptions were actuallyBarbour learners effective or any student input at all for(2005; 2007) that matter.Online 37 best Interviews with teachers at a singleTeaching practices in virtual school selected by the virtual asynchronous school itself. Their teachers’ beliefsDiPietro et online teaching were not validated through observational. (2008) of the teaching or student performance.
    39. 39. Is there a better way?
    40. 40. Design-Based Research Reeves (2006)
    41. 41. Virtual High School Global Consortium • first annual evaluation – Kozma, Zucker & Espinoza, 1998 • focused specifically on the seven goals set by VHS • identified five areas to focus on for future practice
    42. 42. Virtual High School Global Consortium • second annual evaluation – Espinoza, Dove, Zucker & Kozma, 1999 • again focused specifically on the seven goals set by VHS • identified three areas to focus on for future practice
    43. 43. Virtual High School Global Consortium • third annual evaluation – Kozma, Zucker, Espinoza, McGhee, Yarnall & Zalles, 2000 • re-examined status of last year’s evaluation finding • focused upon only one of the seven goals set by VHS
    44. 44. Virtual High School Global Consortium • content-specific investigations – Yamashiro & Zucker, 1999 • examined quality of netcourses offered by VHS • developed standards for future course development
    45. 45. Virtual High School Global Consortium • content-specific investigations – Elbaum, McIntyre & Smith, 2002 • seventeen essential elements for online teaching • written by VHS staff
    46. 46. Virtual High School Global Consortium • final evaluation – Zucker & Kozma, 2003 • examined students, teachers, administrators perceptions of the program • outlined successes and areas to focus on for future years
    47. 47. The ChallengeWhether online learning can be suitable for all K-12 students? (Mulcahy, 2002)
    48. 48. United States• 40,000 - 50,000 in 2001• ~4,000,000 in 2010Canada• 10,000 - 15,000 in 1999• ~185,000 in 2010
    49. 49. United States - 7.2% of all studentsCanada - 4.2% of all students
    50. 50. YourQuestions andComments
    51. 51. Assistant Professor Wayne State University, USA http://www.michaelbarbour.com