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Online Learning Quality in Higher EducationArticle Critique

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The problem that is the focus of the research study has to do with the proliferation of online courses and the need to better understand the quality, utility, and marketing promises associated with these online courses. The rapid growth in the number and type of online courses over the past decade are due in part to the economic downturn that resulted from the fiscal crisis and reduced employment prospects for a great many people. Online courses are promoted and perceived as flexible, economical ways to improve marketable skills and increase the prospect of employment. Technological advances have increased the popularity and the feasibility of providing career-specific certification and postsecondary academic degrees solely through online coursework. The pedagogical quality of online courses has come under greater scrutiny as the proportion of online courses has increased. A unique challenge is resident in online coursework: administrators and instructors must integrate the technology into the teaching and learning context while optimizing the benefits of the technology. The primary problem remains how to monitor the quality and effectiveness of instruction and assessment provided through online technology.

The research questions were intended to focus the study on the perceptions of participants with regard to their leaning experiences in online courses at a university in the western United States. The descriptions that study participants provided of their interactions with instructors and other students were central to the research questions. The significance of the study to the researcher audience is predominantly that it provides a window into the beliefs, experiences, and perceptions of students enrolled in online courses and uses qualitative methods to gather the data regarding these perceptions and descriptions of interactions with instructors and other students. The significance of the study to the practitioner audience is that it has the potential to provide important insights about what students believe they need and perceive that they need from online course instruction. This type of data can provide a strong foundation for administrators and instructors using online technology to create benchmarks for comparison, and to focus on improving those areas that emerged from the study as problematic in some way.

This study caught my attention because it is so closely related to my research topic, and it seemed that the methodology would provide information about what aspects of the topic are straightforward and which are complex and that are best investigated using different research designs. The theoretical framework of the study is derived from the distance theory proposed by Moore. Four interaction factors were described by Moore, and were used as a way to examine the perception of participants. Moore's four interaction factors are: Student-content, faculty-student, student-student, and student character. The guiding tenets and principles of the theoretical framework are based in research that has shown that students enrolled in distance education courses report experiencing a sense of isolation and lower-than-typical motivation. (Boulos, Taylor, & Breton, 2005). What is apparently missing in this analysis is the experience of isolation and a lack of connectedness as an element of being a student of color in an online learning environment. Research conducted on entering freshmen in higher education suggests that the sense of isolation can be acute, particularly in circumstances when the overall student body does not proportionately reflect the racial or ethnic associations of students. Indeed, a lack of connectedness (a sense of not belonging) is a strong contributor to students dropping out during their freshman year. This suggests an ancillary research question to address specifically the experiences and perceptions of black and brown students who are enrolled in online courses, and particularly focusing on black and brown students who may be in degree programs that offer exclusively online courses. The theoretical basis for this suggestion comes from constructs that address preferences for face-to-face personal interactions in some cultures. This variable could substantively impact the perceptions and experiences of students who are enrolled in online courses but are from cultures that value more personal interactions.

The phenomena of limited opportunities for face-to-face interactions between instructors and students means that distance education created some challenges to the teaching and learning processes. Not a great deal is known about the characteristics of students in distance education courses (Wang & Newlin, 2000). This means that effective curriculum design can be constrained by the lack of understanding of the beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions of students in these courses. Faculty must develop skills to help students adjust to the unique features of distance education but they ordinarily do not receive training in methods that will facilitate the desirable levels of support. With all of the challenges that are integral to online education, studies show that students enrolled in online courses desire content and motivational support beyond course materials and find their success constrained with without this support (Williams, 2006). One of the tenets of online instruction is that student-to-student interactions are a form of support to online learners, a variable that is of key interest in the current study. The theoretical framework was easy to identify as it was so cleanly and clearly laid out in the methodology section of the study. There appears to be only the one theory about the influence of the four factors on the perceptions of students experiencing online learning.

The historical trajectory and significance of this theory are particularly timely with respect to the changes that are occurring in the field of online instruction. The very nature of online instruction both constrains and facilitates the interactions between the stakeholders in the technology-based instructional context. The study of these four types of interactions is historically on target given the maturation of the field of education as it adapts to the technological innovations that are rapidly changing the landscape of teaching in higher education.

Contemporary scholars who have made significant contributions to the field applying this theory include: Frick, Chadha, Watson, Wang, and Green (2009), who studied the perceptions of students regarding the quality of teaching and learning in college. Duhaney (2005) who researched blended learning in education, training, and development with a focus on performance improvement. Parker, Lenhart, and Moore (2011) who conducted research for the Pew Research Center, Pew Social and Demographic Trends, on the digital revolution and higher education, as reflected in the perceptions of college presidents and the public on the value of online learning. Bates and Poole (2003) who wrote a book on effective teaching with technology in higher education, published by Jossey-Bass. Hiltz and Turoff (2005) who studied the evolution of online learning and the revolution in higher education from the standpoint of communications. Laverde, Yashley, and Rodriguez (2007) developed a technology-based instructional design model based on learning objectives. Hartman and Truman-Davis studied the need for institutionalizing support for faculty use of technology as a best practice at the University of Central Florida. Maguire and Zhang (2000) studied and defined blended learning in the context of global development learning networks. Sands (2002) developed and studied strategies for connecting online and face-to-face instruction in hybrid courses. Young (2011) published research for the Chronicle of Higher Education on the bullishness of college presidents toward public education, but who face a skeptical public.

I have used the researchers' work as both a building block and as a point of departure to study the radical shift in higher education from teacher-centered, face-to-face, localized courses to student-centered, online, and hybrid courses offered by global universities. As the traditional deliver of education is supplanted and replaced by digital education models, instructional quality and pedagogy must be brought into the light. A great proliferation is occurring in accessible information, particularly, and in vendors of instructional systems. Both of these variables burden higher education faculty, requiring them to design online or hybrid courses while avoiding pressures that threaten to undermine the quality of the instruction provided. To this mix, the past few years have added social media and adaptive learning technology, the study of which is central to my research -- with a focus on how these changes impact the online learning environment experienced by black and brown students.


The theoretical framework informs and shapes the methodology, findings, and analysis of the study in that it suggests qualitative research methods and the contribution that individual accounts make toward an understanding of the research topic. Since the focus of the study is on the perceptions and experiences of the student-to-student interactions of students, the choice of qualitative research to conduct this study is a solidly good fit. Moreover, an important part of the current study is understanding the perspectives and experiences of black and brown students, which would be difficult to capture with quantitative methods.


The natural alignment between this theory and my work is best described as a study of the importance of the variable of student-to-student interactions to the perceived value and effectiveness of online education by students who are enrolled in digital instruction at a university in the western United States. A fundamental inadequacy of the theoretical framework of the selected research article is that it… [END OF PREVIEW]

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