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1 A QUALITATIVE INVESTIGATION OF HOW INSTRUCTORS COMMUNICATE WITH STUDENTS AND THE TOOLS THEY USE TO PROMOTE DIALOGUE IN ONLINE POST SECONDARY MATHEMATICS COURSES By HEIDI R OSA FERNANDEZ A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADU ATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF EDUCATION UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2013
2 2013 Heidi R. Fernandez
3 To Isabella, Sebastian, and Dan
4 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS A dissertation represents the end of a long journey on the path to earning a doctorate. There are many people along the way that encouraged and supported me throughout this experience and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them. To Isabella and Sebastian, although you are too young to remember what I endured over the past few years, I appreciate the time you gave up for me to work on my schoolwork. This paper is proof that the time was not in vain and mommy accompli shed the goals she set for herself three years ago. Let this be motivation for you to set the bar high and achieve anything your heart desires. If I can do it, I definitely know you can too. To Dan, even though others thought it may be implausible to enr oll for our doctorate s at the same time with two babies, we have proven that it can be done with careful planning and a lot of hard work. You were always m y biggest cheerleader when things got tough. Your belief that I could do it fueled me to keep worki ng and not give up. I will forever remember our many late night talks about research design and methodology You recognized that this was a dream of mine and pushed me to follow it, so I am forever grateful. To my parents Martin and Carol who instille d a great work ethic and desire to do well in school, I finally did it I am thankful for your support of my schooling over the years The countless hours of babysitting that you provided for the kids is recognized and appreciated. I am truly fortunate to have an amazing committee throughout my doctoral studies. My mentor, Dr. Erik Black, was supportive and provided quality feedback to help me learn and grow as a person, student, and scholar. I recall him saying during
5 our first week as a cohort that this process will change your life and you will never v iew the world in the same way. For whatever reason, that stayed with me and looking back the world does look different now. The world is a big place full of many research questions, and I am well on my way to decipher them. I appreciate your timely feedback and the support you provided during my past two projects. I am thankful for all of your help. I would like to thank Dr. Swapna Kumar for all your support since the inception of the program. I ha ve learned so much from you and your feedback has helped me grow as a scholar. Your attention to detail and encouragement to question all aspects of research propelled me to keep digging deeper to find just the right topic. I am thankful to have worked w ith y ou throughout the entire program and grow as a scholar A special thanks to Dr. Kent Crippen and Dr. Jeanne Repetto for serving on my committee. Your insights and feedback has strengthened my research skill s and le d me in new directions. I valued yo ur perspectives and considered your mentorship an asset during the dissertation process. I am happy I had the opportunity to work with both of you. Last but not least, I would like to thank my educational technology cohort for all of your feedback and sup port over the years. The connection we formed remotely was a strong bond that no doubt will continue at the culmination of this voyage. The insight and support from the group made me a better student and researcher. Thanks for your encouragement. I wil l see you at the finish line.
6 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 4 LIST OF TABLES ................................ ................................ ................................ ............ 9 LIST OF FIGURES ................................ ................................ ................................ ........ 10 ABSTRACT ................................ ................................ ................................ ................... 11 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION ................................ ................................ ................................ ....... 13 Transactional Distance ................................ ................................ ........................... 16 What the R esearch Says ................................ ................................ ........................ 18 Key Terms Defined ................................ ................................ ........................... 20 Problem Statement ................................ ................................ ................................ 21 Significa nce of the Study ................................ ................................ ........................ 21 Purpose Statement ................................ ................................ ................................ 22 Methodology ................................ ................................ ................................ ........... 2 3 Research Qu estions ................................ ................................ ............................... 23 Assumptions ................................ ................................ ................................ ........... 23 Delimitations ................................ ................................ ................................ ........... 24 Limitations ................................ ................................ ................................ ............... 24 Research Bias ................................ ................................ ................................ ........ 24 Organization of the Study ................................ ................................ ....................... 25 Definition of Terms ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 26 2 LITERATURE REVIEW ................................ ................................ ............................. 28 Purpose ................................ ................................ ................................ .................. 28 Theoretical Framework ................................ ................................ ........................... 30 Theory of I ndependent Learning and Teaching ................................ ................ 30 Transactional Distance ................................ ................................ ..................... 33 Communication and Interaction in Online Education ................................ .............. 37 Key Definitions ................................ ................................ ................................ 37 Progression of Research ................................ ................................ .................. 38 Types of Interactions in an Online Environment ................................ ..................... 45 Instructor to Student ................................ ................................ ......................... 45 Student to Student ................................ ................................ ............................ 48 Student to Content ................................ ................................ ........................... 49 How Instructors Communicate in an Online Environment ................................ ....... 50 Immediacy Behaviors ................................ ................................ ....................... 51 Instructor Presence ................................ ................................ .......................... 53 The Self Directed Learner ................................ ................................ ................ 58
7 Online Math ................................ ................................ ................................ ...... 59 Computer Mediated Communication ................................ ................................ 62 Critique of the Methodologies ................................ ................................ ................. 63 Conclusion ................................ ................................ ................................ .............. 65 3 METHODOLOGY ................................ ................................ ................................ ...... 68 Purpose ................................ ................................ ................................ .................. 68 Problem ................................ ................................ ................................ .................. 68 Research Methodology ................................ ................................ ........................... 70 Design ................................ ................................ ................................ ..................... 71 Participants ................................ ................................ ................................ ....... 71 Andrew ................................ ................................ ................................ ....... 72 Betsy ................................ ................................ ................................ .......... 73 Carl ................................ ................................ ................................ ............ 73 Donna ................................ ................................ ................................ ........ 73 Ellen ................................ ................................ ................................ ........... 74 Felicia ................................ ................................ ................................ ........ 74 Data Collection ................................ ................................ ................................ 74 Data Analysis ................................ ................................ ................................ ... 75 Subjectivity ................................ ................................ ................................ ....... 76 Research Ethics ................................ ................................ ............................... 77 Limitations ................................ ................................ ................................ ........ 77 Setting ................................ ................................ ................................ .............. 77 Data Collection ................................ ................................ ................................ 77 ................................ ................................ ................. 78 Conclusion ................................ ................................ ................................ .............. 78 4 RESULTS ................................ ................................ ................................ .................. 80 RQ #1: How Do Math Instructors Communicate in an Online Environment? ......... 81 Types of Communication ................................ ................................ .................. 82 Encouraging Communication ................................ ................................ ........... 87 The Importance of Communication ................................ ................................ .. 93 Dealing with Other Communication Concerns ................................ .................. 95 RQ #2: What Tools Do Math Instructors Use to Promote Communication in an Online Course? ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 100 Synchronous Sessions ................................ ................................ ................... 101 Videos ................................ ................................ ................................ ............ 107 Discussions ................................ ................................ ................................ .... 108 RQ #3: How Do Math Instructors Structure a Course to Increase Dialogue? ...... 111 How Instructors Define Terms ................................ ................................ .............. 115 Preferred Communication ................................ ................................ ..................... 118 Conclusion ................................ ................................ ................................ ............ 121 5 DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS ................................ ................................ ....... 123
8 Discussion of the Findings ................................ ................................ .................... 123 Communication ................................ ................................ .............................. 124 Communication Tools ................................ ................................ ..................... 131 Videos ................................ ................................ ................................ ............ 133 Discussions ................................ ................................ ................................ .... 134 Course Structure ................................ ................................ ............................ 136 Implications ................................ ................................ ................................ ........... 138 Communication ................................ ................................ .............................. 138 Structure ................................ ................................ ................................ ......... 141 Instructor Presence ................................ ................................ ........................ 142 Synchronous Sessions ................................ ................................ ................... 143 Videos ................................ ................................ ................................ ............ 144 Discussions ................................ ................................ ................................ .... 145 Preparing Online Instructors ................................ ................................ ........... 147 Additional Limitations ................................ ................................ ............................ 150 Recommendations for Future Research ................................ ............................... 151 APPENDIX A UF IRB APPROVAL ................................ ................................ .............................. 152 B I NFORMED CONSENT FORM ................................ ................................ ............. 153 C I NTERVIEW PROTOCOL ................................ ................................ ..................... 155 REFERENCE LIST ................................ ................................ ................................ ...... 157 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................................ ................................ .......................... 167
9 LIST OF TABLES Table page 3 1 Participant b ackground ................................ ................................ ....................... 79
10 LIST OF FIGURES Figure page 1 1 Data in students taking at least one post secondary online course. ................... 14 1 2 Data in the annual growth rate of online enrollments. ................................ ......... 15 1 3 Theory of t ransactional d istance ................................ ................................ ......... 17 1 4 Components of d ialogue and s tructure in t ransactional d istance ....................... 19 2 1 Types of i nteraction in o nline e nvironments ................................ ....................... 46 4 1 Thematic o verview ................................ ................................ .............................. 81 4 2 Subthemes for h ow i nstruct ors c ommunicate o nline ................................ .......... 82 4 3 Types of c ommunication ................................ ................................ ..................... 83 4 4 Subthemes for t ools i nstructors u se to c ommunicate o nline ............................. 101 4 5 Subthemes for h ow m ath i nstructors s tructure a c ourse to i ncrease d ialogue .. 112 4 6 How i nstructors d efine t erms ................................ ................................ ............ 116
11 Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Education A QUALITATIVE INVESTIGATION OF HOW INSTRUCTORS COMMUNI CATE WITH STUDENTS AND THE TOOLS THEY USE TO PROMOTE DIALOGUE IN ONLINE POST SECONDARY MATHEMATICS COURSES By Heidi R. Fernandez August 2013 Chair: Erik Black Major: Curriculum and Instruction Post secondary online education affords students the oppor tunity to take entire degree programs at a distance without walking into a traditional classroom In order to do so, all courses must be taken online including math. Historically, math has been taught through lecture delivered from the instructor to stud ent. However, the transition from traditional to online courses changed how knowledge is exchanged and how communication takes place when separated by time and location. Research has shown that communication through reciprocal dialogue and course structu re are significant component s in online courses. Quantitative measures have been able to calculate the frequen cy and types of communication, while b eginning research using a qualitative methodology began to address specifically how instructors communicat e online and the best practices they employ in this environment. Although limited in post secondary math courses, the purpose of this study is to investigate how instructors communicate with students in an online environment, what tools they use to promot e communication, and how instructors structure a course to increase communication in online courses.
12 Using qualitative methodology, semi structured interviews were conducted with six post secondary online math instructors to ascertain how they communicat e with their student s, the tools that they utilize to do so and how they structure the course The study found that the instructors used a variety of communication means such as email, forum posts, and discussion boards to interact with their students. They were open and instructors used a variety of tools such as discussion boards, videos, and synchronous sessions to increase the communication with their students. The results from this study point at several implications regarding the training of instructors in terms of communication, communication tools, videos, discussions, and course structure.
13 C HAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION Online education is quickly becoming an alternative to traditional education (Bejerano, 2008). Distance education programs were developed to serve students who could no t attend courses on campus. In its traditional format, student interactions were supported through correspondence or independent study in wh ich the student mailed their work and/or used computer technologies to communicate with their instructor. Little to no contact was maintained with peers since students were often enrolled in independent courses. As technology expanded, it increased the o ptions available for both instructor to student and student to student communication. Ribsamen (2000) re ported that the Internet boom in the late 1990s brought about developments in media and multimedia which promoted an evolution in distance education pr ograms. During this time, m ixed media courses, hybrid or blended learning courses started to emerge as well as fully online programs. Though often referred to interchangeably, t here is a distinct difference between distance education and online educatio n. Traditional distance education concerned the autonomy of the learner (Moore, 1997) in addition to the privatization of learning (Ribsamen, 2000). Online education is associated with active learning through socialization and group interactions (Bejeran o, 2008). Enrollment in o nline courses offered by higher educational institutions have dramatically increased over the past decade. The economic downturn of early 2010 has spurred the demand for online courses and programs with approximately three quart ers of institution s compared to one half reported an increase in face to face courses and programs (Allen, Seaman, & Sloan Consortium, 2011 ). S tudent enrollment rates in online courses increased by an average of approximately 18.5% from the fall of
14 2002 t o the fall 2010, with a 36.5% surge of enrollments in 2005 (Allen, Seaman, & Sloan Consortium, 2011). By the fall of 2007, 3.9 million college students were taking at least one online course (Doyle, 2009) Just three years later, studies indicated that 6 .1 million students were taking at least one online post secondary course during the fall 2010 term (Allen et al., 2011). According to reports by Allen and Seaman (2006), 46% of postsecondary institutions offer fully online programs and 44% offer online c ourses O ver 65% of institutions reported that online learning was a critical component of their long term strategy with for profit institutions more likely to include online learning as part of their plan (Allen & Seaman, 2011). The se figures represent the continued growth and demand for online education. Figure 1 1. S tudents taking at least one post secondary online course. Adapted from Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States by I. E. Allen, J. Seaman, & Sloan Consortium. Copyr ight 2011 by the Sloan Consortium.
15 Figure 1 2. T he annual growth rate associated with online enrollments. Adapted from Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States by I. E. Allen, J. Seaman, & Sloan Consortium. Copyright 2011 by the Sl oan Consortium. Studying the manner in which students and instructors adapt in an online learning environment is important ( Oliver, Osborne, & Brady, 2009 ); moreover, given the absence of non verbal expressions and face to face communication, students are relegated to written communication in an online course. How each person modifies their communication can shed light on the complex nature of this phenomenon. Students must adapt to asynchronous discussions and interactions with their instructor and peers Although there is similar pedagogy between face to face and online courses, there are important differences including the geographical separation (Moore, 1997) According to Yang and Cornelious (2005), Conceicao (2006), and Jackson, Jones, and Rodrigue z (2010) researchers need to study the many facets of the online environment in order to inform our practice in both instructor communication and course facilitation 23% 18.20% 36.50% 9.70% 12.90% 16.90% 21.10% 10.10% 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% Fall 2003 Fall 2004 Fall 2005 Fall 2006 Fall 2007 Fall 2008 Fall 2009 Fall 2010 Percent of Growth
16 C hapter 2 will discuss student and instructor communication and interactions in an onli ne environmen t and this study will extend the research initiated by Yang and Cornelious (2005), Conceicao (2006), and Jackson et al (2010). It is anticipated that this research will inform educational practioners about how other instructors communicate a nd interact with students in online settings. The research will serve as a catalyst to allow practioners to reflect upon their teaching pedagogy as well as improve online communication with students by applying the documented best practices found in this study in their courses. Chapter 2 will serve as an introduction, presenting the theory of transactional distance, research in online education, in addition to the research questions which guide this study. Transactional Distance D ue to the absence of physical presence in a classroom t he transition of education from face to face to online called for new theories to describe this phenomenon. Michael Moore proposed the theory of Transactional Distance defined as ace to be crossed, a space of potential Moore, 1993 p. 23). The theory explains how the instructor, students, and content interact online. It does so using three components, na mely structure, dialogue, and autonomy. Although the three elements encompass their own definitions, they are all intertwined thereby elucidating the unique phenomenon that is online education.
17 Figure 1 3. Theory of Transactional Distance The current literature accepts transactional distance as a theory encapsulating the unique nature of the online learning environment ( e.g., Saba & Shearer, 1994; Chen & Willits, 1998; Chen, 2001 ; Shannon, 2002 ; Huang, 2002; Lemak, Shin, Reed, & Montgomery, 2005; Goko ol Ramdoo, 2008; Shin, 2010, Falloon, 2011 ). It was proposed that the theory of transactional distance be considered a global theory for several reasons, one being the containment of elements that are inherent in other proposed theories (Gokool Ramdoo, 20 08). Gorsky and Capsi cite three reasons for the importance of the theory, (1) Researchers view it as a basic analytical framework to better understand distance education, (2) Researchers state the need to reduce transactional distance (3) The theory is a ssumed true and taught in higher learning (2005). The dialogue component of Transactional Distance Theory is of great importance valued by each party. Each party in a dialogue is a respectful and active listener; each
18 is a contributor, and builds on the contributions of the other party or parties. The direction of a dialogue in an educational relationship is towards the improved 93, p. 24). Stud ents seeking out online instruction bring with them expectations about interactions and communication with the instructor, students, and content. further influences how this interaction and communication within the cour se. Highly autonomous learners can thrive in a less structured environment and thus can be attracted to the attributes of online learning (Moore, 1997). All of these theoretical components are entangled with one another revealing a highly complex structu re, which is at the core o f online course is facilitated (e.g., Vrasidas & McIsaac, 1999; Howland & Moore, 2002 ). According to Shannon (2002), two organizational and te aching behaviors are critical to overcome the transactional distance, namely the structure elements of course design and organization and the dialogue shared between instructor and students. Therefore, the theory of transactional distance is a sustainable framework that can facilitate our knowledge of online interactions and dialogue. What the Research Says Prior research has studied the components of transactional distance in various combinations with and without anticipated learning outcomes (Saba & Shearer, 1994; Bunker, Gayol, Nti, & Reidell, 1996; Chen, 2001; Chen & Willits, 1998; Bischoff, Bisconer, Kooker, & Woods, 1996). These studies primarily focused on the dialogue that occurs in relation to transactional distance with course structure releg ated to a secondary or tertiary measure. The literature shows a relationship between increased dia logue and student satisfaction and reported learning gains. However, course
19 structure is a variable that can determine the extent of dialogue that can occur and ultimately the degree of transactional distance felt among students (Gorsky & Caspi, 2005). Stein, Wanstreet, Calvin, Overtoom, and Wheaton (2005 ) recognize that the relationship between course structure and the psychological and communication gap re sulting from distance learning is scarce in the literature Figure 1 4 Components of Dialogue and Structure in Transactional Distance Moore did not define how to measure the components of structure, dialogue, and autonomy when he published the theory of transactional distance. This left researchers to interpret and define the terms. These definitions were called into question for their validity and interpretation of the original theoretical premises. Dialogue has been operationalized in a number of studies as the number of communications that occur in an online environment (Saba & Shearer, 1994; Bunker et al., 1996; Bischoff et al., 1998; Chen & Willits, 1998). However measured by the number of verb al interactions ; thus, studies that simply measured the number of communications within a course may not necessarily measure dialogue
20 (Moore, 1993) Rather, d ialogue should lead to the improved understanding by the student. Moore differentiates between d ialogue and interaction in the following manner, i f student understanding has been achieved, then dialogue occurred. However, if student understanding was not achieved, then it was merely an interaction between both parties (Moore, 1993). The prior stud ies measured the components of Transactional Distance quantitatively. They all recommended that subsequent research include interviews or observation s (Saba & Shearer, 1994; Bunker et al., 1996; Chen, 2001; Chen & Willits, 1998; Bischoff et al., 1996). I n addition, the studies measured the effect of dialogue in relation to an outcome variable or after the communication took place. Key Terms Defined Depending upon the nature of the study, terms such as communication, interaction, and dialogue can be defined in different ways. Communication is viewed as an exchange of information whether in person, electronically, or through another medium. However, definitions for dialogue become more ambiguous depending on the focus of the study. Some researchers count the number of transactions that occur and label them as dialogue (Saba & Shearer, 1994; Bunker et al., 1996; Bischoff et al., 1998; Chen & Willits, 1998). Moore recognizes three distinct types of interaction, instructor student, student student, an d student content (1989), and states that dialogue is an interaction that has positive qualities (1997). These three types of interactions have been notably accepted in the literature while others have proposed other forms such as student interface (Hillm an, Willis, & Gunawardena, 1994).
21 For the purpose of this study, the following definitions will be adopted: C OMMUNICATION an exchange of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium (Oxford dictionary, 2010); the ways in which informat ion is shared I NTERACTION an exchange between the instructor student, student student, or student content (Moore, 1989) D IALOGUE an interaction having positive qualities; purposeful, constructive and valued by each party (Moore, 1997) Problem Statement T he particulars of how instructors communicate online and how they structure a course to increase dialogue were not addressed by the previously mentioned research. While the role of dialogue is recognized as an integral component in online environments as shown in the research ( Saba & Shearer, 1994; Bunker et al., 1996; Chen, 2001; Chen & Willits, 1998; Bischoff et al., 1996) the pedagogical facet informing instructors how to increase dialogue is less clear. This dissertation will investigate how post sec ondary mathematics instructors communicate online and the specific tools that they use to increase communication their courses. Significance of the Study Outcomes associated with this study are anticipated to have far reaching effects. As o nline course of ferings continue to increase so does the need for qualified instructors to fill these roles. At times, new instructors are not versed in online pedagogy ( Yang & Cornelious, 2005 ; Bonk & Dennen, 2003 ). Often, they are beholden to the specific training of fered by their institution ( Boling, Hough, Krinsky, Saleem, & Stevens, 2012 ), which may not address best practices for online environments or the content matter associated with a course. In addition, a learning curve occurs when an instructor moves from t he traditional to online environment including the way they
22 communicate, their attitudes toward technology, and time investments for student feedback and course facilitation (Lei & Gupta, 2010). Learning how to navigate within the modality takes time. Wa tson and Johnson (2011) claim that there are two main fundamental skills required to teach online: learning the technology and effective online pedagogy Instructors are thus required to learn a separate set of skills in order to be successful in facilit ating online courses. Oliver, Osborne, and Brady (2009) summarize three categories of instructor online competency, which consist of managing the online learning environment, preparing content, and utiliz ing tools for desired outcomes This study will in form practitioners about effective ways to communicate online and specific tools that can be used to increase dialogue, which can potentially reduce the transactional distance felt by the students, adding to their pedagogic knowledge. Additionally, this research has the potential to influence c ourse designers and administrators of online programs It is anticipated that these individuals will gain additional understanding of how instructors increase dialogue. The best practices of online instructors sho uld be recognized by the faculty and school in order to meet the studying the specific characteristics of how instructors communicate online and what they do to increase di alogue; it is possible to enhance the quality of the courses, increase student satisfaction, and ultimately student learning. Purpose Statement The purpose of this study is t wo fold; first, I investigate d the manner in which instructors communicate with s tudents in online courses. Second, I explore d the pedagogical tools that instructors employ to increase communication in online courses.
23 Methodology The researcher conducted a qualitative, case study involving in depth, semi structured interviews with on line math instructors at various post secondary institutions The questions posed in this study are addressed through a qualitative case study Participants were recruited using convenience sampling ( Creswell, 2005 ). In depth interviews were conducte d and recorded over the phone, and later transcribed. The interview questions were semi structured in order to allow for question probing and clarification. The transcribed interviews underwent several rounds of coding identifying preliminary categorica l themes. A second coder was used to increase reliability as well as member checking. A final analysis of the data report ed how instruc tors communicate with students and the tools they use to increase dialogue in online courses Research Questions The f ollowing questions frame the study: 1. How do math instructors communicate with students in an online environment? 2. What tools do math instructors use to promote communication in an online course? 3. How do math instructors structure a course to increase dialog ue? Assumptions There are several assumptions regarding this study. First, it is assumed that instructors communicate with their students in online courses. The second assumption is that instructors strive to increase the dialogue in their online cours es through several means including course structure.
24 Delimitations The instructors represented in this study are from four different institutions Math instructors were chosen in order to capture the unique way in which they communicate in this subject a rea. This was intentional in order to report the views of this specific subgroup. Communication can vary across disciplines, therefore the sample was chosen to control for this factor. Limitations There are several limitations associated with this stu dy. A primary limitation is that only instructors teaching online math courses were included. The experience of the instructor, the specific course, and the course content were not variables in selecting nce contains three components: structure, dialogue, and autonomy ( Moore 1997) Dialogue is the focus of the study with course structure a secondary component of dialogue. The two components are intertwined and thus cannot be easily separated. The auto nomy of the student was not included. The inclusion of all three components requires a study outside of the boundaries of the present research. Research Bias The researcher has been in the education field for eight years and teaching online courses for the past five years. Additionally she has taken over 2 6 online courses as a student and taught over 90 sections of online math ematics at the secondary level The experience and participation in online education gives the researcher a unique outlook of transactional distance, dialogue, and its effect in online courses.
25 Organization of the Study This study is d ivided into five chapters. C hapter 1 introduces the nature of the study, including the problem statement, purpose, and signficance. Chapter 2 begins by introducing the theoretical framework of the research and the findings from the C hapter 3 The results from th e study is reported in Chapter 4 Chapter 5 con cludes with a discussion of the results in addition to implications and directions for further research.
26 Definition of Terms A SSESSMENTS the evaluative components included in a course; may include quizzes, exams, reflections, wr itings, and discussions A UTONOMOUS STUDENT a student responsible for his or her learning C OGNITIVE PRESENCE the degree to which students construct and confirm meaning through reflection and discourse (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2001) C OMMUNICATION a n exchange of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium (Oxford dictionary, 2010); the ways in which information is shared C OMMUNITY OF I NQUIRY theoretical framework which includes social, cognitive, and teaching presence C OURSE STRUCTUR E the design and location of instructional materials in an online course D IALOGUE an interaction having positive qualities; purposeful, constructive and valued by each party (Moore, 1997) D ISCUSSION FORUM an asynchronous forum used as a tool to house st udent and instructor commentary on a set topic D ISTANCE EDUCATION correspondence courses developed for students unable to attend campus; communication through mail or electronic means I MMEDIACY BEHAVIORS the attempt, on behalf of the instructor, to reduc e the social distance between the instructor and student (Arbaugh, 2001) I NSTRUCTOR PRESENCE perceived appearance of the instructor in a course I NTERACTION an exchange between the instructor student, student student, or student content (Moore, 1989) O NLI NE COURSE education delivered through an electronic medium over the internet without face to face contact P RESENCE perceived appearance of the instructor in a course S ELF DIRECTED LEARNERS students who are independent, can manage their work and responsi bilities, set goals, and evaluate/reflect upon said goals
27 S ELF DIRECTED LEARNING the process in which an individual takes the initiative to diagnose learning needs, make goals, identify resources, implement learning strategies, and evaluate learning outco mes (Knowles, 1975) S OCIAL PRESENCE the degree to which participants feel affectively connected to one another in an online environment (Swan & Shih, 2005) T EACHING PRESENCE incorporates design and organization of a course, facilitation of discourse, and direct instruction (Anderson, Rourke, Garrison, & Archer, 2001) T RADITIONAL EDUCATION education that includes lecture, students, an instructor, and synchronous discussion (Moore, 1973) T RANSACTIONAL DISTANC E theoretical framework that includes the struc ture, interaction, and autonomy in relation to online courses; a spectrum of connectedness the student feels to the instructor or course; greater transactional distance results in increased perceived distance while less transactional distance results in de creased perceived distance with the instructor and instructional components.
28 CHAPTER 2 LITERATURE REVIEW Online education has been growing at an aggressive rate over since the mid s uring the fall demand for online course offerings is affecting colleges and universities across the globe. Allen and Seaman (2010) report that 66% of post secondary instit utions reported an increased demand for new courses while 73% have seen an increase for existing online offerings. It is anticipated that this demand will continue to increase as long as students are satisfied with the instruction and education they recei ve ( Kim & Bonk, 2006). Purpose The purpose of Chapter 2 is to provide a research based context for this dissertation. The chapter will introduce the theory of transactional distance as it relates to communication in online education, synthesize empirica l research that has been conducted in the field, highlight gaps in the literature, and discuss the need for further research. The topics of online communication and interaction, types of interaction, instructor presence, immediacy behaviors, math, and com puter mediated communication as they relate to online education will be the focus of the review. Instructors have the ability to structure a course to increase dialogue by adding discussion forums, sending out frequent communications, and providing indivi dual feedback to students. Therefore, the literature review is being viewed through this perspective of instructor controlled communication. Additionally, the chapter will discuss the demographics and other characteristics of students who are attracted t o
29 online learning and will explore the relevant themes found in the literature. The following questions frame the study: 1. How do math instructors communicate with students in an online environment? 2. What tools do math instructors use to promote communicat ion in an online course? 3. How do instructors structure a course to increase dialogue? Several databases were used to search for the empirical studies and research for this literature review such as Education Full Text, JSTOR, ERIC, ProQuest, and Google Sc holar. The following key terms were employed in a primary search : transactional distance theory online communication, online interaction s, student satisfaction in online courses perception of student learning online, instructor presence immediacy beha viors, teaching online math, online learning, distance education, student satisfaction, and self directed learners Search findings were limited to the past decade with the exception of original, seminal works and theoretical frameworks. In the subsequen t searche s, the author looked for references cited in the preliminary findings. Articles that did not focus on the themes of this literature review or did not discuss communication or interaction in online education were excluded. Research involving on line course communication and interactions, online presence, immediacy behaviors, student satisfaction, and self directed learners were inclusionary themes for this literature review. In addition, background research of the topic was incorporated in the l iterature search. The history, benefits, significance, and theories surrounding online education were included in the development of this review. There are many empirical studies within the broader context of online education. It was important to focus on the themes discussed in this literature review therefore, exclusions were necessary. Research which looked at communication through different
30 medias, learning objects, chat, etc., although noteworthy, were not germane in this review of the literature. Theoretical Framework Online education can be viewed through several theoretical lenses. For the purpose of this literature review, only the theory of transactional distance will be discussed. Community of Inquiry, Andragogy, and Transformative Learni ng Theory were considered in the review of theoretical frameworks in the field. These theories were e xcluded however since they do not fully capture the phenomenon being studied in this project. Although they aid in elucidating the type of learner in onl ine education and other online constructs, it is secondary to the focus of this review. It is through careful examination of transactional distance that shareholders of online education can study and inform their practice. This section will introduce, de fine, and discuss the conceptual components of this theory as it relates to online education. Theory of Independent Learning and Teaching Building upon Boyd and Apps (1980), Moore linked trans actions to the online environment thereby developing the theory of transactional distance. Dewey and Bentley (1946) defined and phases of action, without final attributio n to elements or other presumptively detachable or independent entities, essences, or realities, and without isolation of This definition was followed up by a series of characteri zations to illustrate the range of the definition. They were trying to replicate the scientific nature of theory in the behavioral sciences. Students, in the pursuit of knowledge, create artifacts when learning These
31 behaviors and actions can be observ ed, as in scientific inquiry, and thus the notion of transaction sought to delineate this process (Dewey & Bentley, 1946). Boyd and Apps patterns of behaviors in a situatio education. Moore took these ideas and applied them to independent learning by which institutions plan and implement programs based upon the needs of the learners (Moore, 1980). These ideas spurred his earlie r theory of Independent Learning and Teaching. During the 1960s and 1970 s open universities schools without entry requirements, began serving the independent learner. These non traditional instructional programs of the open universities moved research in a new direction (Moore, 1973). There was such a growth in this area that by 1973 nearly 70% of American colleges and universities offered independent study programs in their academic departments (Moore, 1980). The growing presence of new media enabled these programs to mature and increased the freedom of students to choose how and theory: learner, teacher, and method of communication. I will first briefly discuss the modalities and the roles of the student and teacher in his original theory before discussing the current constructs of the theory. Both learning and teaching were thought to be purposeful and deliberate activities according to Moore (1973). His origina l theory defined an educational system whereby the learner was autonomous and separated from the instructor through space and time. Communication was through print, electronic, or other spatially separated mediums. The biggest difference between the two modalities of learning was the
32 separation of student and instructor. Moore distinguished between the two by terming presence of both student and instructor and assume th at there is no delay in communication. Class lecture, the students, and synchronous discussion are attributes of this situation. This is referred to as the traditional environment (Moore, 1973). On the other hand, distance teaching involves the separati on of teaching and learning behaviors. Communication between student and teacher is assisted using media, either print or digital. The teacher executes the instructional tasks similar to and different from the traditional methods. Students also accompli sh learning tasks through a variety of methods. As the effectiveness of the bridging increases, the less distance exists between the two groups (Moore, 1973). within the lear ning system. Due to the nature of the online environment, the learner is expected to accept a high level of responsibility for their learning, whereby the model, Moore define to overcome obstacles for oneself, to try to do difficult learning tasks and to resist clarification, assi stance, and guidance as they navigate through their learning journey. increased. The teacher is not guided by lectures and delivering content first hand. The function shifts to one of providing information, advice, and recommendations
33 and allows the learner to make the decisions (Moore, 1973). This environment requires that teachers respond to students and anticipate future needs and questions. The traditi onal school environment was recognized as one having a classroom, lecture, and both teacher and student present. Independent learners were physically separated from a teacher and the communication occurred through print or another form of media (Moore, 19 73). The individual student teacher transaction was modeled on the tutorial system at Oxford and Cambridge and emerged on American campuses after instructor monitors the stud directed inquiry, through which the student acquires competence in study skills and the exercise of self of a non traditio nal classroom. The presently accepted theory, transactional distance, will be discussed at further length in this review. The theory of transactional distance has evolved over the past few decades. Structure, dialogue, and autonomy are the three compone nts that define the theory and will be discussed in relation to the online learning environment. Transactional Distance The structure component of transactional distance includes the course design and organization According to Moore (1997), the structure of a program is shaped by its media, philosophy of teachers, personalities of learner, and institutional constraints Jackson (1968) defines two stages of teaching, the preactive and interactive. The objectives, curriculum, and instructional strategies are determined in the preactive stage while dialogue and interaction through verbal, written, or face to face contact occurs
34 during the interactive stage (Moore, 1980). Physical contact is not required during the interactive stage which is applicable in t he online environment. When a program is highly structured, the transactions between student and instructor are high (Moore, 1997). The high structure limits the amount of dialogue that can occur with little deviation from the prescribed curriculum. T he transactional distance can be reduced by increasing the dialogue through teleconferencing or well structured print materials (Moore, 1997). On the other hand, a flexible structure corresponds to high dialogue and learner control (Sahin, 2008). The a utonomy of the learner is increased in less structured programs in that the learners take responsibility and make decisions concerning their course of study (Moore, 1997). Several factors need to be taken into consideration when desig ning course curriculu m such as the complexity of the content, characteristics, and autonomy of the learners (Moore, 1997). Instructors need to find the right balance in order to maximize learning and increase purposeful dialogue among the participants. The amount of dialogu e that occurs in an online environment varies and is dependent on the structure of the course. Little to no dialogue occurs with one way media such as television, audiotape, or book (Moore, 1997). The transactional distance is higher in these circumstanc es since the contact between student and teacher is limited. However, the media can be manipulated to increase the dialogue and lessen the transactional distance. Audio conferencing and teleconferencing allow for the ability to bridge this distance and p romote dialogue.
35 The presence of media tools do not guarantee that dialogue will occur. A number of factors influence the levels of interaction in an online program. The number of students, frequency of communicative opportunities, emotional and physi cal environments of students and teachers, personalities, and content has an impact on the amount of dialogue present in a course (Moore, 1997). Courses can be classified as tive media created by a team in order to increase dialogue and individualization of courseware (Moore, 1973). Given the nature of an online education program, students are expected to take on a certain level of autonomy. A person who can identify a proble m, create and define goals in accordance with the problem, and work towards those goals to achieve success is a fully autonomous learner (Moore, 1980). It is the learner who determines these goals, experience, and evaluation of outcomes, not the teacher ( Moore, 1997). Moore (1973) further breaks down this concept into three sets of learning events: establishment, executive, and evaluative. The learner chooses the goals, identifies needed information, and creates short term objectives during the establis hment event. Attending lectures, reading, consulting others, or performing experiments are components of the executive events during which the learner is gathering information and collecting ideas to work towards solving the identified problem. During th e last event, evaluative, the learner judges the information and skills acquired while determining the validity of possible solutions. Conclusions and the need for further research occur during this event (Moore, 1973).
36 Highly autonomous learners can thrive in a less structured environment while less autonomous learners seek out programs with high structure (Moore, 1997). This observation adds great insight as to the characteristics of the current online learner. It ory of Andragogy is aimed at explaining the characteristics of the adult learner. His theory is based upon four assumptions of concept moves from one of dependency to self direction, the accumulation of experien ce becomes a resource for learning, their readiness to learn increases as the need to cope with real life tasks and problems increase, and they are performance centered with a preference for immediate application of knowledge (Knowles, 1970). Although the focus of this literature review is on interactions that occur in online education, the theory of adult learning helps to explain the autonomous nature of individuals as well as those who are attracted to learning in this environment. The autonomous stu dent is not learning in isolation. The student has the opportunity to seek the assistance of the instructor in order to solicit help in formulating problems, gathering information, or judging progress (Moore, 1973). The act of seeking help is functional and not emotional. The student requests help in order to achieve success not to win approval from the teacher (Moore, 1980). Adult learners are conditioned to rely on the traditional belief of education whereby the instructor is the main disseminator of content in a highly prescribed environment. Educators of adult students must help them to become self directed and self reliant as they have little experience in sustaining independence in these types of educational settings (Moore,
37 1980). Both the learn er and teacher need to share responsibility for the transactions that occur in adult learning (Knowles, 1980). In summary, the theory of transactional distance is comprised of three main components: structure, dialogue, and autonomy. The theory was ch osen to serve as the theoretical framework for my research for its explanations and definitions of the transactions that occur in an online learning environment. The course structure and dialogue between student and teacher serve as the basis for future r esearch on how instructors communicate and interact with students in online learning environments. Communication and Interaction in Online Education During the review of the literature, several themes emerged relating to communication in the online learnin g environment. The type of interaction, instructor presence, immediacy behaviors, the self directed learner, math delivered online, and online faculty training are the themes included in this review. In addition, the existence of these constructs resulte d in positive correlations to course satisfaction and perceived learning and will be incorporated in the discussion of the literature. This section will discuss the progression of empirical research and the resulting themes found in the literature. A cri tique of the methodologies, direction for further research, and significance will conclude the review. Key Definitions Terms such as communication, interaction, and dialogue can be defined in different ways depending on the type and focus of the researc h being conducted. This definitions to clarify the focus of this research. For the purposes of this study, communication, interaction, and dialogue are defined as follows:
38 C OM MUNICATION an exchange of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium (Oxford dictionary, 2010); the ways in which information is shared I NTERACTION an exchange between the instructor student, student student, or student content (Moore, 1989) D IALOGUE an interaction having positive qualities; purposeful, constructive and valued by each party (Moore, 1997) Progression of Research When Michael Moore proposed the theory of transactional distance, he called for scholars to empirically test the theory for its merits. This call was met with a series of studies testing the components of the theory (Saba & Shearer, 1994; Bunker et al., 1996; Bischoff et al., 19 98; Chen & Willits, 1998) A review of the research showed that the types of studies progressed in stages based upon the findings and suggestions for new research. This section will discuss how the research has evolved over the past two decades. Early researchers (Saba & Shearer, 1994; Bunker et al., 1996; Bischoff et al., 1998; Chen & Willits, 1998) tested the components of the theory. Several attempts were made to support transactional distance in online education. These studies were separate and not equal, defining terms differently, including varying components of transactional dis tance and even looking at probable learning outcomes. The research was somewhat successful although the validity of some studies was called into question (Gorsky & Caspi, 2005). Gorsky and Caspi expressed concern for the lack of construct validity in som e of the earlier studies and called the operationalization of the components into question (2005 ). Since Moore did not explicitly state how to operationalize the variables within his theory, each researcher created their own
39 definition. This led others ( Chen, 2001 ; Giossos, Koutsouba, Lionarakis, & Skavantzos, 2009) to question the constructs and validity of their research. communications that took place within a course. How ever, several studies (Saba & Shearer, 1994; Bunker et al., 1996; Chen & Willits, 1998; Bischoff et al., 1996) operationalized dialogue in this manner Moreover, structure was defined in a number of ways including pace, content, feedback, and sequence (Sa ba & Shearer, 1994), activities and the number of students (Bischoff et al., 1998), instructional design (Bunker et al., 1996), and organization and implementation (Chen & Willits, 1998). The variance among the definitions was called into question by rese archers such as Gorsky and Caspi (2005) citing a lack of original scientific theory due to its absence of universal operational definitions. However, the theory survived and moved in a different direction in the next round of studies. Citing the prescrip tive nature of the theory, Gorsky and Caspi stated the theory did not elucidate was real dialogue looked like and how it worked in the learning environment (2005). This suggestion was taken into consideration (e.g., Swan, 2001; Stein et al., 2005; Shea et al., 2006; Jackson et al., 2010) and thus the next round of studies prevailed. The application of transactional distance theory was used in relation to student outcome variables such as satisfaction and perceived learning (Swan, 2001; Stein et al., 2005; Jackson et al., 2010). Continued research supported the theory citing that it was considered applicable to the online environment and worthy of further research using transactional distance a supporting theoretical framework (Giossos et al., 2009). Cont inuing with quantitative measures, several studies (Swan, 2001; Stein et al., 2005;
40 Shea et al., 2006 ; Jackson et al., 2010) sought to find a relationship between the components of transactional distance and student satisfaction or learning. Swan (2001) perceived learning including interaction with instructors, clarity of design, and active communication with peers As the levels of interaction increased with content, the instructor, and other students, their perceived satisfaction and leaning also increased in comparison to those who reported fewer interactions (Swan, 2001). This conclusion was supported in an additional study which examined the student satisfaction and perceived learnin structure and dialogue viewed as interaction (Stein et al. 2005). Leaners who were satisfied with the course structure and learner initiated interaction reported that they perceived an increase in perceived knowledge (Stein et al 2005). This finding transactional distance reported (1993). Continuing the nature of these relationships in the online en vironment, Shea, Li, and Pickett (2006) conducted research to find a connection between perceived teaching nse of learning community They found a relationship between the two constructs. The respondents were more likely to repor t higher levels of learning and community when their instructors exhibited teaching presence and when they reported effective instructional course design and organization (Shea et al., 2006). The importance of these findings support the development of lea to the course and their perceived learning in addition to informing instructor decisions
41 about course design and online pedagogy to enhance the learning environment (Shea et al., 2006). The evolution of the research led to the call for qualitative studies (Swan, 2001) to examine how these constructs interrelate as viewed from both the student and instructor perspective. Once the theory was established as relevant in online settings and the components pointed towards positive relati onships regarding outcome variables, the next step was to ascertain personal experiences from students and instructors. Several studies answered the call for context rich data in the form of qualitative interviews (e.g., Lao & Gonzales, 2005; Su, Bonk, Magjuka, Liu, & Lee, 2005; Conceicao, 2006; Lewis & Abdul Hamid, 2006). The research started with interviews from students and instructors regarding their perceptions of online learning environments (Lao & Gonzales, 2005). Several themes emerged fr om these interviews including the development of a learning community, having the right technology and courses (Lao & Gonzales, 2005). These findings were a starting po int to uncover how both students and instru ctors viewed online courses. They served to illustrate that reflection is vital to the continued success in online learning. A similar case study was conducted which investigated instructor and student percept managerial, social, and technical (Li et al., 2005). contention that instructors hold different roles in varying degrees when teaching online (L i et al., 2005). There was strong support for pedagogical roles which include course
42 design, promoting professional aspirations, providing timely and quality feedback, and facilitating discussion (Li et al., 2005). The results indicated that the online l earning environment is a complex system with various roles and variables at play. Instructor perceptions of course facilitation vary and lend itself to further exploration in this area. Continued research by Roblyer and Wiencke (2003 ), Lewis and Abdul Hamid (2006), and Conceicao (2006) sought to expound the online facilitation practices of faculty. The research that emerged was consistent with online best practices. In an effort to understand how instructors engage students in learning and build commu nity, Lewis and Abdul Hamid interviewed instructors using criterion sampling (2006). Several themes emerged when attempting to explain how effective practices are applied in the online setting. Instructors from this study cited fostering interaction, pro viding feedback, facilitating learning, and maintaining enthusiasm and organization were strategies that they utilized in their online courses (Lewis & Abdul Hamid, 2006). About two thirds of the respondents stated that they required students to make subs tantive posts in discussion forums or collaborate with other students to maintain class interaction (Lewis & Abdul Hamid, 2006). Timely and substantive feedback was another best practice mentioned by the instructors. Use of rubrics and continue encourage ment of all students were identifiable best practices (Lewis & Abdul Hamid, 2006). Course organization and instructor presence were cited as practices used to engage students and encourage learning (Lewis & Abdul Hamid, 2006). There were many similaritie s noted between best practices in face to face and online courses. However, the structure of the online environment is important to promote interactivity. Faculty have to take deliberate actions to plan, maintain, and engage students not only with the co urse
43 content, but among one another in order to meet the needs of the students and further learning (Lewis & Abdul Hamid, 2006). The qualitative research supported earlier claims for principles of best practices in education. Chickering and Gamson (1987) published seven principles of good practice in undergraduate education. Two decades later, these principles are consistent with empirical findings of online practices. A summ ary of these principles include encourage contact between stu dents and faculty, develop reciprocity and cooperation among students, encourage active learning, give prompt feedback, emphasize time on task, communicate high expectations, and respect diverse talents and ways of learning ( Chickering & Gamson, 1987 ). Ch izmar, Walbert, and Hurd applied these principles in undergraduate online courses finding that the principles are supported through 1999 ). Three conclusions were made including prompt feedback on questions and assignments, choosing diverse learning tools to interact with the content, and encouraging student use of technology to communicate ideas and critiques with students and the instructor (Chizmar et al., 1999). Roblyer and Wiencke (2003) observed the lack of definit ion regarding interactive qu alities in online courses They claim that this deficit hindered the transfer of theory to research design and practice. In response to this observation, they developed a rubric to assess and encourage interactive qualities in online courses. Research showed that increased interaction is correlated to higher achievement and satisfaction (Zirkin & Sumler, 1995) and distance courses need to employ different means of interaction than traditional courses in order to pervade intera ctive qualities in instruction (Rheingold, 2001). Roblyer and Wiencke identified three characteristics that define interaction
44 namely the type of interaction by members involved in the exchange, the characterization or interaction as message transmission and interaction as social and psychological connections (2003). In designing their rubric, they concluded that interaction is achieved through a complex system of social, instructional, and technological variables. Student engagement and learning is th e most meaningful type of interaction, and student engagement can be increased when learning is structured around collaborative experiences (Roblyer & Wiencke, 2003). Their rubric included five elements on a five point scale where a higher number indicate d a high level of interactive qualities. The five elements are social/rapport building designs for interaction, instructional designs for interaction, interactivity of technology resources, evidence of learner engagement, and evidence of instructor engage ment (Roblyer & Wiencke, 2003). This rubric was a next step in allowing instructors to rate and reflect upon their online pedagogy. In summation, the research followed a natural progression of understanding the components of transactional dis tance as it relates to online education. First, the theory was studied for its component parts and how they interact in online environments. Although claims were made about their construct validity, the theory is still widely accepted and used as a theor etical foundation in online education research. Next, outcome variables, student satisfaction and perceived learning, were measured using the components of transactional distance. A strong correlation between them moved the research in a different direct ion. The call for qualitative studies to explain how this phenomenon expresses in online environments was the next theme in the literature. Lastly, these studies served to identify best practices in online education settings which
45 can be transferr ed into practice. However, the body of research neglected to focus on and substantiate exactly how and what instructors do to increase dialogue in their online courses. Types of Interactions in an Online Environment An interaction can be understood as actions among individuals or with content ( Moore, 1989 ). Moore characterized three types of interactions in online settings including instructor student, student student, and student content (1989). These interactions seemed all inclusive when describing the na ture of communication in online courses. However, it was argued that a fourth interaction was present. Hillman, Willis, and Gunawardena proposed a student interface interaction to explain the interaction that takes place between the student and the elect ronic classroom (1994). Anderson rejected the fourth interaction claiming that the learner interface interaction was a component of each other interaction when they occur at a distance and should not be considered unique (2003). A meta analysis comparing different modes of distance education supported the three types of interaction: instructor student, student student, and student content and associated them with increased learning outcomes ( Bernard, Abrami, Borokhovski, Wade, Tamin, Surkes, & Bethel, 20 09). This sect ion will discuss the three agreed upon interactions and how they relate to online education. Instructor to Student Historically, knowledge was transferred from instructor to student in a hierarchical relationship. The instructor wa s the main provider of information and transferred this knowledge to students through lecture. Students then regurgitated the information back to the instructor, usually through tests. The resulting scores were a measure of the amount of knowledge retain ed by the students. However, this model of
46 learning has been challenged in the online learning environment. The instructor student relationship is now a holarchical one, resulting in shared power and distribution (Steinman, 2007). Figure 2 1 Types of Interaction in Online Environments The amount of transactional distance in an online environment affects the student satisfaction and learning in a course. According to Steinman (2007), when students feel a separation or break in the communication bet ween themselves and the instructor, transactional distance increases. This increase in transactional distance leads students to feel less satisfied in a given course and thus can increase attrition rates. When communication is shared and interactive, it reduces the impact of perceived distance between the instructor and student (Steinman, 2007). The amount of communication between instructors and students is a leading factor that reduces the distance between both parties (Brooks, 2003). Garrison and Cle veland Innes (2005) studied four courses with varying instructor interaction. The purpose of the study was to measure how graduate students adjust their learning in relation to the setting. Students can ascribe to deep, surface, or
47 achievement learning a pproaches (Garrison & Cleveland Innes, 2005). They concluded that higher interactions via teaching presence contributed to a deeper learning approach on behalf of the students. Courses which exhibited little to no instructor involvement showed no shift t owards deeper learning or a drop in approaching learning at a deeper level (Garrison & Cleveland Innes, 2005). These results indicate that instructor to learner interactions do affect how students approach learning. Rhode (2009) found that instructor i nteractions and quality of course content was the most important aspect of a self paced course. His study surveyed students in a self paced course for a professional certificate program. Although the generalizability is her support that instructor to learner interactions are critical in an online learning environment. According to Steinman (2007), transactional distance can occur in both an online and face to face course. Our prior experience and perceptions of educa tion lead us to believe that physical proximity is required in order to have effective instruction (Steinman, 2007). However, the transactional distance can be reduced in the online environment by using a number of digital resources to bridge the gap betw een the instructor student communications. Several videoconferencing programs exist such as Skype and Elluminate, which can be incorporated into the online course structure to reduce transactional distance. Instructors can use chat and video to commun icate with their students in a synchronous setting. Here, students are able to receive immediate feedback and ask questions. The use of video can allow the participants to see one another thereby decreasing transactional distance. The use of interactive online tools has shifted the paradigm of
48 transactional distance from a one way interaction to a multi interactive collaborative experience increased satisfaction with on line courses when the feeling of remoteness is student experience and perceived learning. Student to Student The relationships among students that exist in the face to face classroom differ from those in the online environment. A social element is present in the traditional environment and affords students the ability to interact with one another using verbal and non verbal cues. However, similar interaction in the online environment is limited mostly to written communication. The perception shifts from individuals to that of a list of unknown names. This lack of personal connection makes it difficult for students to interact and get to know one another (Steinman, 2007). In a study by Ryan, Carlton, and Ali, students reported several feelings in regards to the online learning environment (1998). They felt disconnected from others which led to feelings of isolation. The asynchronous communication affected the flow of ideas and left them feeling further disconnected. Students also missed seeing faces to go with the names in the class (Steinman, 2007). Picciano (2002) researched student perceptions of online interactions through discussion board postings with fell ow classmates. Picciano found that there is a strong, positive relationship between student perceptions of their interaction in the course and their perceptions of the quality and quantity of their learning (2002). When the variables were isolated, the f indings were inconsistent. The outcomes are evidence to the fact
49 that perception is an intricate phenomenon that cannot be fully captured through quantitative measures alone. F eelings of isolation may be remedied through the use of community building a ctivities. Instructors that are aware of these concerns can take the prop er steps to increase student student cohesion and sense of community. Computer mediated communication (CMC) includ ing discussion boards, email, electronic whiteboards, and chat room s can assist educators to creat e a sense of community and thus increase is viewed as a critical factor for developing learning communities and engaging learning enviro nments (Rhode, 2009). Studying the effects of collaborative learning tools, McBrien, Jones, and Cheng Overall, the students were satisfied with their experience in the Ellu minate sessions and reported an increase in social interaction. Moreover, students were more comfortable expressing their opinions, increased their participation, and reflection time. All students, including those who are identified as shy, were able t o communicate in this Elluminate setting, including many of whom may not do so in a traditional classroom setting (McBrien et al., 2009). Student to Content The structure of a course affects how a student will interact with it. As the course structure content interaction refers to students interacting with the subject matter under study to construct 2011, p. 86). Moore contended that it is the process of interacting with the content in an
50 perspective, or cognitive structures (Moore, 1989). The structure of the course s hould be taken into consideration in instructional design. Effective online pedagogy is not replicating the face to face materials and placing them online. Organization, expectations, timeliness, understandable texts, supplemental materials, and technica l support are considerations in delivering content online and subsequently setting up the course (Paloff & Pratt, 2001). A qualitative study by Boling, Hough, Krinsky, Saleem, and Stevens explored both the teacher and student perspectives of online lear ning experiences (2012). Most respondents reported courses that were mainly text based and limited student interaction (Boling et al., 2012). The students reporting heavy text based content and limited instructor student and student student interaction s tated that they were less satisfied with their online learning experience when compared to students enrolled in more interactive courses (Boling et al., 2012). Therefore, course design and presentation of the content does play a role in student interactio n and satisfaction in online courses. How Instructors Communicate in an Online Environment Instructors employ a wealth of practices when communicating online (Conceicao, 2006; Lewis & Abdul Hamid, 2006) It has been substantiated that althou gh both face to face and online settings possess interactive qualities, the nature of online communication is different ( Reisetter, Lapointe, & Korcuska, 2007 ). The lack of non verbal cues in online education requires a different response which is called immediacy behaviors in the literature (Arbaugh, 2001). Immediacy behaviors include communication that reduces the perceived distance between teacher and student
51 including timely introductions, positive communication, and flexible availability (Arbaugh, 2 001). Moreover, communication does not have to be two way. Instructor presence is materials, comment, and provide feedback exclusive of student reciprocity. The notion of instructor presence defined as the design, facilitation, and direction of cognition for the purpose of learning outcomes, is a recurring theme in the literature (Anderson, Rourke, Garrison, & Archer, 2001; Arbaugh & Hwang, 2006 ; Shea et al., 2006; Arbaug h, 2010) and thus should not be overlooked in this review. Instructor presence has been positively correlated to student satisfaction and perceived learning (Swan, 2001; Shin, 2003 ; Jackson et al. 2010). The posting of materials or feedback can influenc e the dialogue in online settings and thus worthy of inclusion in the literature review. The literature identified the type of student attracted to online learning. The characteristics of the student impacts the interactions they will have with the ins tructor, other students, and content. Their level of experience with the internet, technological tools, and online learning affect their subsequent interactions in courses (Vrasidas & McIsaac, 1999). Thus, this section will discuss immediacy behaviors, i nstructor presence, and self directed learners in online education. Immediacy Behaviors Immediacy behaviors are one way to explain how communication takes place in online learning environments. Many definitions have been noted in the literature. A refers to communication behaviors that reduce social and psychological distance
52 Arbaugh c ontends that although research on immediacy behaviors has its roots in classroom based research, it is a foundational component for developing community amongst online learners (2010). Nonverbal immediacy behaviors are associated with physical mannerism s such as eye contact, smiling, body position, and movement. Verbal immediacy behaviors deal with speaking activities which can include addressing one by name, using humor, citing personal examples, and providing feedback (Arbaugh, 2001). Given the natur e of online courses, students expect lower nonverbal immediacy behaviors in comparison to the traditional classroom. a Web based Masters of Business Administration courses, confirme d that appropriate immediacy behaviors enhance student learner and course satisfaction that earlier studies had reported. He concluded that his findings may be generalizable to online courses. Instructors can reduce the transactional distance the online environment creates by engaging in immediacy behaviors which build a sense of community among the students and the instructor student relationship. Some examples that can influence student interactions include providing personal examples relating to the c ourse material, demonstrating a sense of humor, and inviting students to seek feedback from one another (Arbaugh, 2001). Dialogue of a conversational manner unrelated to course materials can also create a sense of community in the online classroom. Res earch by Conaway, Easton, and Schmidt (2005) coded discussion forum postings for various examples of immediacy behaviors including affective, cohesive, and interactive responses. Content extracted from r andom selection of postings was
53 analyzed. Immediacy behaviors were present in the discussions although the mean was low on the scale. This research gives us a different perspective, one from that of the student interactions. Discussion forums alone cannot fully capture the full communication in a course The instructor can increase these behaviors through modeling and become engaged in the discussions to promote student dialogue (Conaway et al., 2005). Baker (2004) concluded that instructors that displayed immediacy behaviors were rated higher by stud ents than instructors who did not exemplify these behaviors. Baker found a positive relationship between instructor immediacy and affective learning (2004). The significance of the research is that the instructor has an effect on the learning that occurs in the online environment. They set the tone and can promote a sense of community through such pro social behaviors. Instructor Presence When a student walks into a traditional classroom, it is quickly apparent that there is an instructor to guide the student falls into the role of student allowing the professor to lead the class as expected. However, this differs in an online learning environment. When a student logs into a presence is not immediately apparent. Rather, the student clicks on the chat room where an instructor introduction is awaiting them. It is only after the student reads the introduction that the instructor presence is known. Students new to this modali ty need to quickly adjust. Online programs suffer from a high dropout rate, one reason often cited as a contributory factor is that student do not feel that the instructor has an online presence (Brooks, 2003). One of the main factors that reduce the d istance between students and instructors is the amount of
54 communication conducted in the course. Grading assignments, spending time in chat rooms, and participating significantly are several ways in which instructors can create an online presence accordin g to Brooks (2003). If students feel that the instructor is readily available and their presence is known, they are less likely to drop out of the course due to isolation and lack of instructor support. A study by Swan and Shih (2005) found that instru ctor presence was the sole predictor of satisfaction when other interactions are controlled. It accounts for almost twice the variance in perceived learning. They also found that there is a difference between the social presence of instructors and the so cial presence of other students. The mixed methodology was able to capture student perspectives and further explain the quantitative findings. Some students expected the instructor to be highly involved while others did not need such interaction to feel satisfied with the instructor and course. The findings confirm that students arrive in class with varying expectations and thus the instructor needs to be cognizant of their needs for the course design and interactions. Anderson, Rourke, Garrison, and Archer define teaching presence as having three components: instructional design and organization, facilitating discourse, and direct instruction (2001). In addition, the Community of Inquiry framework incorporates teaching presence as one of its three e lements (Garrison, 2007). The following discussion will explain how instructor presence is viewed through these lenses. According to the research the designing and organizing aspect of teaching presence includes the planning and design of the structure, process, interaction, and evaluation components of the online course ( Anderson et al., 2001). These activities correlate with having a classroom prepared on the first day of school. The lectures,
55 notes, assignments, syllabus, and subsequent materials ar e posted in the online environment at the start of the course. When the student logs in, they are promptly greeted with the materials that they will need to start. Thus, the instructor presence is visible although the instructor may not be physically pre sent in the classroom. Facilitating discourse is the second component ( Anderson et al., 2001). It includes the means by which students are engaged in interacting and building upon the information provided in the course materials (Arbaugh, 2010). The i nteraction differs from dialogue where the student may ask questions, clarify information, and seek to reach agreement with the instructor about what is required in the course. The reciprocal r may review and comment on student posts, raise questions, move discussions in a required direction, keep the discussion moving efficiently, or reach out to inactive students (Arbaugh, 2010). These actions are similar to the type of dialogue that occurs in the traditional classroom setting. The last of the te aching presence components deal s with the concept of direct instruction ( Anderson et al., 2001) Whereas is a traditional classroom the instructor lectures to the students as a form of direct inst ruction, the communication differs in an online environment. A subject matter expert is required, rather than just a facilitator, in order to check for student understanding, interject comments and clarification, guide the discussions in the right directi knowledge (Arbaugh, 2010). Asynchronous discussions are common in online courses. These forums provide for both the instructor and student to display their presence in the classroom and thus con tinue communication for clarification and meaning just as in the
56 traditional classroom setting. This discourse represents the horarchical relationship discussed prior where both the instructor and students are sharing information back and forth. Arbaugh (2010) summarizes that the instructor must play the role of discussion facilitator and content expert in order for online learning to be effective. Garrison (2007) purports that the community of inquiry framework and its subsequent components to discuss issues that have arisen in the literature. He concludes that the literature claims that teaching presence is a significant factor of student satisfaction, perceived learning, and a sense of community. Moreover, it is the structure or design of the cours e as well as the leadership provided by the instructor that plays a key role in the interactions and dialogue in higher order learning (Garrison, 2007). Garrison (2007) notes that it is important to distinguish between facilitation and direct instructio n, although the student may not be able to ascertain and distinguish both of these constructs. Facilitation is thought of as a supporting role where the instructor supports the dialogue but may do little to shape the course of the discussion. On the othe r hand, discourse is a disciplined inquiry. It requires an expert teacher with the knowledge that the dialogue must take a collaborative role in order for students to build knowledge and gain awareness of the process (Garrison, 2007). The literature su ggested that a course shoul d start with clear expectations, including an outline of student expectations for discussion forums The internalization and application of course material by the instructor should be required in order to extend tanding beyond that of surface knowledge and move towards the
57 resolution phase as previously discussed. It is through these shared communication expectations that teacher presence is visible to the online learner. Morgan (2011) conducted a qualitative study which interviewed six instructors and their view of instructor presence. Morgan found that instructors varied their participation in course discussion forums based upon the anticipated outcomes of the course. One instructor viewed the space as a gr aduate seminar and thus participated more extensively in the discussions. On the other hand, a different instructor did not want to be perceived as an authority figure and attempted to reduce the hierarchy by participating less in the discussions. Both o f their students had the highest number of posts in the group which suggest that the instructors were successful in creating an environment in which students wanted to participate (Morgan, 2011). The study gives pective of presence and strengthens the argument that qualitative research can better capture the perceptions of the participants. Future research can use interviews to describe the student and instructor perception of presence whereby confirming that cou rse design differs among subjects and that the instructor presence in discussion forums does not fully represent the overall communication in a course. The prior sections discussed interactions and presence in the online environment. The r elationship of t he instructor student, student student, student content, instructor presence, and immediacy behaviors were themes that emerged from the literature. A final theme that appeared in the literature was the type of student attracted to online learning. The ex pectation of the incoming student is an important factor to consider when discussing the construct of online education. These
58 expectations dictate how the instructor designs the course and communicates with the students. Thus, the next section will discu ss the self directed learner. The Self Directed Learner The concept of the self directed learner has come into view as online programs continue to expand in colleges and universities. The self directed characteristic of the adult learner guides those de veloping courseware and programs for online learning. Knowles describes self initiative, with or without the help of others, to diagnose their learning needs, formulate learning goals, identif y resources for learning, select and implement learning strategies, The notion of the self directed learner is gaining notoriety as concepts of 21 st century skills are being brought to the forefront of educat ion. The 21 st century skills and definitions of the self directed learner are aligned with one another whereby increasing problems. The European Union has develope d eight key competencies with regards to learn, contain the goals of making the learner aware of his/her learning process, n the learning situation, and build on the everyday life (Bergstrom, 2010). These emerging skills and competencies are changing the way in which we construct and present cou rse material to adult learners. The expectation that the learner will be the driving force of acquiring and applying new knowledge in an educational setting is quickly becoming a requirement in higher education.
59 Chou and Chen (2008) summarized four mai n characteristics found in the literature in regards to the self directed learner. Self directed learners are independent. They are self managers and can identify what is needed throughout the learning process, set goals and manage time and effort for le arning. They have a desire to learn to acquire knowledge with motivation to do so. Self directed learners are problem solvers who are able to make use of their resources and overcome difficulties that may occur throughout the learning process (Chou & Che n, 2008). Hsu and Shiue reported that self directed learning was a strong factor in predicting academic achievement in non web based distance learning (2005). While the latter study refers to the traditional, face to face classroom, self direction is eve n more important in the online learning environment where autonomy is increased. Online learning environments have shifted from the teacher centered approach found in traditional settings to one of learner centered. Rhode (2009) summarizes the literature to conclude that learning takes place through active engagement as opposed to passive transmission of knowledge. Asinteraction is the principle of active interaction with concepts or agents (Rhode, 2009). Interaction includes more than commun ication in the learning environment. It is engagement in learning and includes intrapersonal, interpersonal, and interaction with technology. Course designers are working to combine the many facets of online interaction with that of curriculum requiremen ts to meet the needs of all learners (Rhode, 2009). Online Math Online courses possess unique qualities in comparison to traditional courses. Most content will transfer well in either environment; however, teaching math online is different and often ch allenging for instructors and students (Akdemir, 2010). The
60 growing enrollments at community colleges present a student population with diverse needs and a wide range of skills (Ashby, Sadera, & McNary, 2011). Incoming students are often not prepared for math courses. In order to accommodate these students, community colleges offer developmental course, such as math, to prepare them for their undergraduate work, many of which are online to support the increased enrollments (Ashby et al., 2011). Given th e poor retention rates of students in remedial courses (Bettinger & Long, 2009), how instructors structure a course and their communication with students can impact student outcomes. The literature regarding online math includes retention (Bettinger & L ong, 2009), modality comparison (Ashby et al., 2011), and student outcomes ( Yoshimura, 2010 ) with little research on best practices (Akdemir, 2010) and communication with students in online math courses. T he literature on post secondary online math is spa rse. The majority of the research has focused on the primary and secondary levels Therefore, t he nature of instructor to student communication within an online, post secondary math course is one particular area absent in the literature. Although resear ch has been published about best online practices, they include overall conclusions and do not target math courses specifically. The teaching of math online differs in comparison to traditional math. Course development can vary depending on the availab le course materials. Instructors who develop their courses use a limited number of additional resources in comparison to instructors using established college curriculum (Akdemir, 2010). Additionally in face to face courses, instructor examples are used to illustrate math concepts. Online, students may not have access to such profound instruction, having to rely on the book,
61 animations, or math software (Akdemir, 2010). Therefore, course design can impact student learning and success (Akdemir, 2010). Student perceptions of taking math online were reported from North Carolina Virtual Public School (NCVPS) where students completed an end of course survey about course effectiveness. When Math was compared to other subjects including English, Career S tudies, Social Studies, Science, and Foreign Language, the researchers found that math students reported that they were learning less online and were less likely to recommend online learning to their peers (Oliver, Kellogg, & Patel, 2010). This suggests t hat perhaps more interaction and communication is needed in subject areas in which modeling are a component to understanding content. Online math students reported that they favored face to face math courses because teachers were available to explain an d review the concepts and communication was more prevalent in this setting (Oliver et al., 2010). The students further reported that they felt their teachers were well prepared to teach online exemplifying the fact that dissatisfaction in the course was not related to the teacher (Oliver et al., 2010). Co ntent and modality emerge as the dominant reasons for dissatisfaction in a math course. Yet, t eachers have little to no control over the modality and frequently pre loaded course shells. However, teac hers can control their presence, communication, and interactions with the students. NCVPS students suggested that math teachers can teach more online (Oliver et al., 2010). Synchronous communications allows the teacher to present the content, answer ques tions in real time, and build a sense of community. Given the difficulty of the subject matter, online
62 math requires more teacher support (Moor & Zazkis, 2000). These findings can influence how instructors communicate with online students. Computer Media ted Communication Computer mediated communication (CMC) is also referred to as discussions in online courses. The purpose of discussions in asynchronous environments is to replicate the discussion that took place in face to face courses. Discussions wer e seen as a way to discuss and share information at a distance. It has been said that online discussions transformed learning from instructor to learner centered (Fahraeus, 200 4 ). This section will discuss the approach students take in discussions parti cipation requirements, and how time restrictions impact discussions. approach includes the intention to understand what is being studied while a surface approach incorporate s an intention to reproduce or describe what is being studied (Ellis, The Ellis study found four themes for how students approach online discussions (Ellis et al., 2006). Within discussions students reflect on ideas, c hallenge ideas, add ideas, and avoid repetition (Ellis et al., 2006). Students who reflect and challenge ideas are taking a deep approach to learning while those who add ideas or avoid repetition are taking a surface level approach (Ellis et al., 2006). Students who engage in the latter behavior may wait to post later in the week or read the posts prior to their submission. Students taking a surface approach may not get much out of the discussion and thus may not be able to extend their learning beyond t he course materials. These students may view the discussion as a task rather than critically engaging in the content discussion.
63 Although this study did not take place with math students, its findings have meaning in math discussions. For example if math problems are posted for discussion, students responding later than others have access to the answer and thought process of their peers. Moreover those responding later in the week have less time to reflect It impacts not only discussions but overall learning. The findings concluded that deep approaches to online discussions were correlated to a higher level of course performance and s tudents were also more likely to associate their learning to the online discussions ( Ellis et al., 2006). Mandatory participation may not be the best way to encourage continued communication in discussion forums. In a study by Bullen ( 2007 ), he found that the students viewed the posts as a cost benefit situation. The students stated t hat they replied to get the points for participation but did not necessarily reply with thoughtful responses. Many affirmed that they restated what others said without adding new insight (Bullen, 2007 ). Secondly, deadlines impacted participation. Limite d time to post and submission deadlines often meant that students waited until the due date to post thus leaving little time for reflection, comments, or follow up from their peers (Bullen, 2007 ). The content, purpose, and requirements of the discussion n eed to be addressed in online courses. The content plays a role in what is asked of the student and how the forums are set up. Critique of the Methodologies The research in the field of online education commenced by using quantitative methods First, the components of transactional distance were under review. Most of the earlier studies utilized surveys, capturing a subjective measurement based upon the student perceptions (Gorsky & Caspi, 2005). Next, the research moved towards looking
64 at particular outcomes variables as they relate to the components of transactional distance. Satisfaction and perceived learning were two of the variables that were tested. Once again, quantitative measures were the method of choice. In these studies, the researchers were able to make strong correlations between the components of transactional distance and outcome variables such as satisfaction and learning. Although they give us insight into the field, they are limited in reporting the how and why questio The research was recommending a different method though, one that included interviews and observations. T hus, the research moved in the direction of collecting both students and instru ctors showed us how communication and interactions occur in the online environment. The themes of this research revolved around a set of best practices that not only assisted in describing the phenomenon but also created guidelines for instructors to use in their courses. Case studies were found repeatedly in the literature. Convenience sampling at the aggregate group of studies. This design lowers external validity in that the findings are not generalizable to the larger population, which was reported in the literature. The studies reviewed ranged from 6 to 2,407 participants. Smaller sample sizes were found at the class level while the larger samples were reserved f or multiple course studies. The academic levels of the students also differed, ranging from the undergraduate to
65 graduate level. A meta analysis of the literature as well as triangulation of the themes could add to the external validity of these research findings. The quantitative studies utilized surveys to measure the variables. The construct validity was called into question in several of the seminal studies (Gorsky & Caspi, 2005). The lack of consistent operational variables produced varying defi nitions and thereby varying results in those studies. Others mentioned content and construct validity by noting that it had been validated in prior research. Few studies included the instrument in the appendix (Picciano, 2002, Swan & Shih, 2005). The in clusion of the survey assists the reader in reviewing the questions in conjunction with the reported findings. It also highlights questions that can be used in future work. Conclusion Instructors reduce the transactional distance in an online course thr ough consistent communication, interacting virtually with students, being available to students, and employing immediacy behaviors. Instructors and students communicate through email, chats, discussions, feedback, and online videoconferencing. Instructor s and students work together to achieve common learning goals. In addition, three types of interaction, instructor student, student student, and student content, were supported by the literature. Online instructors serve as facilitators guiding students through the course m aterials and learning process. The review of the literature found that whether the measures were social presence, interactions, or immediacy behaviors, the studies reported a moderate to significant correlation between the above constru cts and student satisfaction. The theoretical frameworks for the reviewed articles were similar too, citing transactional distance as the foundational theory guiding the research. The community of inquiry
66 (Swan, 2001), cognitive theory (Grandzol & Grandz ol, 2010) and activity theory (Morgan, 2011) were additional theoretical frameworks cited in the literature. Math is a unique subject when delivered online. Students can experience a greater distance between the content or instructor. Faculty training v aries by college ranging from basic technical skills (Pankowski, 2004) to a mentor in their first class (Muirhead & Betz, 2002). Collectively, the research supports comprehensive, initial faculty training in a number of domains with on going training to o ffer resources and support online faculty. The significance of this review is to assess the past and current literature by reporting common themes as they relate to communication and interactions in online education. It is also an opportunity to ident ify gaps in the literature indicating the direction of new research. The findings of this review have significance in the professional practice of online educators, course designers, and stakeholders in the field of online education. Instructors and cou rse designers are the beneficiaries of the proposed research. The way in which the course is designed can set the level of interaction from the beginning. Most courseware management systems come prepared and provided to the instructor, while at other ins titutions, the course instructor designs the course. Both have the ability to construct a course which permits open communication thus allowing for subsequent interactions and communication. Swan and Shih (2005) note the significance of pro social behavi ors, design of discussions, and faculty training and social communication patterns. He found that as instructors increase immediacy behaviors
67 and social presence, the stude nts report higher satisfaction with the course and learning experience. Online educators can benefit from the findings in the literature to inform their practices. The literature reported that increased communication and interactions do influence studen t satisfaction and perceived learning. Therefore, the online instructor needs to be cognizant of the role they play in this environment. The content and structure of the course also gives way to opening or closing communication among the students. It is also important for the instructor to examine how the course is set up and whether it permits the needed communication and interaction to allow students to achieve learning gains and satisfaction with the course. The literature review supports the claim t hat the topic of communication and interaction in online environments is significant and worthy of further research.
68 CHAPTER 3 METHODOLOGY Chapter 3 describe s the methodology and research design used to explore how math instructors communicate with st udents in an online environment. The chapter will discuss participant selection and criteria, data collection procedures, data analysis methods, subjectivity, ethics, and limitations. Purpose The purpose of this study is to investigate the manner in whic h math instructors communicate with students in online courses and secondly, explore the pedagogical tools that instructors use to increase dialogue in online courses. Three research questions frame this study: 1. How do math instructors communicate with stu dents in an online environment? 2. What tools do math instructors use to promote communication in an online course? 3. How do math instructors structure a course to increase dialogue ? Problem Earlier studies ( Saba & Shearer, 1994; Bunker et al., 1996; Bischo ff et al., 1998; Chen & Willits, 1998) tested the components of transactional distance citing its presence in online environments. However, dialogue was operationalized in different ways most notably defining it as the number of communications that take place in the class. Despite criticism by Gorsky and Caspi (2005), the theory of transactional distance was widely accepted in relation to online education. These criticisms led researchers to clearly define and search for relationships among variables in follow up studies. Transactional distance grounded many studies that sought to measure the relationship between online course satisfaction and perceived learning ( Swan, 2001; Stein et al., 2005; Jackson et al., 2010). Using quantitative methodology, the se studies
69 found a relationship between the two variables. Moreover, Shea, Li, and Pickett (2006) found a positive relationship between nse of learning community Overall, these studies found that increased lev els of teacher presence or communication led to increased student satisfaction, increased perception constructs manifest in an online environment followed. Conceicao (2006) interviewed online instructors about their online teaching experience. Two themes emerged from this research, the length and depth of engagement during online course delivery differs from face to face instruction and the experience is rewarding in new ways (Conceicao, 2006). Her findings concluded that the instructor spent more time designing the course by organizing content, presenting information differently to accommodate a ll learners, and preparing lecture notes in advance (2006). Regarding communication, faculty cited that it took more effort to stay engaged in a conversation, keep the class focused, and pay attention to the non verbal cues that are absent such as emotion s, tone, and eye contact (Conceicao, 2006). Schulte (2010 ) interviewed instructors about their perceived experiences regarding factors in distance education transactions. The course design and faculty preferences for student and instructor transactions were the main themes explored. While the faculty discussed communication through email, discussion groups, and online chat, their responses represented a surface level description of communication citing the use of and limitations of these tools in their context (Schulte, 2010). There
70 was no mention of how these instructors used these tools to increase dialogue or communication. Lao and Gonzales (2005) studied the attitudes, perceptions, and experiences of instructors and graduate students in a distan ce learning environment. In regards to communication and dialogue, the themes of a learning community, technological challenges with the learning management system, and having the correct technology in each course were emerging themes (Lao & Gonzales, 200 5). Although important in online education, they did not elucidate how instructors use tools to increase communication within their courses. Therefore, the current study will address a gap in the literature, specifically how instructors communicate and increase dialogue in online learning environments. The perceived perceptions and experience in online education. However, a specific study delineating exactly how instructors communicate with stu dents and use tools to increase communication would augment the current literature. Research Methodology A qualitative, case study was the chosen methodology for this study. According to Creswell (2005), r esearch adds to our knowledge and improves pract ice and q ualitative research studies the view of participants by asking broad, general questions, collecting text data, and analyzing the data for themes Shank (1994) defines systematic empirical inquiry into meaning Systematic refers to the planned nature of qualitative research; it is not haphazard ( Shank, 2006). Empirical inquiry is inquiry dependent on the world of experience to verify claims
71 (Shank, 2006). In contrast to quantitative methodologies, qualitative research allows for perspectives (Bogdan & Biklen, 2007 ). Qualitative measures were chosen in order to gather a detailed understanding of a phenomenon (Creswell, 2005). Qualitative interviewing using semi structured interviews will be the primary method of data A case study is meant to capture the complexity of a larger phenomenon and no t generalize to a larger population (Stake, 1995). It is best applied in situations with special interest in order to understand the activity that occurs within a specific g a case study is based upon a considerable data collection to explore an activity, process, or individual (1998). Design This section discuss es how the study w a s designed including participant selection and background data collection, and data analysis. It conclude s with commentary about research subjectivity, ethics, and limitations of the study. Participants In this study, participants were selected using criterion based, convenience sampling. Six instructors were intervie wed for this study, as seen in T able 3 1 A collective case study was used in order to describe, compare, and gain an understanding about this topic through several perspectives (Stake, 1995).
72 All participants matched a set of criteria (Patton, 2002) including: 1. Participants teach online mathematics 2. Participants have at least one year of online teaching experience, irrespective of full time or part time status 3. Participants have in any area Communication differs among subject areas and course content (Ko & Rossen, 2001). Therefore by selecting participants who teach a particular subject, we can control for some of the differences that may be inherent in the various subjects delivered online. In addition, participants with one year or more of experience were recruited for this study. New online instructors may lack online pedagogic skills, therefore may not be able to fully reflect and rep ort upon their practice. As long as participants had at least one year of experience in teaching mathematics, their employment status, either part time or full time, was not considered. Participants were recruited through email solicitation beginning wit h known online math instructors A screening process verified that possible participants meet the stipulated criteria. Next, phone interviews were schedul ed. Participation in the study wa s voluntary and no compensation was offered. Interviews were condu cted over a two week period in December 2012. Four different institutions were represented in the sample and p seudonyms were used to protect the identity of the participants and the institutions were kept confidential to maintain anonymity. Andrew Andre w was a Caucasian male working on a Ph.D. in Math Education. His educational background included both a Bachelor and M aster degree in Electrical Engineering in addition to a Master of Math. He teaches both face to face and online math courses at a commun ity college. He has been teaching online for 7 years and
73 estimates facilitating about 30 online math courses during this time. He has taught a variety of math courses ranging from developmental arithmetic to intermediate algebra. He took one online clas s as a student during his doctoral program. Betsy Betsy is a Caucasian female with a background in computer science and math education. She is currently working on her Ed.D in Educational Technology. Betsy has been teaching online for 8 years and esti mates teaching 50 75 math sections during this time. She most frequently teaches algebra and foundations of math. She has a history of taking online courses as a student, completing her masters and doctoral degree programs online. She currently teaches online through a large, private university. Carl Carl is an African American male working on a Ph.D. in Math Education. His educational background includes a Bachelor of Computer Engineering and a Master of Math Education. He has taught online for 5 ye ars and estimates teaching about 30 online math courses. He has taught a range of math courses from basic math to trigonometry. He has experience taking courses online as his masters courses were online exclusively. He teaches at a university that inclu des both on ground and online programs. Donna Donna is a Caucasian female who has taught online math courses for 5 years. During this time she estimates facilitating about 60 courses. She primarily teaches algebra 1a, algebra 1b, and math for teacher ed ucation. She has a Bachelor of Computer Science and Math in addition to a Master of Education with m ath focus. She
74 She currently teaches at a large, private university. Ell en Ellen is a Caucasian female with over a decade of experience teaching online math courses. During her 11 years of experience, she estimates teaching between 150 200 sections. The range of math courses she has taught spans algebra to pre calculus. Sh e estimates taking 30 45 online courses as a student from her bachelor s to master s programs. She has a Bachelor of Elementary Education, a Master of Math Education, and a graduate certificate in Educational Leadership. She teaches at a community colleg e. Felicia Felicia is a white female with a Bachelor of Psychology and Wellness, a Master of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Administration. She is a program coordinator for her school and has taught online math courses for t he past 5 years. During that time, she estimates teaching at least 70 sections. She most frequently teaches foundations of math and intermediate algebra. As a student, she took one online course. She teaches at a university that has both on ground and online courses. Data Collection Data was collected through one on one interviews with interested participants. An email solicitation was sent out to online math instructors at several colleges around the country. Interested participants were screened to verify that they met the pre qualification criteria. Six instructors did meet the criteria and were scheduled for phone interviews. A copy of the approved informed consent form and guiding interview
75 questions were sent out to all participants prior to t he interview. The interviews were recorded using a conference line. The informed consent was read prior to the interview and all participants verbally consented before the interview started. Each interview averaged about an hour The interview question s were used as a guide to conduct the interviews and additional probing questions were added as needed to gather more information. The research er transcribed the interviews which included a total of 105 pages and 3,489 lines of text. Notes were taken dur ing each interview and follow up questions were noted during the conversations. The interviews concluded by asking each participant if they would like to add any information about teaching math online and also thanked them for their time. The audio was do wnloaded, transcribed, and saved on a password protected computer. Names were changed and institutions were kept confidential to protect the anonymity of each participant. The transcripts were sent to each participant to verify accuracy. This process, c alled member checking, is a common strategy ensuring internal validity (Merriam, 2009). Data Analysis Qualitative data analysis is a process in which the researcher identifies themes in the data through a procedure called coding. Analysis of the data b egan with open coding whereby large themes were identified and labeled In this initial stage, the transcripts were read line by line and assigned a code phrase to describe the text. Each new phenome non was given a code phrase and Excel was used to orga nize the code sheets. Glaser (1978) advises researchers to identify categories to describe and account for them in the data while searching for new incidents. As coding progressed, each new piece of data was compared against the code, further refining th e data.
76 nine semantic relationships were used to identify the relationship and create memos for each data piece (1979) A second coder was used to code two of the six interviews. Inter rater coding is used in order to increase reliability (Cr eswell, 2005). During this phase, all code sheets were scrutinized looking for common themes and codes, refining the code sheets and making connections among them. Next the categories were compared to one another in a process called axial coding. During this stage, the categories were expanded, combined, or deleted. The core themes were selected using the research questions as a guide in a process called selective coding. Each code was compared against the three research questions and unified around a central theme. The relationships between the codes were validated in this process. The grouping of codes around a central theme revealed a story which described the phenomenon being studied. This final analysis create d meaning of the data and revealed how instructors communicate in online environments and the tools that they use to do so. Subjectivity Subjectivity plays a role in qualitative research ( Morgan & Drury, 2003 ). The ts were made to bracket thoughts. Bracketing is a process in which the researcher notes their thoughts, values, or expectations that could potentially bias the findings (Moustakas, 1994). Inter rater coding was also used in order to increase the reliabil ity of the findings. The researcher assumes that the participants are reporting accurate accounts of their experience.
77 Research Ethics Permission was sought by the University of Florida Institutional Review Board to conduct research. Participants wer e knowledgeable about the purpose, aim of the study, and the use of results (Creswell, 2005). They had the right to refuse to participate in the study and could have withdraw n at any time (Creswell, 2005). Prior to the interview, each participant was rea d the informed consent form and verbally consent ed to the interview Pseudonyms were assigned confidentiality and documents were stored on a password protected computer. Limitations There were several limitations within this s tudy including the setting, data are discussed in this section. Setting The participants were from four institutions across the United States. There are many types of colleges and online progra ms, this study cannot encapsulate all of the are familiar with online instruction and may be more attuned to the types of communication in online courses. Therefore the results of this study cannot be generalized to all online courses and instructors. Data Collection Participation in the study was voluntary; therefore, eligible participants may have chosen to not partake in the study for a number of reasons. Tho se interested in the topic and sharing their story may have been more willing to participate. All of the interviews were conducted on the phone, which can have limitations. An absence of body language, decreased naturalness of the setting, less thought ful
78 responses (Shuy, 2003) in addition to interviewer effects such as not seeing the participant, (Rogers, 1976) are limitations in phone interviews. Moreover, the subj ect to recall. inherently subject to bias when conducting research. Although attempts were made to bracket thoughts and feelings, it can have an effec t on the interpretation and analysis of the results. Member checking and an outside coder were used to limit potential subjectivity that could have influenced the results. Conclusion The purpose of Chapter 3 was to describe the methodology and design o f the study which is focused on ascertaining how instructors communicate in an online environment and what tools they utilize to increase dialogue Participant selection and criteria, data collection procedures, data analysis methods, subjectivity, ethics and limitations were addressed here
79 Table 3 1. Participant background Participant 1 2 3 4 5 6 Pseudonym Andrew Betsy Carl Donna Ellen Felicia Age 31 32 30 50 39 35 Race Caucasian Caucasian African American Caucasian Caucasian Caucasian Ge nder Male Female Male Female Female Female Highest level of e ducation Wo rking on Ph.D. in math e ducation Working on Ed.D. in ed tech Working on Ph.D. in math e ducation Master of e ducation with m ath focus Master of math e ducation Ed.D of higher educat ion admin Year s t eaching o nline 7 8 5 5 11 5 N umber of courses t aught 30 50 75 30 60 150 200 70+ Types of courses t aught Develop mental to interme diate algebra College algebra & founda tions of math Basic math to college algebra Algebr a 1a, 1b, & math for teacher education C ollege and intermediate algebra, & statistics Foundations of math & intermediate algebra Taken courses as a s tudent Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Type of college currently e mployed Bac/Assoc: Baccalau re ate/ Asso ciate's Colleges, Public DRU: Doctoral/ Research Universi ties, Private for profit Bac/Assoc: Baccalau reate/Asso ciate's Colleges, Private for profit DRU: Doctoral/ Research Universi ties, Private for profit Assoc/Pub R L: Associate's Public Ru ral serving Large, Public Bac/Assoc: Baccalaure ate /Associ ate's Colleges, Private for profit
80 CHAPTER 4 RESULTS Chapter 4 will discuss the themes that emerged in relation to the three research questions: how math instructors communicate in an onli ne environment, the tools they use to promote communication, and the way they structure a course to increase dialogue. Instructors were also asked to define several terms in relation to teaching online. This section will conclude with a discussion of the se terms. T he themes related to each research question will be addressed at length by including interview excerpts to support the findings. Participants were selected using criterion based, convenience sampling. Six instructors met the enrollment criteri a All of the participants had at least 5 years of online math teaching experience with one instructor reporting 11 years of experience. on a doctoral degree and one p articipant with a conferred doctoral degree. Their experience ranged from teaching developmental math courses all the way up to trigonometry. The number of courses taught ranged from a low of 30 to a high of 200, with an average of 77 courses taught. F ollowing recruitment, phone interviews were scheduled and a free conference line was used to record the interviews An interview protocol ( A ppendix C ) was used to guide the interviews which lasted between 35 75 minutes The researcher transcribed and cod ed 105 pages of interview transcripts in order to identify themes to support the research questions. Core themes were chosen in a process called selective coding, using the research questions as a guide. Subthemes were categorized by establishing a conne ction between the theme and the subtheme Figure 4 1 illustrates an overview
81 of the themes and subthemes found within the data. It provides an overview of how instructors communicate and use tools in online math courses. Figure 4 1 Thematic Overvie w RQ #1: How Do Math Instructors Communicate in an Online Environment ? Various forms of communication are present in a classroom setting. Similarities and differences between face to face and online instruction exist, however online instructors and stud ents communicate through a learning management system and may never meet in person. The focus on non verbal communication through an online modality is worthy of further study in order to determine the specifics of this phenomenon such as how they communi cate, resolve issues, and enhance the learning experience. Five themes emerged related to how math instructors communicate with students in an online environment including: types of communication, encouragement of communication, preferred communication importance of communication, and dealing with other communication concerns. Although the instructors teach at different
82 institutions, teach different math courses, and have diverse course requirements, the instructors used similar means to communicate w ith students and shared analogous experiences in relation to communication with students. Figure 4 2 Subthemes for How Instructors Communicate Online Types of Communication The following list emerged from the interviews as being ways to communicate w ith online students: email, discussion threads, question threads, announcements, feedback, phone, individual forums, chat or instant messaging, texting, conference calls, Power Points, videos, or using synchronous software such as Adobe Connect or Blackbo ard for live sessions Each of these methods of communicating can be categorized as one way or two way communication. Announcements, Power Points, videos, and feedback were recognized as ways to communicate information from the instructor to the student. Feedback was commenting on student work and returning the submissions Although students can reply in response to these communications, most of the instructors found these to be informational, outgoing messages to the students. Two way communication in cluded email, discussions, phone, chat, conference calls, and synchronous sessions. These ways to communicate often solicited a student How instructors communicate online Types of communication Encouraging communication Importance of communication Dealing with other communication concerns
83 response in which a conversation was back and forth between the instructor and student whether through synchronous or a synchronous means. Figure 4 3 Types of Communication All instructors stated that they post informational or an announcement message each week, six participants affirming that it is required by their specific college. When asked about posting and freq uency of weekly announcements, Carl stated: Yes every week, every class I've ever taught, you are required to do a weekly announcement to your students also post that weekly announcement in the discussion board. And I found that that helps alleviate conce rns as it relates to students, who know on Monday this is what's required for the particular week. (Carl, 12.12.2012) Felicia commented on the frequency of posting group messages saying that she limits them in an effort to not overwhelm the students. I would say that the group messages maybe 2 to 3 per week because you don't want to overwhelm students I n regards to individual responses it was probably upwards of 20. And obviously if you have multiple questions, we have five people asking the same question then you can send out a message to everyone that this has come up a few times just to let everyone know (Felicia, 12.17.2012)
84 Email was considered both a form of one way and two way communication. When asked about the types of communication use d online, Andrew commented: So for asynchronous, e mail is probably the favorite type of communication. I also, I post announcements and now that would be a one way, you know one directional. But I post announcements that are also e mail to the students so they can e mail me back. (Andrew, 12.10.2012) Carl added that the main types of communication are: The main types o he discussion board posts, feedback on the assignments T hose are for me your main types of communicatio n. Some schools require you to speak on the phone with them, so depending upon u niversity that is communication also. (Carl, 12.12.2012) (Ellen, 12.14.2012) communication were similar to the group expressing: E mail is another area of communication. I would also use the chat function in the math course. I have never used Adobe C onnect or anything like that. But I have used phone conversations. I have used c onference calls. So e mail, discussion, chat, conference calls, and then one on one on the phone. ( Felicia 12.1 7 .2012) In summation, class announcements, email (group or individual), discussion forums, phone calls, and chat were the most common means o f communication. Although students may not reply to the informational, outgoing messages, some instructors did view this as a type of communication because students were on the receiving end of the conversation. Upcoming course assignments, informational messages, and even feedback were viewed as a form of one way communication and most instructors did not expect a response to these messages. Two way communications fell into one of two categories, either asynchronous or synchronous communication. The majority of asynchronous communication took place within the classroom through the use of discussion boards, chat rooms, or question
85 threads. Phone calls and chat were cited as rarer occurrences in the online classroom. Instructors used the discussion bo ards as a way to check for student understanding and The discussion board in my opinion is where I would The discussion is an area that I viewed as open dialogue. Carl supported th is statement by saying: I encourage them to communicate through a) the discussion boards. That tells you a lot about what the students understand the information and who does not understand the information and that tells you about their understanding in regards to the content. (Carl, 12.12 .2012) know as a group, of course it is the discussions, the question thread s, email, the instant Felicia pref erred to keep all communication within the classroom as a way of So communicating within the classroom ensures that there is a record of all the communication (Felicia, 12.17.20 12). Although phone calls were a way to communicate with students, this was a less common way to communicate. Regarding phone calls with students, Betsy said: The only time I communicate with my students outside of e mail for forms would be when they call me. And that's usually some sort of emergency. Recently somebody called me. They were having trouble posting their final exam and the deadline ran over so they just called me to, I guess for the reassurance that I was going to still grade it and give th em credit for their work. (Betsy, 12.11.2012)
86 Carl offered an explanation as to why phon e calls were a less popular way to communicate in an online environment. When asked if he receives phone calls from students, he replied: Rarely, rarely. Mostly because everyone knows that in the online environment the time differences. I think it's minu te but most of your students they work at night online and if they are a day person etc. I try to set up appointments where we have a mutually agreed upon time B ut I would say 95% of my interactions are electronic via e mail. (Carl, 12.12.2012) Andre w pointed to phone calls or a synchronous session as a means to clear up misunderstandings that a student may have. When students are not able to explain what they need through email, he preferred to speak to them on the phone or through other synchronous means to understand their questions e trying to say through e mail. So generally being able to speak with them, whether it's on the phone or by using again video or audio components like Big Blue Button or some other kind of virtual session school. But that and they're responding or trying to determine to really understand. And they're trying to somehow put into word s where their confusion may lie. (Andrew, 12.10.2012) In summation the instructors cited both asynchronous and synchronous communication that occurs with their students. D ue to the time differences and schedules of both the students and the instructor, two way communication within the course through email, discussions or forum threads were the most common way s to communicate. Students needing clarification regarding a topic or those who have an emergency tend to call the instructor for a more immediate response Other synchronous communication included chat or instant messaging, text, or live sessions. Although only one instructor held synchronous sessions, it was not required. None of the colleges required the instructors to hold live sessions. If t hey did, it was a personal
87 preference. Four out of the six participants were required to hold one office hour per week, by being available to students during that time. While the two community college instructors were able to hold the hour in their physi cal office or online, the online instructors were available through a chat forum or by email during the required hour Nevertheless m ost of the communication between the instructor and student takes place asynchronously within the course platform. Enco uraging Communication Online courses lack the physical and verbal interaction that take place in a face to face setting. An absence of online communication back and forth severely limits the transference of information and course instruction. In traditi onal educational settings, the instructor leads the class through lecture or planned activities. A similar approach is needed in the online modality in order to maintain high teaching and learning standards Therefore, the instructor should plan and init iate contact with the students to establish an open and welcoming learning environment. This can be accomplished by encouraging communication. Instructors cite several ways in which they encourage communication with the individual students in addition t o encouraging communication amongst the students. Subthemes that emerged as a result of encouraging communication with students are tone, meaningful discussion responses, open forms of communication, and prompt replies Instructors try to encourage commu nication among the students, however it can be challenging. Instructors do not feel comfortable sharing student information and the location or time differences of the students make it difficult for students to meet in a synchronous setting. Instructors encourage student interaction through the discussion and chat forums. Separate chat rooms may be set up if groups of students want to
88 communicate asynchronously. Instructors are often not aware if students do communicate with one another outside of the o nline course, although comments to one another in the discussion forums can point towards an informal relationship. Otherwise, instructors state that they do not think students are engaging with one another outside of the class due to the independent natu re of the online environment and the differences in schedule and time zones. Instructors state that they encourage communication by paying attention to their tone of message, addressing students by name, and maintaining a friendly environment. They con cluded that doing these things encourage students to interact with them and ask questions. Andrew spoke about his experience addressing students as individuals as opposed to a group: I try to be friendly. This isn't miraculous or anything but really tryi ng to you know instead of just starting an e it seem a little more friendly so they feel like they can e mail me or that they it's just not that they're bothering me by sending an e mail. When we are doing a virt ual session, re ferring to the students by name. (Andrew, 12.10.2012) Betsy cited that she kept a positive tone in her communication to students. She tried to remain encouraging despite the type of email she was sending. She commented on this topic by s aying: The one thing I do the most of, to encourage communication, would be to stay positive. I reread what I write. I want to make sure that I send a welcoming message in any form. Whether it's a negative conversation about say plagiarism, I always try to be encouraging. So just by keeping my side of things not necessarily light but positive that would be the main thing I do to encourage students (Betsy, 12.11.2012) Felicia felt that the way to engage students was to address them by name, referring to the direct nature of math faculty, she said:
89 I think that engaging students if you're going to engage them in an e mail or discussion thread for anywhere, you address them by name. You always inquire if there's anything else I can help you with. I th ink a lot of times faculty will just provide the answer, especially math folks. Math folks can be very short and to the point because that is how the brain works. And sometimes I think you need a little bit more finesse. (Felicia, 12.17.2012) The d iscussion forums were another area where instructors encouraged communication with students. Not only do instructors address students by name in these forums, but they also expand upon their post often asking follow up questions. Carl commented on his pa rticipation in the discussion boards by saying: Not to great post but expanding upon their post and asking them questions. That way they have to go back into the discussion board, read what you wrote, and respond to it. That provides a riche r environment in the course. (Carl, 12.12.2012) Donna expects her students to respond to her in the discussion boards when she poses questions. Through experience, she modified how she responds to students in the discussion forums by addressing the stud ents by name rather than a general post to all. She shares her experience in the following statement: I expect them to respond. In fact I just changed within the last year or so. I used to make all my posts to the student in general, greetings class hi everyone But I changed it to make all my posts to the individual student rather than H i John you make a good Now the post at the end is still addressed to the class in general C lass what you think about whatever ? t At least it gets a response fr om the person I responded to. They don't like to not respond when you respond to them by name. I have kind of discovered that. (Donna, 12.13.2012) One of the instructors chose to keep the lines of communication open by not limiting the ways in which st udents can contact them. Felicia commented on this topic
90 being less ap proachable (Felicia, 12.17.2012). She later added that in the beginning of the class, she wou ld include her expectations of the students and ask their expectations of her. She also provided different methods for them to communicate with her and other students in the class. Another instructor reiterated the best ways to contact her for prompt rep lies. Donna described her process for letting the students know the best way to contact her by saying: I push the individual forums Just in the beginning of class, I post something along the lines of the best way to get ahold of your instructor or what' s the best way to get my questions answered quickly something like that. And then I say the best way to reach me is the individual forums. It is checked most frequently. A lot of them really like to start sending out e mails. I push for the individual forum and I do check the individual forum more frequently than e mail. (Donna, 12.13.2012) A prompt reply to students is another way to encourage communication with them. Felicia discussed her communication experience with students by saying that by res ponding to students in a prompt manner is the best way to increase dialogue. She related their experience to her own saying that when she has a question, she wants an immediate response and therefore tries do the same for her students. She said: I think the best way to increase dialogue or to promote better communication is just prompt responses to whatever it is. If it is the discussion board post you want to, especially if it's a question, you want to respond as soon as possible. If it's an e mail you want respond as soon as possible. The issue with communication in the online world tends to be the lack of urgency. You know we have a 24 hour response time whereas a lot of students want a more immediate reply. And I understand that because I am built that way too. If I have a question, I want response. So a lot of times encouraging communication to be faster in response to questions. That seems to make things better. (Felicia, 12.17.2012) Most instructors try to encourage communication among the students in the class. The means in which the students can engage with one another differs depending
91 on the institution and types of students in the class. Students attending a local college may be in the vicinity of one another and thus can meet in pers on while a larger online university can enroll students around the world. Most instructors state that they do try to encourage students to interact or communicate with one another whether it is within the class platform or outside of the course. Instruct ors can encourage this communication by telling students within the class or posting threads that allow students to exchange advantage of this opportunity and meet or talk outs ide of class. Most of the instructors think that they do not do so based on their schedules and availability. The subthemes that emerged from this larger theme include encouraging students to communicate with one another through various means and the sha ring of student information. Andrew commented on the independent nature of his students and the nature of being in an online environment. When asked if he encourages students to communicate with one another, he said: I tried to. That's probably the mo st di fficult thing. In online setting people are very independent and I think it's just the nature of being online. They are at home by themselves. They don't have anybody right next to them. So I think if they're going to reach out to anybody it's goi ng to be me first. And I tried to encourage student to student interaction in the virtual sessions. (Andrew, 12.10.2012) Carl was in favor of students communicating with one another and added: Yes highly encourage. I am one of those, I love cooperative groups and they are different in the online environment because they are more friendly or apt to exchange phone numbers or personal e mails outside of school. So they can work together, and with the online environment surprisingly some students are in th e local vicinity to each other so they can meet up and form groups outside of online they can meet up and work together. (Carl, 12.12.2012)
92 When Felicia was asked how she encourages students to communicate with one another, she replied: You communicate via e mail to let them know what options they have available to them and if they want to do study groups, the best way to go about finding who is near who in the class is through the discussion board. So there would be a lot of discussion back and forth stud ents were interested in finding someone who was close to them. (Felicia, 12.17.2012) Although the majority of the instructors were in favor of student communication, many perceive that they are restricted by FERPA laws ( Martinovic & Ralevich 200 7 ) and fe el that they are not able to share personal information with other students. Andrew waited until he was approached by a student before he attempted to set up a group. However, he was not sure what became of the group formation. He recounts his experienc e in this excerpt: Currently I don't really have a way to do that because I can't necessarily share student e mail addresses without their permission. I'm not sure if I can or can't because it's a school e mail address but I don't feel right about doing t hat personally. So if I do, I think the only thing I've done is I've had one student who said he was interested in setting up a weekend meeting at Starbucks or something and so I with his permission posted his e mail address and said I thought it would be really, really good and really, really helpful but I'm not sure what actually came of that if they went that far other than that for virtual sessions because the students don't have any contact with each other. (Andrew, 12.10.2012) Felicia also discusse d the restrictions in sharing student information. She is in support of email and chat groups for the students and stated that she would set up chat rooms for them if needed. When asked how she would bring this topic up to students, she said: You communi cate via e mail to let them know what options they have available to them and if they want to do study groups, the best way to go about finding who is near who in the class is through the discussion board. So there would be a lot of discussion back and fo rth students were interested in finding someone who was close to them And then just if
93 someone brought it up then there would be more discussion on that topic. If no one brought it up, I wasn't going to make students feel uncomfortable. (Felicia, 12.17. 2012) Donna encouraged student engagement within the discussion forums. After every discussion question, she had a statement encouraging students to answer one After the discussion question was posted there used to be a little part So every discussion question I had tips afterwards for how they could ng by assisting those who participating by providing an alternate viewpoint to what your peers and stuff like that. (Donna, 12.13.2012) The Importance of Communication All instructors w ere in consensus that communication was an important component in an online math class. They viewed the instructor role as one to set the course expectations, to be engaged in the course, and to be present as one would be in a traditional course. Therefo re, these were the subthemes of the importance of communication. lack of engagement upon the instru irrelevant as he put it. If instruct ors do nothing but grade, then he felt they were synonymous to a teaching assistant. He expanded on this topic by saying: Honestly a lot of people, they could just develop a course and then just have a TA run the course and just do the grading and then it 's really a student led class because students are just reading the materials. I think we need to do more than that and that is where the communication in all its forms comes into play. (Andrew, 12.10.2012) aring it to a traditional class
94 determined through communication whether it is through posts or assignment submissions. When asked about the importance of communication, h e replied: U nlike an on site you have to communicate in an online course because there as being in class so that's why the communication aspect is important for the online environment. That's when you check to see if they are participating, even assignment submissions. That when you quickly can find this kid is not communicating. He is not even submitting assignments. best way. (Carl, 12.12.2012) Betsy felt that communication was a way to co nvey her expectations of the ommunication absolutely because otherwise they won't know what my expectations are or what they even need to do for the course. I don't think that it's really worked as a course with out some sort of co Felicia cited several reasons why communication is important in an online math class. First, she felt that the frequency, promptness, and tone of communication were but not only communication, but appropri She thought that through communication, the instructor could show who they really are and their teaching style. In regards to a pre prepared course, she said: To p rovide a level of commun ication that shows who you are, it reflects your teaching style. It reflects your online teaching style, because there is a difference. It reflects who you are as a person and it reflects in my opinion how we respond to stude nts, is how you want people to respond to you. (Felicia, 12.17.2012) In summary, the instructors felt it was important to communicate in an online math class and show who they are as an instructor. Through communication, they are able to convey their e xpectations of the course and their students. Communication shows that they are engaged and active in the course, rather than being seen as a grader or assistant. Ways to show their presence is through the discussion forums,
95 help posts, or email communic ations with students. A lack of communication can result in having a student centered course where the students interact only with the content and not with a subject expert. These instructor roles align with instructor presence whereby the instructor is asserting their role through timely communication, setting expectations, answering questions, and guiding the class thereby showing their active status as the course instructor. Thus, the instructors viewed communication as a key component in an online ma th course. Dealing with Other Communication Concerns In addition to responding to students in online courses to communicate expectations, participate in discussion forums, and answer questions, instructors also deal with inappropriate student communicatio n and non responsive students. Althoug h inappropriate communication was described as rare, several instructors commented on their experience in dealing with these situations in addition to strategies for students who are not active in the class. These tw o subthemes of other communication concerns will be discussed in this section. Andrew discussed a situation in which he had a hostile student posting in the discussion forums. He chose to send a private message to the student to diffuse the situation a nd understand the situation. He recants the story below: Okay so it doesn't happen very often. I did have it when I was doing discussion boards. I did have somebody who got pretty hostile in the discussion board about the course in general, just basical You know, I ignore some of it because people are just airing frustrations about things I sent him an e mail. I'm not going to post below it and jump all over him, so I sent him an e mail t your opinion Y ou don't have to believe that it is a real environment so any negativity like that I would prefer that you minimize it
96 W e kind of went back and forth and we came to an understanding. (Andrew, 12.10.2012) Other instructors choose to deal with similar situations in a private manner. They will save the post for documentation and delete from the forum if possible. Carl expla ins how he deals with an inappropriate post: So first and foremost I mainly copy/paste into a Word document and save it for reference. I delete the post and then I directly respond to the student. This is a one time occurrence. I explain to them why the ir post is inappropriate because some students don't think their post is inappropriate so the main thing is to eliminate the post saving it for reference just in case and then that directly e mail the student to discuss the post that they made. (Carl, 12. 12.2012) actions. She prefers to handle the situation in an individual manner. If a student posts something inappropriate to another student, she does the following: If you hav e a situation where one student is saying something inappropriate to another student, then obviously has to be handled individually. A lot of times that will be through e mail, and it is individual. There is nothing that other students need to know, and a lot of times I will delete those discussions. (Felicia, 12.17.2012) Betsy will ask a student to remove an inappropriate post but also act as a mediator to fix the disagreement and move the students forward. Instructor intervention can usually resolve the situation and move the students forward. If the comment is directed towards the instructor, she discusses how she handles t his situation: If they said something hateful or inappropriate, I do acknowledge it saying that it's not really appropriate that you addressed your instructor this way but I guess that's the mom in me coming out. I just want to make sure that they're awar e that they did something wrong. (Betsy, 12.11.2012) Ellen also address es the student individually by setting up a time to tal k about the So if it's negative and it is in an e
97 mail, I think my answer is we will set up a time to talk about it so I can understand where you are comi 012). The instructors also commented on non responsive students. They defined these students as ones who do not participate in the class or do not submit assignments. They deal with this issue by sending out a personal email to the student and submittin g a ticket to their advisor. Their first choice is to reach out to them through email. Carl commented on his process for a non responsive student: The first thing you want to reach out to them via e mail. There's a difference between a general discussio n board where everyone sees it and the personal private e mail. The next, depending upon the institution sometimes they allow you to call them via phone or you contact them through an advisor or they may have an aler t system to contact the student. (Car l, 12.12.2012) Felicia went a step further by creating an individualized plan for these students and emailing it to them. However, she was not always successful in getting a reply or getting the student working again. She stated: I would do these indivi dualized reports, start to look up, import grades, Let's work out a plan to get this done by whatever the date is you pick a date. And it was not always successful. (Felicia, 12.17.2012) Betsy follows up on non responsive students by submitting a ticket to their I would say if I'm not getting any interaction from the student, I can submit the student issue form and they will contact their advisor and try to figure out what's going on with that student In conclusion although inappropriate communication towards other students or the instructor is rare, most of the instructors have dealt with thi s situation. They respond by either deleting or saving the post and contacting the student individually to discuss the situation. In most cases, the issue is resolved and the behavior does not continue.
98 They are reminded of their tone and the expectatio ns for posting in a public forum or email. Many of the instructors cited these cases as a miscommunication that was resolved once explained to the student through email or over the phone. Instructors also deal with non responsive students in the online math classroom. The instructors stated that they used email and advisor alerts to make contact with the ply at all. The instructors said that the online environment limits what types of communications they can have with non to face. If email attempts and advisor alerts do not work, they feel that they tried to reengage the student and did their due diligence as an instructor to help them be successful in the course. I nstructors use several methods to communicate with students in an online math course through both synchronous and asynchronous means. Most i nstructors stated that asynchronous communication was more common due to the different time zones and student schedules. Moreover, colleges did not require synchronous communication with the exception of holding an office hour at three of the colleges rep resented in the sample. The preference for asynchronous communication led instructors to communicate through email, announcements, and discussion posts with m ost communication took place within the learning management system. The instructors were flexibl e and used a variety of communication means in an effort to accommodate their students Being available at different times an d through different means was mentioned numerous times during the interviews as a way to create a learning environment cond ucive for learning.
99 In conclusion, t he types of communication fell into two categories, one way and two way communication. One way communication included outgoing messages that did not receive a response from the students. Two way communication included emails, discussion boards, and phone calls. The instructors encouraged the students to communicate with them and with their peers. They did so by keeping a positive tone in their messages, making meaningful discussion responses, keeping communication op en, and replying promptly. To encourage communication among the students, some instructors set up groups or chats within the class so that they can communicate with one another. They also encouraged them to reply to one another within the discussion foru ms. All of the instructors stated that communication was an important component in an online math class. They viewed their role as one who sets expectations, stay s engaged in the course, and maintain s instructor presence which all could be accomplished t hrough communication. Instructors set expectations regarding what they expect from their students in terms of communication, assignments, and discussion feedback. These can be quantitative, stating the number of required posts or qualitative by providing a rubric for discussion posts. Course engagement included replying to students, answering questions, providing materials, and participating in discussions. Engagement took place for the duration of the course, not just the first or last week of class. Instructors continually monitored forums and student progress, assisting students appropriately. Instructors also deal with non responsive students and miscommunications. Using alerts and contacting the student are two ways they reach out to non workin g
100 students. When it comes to miscommunications, they stated that discussing the situation with the student and understanding their point of view is one way to resolve the problem. Most situations are resolved after discussing the situation with the stude nt. Two instructors resolved situations to an extent saying that the student ma y not be happy with the outcome but nothing further could be done; an example being grades on discussion assignments. The student was given the reason for the grade and ways t o improve, although they did not agree with the assessment nor comprehend what they needed to do to improve. RQ #2 : What T ools D o Math Instructors Use to P romote C ommunication in an O nline C ourse? The nature of the online environment affords instructor s the ability to use several tools to promote communication. Since they do not meet face to face, instructors use tools such as synchronous sessions, videos, and discussions to communicate, interact, and disseminate information to their students which wer e common tools utilized by the instructors. Even if they did not use a specific tool listed here, all were aware of the tool and had some experience using it in their courses. In the preceding section, instructors discussed several tools that they used t o communicate such as email, announcement posts, instant messaging, phone, and texting. This section will expand on the types of tools instructors use to communicate with math students in an online environment. When asked which tools they use, synchronou s sessions, videos, and discussions were the recurring themes in this category. The subsequent section will describe how the instructors use these tools and their thoughts about using them in an online math classroom.
101 Figure 4 4 Subthemes for Tools I nstructors Use to Communicate Online Synchronous Sessions Andrew discussed his experience with using synchronous sessions using Blackboard. It was a new addition in his classroom as his college was piloting th e software and training select instructors to use it in their courses. When asked about [synchronous sessions] Reflecting on his practice, he talked about the missing component in his online course in relation to his on ground math courses. The personal engagement and lecture in the traditional course was what he thought was missing online. That led him to want to experiment with some way to connect with t he students, share his content expertise, and help students. synchronous sessions. She stated: Whereas if you can use Adobe C onnect you can engage your senses Y ou can engage t he visual. You can engage the audio. And students can write what they are reading or what they are listening to. You can engage more of the senses which encourage more interaction, more engagement, and more learning. (Felicia, 12.17.2012) Tools Instructors Use to Communicate Online Synchronous sessions Videos Discussions
102 Most of the instructors agreed that some use of synchronous sessions would be beneficial for the students. However, mo st of them had concerns about them First, some of the colleges did not offer the software needed to hold synchronous sessions. So if an instructor wanted to incorporate this tool into their class, they had to use outside software. Moreover, copyright restrictions were a concern of using non mandated software. Second, time and schedule restrictions were a concern in the group. The consensus was that students are attending online courses partly for the flexibility in scheduling. Holding a mandatory session would negate the reason for any time, any place learning In addition, two of the represented colleges enrolled students living in different time zones including international students Time zones were less of an issue for the two community college instructors si nce their students lived within the vicinity of the college. However, they all felt that mandating a meeting time defeated the purpo se of online courses asserting that students attended these classes because timed meetings were not required. Finding a time that works best for everyone was a noted challenge. Third, some instructors discussed the format for these sessions. They expe rimented with open and structured sessions. Fourth, the option to record the session was seen as a worthy compromise for live attendance in the group. They felt that this was the best option to reach as many students as possible, disseminating the inform ation. However, accountability for who watched the recording and tracking it was a concern brought up by several of the instructors Lastly, the option of having an office hour was mentioned though its effectiveness was questioned. Two of the instructor s who were required to
103 hold office hours stated that students are going to contact them as needed rather than during a pre determined hour set by the instructor. Very little to no student contact happened during the office hour since most students elected to email or post questions as needed. Donna commented on the lack of software that can be used for synchronous sessions at her college. The college did not offer or require sessions to be held for the students. The amount of work required to hold se ssions on top of the current responsibilities made her hesitant to want to use them. She said : I think that a synchronous component would be great I just don't see how it would be feasible with the type of format we have at [ college name Yeah and we d on't have the means to do anyway. I would have to research something on my own, try to figure out you know, how to do it and then the school is funny about using too much outside software anyway. (Donna, 12.12.2012) The scheduling of the synchronous ses sions was a recurring issue among the instructors. The flexibility of the online environment does not hold students accountable at a certain time or place. Therefore mandating attendance at sessions goes against this principle. Ellen commented about man datory synchronous sessions: The reason why is because the students take it online for everybody else. That basically says you have to be somewhere at the same time, same place kind of d efeats the purpose and holds them prisoners of time. (Ellen, 12.14.2012) Donna was in agreement with having a synchronous component but also questioned the feasibility and fairness o f offering it to all students. She commented: Yes and sure I think it would be great but it would be so hard to. I mean how do you do that when people live all over the country, people are in different times? I mean suppose you could say you are opening up a synchronous session here. ut that doesn't seem right either. (Donna, 12.13.2012)
104 a college wide requirement being mandated in the near future. She stated: I think it would be a worthy experiment. I don't know if an implementation across the board would be necessary. I think it would be something to experiment with and students responded to it then yes r olling it out. But if students are attending online courses for the asynchronous piece of it that we don't want to force synchronous pieces on them because it just, it's a put off. So I think experimenting with those things would be good but not necessarily for implementation. (Felicia, 12.17.2012) The topic of recording the live session and po sting it in the class was a topic that came up in the interviews. All of the instructors agreed that this would be a viable option. However if they are attaching points to the sessions, they were unsure how to monitor students who chose to watch the reco rding. A link housed within the learning system could tell them if a student clicked on the link but not whether the student had watched the recording. Therefore, two of the instructors stated that some type of assessment would need to be created to asse ss whether or not the student watched the and assess viewing of the recording. It was considered to be extra work on behalf of the instructor though since each session wo uld differ from week to week and from one class to the next. Andrew talked about his experience with recording a live session. In the past, the new software being introduced at his college. He said: There wasn't a way to do that. There will be a way to do that. But I want to because I would like to post it so that students could review the whole thing and have the benefit of that. It would be really good too bec ause that would they would at least be able to view you know synchronous communication even if they couldn't necessarily be a part of that. (Andrew, 12.10.2012)
105 can access a t any time so if they miss a live lecture they can go in and see the notes for Felicia supported the recording of sessions saying: It is hard to make a time work for every single person. So the ability to record the session s makes it valuable. And that's why I think that type of tool ; i t's going to be the direction of the future. (Felicia, 12.17.2012) Andrew went into detail about his experience using synchronous sessions with his online math classes. He tried both str uctured and unstructured sessions. His experimentation has helped him refine his sessions and the content included within them. It was not structured and it should've been. I think that is why it probably wasn't as useful as it could have been because I did kind of leave it open and it was like crickets. At first students wouldn't ask any questions so pretty quickly. min utes we are do this and then the next 10 min utes we are going to do this. I think in the future I am going to make it more structured because whole bank of questions. Because a lot of them haven't looked at it enough to really get the questions. (Andrew, 12.10.2012) Instructors who were assigning points to the sessions talked about the feasibility of tracking attendance for all students. The use of a quiz or assessment to test their knowledge from the session was one option. Andrew discussed how he would handle this situation: t some eggs or some seeds or something in there J ust kind of look for something that I could then ask them questions about just to make sure that they actually did you know did do that. And they would have to take it between Friday and Sunday. (Andr ew, 12.10.2012) Ellen also talked about tracking student attendance in the recorded sessions. She discussed including an assessment for attendance tracking:
106 Next time I will put it as an assessment so I know whether or not they entered. It doesn't tell m e whether they watched it, just whether they clicked on it. The only thing th Thank you for this. students actually go back and watch it. I don't think you can capture that. (Ellen, 12.14.2012) The use of an office hour was another option brought up by some of the instructors; however most did not find it an effective use of their time. Donna discussed her experience with holding online office hours: As it turned out, I don't think it made a whole lot of difference being there a certain time because students are going to contact you when they want to contact you because they are not always available during the whatever hours I would set for office hours any way. (Donna, 12.13.2012) Ellen commented about her availability to students saying: If the student asked for something specific I would just call them whenever they asked t goes back to I don't need her when she's available I need her w (Ellen, 12.14.2012) In summary, most instructors were in favor of using synchronous sessions in their math courses if they had access to the needed software. Feasibility and accountability were concerns brought up by the instructors. One solution was t o record the sessions and make it available for all students. The instructors were in favor of this option. Assessing students who watch the recording was another issue brought up. Instructors felt they would need to create an assessment as a way of tra cking students who watched the recording since there was no other way to track it. Office hours were discussed by some of the instructors, but their experience showed that this was not an effective use of their time. The online environment is one of flex ibility and varied schedules. Students contact their instructor according to their schedule regardless of a posted office hour.
107 Videos The discussion about recorded synchronous sessions led instructors to comment on their use of videos in the instruction They stated that they use pre made videos from a number of math websites or created their own. This section will discuss how instructors incorporate videos into their math courses. Carl talked about using links to videos in his class and how the colle ge is beginning to embed links to videos within the class: I provide links to videos to Khan Academy. It is huge so I provide students with those videos A nd what's happening now in the online courses, they are starting to embed videos within the course. So from instructor standpoint it's helpful as it's already there for you for the students. (Carl, 12.12.2012) Ellen talked about her use of videos and also using a phone app to create her own videos: I grabbed them from YouTube I grabbed them from Kha n Academy A nd I use an app on my phone to do it myself. It's not a video. It's me. It's just a whiteboard and I can record it and show whatever I want to show and then e mail it, post it. (Ellen, 12.14.2012) Andrew commented on using a Smart Pen to write in a notebook and record the writing and his voice which can later be disseminated to his students. Donna said she used Jing to create her own videos for the students. Felicia talked about also using the internet to find videos for those who are n ot able to create their own or who do not have the software to do so. She said: So if you are not able to make your own video, which sometimes it's really hard people don't have the resources to do that. If you're unable to do that there is a plethora of stuff available either through the Khan Academy for whole bunch of different math problems, Purple Math. Just different websites that, I regularly search and it's one of those things where you have got to watch the videos and make sure it jives with the curriculum. (Felicia, 12.17.2012)
108 Overall, the instructors were cognizant of online math videos and how to use or make them. They served as a viable option to help students wi th questions and further their understanding of a topic. Some of the instructors saw videos as an alternative to the synchronous sessions citing that they served a similar purpose for course instruction. Discussions All of the instructors had experienc e using discussion boards in online math courses. The structure of the course and college requirements dictated how the instructors used and assessed work in the discussion boards. With the exception of the two community college instructors, all other in structors were required to use discussion boards in their math classes. Several college s also set student and instructor requirements for participation in the discussions. In general, the instructors did not favor making post ing requirements in the discu ssion forums and those that had the option to remove the requirements, did so. thoughts about discussions and participation requirements. The two community college instructors had the flexibility to structure th eir course in terms of a student participation requirement. Andrew talked about how he can incorporate a student participation requirement using 5 10% of the total grade and chose to eliminate discussions, using synchronous sessions in lieu of them. He f ound I was using discussion boards, but honestly it wasn't the best tool for communication in a math class. It ended up just being like a pain and busywork for my students and me And responses I got weren't really communicating very much so I kind it would rank that probably at the bottom So this term it's a fall term, I dumped the discussion board but I have the virtual sessions. (Andrew, 12.10.2012)
109 Ellen also chose to el iminate the discussion requirements for her students. She still posts a weekly thread but does not place a numerical value on participation. It is there for them to ask questions of her and one another. When asked about placing requirements on participa tion she stated: I don't do that. I could not stand it as a student and I think it's a horrible thing to do. Because it doesn't mean that you're getting the breadth of the discussion in the activity it just means it's a requirement and it's a check off t he list. So it's up to the student to decide whether or not they choose to use that opportunity to learn the content by having discussions with others. So you know I encourage and I state that in the syllabus but I do not require. (Ellen, 12.14.2012) F elicia works at a college where weekly discussions are required, but there are minimal requirements set on posting. Her view on discussion boards was to have the instructor active in the forum to engage students in the discussion. In her experience when she was more active in the discussion board, students would reply almost daily regardless of the requirements because they were engaged in the discussion. When asked about discussion requirements, she replied: Nope. I think requirements are stupid. So e ven if we require students to participate they have an initial response and response to the other classmates, they are going to do so begrudgingly because they have to. If you start a conversation and the instructor is engaging students in the discussion board and promoting higher learning, a higher level thought, that would encourage more participation. You're going to have more participation. I have the requirement of participation at least one a week and post attendance. But I had students participat ing every single day, all day because I was in the discussion board. (Felicia, 12.17.2012) Carl viewed the discussion boards as a way to monitor student learning. He said: If I see something in the discussion board that stands out to me let's say yo u know they're totally lost with the mathematical concepts ; to them via e ? I'll Let me (Carl, 12.1 2.2012)
110 Donna work s at a college which require s students to make 8 10 posts per week and also required the same of the instructors. Donna taught a past course which had no discussions and did not like it. She found that the students did worse on their as signments and were not able to ask questions through the use of discussion threads. 25 to 30 [posts per week] and sometimes more though. Sometimes it's 40 or more because it depends on if t he students are if they're not getting it th 12.13.2012). When asked if she would change the discussion percentage for the final grade, she would raise it slightly if she could. She stated that if they were worth more points, students would be more inclined to actively participate. Betsy does not like having discussions in a math class, but they are required by her college. She tries to encourage the students to communicate with one another, explaining the concep ts in their own terms to help one another and also guides them through prompts in the discussions. When asked about her methods for increasing dialogue in the forums by using prompts, she stated: t's not about asking them deeper questions; it's about really giving them a direction to come back to me. That is the only way where I find I can get them to respond and move the conversation forward. I can make questions or don't really guide them, I don't feel like my students will move the conversation forward. So those are kind of my methods for doing that. (Betsy, 12.11.2012) T he use of discussion boards in an online math course is mixed. Those who have the academic freedom to assign or require points for the discussion forums opted to not do so or exclude them all together. The other instructors are required to use ade. The participation
111 requirements for the students range from 1 10 posts per week and faculty requirements range from 2 10 posts per week although one instructor stated she posted beyond the minimum requirements The boards were seen as a way to check for student understanding and engage them in the class. Many instructors thought that requiring students to post was not a way to engage them because it is viewed as a task rather than a learning experience. For the majority of the instructors, they had to follow the college requirements which included having weekly discussions, participating in them, and assigning points to them. In conclusion, the instructors stated that they used synchronous sessions, videos, and discussions as the main tools for co mmunication. The use of synchronous sessions was limited due to availability of resources and the req uirements set by the college. Most of the institutions did not require instructors to hold live sessions. The few instructors who had experience with th ese lessons reported positive experiences. In lieu of hosting live lessons, most of the participants shared videos with their students. Often these videos came from recommended math websites but a few instructors had experience making their own videos. Discussion boards were common in the majority of the courses and often required by the institution. Both the instructor and student were required to participate in the discussions with varying requirements among the colleges. The use of discussion boards in an online math classroom was mixed. The focus and use of these discussions were important factors in determining the feasibility an d effectiveness in the courses. RQ #3: How Do Math Instructors Structure a Course to Increase Dialogue ? Course structu re is an interesting component in an online class. While most face to face instructors are used to designing how to deliver the content, this is decided for
112 the online instructors by their schools Therefore, online instructors are commonly referred to a s facilitators since the course structure is pre determined. As evidenced in the interviews, four of the six instructors have a course structure set by the school with little to no changes that can be made The two community college instructors have more flexibility in designing the course but still follow the content structure set by the college numbering system. Figure 4 5 Subthemes for How Math Instructors Structure a Course to Increase Dialogue All of the instructors use a learning management sys tem that is set up by the college. The curriculum is created by the college including most of the assignment and discussion requirements. Only two of the instructors have some flexibility in the course structure, but the content cannot be altered. The two instructors that can modify the course can assign categorical points within a certain percentage, for example participation can be between 5 10%. The other four instructors work at institutions in which the course is completely pre made and little to nothing can be altered. They work as facilitators of the content and course. Even though the course is pre packaged, there are a few things that they can do to increase dialogue with their students. The themes in this category include instructor presenc e and setting expectations.
113 Carl works at a college which pre packages his math courses. When asked how he increases dialogue, he replied: Unfortunately I would think most institutions will not allow you to alter the course in any manner so you can in crease the dialogue through additional post s or additional e mails to your students. (Carl, 12.12.2012) Felicia also commented on the structure of the course stating that almost nothing can be changed. However, she felt that instructors can still show wh o they are by injecting their teaching style and personality into the class. She stated: [It is] pr epackaged. There is not much you can alter. There are small things that the people can d o to make the class their own, a nd that is the academic freedom. There is not a lot of room for change but there is room to show who you are as an instructor and to make accommodations for your teaching style. (Felicia, 12.17.2012) has flex ibility in writing the questions. My courses are standardized. They a re created by the institution. I am able to change the questions that I ask for the discussions. But that's about as much control that I have. (Betsy, 12.11.2012) Andrew incorporates notes and videos in his course to encourage dialogue. He posts open ended questions to encourage the students to discuss the math. He said: I guess I try to in the notes and even in the videos I post, I try to post some kind of open ended questions a lit tle to increase dialogue but then again it's tricky because it may feel like they have to the answer the question at some point. Even with this course and the classroom at some point you have to round everything back up. (Andrew, 12.10.2012) Ellen has mo re flexibility with her course and is able to design the structure. When asked if she structures her course to increase dialogue, she replied: Yes I guess before I design I think about how I'm going to encourage it but I have not yet found a way that has made any difference that I've seen. Maybe in my years now doing this I've decided this is the tried and true way that works and there will always be a handful students reach out and then there are the students that go with what's there (Ellen, 12.14.20 12)
114 The instructors noted that they set their expectations at the beginning of class to help increase the dialogue with their students. Within these expectations, they will note their preferred ways for contact including various times and ways they can b e reached. Some set two way expectations, those for the students and ask what the student expects from their instructor. One instructor sends a message about keeping negative feelings out of the math forums and to keep the conversations about math positi ve. Andrew stated that he set s his communication standards at the beginning of the course by listing it in his syllabus. He wanted students to have realistic expectations about contacting him and getting replies. He said: I try to set the norms at the beginning ; you know in the syllabus I tell them email is probably the best way to get in touch with me. Understand I might not be able to respond to you until the next day. Maybe I have read it but I just can't. I have to draw a line somewhere otherw ise I'm really going to be a slave to my computer and nobody wants to be that. And common sense generally prevails. (Andrew, 12.10.2012) Felicia talked about posting a welcome message where she included her expectations for the students and asked what t hey expected from her. Within that message, she also posted the various ways she could be reached. [I] provide a welcome message which includes, something that I included was my expectation of the students and then I also ask what their expectations were of me. And then I also provided different methods in which they could communicate, both with myself and other students if they wanted to. (Felicia, 12.17.2012) She also brought up a message about squashing bad attitudes about math. She saw that some st udents would use the forums to talk badly about math, encouraging others to do so too. Therefore, she set the expectation that this was not going to be permitted in her course. She said:
115 Once the students knew what the expectation was, that you could hav e a negative feeling or negative vibe but don't spread their hatred of math. Don't spread the bad feelings, they get it. (Felicia, 12.17.2012) Ellen felt that the adult learners in her course should be responsible for their work. She commented that she would help them if needed, but it was up to them to be accountable for the class. S he stated: I prefer that they are involved and that they do those things [participate in forums] but I don't hold them accountable to it. I encourage adult learners, I ki nd of feel like they're going to put in what you need to put in to be successful and that the accountability is on you. I will give you whatever resources you need but you are the one accountable in the end. (Ellen, 12.14.2012) In conclusion, most of th e instructors facilitated courses designed by the college and had little to no flexibility in altering the course structure. Some things they did were add question or chat threads, alter discussion questions, make more posts, provide their contact informa tion, and set expectations. The assignments, points, and discussion structure were standard across most of the institutions. When they could alter the course structure, they removed discussion forums, removed participation requirements for the discussion s, posted supplemental course materials, and added synchronous sessions. Instructors were able to assert their teaching style through additional posts, emails, and within the various forums. How Instructors Define Terms Instructors were asked how they de fined three terms in relation to online math courses, specifically, communication, interaction, and dialogue. All instructors described engaging in all three types of communication within their online courses,
116 Figure 4 6 How Instructors Define Terms many struggled to develop a single definition for each one. Many felt that the terms overlapped one another or attempted to use a derivative of the word in the definition. Some key phrases and common definitions were repeated within the group which will be discussed in this section
117 I would define communication as the exchange of information and that could be i nstructor to student, student to instructor, or even student to student. (Andrew, 12.10.2012) about Carl attributed communication with the use of emails, chat, and discussion boards. He said: As it relates to the online environment com munication first of all starts with the e mails. So just interacting with the students via e mail. If your online platform offers chat functions, those are your main communication tools with your students and the biggest one throughout the course is the discussion boards. So that's how I would define it in an online environment using your e mail, using your discussion boards, using your chat features. (Carl, 12.12.2012) Interaction was defined by study participants using the electronic features within t an online environment is mainly electronic, th 12.12.2012). eople The manner in which instructors and students respond to one another was a characteristic mentioned by Felicia. Interaction has to do with, I ask you a question and you respond. You ask me a quest ion, and I respond accordingly. You are listening and you are responding because you are listening to whatever the question is. So listening and responding in a thorough and respectful manner. (Felicia, 12.17.2012) The last term the participants were a sked to define was dialogue. There was more of a group consensus when it came to this term. Most of the instructors defined
118 dialogue as: I guess I would view dialogue as more of an ongoing conversation. So if you are communicating over a matter of I don't know post or thread or e mail over a matter of hours, a good dialogue would be the development of a conversation and then the persistence of that conversation, whether i t [is] in written word or verbal word. (Felicia, 12.17.2012) Andrew thought of dialogue in a synchronous manner, in line with a conversation saying: Dialogue doesn't have to be synchronous, but I tend to think of it as more synchronous. Whereas I'm thin king I'm actually having a conversation going back and forth. An e mail doesn't tend to be as effective with that especially when it comes to students. (Andrew, 12.10.2012) ons and Online instructors engage in these three types of information exchanges, communication, interaction, and dialogue; however there is not one clear definition as expressed by the participan ts. Some instructors thought about it in terms of the traditional classroom and how those behaviors carry over into the online environment. Several instructors stated that the terms overlapped and could be intertwined with one another. Some clear phrase s did emerge as possible definitions which further elucidated how online instructors describe these terms. Preferred Communication The instructors were asked which types of communication they preferred and the types preferred by their students. Their var ied answers to their preferences speak to their flexibility as an online instructor and their willingness to be available to students through various means. The most common form of instructor communication was email
119 although face to face, synchronous sess ions, discussions, individual forums, and text were also listed as preferred means of communication. When asked about the ways they thought the students prefer to communicate, email and discussion boards were the top selections. This section will discuss the preferred means of communication for both the instructors and their students. Andrew stated he preferred to communicate face to face and also prefers to speak during virtual sessions. His response differed from the group. He comments on this topic by saying: I find it easier to communicate if the students are right in front of me and I think they would feel the same way about it like on the virtual sessions I prefer to speak. I prefer to have the video on me. A lot of students are not like that. They prefer to type. (Andrew, 12.10.2012) Asynchronous communication via email or discussion boards was a commonly As the instructor, I prefer the e mail first and foremost and then the discus 12.12.2012). Betsy also preferred asynchronous communication and exp lained the reason why: Asynchronous communication. I get back to them within 24 hours every time, but to be able to answer at my own time. So many times I got a phone call and not knowing who it was, and out with my family doing something. And I'm getting a math question and want help with their homework. I prefer the asynchronous so I can kind of put my math professor hat on and do what I need to do wh ile I'm near my resources. So definitely e mail in the private forums. (Betsy, 12.11.2012) like the individual forums. I a ). On the other hand, Ellen preferred communications to go to her mobile device so she could reply promptly. She stated:
120 I prefer it to come to my mobile device so if they e mail me inside the learning management system it sits inside the learning manage ment system. So I feel like my response to that will be 24 to 48 hours depending on the last time I've been able to check in. So I'm perfectly fine to chat or e mail that comes to my mobile. (Ellen, 12.14.2012) Lastly, Felicia was open to any type of co Yes and what I prefer is irrelevant. If you are teaching an online clas s you need to gauge what your students want and how your students want to be communicated with is how we need to communicate with them. And I think the same applies to an online class. If students are more engaging in the discussion board, then you need to be in the discussion board. If students are more engaging in e mail, then you need to on e mail. If they want more chat. Wherever your students are that is where you need to be. (Felicia, 12.17.2012) When asked what their students prefer, most of the instructors said that the students prefer to communicate through email to the instructor or the discussion board. Andrew commented that online students are hesitant to admit weakness to their peers and will go to him first. Carl also said that students are more apt to ask the instructor first by saying: They typically contact me first because everyone is coming from the business world T hey want to hear from the boss so they contact the instructor first to find the clarity. And if they don't feel like they're getting a quick response than they post there [discussion forum], b ut typically the instructor first (Carl, 12.12.2012) would be email for the adult learner, the older learners, and the text or chat for the In conclusion, instructors have a wide range of preferences which can be attributed to their flexibility in accommodating the needs of many students. Being that
121 their courses are conducted asynchronously, it is not surprising that this is the most schedules, understanding that their students live in various place and time zones. Email seems to be the quickest way for both of them to communicate and exchange information. Based upon the instructor opinions of student communication preferences, email is also a preferred method. Being flexible when it comes to communication methods, will allow the in structor to meet the needs of all their students and communicate in the manner in which they want to be communicated with in an online environment. Conclusion Chapter 4 discussed the themes and subthemes that emerged in relation to the thr ee research que stions: 1. How do math instructors communicate with students in an online environment? 2. What tools do math instructors use to promote communication in an online course? 3. How do math instructors structure a course to increase dialogue? Instructors use severa l methods to communicate with students in an online math course including both synchronous and asynchronous means. Most instructors cited using asynchronous means, communicating within the learning management system. The instructors were flexible, accomm odating preferences in terms of time and method. These communications included both one way and two way communications. Regardless of the method or means, all of the instructors stated that communication was an important component in an online math course. Some of this communication included setting class expectations, engaging with students, and maintaining instructor presence through timely responses.
122 The main tools used by math instructors included synchronous sessions, videos, and discus sions. The use of synchronous sessions was limited by college requirements and availability of resources. Those who did have access reported positive experiences. Online videos were seen as an alternative to live sessions and could be easily acquired an d shared with students. The group reported using pre made, online videos in addition to creating their own. Discussions were also a staple in most online math courses. Most of the instructors were required to post and participate in weekly discussions w ith both the student and instructor requirements differing among the colleges. The structure of the course was a limitation for most of the participants who were not able to control how the course was set up. These instructors asserted their identity t hrough instructor presence and by setting expectations. They were present in the course, responding quickly to students and set expectations by posting additional messages. In order to increase dialogue, instructors posted messages, sent emails, and aske d questions.
123 CHAPTER 5 DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS The purpose of this study was to investigate the manner in which math instructors communicate with students in online math courses and explore the tools the instructors use to increase dialogue in online courses. The study po sed three research questions to learn more about this topic Qualitative interviewing was employed in order to gather rich, descriptive data Chapter 5 will discuss the findings including the themes and subthemes surrounding the focus of the study in addition to implications additional limitations, and recommendations for further study. Discussion of the Findings Six participants from four higher education institutions provided detailed, in depth data about how they commu nicate with their students, the tools they use, and how they structure a course to increase dialogue in online math courses. The sample was highly educated comprised of one doctor of education and three participants working on their doctoral degree. The y also had extensive experience of working in an online setting with the group averaging 6.8 years teaching online math courses. The group as a whole estimated facilitating between 390 465 math courses. All of the participants completed at least one onli ne course as a student with four out of six completing entire degree programs online. The experience of the participants both as an instructor and student yields data that is grounded in experience and sound math pedagogy. The three main topics were or ganized around the research questions and included: how math instructors communicate with students in an online environment, the tools they use to promote communication, and how they structure a course to increase dialogue. Four themes emerged elucidatin g how instructors communicate
124 online including the types of communication, encouraging communication, the importance of communication, and dealing with communication concerns. Several tools were cited as ways instructors communicate online with the main t hemes being synchronous sessions, videos, and discussions. Finally, the type of course structure and setting expectations were two themes of how instructors structure a course to increase dialogue. Communication Although the sample consisted of partici pants from four different institutions, there was a consensus of how they communicate with their online math students. Both one way and two way communication means were mentioned during the interviews. ant environment where there is a separation of teaching and learning assisted through the use of media (1973). Announcements, feedback, Power Points, and videos were noted as one way means to communicate. Even though students can reply to them in respons e to these materials, most instructors categorized them as informational messages being passed from the instructor to student. Two way communication was defined as a back and forth interaction between the instructor and student and included email, discuss ions, phone calls, text, chat, and synchronous sessions. All of the instructors engaged in all or some of these activities in their courses. There are three types of interaction in the online environment: instructor to student, student to student, and s tudent to content (Moore, 1989) The types of communication found within the group supports this assertion. The use of interactive tools such as Blackboard for synchronous sessions impacts the transactional distance by promoting a multi interactive, co llaborative learning
125 environment (Stein, Wanstreet, & Calvin, 2009). When communication increases between the instructor and student the transactional distance decreases (Moore, 1997). The instructors cited flexibility in their communication techniqu es, and using one or all of these ways to communicate with math students. Flexibility was a best practice noted in the resea rch. It is implied that the 24 hour flexibility of online schooling is extended to include this cha racteristic in online instructors (DiPietro, Ferdig Black, & Preston, 2008 ). Moreover, it is also consistent with research stating that the student experience has a positive impact on student satisfaction. Students are more likely to be satisfied with t heir course when the feeling of remoteness is removed (Steinman, 2007). Further findings supported this assertion by stating that instructor interactions are critical in an online learning environment (Rhode, 2009). Some instructors were open to multiple forms of communication saying that they were open to all forms, whichever was best for the student. Overall, phone calls were named as the least likely way to communicate mainly due to the different schedules and time zones of the students and instructor Asynchronous communication through email, discussion, or individual forums was the most common way to correspond with students. (1973) original theory, learner, teacher, and method of communication, are still present i n online learning today. Encouraging communication was a second theme discovered in regards to communication. Immediacy behaviors is a way to explain how communication takes place online and is a foundational component for developing online community (Ar baugh, 2010). Instructors stated that they attempt to encourage communication
126 between themselves and the students in addition to encouraging the students to communicate with one another. This is consistent with findings of online teachers whereby they fo ster a sense of community to make connections with their students and open the avenues for continued help and support (DiPietro et al., 2008). Tone, meaningful discussion, open communication, and prompt replies were ways to encourage communication with st udents. Several instructors stated that they addressed the students by name in discussion and emails, taking a personal approach which supports a reduction in transactional distance (Moore, 1973) Past experiences of addressing the class of a group were deemed as a bit impersonal and thus stating dialogue. As one instructor noted, students are more likely to reply to you when the post is addressed to them. Instructors monitor th eir posts and emails to make sure the message is positive and received in a friendly manner. Verbal immediacy behaviors includ ing addressing a student by name, citing personal examples, and providing feedback can enhance leaner and overall course satisf action (Arbaugh, 2001). This personal engagement carried over into the discussion forums where students were addressed by name and specific comments were made in instructor in meaningful ways. Clarifying understanding or posing questions was also a method used in discussion replies. Instructors can encourage these behaviors in students by modeling and being engaged in the discussions to promote dialogue through this medium (Conaway et al. 2005).
127 The instructors cited open forms of communication as one way to encourage communication with math students Posts with contact information, preferred methods of communication, and question threads within the class were ways to let students know that the instructor was available. These techniques support evidence that instructors provide students with multiple way s to interact with the content to accommodate their learning styles (DiPietro et al., 2008). Several instructors st ated that prompt replies to student posts and questions were way s to encourage communication. Although most colleges require a reply within 24 48 hours of a student post, most of the instructors replied much quicker saying that students expect a quick r esponse to their questions. One instructor described it through her own eyes saying that she would want a fast reply and thus monitors the forums and emails in order to reply quickly to her students. These responses characterized instructor presence in a n online environment. Participating in the course, grading assignments, and spending time in chat rooms are ways to create an online presence (Brooks, 2003). instructor presence was the sole predictor of course satisfacti on when other factors were controlled (2005). Encouraging communication among the students is a strategy used by several of the instructors. A few saw the peer interaction as important and encouraged students to exchange email, contact information, to post in chat forums. The notion that peers could help and support one another was a major reason for encouraging student to student interaction. Establishing a community of learners is a best practice cited in the literature. Online instructors value a nd encourage student to student interaction to create a social climate among the class (DiPietro et al., 208). Many instructors set up
128 forums for students to post or created them as needed. Facilitating discourse is the second component of teaching prese nce according to Anderson, Rourke, Garrison, and Archer ( 2001). Within this component are the means by which students are engaged, interacting, and building upon the information provided through the course materials (Arbaugh, 2010). Although the instruct ors did not share student information, many encourage d the students to contact one another, exchanging information or even meeting in person to form study groups. Most of the instructors were unaware if these meetings or offline communication took place, but some witnessed personal dialogue amongst the students which led them to believe that the students had communicated beyond the course. The participants named many ways that they communicate online and their preferred means of contact. Given their fle xibility to accommodate students, their Most of the instructors preferred to communicate asynchronously through email, individual forums, and discussions. Their schedul es and time zones were a factor in their preferred means of contact. One instructor stated that she liked to think about her replies and wanted to take the time to write them out rather than answer when out of the office. Another instructor asserted that he preferred to communicate face to face and through synchronous sessions. He found it easier to communicate with the student in front of him in order to understand their needs and clarify meaning. Overall though, the instructors were flexible with mean s of communication and accommodated the students as needed. Asynchronous means were a fitting way to communicate since there were little to no time restrictions on the course. The diverse student population and location
129 supported email, individual forums and discussions as a viable way to communicate with online instructors. The instructors affirmed that math students preferred to communicate through asynchronous means too saying that email, question threads, and discussion were the most common ways t hat students communicated with their instructor. Phone calls were rare and usually used for emergencies or last minute clarification. Even during synchronous sessions, students preferred to not speak and opted to type instead. Those that commented on th ese sessions cited poor attendance with the same students present each week. Emailing and posting questions were deemed to be a quick way to get a reply and effective given the different schedules and time zones. Self directed learners are independent, p roblem solvers, and use their resources to overcome means of communication when needed supports the assertion that they are emulating the image of a self directed learn er in online learning environments. Moreover, self directed learning was a strong indicator of academic achievement (Hsu & Shiue, 2005). All of the instructors indicated that communication in an online math course was very important. The lack of face t o face interaction placed a stronger emphasis on course expectations, being engaged, and showing instructor presence. Differing from a traditional course where these things can be accomplished in person, the online instructor needed to do so from a distance. If an instructor is able to reduce the perceived distance through the use of materials and engagement, then the transactional distance is reduced. Students report ed satisfaction with online learning experiences
130 when they were enrolled in more interactive courses (Boling et al., 2012). These elements were illustrated through regular posts and emails, participation in the discussion forums, feedback, and availabilit y to answer questions. Many instructors viewed the absence of these activities synonymous with a student led course set up or a course that could be run by a teaching assistant. The expertise as an instructor demanded that these elements were present in the online course in order to give students an equal or better learning experience in comparison to its traditional course counterpart. Online math requires more teacher support given the nature of the subject which was evident in the importance instructo rs placed on online communication in math courses (Moor & Zazkis, 2000). In addition to regular communication, instructors are also faced with dealing with inappropriate communication and non responsive math students. Both of these issues are handled in a similar manner among the participants. The consensus among the instructors was to diffuse the situation, delete the post, or speak with the student for further clarification. Inappropriate posts either between students or addressed to the instructor w ere a rare occurrence. When it did happen, the common response was to contact the student either through email or on the phone to speak to them about it. If the post was in a public forum, the procedure was to copy the post for reference and then delete it. Clarifying understanding or explaining the situation to the student usually resulted in the issue be deescalated and not a recurring problem. Students were reminded about online tone and proper etiquette in an online forum. When the communication wa s addressed to the instructor it was usually a result of student frustration, lack of understanding, or difficulty with the content. In these cases,
131 the needed assistanc e. This validates the findings from prior research when teachers reported the importance of addressing inappropriate behavior and dealt with it by sustaining a non threatening environment (DiPietro et al., 2008). All of the instructors dealt with non responsive students. These students were describe d as not participating in class or not submitting work. The issue was addressed by contacting the student through email and /or alerting the academic advisor. One instructor stated that she created and sen t individual work plans for students to get back on track. The student response was mixed ranging from a reply with completed action items, reply without action, and no reply. Aside from email and advisor alerts, the instructors commented that there was little else that could be done. Some placed responsibility on the student claiming that they were adults and needed to be accountable for their work. Outside of these contact methods, nothing else was offered as a steadfast solution for engaging non resp onsive students. This is synonymous with self initiative to diagnose learning needs, formulate learning goals, identify resources for learning, select and implement learning (1975, p. 18). Students who are not able to manage their courses, take responsibility, or reach out for assistance may not be self directed and thus can struggle in an online environment. Communication Tools In addition to email, course announcements via posts phone calls, and texting, the instructors used synchronous sessions, videos, and discussions as tools to communicate in an online math course. All of the instructors were familiar with the
132 software needed to hold synchronous sessions, although their experience with it varied. The software supported by the college or lack thereof were determining factors as to whether this tool was used as a means of communication in the math classes. At least half of the instructors stated that their college did not offer or require virtual sessions, although they did see benefit in having this as an option in the course. They also asserted that they would be hesitant to use outside software for reasons such as permissib ility, cost, and feasibility. However, the use of two way, synchronous tools has the option of reducing transactional distance through faster communication and clarification The perceived distance between the instructor and student is reduced when commu nication is shared and interactive (Steinman, 2007). The desire to explore new technology and incorporate it into online courses is a best practice supported in the literature (DiPietro et al., 2008). Participants in the former study sought out and were interested in integrating technology into their instructional content (DiPietro et al., 2008). Of those instructors who did use synchronous sessions, the software was being piloted at their college and thus was a recent option for online courses. There were both positive and negative thoughts regarding the use of synchronous sessions. On the positive side, it was deemed a great way to increase instructor to student and student to student interaction. It was a good substitute for the in class interactio ns that are absent in the online classroom. Moreover, students could get direct help with math concepts and ask questions in real time. The use of structured versus unstructured sessions was up for debate, but easily amended through experience and studen t needs. On the negati ve side, requiring attendance during synchronous sessions was
133 Many instructors felt that students chose to attend classes online due to schedu le and time limitations, thus requiring them to attend went against this philosophy. The idea of recording sessions was a viable option offered by the instructors. They found recordings a reasonable compromise to make the sessions available for all. If participation points were linked to the sessions, to increase attendance and student buy in, they struggled with a practicable way to assess the students who watched the recorded session. Designing additional assessments to track participation was seen as an added instructor task in an already busy class. Office hours were also mentioned though many deemed them as unsuccessful and an ineffective use of time. when students can contact their instruct or, thus they will make contact as needed and not only within a specified timeframe each week. Therefore, most instructors concluded that synchronous sessions would be beneficial for the students, but how and when were questions left unanswered. Non re qui red sessions were seen as poor ly attended and thus perhaps not a good use of instructor time. The lack of technology offered by the college was a limiting factor too. Videos Recognizing that some form of visual instruction does benefit math students, in structors use online math videos as a viable alternative to synchronous sessions. Since students may not have access to lecture online, they may have to rely on other sources such as animations or math software (Akdemir, 2010). The participants stated us ing both existing and self made videos to explain math concepts or calculator use. Math sites such as Khan Academy and Purple Math were mentioned as recommended sites to get pre made videos. Instructors used videos in a number of ways by including
134 them i n class materials, using them in discussions, or sending them to students as needed. Several instructors stated that they created their own videos by using Jing or a whiteboard phone app. The latter allowed instructors to customize the instruction and ex amples for individual students. They also felt they could offer a more detailed understanding of the line by line steps by explaining what happens as they work out a specific problem. Colleges are recognizing the use of online math videos and some are st arting to incorporate them within the course materials. According to Akdemir, instructors who develop their own courses use a limited number of additional resources when compared to instructors using established college courses (2010). Course customizati on, filling in the gaps, and meeting the needs of students can explain why instructors add materials or videos to pre existing courses. Moreover, the use of videos can reduce the transactional distance felt by students since they have access to that mater ial at any time, when needed. Discussions Discussions are a standard component in most online math courses. Prior research looked at discussion forum posts for examples of immediacy behaviors including affective, cohesive, and interactive responses an d concluded that immediacy behaviors were present in the discussions (Conaway et al., 2005). The thoughts about inclusive discussions in an online math class and the participation requirements varied among the group of instructors. One of the instructors removed the discussions, requiring synchronous sessions instead and another instructor posts a weekly discussion thread but does not make it required. About half of the instructors did not favor required participation requirements for the students and/or faculty. It was seen as busy work, a checklist, and lacking depth of knowledge. While other instructors saw
135 discussion boards as a means to clarify conceptual understanding, assist students, and allow students to interact with one another. The requirem ents for student participation ranged from optional posts up to 10 required posts a week. Faculty participation varied too, although most colleges set requirements for them. Faculty posts ranged from 2 10 a week although one instructor reported an estim ated 35 40 posts per week depending on student needs. The number of weekly discussion threads was between 1 and 2. The instructors can model and engage students in the discussions (Conaway et al., 2005) which can alter the purpose and direction of the di scussion. Modeling formal online communication through discussion boards and emails is considered a critical component in teaching students how to effectively communicate online (DiPietro et al., 2008). Although discussion threads are inherent in online courses, the structure purpose and assessment in a math class may need to be reassessed. Two of the instructors had the flexibility to design the course components and thus removed discussion requirements. Of the others, the college mandated weekly disc ussion threads and they could not make changes. At one of the institutions, the instructors were allowed to modify the actual discussion questions as long as it stayed in line with the weekly curriculum. When these instructors were asked about modificati ons they would make to discussions, the response was to remove the required number of posts or raise the percentage that discussions weight in the overall grade. The small weight led one instructor to think that students chose to not participate and just complete the other assignments. Requirements often meant that students will do it because they had to for a grade, but posts may be superficial and not promote depth of knowledge. Students can ascribe to deep, surface, or achievement learning
136 approaches (Garrison & Cleveland Innes, 2005). They concluded that higher interactions from the instructor resulted in a deeper knowledge approach on behalf of the students versus no shift or a drop in learning involvement with no instructor involvement (Garrison & Cleveland Innes, 2005). We may need to look at the achievement as a result of meaningful discussions The instructor perspectives on discussions were enlightening and point towards continued conversation on the use of discussion forums in a math course as a best practice. The college requirement versus academic freedom dictates when and how discussions are used in online math courses. From a design perspective, the d iscussions are intended to represent the dialogue that would take place in a face to face setting. Course Structure The instructors use various learning management systems which are set up by the college. The academic freedom to design the course ac tivities compared to a fully pre packaged course was the range seen in the sample. Four out of six instructors worked at an institution which pre packaged the course for them. Half of them could make no changes while the other two could add forums, threa ds, and weekly discussions. The nature of the course was not a limiting factor though when identifying how instructors structure a course to increase dialogue. Instructors asserted their individual teaching style in the course regardless of the structure They did so through instructor presence and setting expectations. Instructors noted posting announcements, posting frequently in forums, and sending emails as ways to show their presence in the course and increase dialogue.
137 These were seen as things instructors could do regardless of the course structure. Keeping a positive tone and replying promptly to students aided in increasing the instructor student dialogue. Adding videos, materials, or asking open ended questions were additional techniques em ployed by the instructors. According to Arbaugh, the instructor plays the role of discussion facilitator and content expert in order to effectively deliver instruction online (2010). Enhancing course content and using strategies to accommodate all learne rs were best practices found in a study of online instructors (DiPietro et al., 2008). Setting expectations at the beginning of the course was one way to set the standards irrespective of the course structure. Some of the instructors stated that they se nd out welcome emails setting the course expectations, providing contact information, and also asking the students for the expectations of the instructor. These practices aid in opening up the dialogue from the start of the class, setting a welcoming envi ronment in which students feel comfortable and safe to communicate with their instructor. The addition of question or chat threads, if available, provides a place for students to ask questions or seek clarification from the instructor. Garrison notes tha t the structure or design of the course plays a key role in the interactions and dialogue in higher order learning (2007). In conclusion, the in depth interviews provided a wealth of insightful practices that math instructors employ in their online cours es. The diversity of colleges and instructor experiences captured many pedagogical methods and tools that are being used in online math courses and revealed how they are being used to increase communication. The implications of these findings will be dis cussed in the next section.
138 Implications The instructors in this sample were knowledgeable of and used a wide range of tools to communicate with their math students. They displayed flexibility in not only the method of communication they used but also in accommodating the students to meet their needs. They made a point to encourage communication through emails, announcements, and forum posts. The instructors did so as a means to connect with their students rather than a requirement set by the colleges The various tools used support the reduced transactional distance in the online environment. A flexible structure is synonymous with high dialogue and learner control (Sahin, 2008). Looking at how experienced math instructors use tools to communicate with their students will reinforce current best practices, the tools that can be added to learning management systems, and training that colleges offer to new instructors. Training should not only include the various ways instructors can communicate with students, but also best practices for using these tools and samples of how effective communication can look in an online class. Ongoing training or support can also be provided to assist instructors with situations that arise while teaching in addition to sharing practices with one another. Communication The type of information being conveyed dictated which tools the instructors would use. For example, course reminders and broad information was transmitted through announcement posts in a main forum. Th ese were viewed as outgoing messages that did not require a response. If there was an assignment due, an upcoming test, or note about material, a broad announcement was seen as the best way to deliver this information. Email can be used in two ways, for outgoing group messages and for
139 individual communications. The instructors noted using email in both instances. Announcements or weekly updates were sent to the group by email. Students with questions or concerns also communicated via email with the ins tructor directly. Email was seen as a common practice and used by all of the instructors. The type of email system is worthy of attention. The participants perceived that e mail housed on a server outside of the classroom was more accessible versus ema il housed within the learning management system (LMS) Email through Outlook could be accessed by smart phones or even forwarded to another address to alert the instructor that an email is waiting for them w hereas email within the LMS required the instruc tor to log in to the class to read it. Although it may not be viewed as a substantial component, the response time can differ based upon the system used Emails sent through the course LMS may have a longer wait time if the instructor has logged out for the day. On the other hand, emails sent to an outside server have the potential of getting a quicker reply. Although a 24 hour reply window is seen as a standard response time, most students want and expect a quicker reply. Tu and McIs aac (2002 ) found t hat timely responses have a positive influence in online classrooms. If the reply was not within the expected range or the student did not receive a response, the sender perceived less soc ial presence (Tu & McIsaac, 2002 ). Looking at the types of availab le communication tools for instructors and their accessibility is something to consider in online courses. During initial and ongoing training, online math instructors should be educated on the various forms of communication tools and exercise flexibility in communicating through a number of means to reach all students.
140 The use of a weekly office hour was not seen as beneficial by some of the participants Because of the many communication options available to students, being available for a set hour each week did little to accommodate all students across different time zones. The students made contact based upon their schedule and in their chosen format. Therefore, limiting or requiring online instructors to hold virtual office hours was not seen as a good use of time as perceived by the sample. This supports research by Li and Pitts ( 2009 ) who found that students did not take advantage of virtual office hours when offered opting to get their questions answered via email with a small number of stud ents reporting that the times were inconvenient. However even though the office hours were not frequently used by the students, they still were positive about having access to them and considered it a valuable addition to the class ( Li & Pitts, 2009 ). Th is warrants further research to ascertain the impact office hours has on student assistance and overall experience. Universities should look at the impact of requiring office hours with the effect it has on student satisfaction and achievement. Giving in structors options to fulfill this requirement may be a viable approach in order to reach a larger number of students over a wider range of courses. It should be implemented with purpose opposed to merely complying with a requirement. Reaching out to non responsive students was another best practice applied in the online environment. Instructors encouraged work and replies by using email or individual messages to students. Some colleges had a system for recording non responsive or students in danger of f ailing. These systems included early warning reports sent to the college or advisor alerting them of the situation, although not all colleges have a system in place to do so. Instructors either used the early warning
141 reports or attempted to contact the s tudents directly. Beyond these two attempts, they were at a los s for how to re engage non responsive students saying that they could only do so much. According to Moore (1997), it is the learner who sets goals, determines their experience, and evaluates the outcomes, not the instructor. In addition looking at Knowles theory of adult learning, it is the individual who moves from dependency on others to self direction (1970). Therefore, the student does assume responsibility for completing their work and asking for assistance. Colleges can scaffold this process by assess ing the steps instructors should take in these scenarios, the systems in place for recording non responsive students, and the actions for handling dis engaged students. Structure Th e course structure did not present a large issue for the instructors. T hey worked within the structure and infused their personal teaching style in the course. Instructors did so by customizing announcement messages, sending emails, creating question for ums, and actively participating in discussion forums. Many of the instructors noted that they supplemented the pre made materials by adding in their own notes or adding video resources. Growing enrollments in college are met with students who have divers e needs and a wide range of skills (Ashby et al., 2011). The subject of math usually required more resources beyond what was provided in the course and incoming students are often not prepared The instructors augmented the existing materials to help stu dents struggling with the content. It is important for colleges and course designers to recognize the uniqueness that math courses hold in an online environment and allow instructors to add materials as necessary. The collective experience of the math in structors illustrated that they used outside materials in order to aid in the basic materials may be adequate in regular
142 classroom settings, learning math independently online calls for new ways to deliver the i nformation. The instructors found ways to deliver a lecture experience through the use of online videos and resources. Interestingly, instructors who develop their own courses use a limited number of additional resources in comparison to instructors usin g established course curriculum (Akdemir, 2010). The difficulty of the subject matter requires online math to have more instructor support (Moor & Zazkis, 2000). Reading from the book may not be the best way to deliver and teach the content. Interactive math programs with set or individualized assignments were viewed as a benefit in math courses and recommended by instructors. Therefore, colleges can assess the types of materials they use in math classes, the extent of interactions with those materials, how instructors can supplement the curriculum, and math programs that guide the students through the content using a formulated process. Instructor training should include the extent and limitations that instructors have to use outside resources within t heir course. Topics such as fair use and copyright can be included since for profit universities were included in the sample. Instructor Presence Trainings for online instructors should also include a component related to instructor presence. Acco rding to the data, a positive tone and prompt replies were two ways to display instructor presence. The findings from prior studies support this claim by stating that instructors establish and maintain a presence in the online classroom by logging in regu larly, responding quickly to students, being active in discussion forums, and motivating the students to complete the course (DiPietro et al., 2008). Synonymous with the traditional classroom, the online instructor needs to assert their presence by replyi ng to students, posting announcements, and participating in forums to
143 demonstrate their activity in the course. The lack of verbal cues and physical presence makes the non verbal components even more important. Instructors can create an online presence b y grading assignments in a timely manner, spending time in chat rooms, and participating in the course (Brooks, 2003). Regardless of the platform, online math instructors should be encouraged to make the class their own by using similar strategies that w ould be used in traditional math courses. Training that demonstrates how to interact and reply to students can support the teacher instructor relationship and thus enhance the student experience in a math course. Instructors need to observe how instructo r presence looks online and have time modeling effective presence strategies. This can be accomplished in trainings that set up a mock classroom, exemplifying characteristics of instructor presence. Synchronous Sessions It was noted that o nline mat h instructors use outside tools and resources to supplement the course material to assist the students with the content. This is consistent with the best practices found in a study of virtual teachers. They have a desire to find and incorporate new techn ology in the existing classroom to enhance the content (DiPietro et al., 2008). Aside from using videos and notes, t he use of synchronous sessions was a best practice describe d by the sample. If software was not available, open resources are a viable opt ion to assist students in learning math (Charles & Rice, 2012) although the group did not explore this option The use of Blackboard Collaborate or Adobe Connect was not a common practice in secondary, online math courses. Less than half of the instructo rs noted ever using synchronous software. Only one instructor at a community college was undergoing training to incorporate live sessions in the math course involved in a pilot project Otherwise, the
144 instructors questioned the viability of incorporatin g such a component or noted the lack of resources at their college. Most of the instructors noted that they did not have access to technology outside of their course shell. One instructor was apprehensive about using technology not approved by the colleg e. Available technology was limited to email and chat rooms. Therefore, incorporating synchronous session s in a math course was met with mixed feelings. Although they were viewed as potentially being beneficial, the sof tware needed, cost for the institu tion, training, timing, and student participation were noted concerns. Those who experimented with holding synchronous sessions cited low participation and unprepared students. Nevertheless, the NCVPS found that students suggested more live sessions to d eliver the math content (Oliver et al., 2010). There is not a single solution that can or will apply to all math courses at all colleges. Therefore, the use of live sessions can be made both at the college and instructor level to best meet the needs of t heir students. Training can include not only the use of software but how to set up sessions to increase effectiveness and student success. Mandatory sessions viewing recordings, or points for attendance can be consideration s to increase student particip ation Videos All of the instructors stated they used online videos either posted in the class or sent them out to students for additional math help. Khan Academy was mentioned as one site that wa s used frequently Sen ding a video allowed the student to view it on their own time, take notes, use rewind options, and may even include practice problems. This was seen as an alternative to required synchronous sessions. Although some instructors had experience in creating their own videos, sites such as K han Academy offer a wide range of math videos removing the need to create new ones.
145 Some schools are taking the use of videos into account and including them within the course materials. Providing students with ample opportunities to interact with conten t through the use of videos is viewed as a best practice in online courses (Vogel & Oliver, 2006). Moving forward, the use and access to online videos is a consideration in math course design. If videos are not included, instructors should have the freed om to incorporate them into the course. Telling students to use the web for search for videos on their own would not be considered a best practice. As the content expert, the instructor should guide students to the right resources and videos that will be st help them. Some math sites offer answers for math problems rather than teaching the concepts. Therefore, the instructor should lead the students to the correct resources and offer help on how to use them Creating forums for instructors to share thei r resources is one way to combine multiple resources and offer students a broad range of help resources. Discussions The use and requirements surrounding math discussions is a dichotomous issue. While some instructors used discussion forums to run the cl ass, check for understanding, and interact with students, others felt that required posts removed the depth of knowledge that is required for math. The use and requirements surrounding discussion forums varied among the colleges. Those with the highest r estrictions on posting requirements and lack of instructor modifications were met with more apprehension. This finding was supported in the literature where students noted taking a surface approach to discussions by replying for the points rather than for knowledge growth and extension (Bullen, 2007 ). The nature of math discussions differs in a math course and thus should be taken into account when designing and assigning
146 requirements. The math instructors felt that the process should be organic and that required posts detract from the purpose of the discussions. Instructors who had the flexibility to modify or create discussion questions and requirements reported fewer issues with them. This finding points towards the uniqueness of math discussions and the flexibility that should be afforded for online courses. Applying a one size fits all approach may not necessarily be the best approach for math class discussions. Allowing the instructor to design them in a way that meets the needs of their students is a factor that can be addressed at the college level instructor level, and in course design. Instructors can also be active in the discussions to model posts and help students develop a deeper learning approach. Inauthentic assessments of student dis cussion posts can promote surfa ce approaches in replies (Ellis et al., 2006). In addition, institutional requirements placed on both the student and instructor can be reexamined to ascertain the benefit, use, and frequency of discussions in math courses. Alternatively, synchronous sessions were seen as a viable replacement, providing a participation requirement that was largely the reason for implementing discussions in online platforms. Further research on how to create purposeful discussions, training for online instructors, and best practices can elucidate how we can incorporate discussion forums in math courses. More information specific to math courses is needed to assess the impact of changing the use of discussion forums in math classes. In conclusion, this study revealed best practices in communication the use of tools and discussion recommendations for a group o f secondary, online math instructors. Given the l imited body of knowledge in this area it is a step in the right direction for improving the communication in math courses creating trainings for new
147 and experienced instructors, as well as highlighting potential modifications for course design. Math instructors both experienced and new to the online environment would benefit from trainings that emphasize communication best practices and the various tools used in online settings. As pedagogy continue s to evolve, on going instructor training would support the exchange of ideas. Online instructors are often unaware of what their c olleagues are doing given the separation of time and location. Creating forums where they can interact and share ideas knowledge but also improve the overall pedagogy of online math courses. Preparing Online Instructors Online teaching differs from traditional classroom instruction. Faculty need new skills in order to successfully teach online (Moon, Michelich, & McKinnon, 2005). Wolf (2006) adds that online faculty are successful when they can participate in formal training. Moreover, instructors need to modify their attitudes about teaching in the online environment and understand what is needed to guarantee quality instruction (Yang & Cornelious, 2005). Incoming online instructors are often dependent upon the ins titution to present and deliver the skills necessary to be a successful online instructor. Institutions need a strategic plan for training faculty to become successful online instructors (Wolf, 2006). Howeve training va ries from one college to another. At times, there is not enough faculty training and support for online instructors (Levy & Beaulieu, 2003). The literature is lacking studies discussing training for online faculty. Probable explanations include the em ergence and growth of online faculty in the past decade or the specific needs and nature of each online college. Most research in this area consists of (Moon
148 et al., 2003) Additionally new instructors, regardless of subject area, complete the same training so there is not a specific training for math faculty that has been documented in the literature (Wolf, 2006) While little research exists about training faculty, Bawane and Specto r (2009) cite five competencies that should be included in pedagogical training These are designing instructional strategies, develop ing appropriate learning resources, implement ing inst ructional strategies, facilitating participation among students, and sustain ing aspects of online instruction must be included for faculty training (Shelton & Saltsman, 2005). Bawane and Spector refer to eight roles of an online inst ructor including professional, pedagogical, social, evaluator, administrator, technologist, advisor/counselor, and researcher (2009). The range of training components varies greatly though among the colleges. Some may focus on the technical aspects of fa cilitation (Pankowski, 2004) while others go as far as to provide a mentor during the first class (Muirhead & Betz, 2002). The consensus is clear nonetheless that online faculty training programs do need to include competencies beyond the technical basi cs. Best practices and ongoing training (Pagliari, Batts, & McFadden, 2009) should be incorporated not only to train the faculty but to ensure deliver y of high quality instruction to the students for sustained program growth. Given the growth in communit y college enrollments, these schools should constantly evaluate new online faculty training and ongoing professional development to provide an infrastructure complete with instructor resources and support to deliver high quality, online instruction (Paglia r i et al., 2009).
149 Higher education is continuing to grow their adjunct population especially in high need areas such as mathematics. The use of adjuncts in online courses has several implications such as disincentives, lack of pedagogy, and the deprofe ssionalization of college adjuncts. Adjuncts are compensated by class and contracted on a course by course basis. Growth and full t ime opportunities are limited while p ay remains stagnant and not dictated by performance. The lack of benefits and absence of yearly pay raises makes adjuncts attractive for online education since they are cheaper to employ and paid less per course than their full time counterparts, although having comparable education. This should be a concern when assessing the quality of online education. Just as we recruit, train, and attempt to retain competent full time instructors, the same standard should be applied in the adjunct population. Given the lack of growth and pay, math adjuncts have little motivation to grow as an instru ctor and obtain education related to their field or online education. We also have to consider the pedagogical backgrounds of online adjunct instructors. Many instructors do have the required degrees or 18 graduate hours in their field however do not hav e online teaching experience. Delivering and facilitating an online math class does require knowledge and training, both of which can be limited in online faculty trainings. We should consider the experience level of incoming adjuncts and assess what ski lls they need in order to successfully facilitate their course. As the findings in this study showed, the instructor is not just a content expert but must master asynchronous communications as well as adding supplemental resources. Finally, the deprofe ssionalization of adjunct math instructors should be addressed. While full time faculty are encouraged to research and publish thus adding
150 to the professional body of knowledge, adjuncts are either not required or encouraged to do so. The lack of profes sional growth can impact the quality of faculty being recruited and retained. Moreover, the pre made structure of the courses inhibits instructors from expanding and improving the courses from one semester to the next. They are in a perpetual cycle of de livering the same materials in the same manner course after course. The unique instructor qualities that would emerge in a face to face course are diminished with a pre prepared course. In conclusion, there are several implications regarding the traini ng, growth, and retention of online math instructors. Incentives for instructors to grow within the school, research, and modify course structure are a few ways to empower them. Adjuncts should be offered opportunities for growth in addition to comparabl e pay to the full time instructors. Preliminary and on going training should also be encouraged to allow adjuncts to grow as online instructor s but also within their content area. With the number of adjuncts being hired in higher education, these conside rations should be taken into account in order to provide the highest level of outcomes for both faculty and students. Additional Limitations There were several additional limitations discovered during the study. Although the instructors from the sampl e were employed at four different colleges, the generalizability of these finding to all online math courses is limited. The study represents the findings from this particular sample and thus may not apply to all instructors or settings. Next, the instru ctors were experienced online instructors and thus have unique experiences and perspectives related to teaching math online. They adapted and modified their pedagogical practices based upon their institutional
151 requirements and professional experience As sessment feedback and student characteristics were not mentioned in the interviews. There was substantial focus on computer mediated communication, discussion posts, and requirements of both students and faculty. Finally given the length in years of onli ne teaching for each participant, there is an inherent recall bias. It was assumed that all accounts represented accurate data and recall of past experiences. Recommendations for Future Research As with any study, questions still remain at the end an d point towards directions for further research. Only the instructor experience was captured in this study and thus the student perspective would also be valuable. The instructor presence, communication practices, synchronous sessions, and taking math on line are all topics that are worthy of continued study. Although the instructors use many sound best practices as viewed from the instructor perspective, they ultimately set up the course and thus students are beholden to this configuration. More researc h is needed to corroborate the findings from this study, increasing the generalizability in addition to capturing the student perspective through in depth interviews.
152 APPENDIX A UF IRB APPROVAL
153 APPENDIX B INFORMED CONSENT FORM
155 APPENDIX C INTERVIE W PROTOCOL Background Questions: 1. What is your gender, age, race, and educational background? 2. How long have you been teaching? 3. How long have you taught online? 4. Approximately how many online courses have you taught? 5. Which online courses have you taught? 6. Have you taken any online courses as a student? a. Which ones? Main Questions: 1. How do you define communication? Interaction? Dialogue? 2. What types of communication do you have with students in online courses? 3. How do you encourage students to communicate with you ? a. How do you encourage students to communicate with one another? 4. What are some of the tools that you use to communicate? a. How do you use these tools to increase dialogue? b. How frequently do you use them? 5. What are some tools that you are not using that you wo uld like to incorporate? 6. Do you do anything to increase the communication between you and your students? a. If so, what?
156 b. How do you encourage communication? c. Tell me about it. 7. How do you deal with inappropriate communication? 8. Do you find communication is an im portant component in online courses? a. Why? 9. Do you alter the structure of the course to increase dialogue? a. If so, how? b. Can you provide an example? 10. Do you find a difference in the types of communication you prefer and those that are preferred by students? 11. De scribe a positive experience communicating in an online environment. 12. Describe a negative experience communicating in an online environment.
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167 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Heidi Fernandez graduated from the University of F lorida in 20 03 with a Bachelor of Arts in sociology and a minor in e ducation. Upon graduation she taught 2 nd grade at an elementary school in Florida. After teaching in the classroom, she found a love for teaching math and returned to school as an onl ine student pursing her Master of Math Education at Walden University. Upon completing this degree, she transitioned to middle school teaching 8 th grade math. While teaching middle school math, she earned her N ational Board Certification in early a dolesc ent m ath. Discovering a passion for math and online learning, she decided to combine the two and has over 5 years of experience teaching math online at high school and college. It was at this point that she decided to pursue her dream of earning a doct orate and enrolled at the University of Florida to study e ducational t echnology. Her passion for online education coupled with a love of math has driven her to pursue research in online math education and the best pra ctices used to communicate with math s tudents in an online environment.