I received this message in my inbox earlier this week.
I have been looking through your blog and reading the suggestions you have given doctoral students regarding dissertations. I have found your advice to be very helpful and thought I might ask for input specific to my situation. I will begin my dissertation in the Fall at The University of XXXX in Educational Research. My area of interest is K-12 blended learning. I believe my position with [statewide program] gives me unique opportunities to study blended learning in public high schools.
I spend much of my time working with school counselors and facilitators. My day-to-day experiences have provided much anecdotal evidence to indicate the importance of the facilitator role in secondary student success in blended learning. I have an idea for my dissertation but feel like surely someone has already done this. My idea is still in the initial planning phase and still needs work: Use Roblyer’s ESPRI to identify students who are not ‘predicted’ to be successful in online courses. Work with the facilitator, e-teacher, students, parents, etc., to provide support/interventions to improve chances of success.
I feel my idea would contribute because you mention several related suggestions from various articles and authors.
I have a school and facilitator in mind that I would like to work with but I’m not at a point of asking for cooperation just yet. The school has pretty good enrollment in [statewide program] courses each year – with extreme outcomes. Many students are successful but many are not. I would like to administer Roblyer’s ESPRI at the beginning of the school year, use the information to plan interventions for the students who are most likely to need additional support. I think I would be able to work with the facilitator, teachers, students, school personnel, and maybe even the parents.
I haven’t made it far enough into planning to name specific interventions or support strategies I would like to see used. But I have spent a good deal of time looking through your blog and have a list of resources to begin looking through.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this idea. I look forward to hearing from you.
My initial response to this student was:
A couple of things… The second year ISTE evaluation that Margaret Roblyer conducted with ACCESS Alabama found that students who were enrolled in their distance program at schools that had an active and involved facilitator did better than those where the facilitator wasn’t involved. It might be interesting (and useful) to simply figure out what do active and involved facilitators do? I suspect that there isn’t a specific list of duties or a job description that are currently available for facilitators in your state. Some facilitators do things because of their own experience, while other facilitators might actually do more if they know what they should be doing. A simply research question of “What are the roles and responsibilities of successful virtual school facilitators?” The study could involve interviews with students, facilitators, online teachers, administrators, and online administrators; as well as observation (to verify what was said is actually being done).
Another approach might be to look at replicating the work that Matt Irvin and his colleagues at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill did. They created a validated online professional development program and the compared student achievement and retention based on those schools that had facilitators that received the training against those that weren’t trained. While their sample was national in nature, it did have a rural focus. A specific state focus would be quite interesting, as you’d get rural, suburban, and urban – and you could also expand the selection of courses that were examined.
On your specific example, I’m not sure the ESPRI is the way to go. While it is a validated instrument, Roblyer found that it was no better a predictor of virtual school success than GPA was. So you could use GPA instead of the ESPRI and get roughly the same results. Regardless of which way you go on this front, the biggest problem that I would foresee is all of the other factors. Students that don’t succeed in the virtual school environment do so for a variety of factors – ranging from lack of parental involvement to lack of academic ability to lack of support from local facilitators to lack of motivation to digital divide issues. It may be difficult to control for all of these other factors to isolate the facilitator impact.
We have interacted a couple of times since, and this student is wrestling with these ideas like any good doctoral student should. I asked this student if they wanted me to post it to my blog to see if others might contribute advice or their own thoughts on the topic. So please, help this student out if you have any opinions or ideas…