A Student’s Perspective: Effective Asynchronous Course Design for Virtual Schools
Scheduled Time: Wed Oct 30 2013, 3:30 to 4:30pm Building/Room: 2nd Level – South, Madrid
In Full Session: DDL-Online Course Design and Assessment
Presenters/Authors: *Michael Barbour (Sacred Heart University), *David Adelstein (Wayne State University)
Short Description: Barbour (2005a; 2005b; 2007) previously conducted a study focusing on effective design for asynchronous course content as viewed by virtual school designers and teachers in Canada. The study resulted in seven key principles for effective design. One year later, a follow up study took student views into account. Results from the research nearly mirrored the seven principles originally put forth, with students asking for less text, more interactive media, a better road map and clarity for online content.
Abstract: The use of K-12 online learning is growing through Canada and the United States (Barbour, 2012; Watson, Murin, Vashaw, Gemin, & Rapp, 2012). While there is a growing literature based focused on the delivery of K-12 online learning (e.g., Davis & Roblyer, 2005; DiPietro, 2010; DiPietro, Ferdig, Black, & Preston, 2008; Ferdig, Cavanaugh, DiPietro, Black, & Dawson, 2009; Lowes, 2005; Murphy & Rodríguez-Manzanares, 2009a, 2009b; Nippard & Murphy, 2007; Smith, 2009); however, there is little research that has been conducted into the design of K-12 online learning (Barbour, 2013). One study that has focused on what constitutes effective design for asynchronous course content is Barbour (2005a; 2005b; 2007). This line of inquiry, which focused on the perceptions of course developers and teachers employed by a province-wide virtual school in Canada, generated seven principles of effective course design. Course developers should:
1. prior to beginning development of any of the web-based material, plan out the course with ideas for the individual lessons and specific items that they would like to include;
2. keep the navigation simple and to a minimum, but don’t present the material the same way in every lesson;
3. provide a summary of the content from the required readings or the synchronous lesson and include examples that are personalized to the students’ own context;
4. ensure students are given clear instructions and model expectations of the style and level that will be required for student work;
5. refrain from using too much text and consider the use of visuals to replace or supplement text when applicable;
6. use multimedia to enhance the content and not simply because it is available; and
7. develop their content for the average or below average student, while including enrichment activities for above average students.
The following year, the researchers re-visited this same setting to explore the perceptions of secondary students on what they felt constituted effective asynchronous course content.
The data collected included interviews, which were designed “to concentrate on concrete details of the participants’ present experience in the topic area of study” (Seidman, 1998, p. 12), and a focus group, which can be included as one part of a multi-method strategy to collect data on a topic (Barbour, 1999). There were six participants from four different schools (i.e., four that participated in the focus group and two that were interviewed). Five of the participants were grade twelve students, while one was a grade ten student. These six individuals had completed a total of fourteen CDLI courses and were six weeks away from completing another thirteen at the time of this study. Both the interviews and the focus group were recorded and transcribed, then independently checked for accuracy, before providing the participants an opportunity to member check their transcript. The data were analyzed using an inductive analysis approach (Ezzy, 2002; LeCompte & Preissle, 1993).
The students indicated that they didn’t use the web-based content much at all. Two of the students stated that they “hardly used” the web-based content, while three other students expressed similar sentiments. The final student didn’t use the asynchronous web-based content at all, instead choosing multimedia learning objects associated with the course. When they did use the asynchronous web-based content, students preferred if it “dealt with the content that we learn” (i.e. the content of the synchronous classes), as the students found the material “really good for studying” or when they “can’t find the answer [or] can’t find an explanation.” Simply put, the students felt their teachers didn’t use or reference the asynchronous web-based content, assigned too much work during their offline classes to allow them to use it and because of this students didn’t trust the content or trusted other sources more. Further, the students indicated that text-based lessons on the web were not useful. Instead, students were more interested in lessons that used various media that the internet was able to offer. This media included links, videos and pictures. As one student summarized it, online media is “really interesting and a lot better than sitting down and reading the book.” Overall, they wanted videos, interactive media and diagrams that provided them with “a different way of understanding the concepts.” Finally, one point all six students agreed upon was a need for their web-based content to provide a good set of notes. A good set of notes were explained as containing “examples” and “a lot of step-by-step things to explain it to you and show you how to do it.” Five of the six students also indicated that “the test yourself is really helpful.” The “test yourself” feature was a java-scripted self-assessment where students were given a series of multiple-choice questions. Once completed, the correct answers would be displayed. The students enjoyed the assessments “because they really give you an idea of what it is going to be like for the test,” as well as “ let you know if you’re on track, if you understand what the lesson’s about.”
The initial research helped lay down the groundwork for asynchronous design. The student study allowed the researchers to see how well the seven principles held up in practice. While no mention was made in regards to online navigation or tiering the lesson for students with different abilities, the remaining five principles lined up with the student results. It was noted that web-based material needed to be planned out ahead of time with the ideas put forth. Students were quick to figure out most online resources were not used in class and in turn ignored the material. This was mainly done due to the overuse of text, a flaw that the designers and teachers wanted to avoid. However, students did use the resources when it helped them summarize and study for the synchronous lesson. Multimedia, when used to enhance the content (such as the “test yourself” feature), was enjoyed by all the students. All the students also agreed that step-by-step notes on the procedures were needed, which was in line with giving clear instructions.
Barbour, M. K. (2005a). The design of web-based courses for secondary students. Journal of Distance Learning, 9(1), 27-36.
Barbour, M. K. (2005b). Perceptions of effective web-based design for secondary school students: A narrative analysis of previously collected data. The Morning Watch, 32 (3-4). Retrieved November 04, 2005 from http://www.mun.ca/educ/faculty/mwatch/win05/Barbour.htm
Barbour, M. K. (2007). Teacher and developer perceptions of effective web-based design for secondary school students. Journal of Distance Education, 21(3), 93-114. Retrieved from http://www.jofde.ca/index.php/jde/article/view/30
Barbour, M. K. (2012). State of the nation study: K-12 online learning in Canada. Victoria, BC: Open School BC/Vienna, VA: International Council for K-12 Online Learning. Retrieved from http://www.openschool.bc.ca/pdfs/iNACOL_CanadaStudy_2012.pdf
Barbour, M. K. (2013). The landscape of K-12 online learning: Examining what is known. In M. G. Moore (Eds.), Handbook of distance education (3rd ed.) (pp. 574-593). New York: Routledge.
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Smith, R. D. (2009). Virtual voices: Online teachers’ perceptions of online teaching standards. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 17(4), 547-571.
Watson, J., Murin, A., Vashaw, L., Gemin, B., & Rapp, C. (2012). Keeping pace with K-12 online learning: An annual review of state-level policy and practice. Evergreen, CO: Evergreen Education Group. Retrieved from http://kpk12.com/cms/wp-content/uploads/KeepingPace2012.pdf
As this was one of my sessions, I have embedded the slides below.
If any of my readers were in the room and wish to share your notes or comments, please do so below.