Virtual School Meanderings

April 2, 2010

SITE 2010: A Comparison Study Of How Teachers With High And Low Completion Rates Interact With Virtual High School Students

SITEThe final brief paper during this final session of the Virtual Schooling SIG here at the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (SITE) conference is described as:

A comparison study of how teachers with high and low completion rates interact with virtual high school students

Abigail Hawkins, Brigham Young University, USA
Charles Graham, Brigham Young University, USA

Virtual schooling is a growing educational alternative in the United States. However research on best practices for online teaching lag behind the rapid proliferation of virtual schools and the students they serve. This study compares and contrasts teachers’ reported interactions and attitudes towards online teaching, and examines the course structures for teachers with high and low course completion rates. The findings from this study can be used to improve online professional development programs, improve teaching, and ultimately improve student learning and success in K-12 online learning environments.

Abby began with some of the same background that she started her presentations yesterday with (see here and here).  After discussing some of the methodological issues with current K-12 online learning research, she outlined some of the research related to student-teacher interaction related to online learning in higher education and categorized that research into the following categories:

  • satisfaction
  • perceived learning
  • academic achievement

Her study involved interviews with six teachers from the Utah Electronic High School: three who taught courses that had a high completion rate and three who taught courses with a low completion rate.  The study looked at what interactions the teachers reported in having with their students and how they perceived those interactions in terms of their role as online teachers.  Interesting, the teachers interviewed with the higher completion rates were all less experienced in the brick-and-mortar classroom and less experienced with online teaching too.

There was a theme relate to the typical teacher.  These included:

  • teachers were also course developers
  • they were overworked
  • they were drawn to EHS for a variety of reasons (e.g., money, technology, chance to work with struggling students)
  • they had a mechanized workflow
  • they liked the immediacy of teaching face-to-face and missed that at EHS

Types of interactions for the high completer group included:

  • majority of the interactions were instructional in nature
  • some social interactions, but they were often defined as initial “About me” activities
  • few procedural interactions
  • majority of contact initiative by the students
  • there was a differentiated treatment in terms of the interaction (some additional interaction for struggling students)

This group perceived their role in terms of interacting with students as:

  • view curriculum as teacher
    • view self as TA /grader
    • not perceived feedback as teaching – instead, subordinate role and removed from student experience
  • encourager through course
    • 2 of 3 teachers considered self as encouragers in course

The trends with the teachers from the low completers group included:

  • majority of the interactions were instructional in nature
  • almost no social interactions
  • few procedural interactions
  • little differentiated treatment in terms of the interaction

This group perceived their role as:

  • not pee4ceived feedback as instruction in all cases
    • “the material on there is the teacher essentially”

Overall, both groups wanted synchronous interactions.  There were several barriers, including the rolling enrollment model, the sheer number of students, the teachers’ beliefs about their role in the instructional process, etc.

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