In the introductory to Week 7 entry for my EDTECH537 – Blogging In The Classroom course, I mentioned that today I would be posting my first sample entry today.
I mentioned on Friday that I received a query from a doctoral student and I tried to direct them about their research (and also posted a blog entry to allow my research colleagues to weigh in as well). I generally get one or more of these kinds of messages a week. In each case I try to be helpful and provide them with resources that might steer them in the right direction in terms of existing literature or possible research questions or a focus for their study.
However, every once in a while (more often than I care to admit actually), I get one like this:
Dear Dr. Barbour
My name is [stuff deleted]. I have read many of your articles on the state of virtual learning and decided to contact you for help.
My study is a comparison of online and f2f student achievement using an end-of-course assessment (physical science).
My data collection is going well, all archived data… however I am at a loss as to what my theoretical framework should be… I am using constructive learning theory for background, but have not found a theory relating more closely to the comparison of learning environments for student leaning gains.
I hate when I get one of these messages, as it tells me that some idiot faculty member advised this poor doctoral student to do a study that not only has no validity whatsoever and adds nothing to the research into K-12 online learning, but that was a complete waste of that doctoral student’s time and energy (beyond the fact that they’ll get their degree from that time and energy).
For those who may be puzzled by this sentiment, let me share my response to this student:
It has taken me a while to respond because I wasn’t sure the best way to approach this. I’ll be honest and tell you that I don’t have a theoretical or conceptual framework to suggest, because there isn’t one that would cover what the field describes as a media comparison study.
And I use that phrase (i.e., media comparison study) very specifically, because that is what you are conducting. If you are comparing how students in an online environment perform compared to students in the face-to-face environment, it is a media comparison study – something that the field has known is a false comparison for decades. The best resource that I could recommend to you is Richard Clark’s 1983 Review of Educational Research
article (see http://www.uky.edu/~gmswan3/609/Clark_1983.pdf
). In that article, Clark – accurately – reminds the reader that the media (i.e., the technology – in your case the online environment) is simply a medium in which the instruction is delivered, and that it has as much impact on student learning as the delivery truck has on the nutritional value of the groceries that is carries. Clark was not the first, nor was he the last, to express this sentiment (although he did turn the best phrase to describe it).
The fact that one group of students in your student have taken their course(s) online has no impact on their achievement. As Clark indicates, and what is the dominant view within the field of educational technology, it is differences in the way the instruction was designed, delivered, and supported that will have caused any differences in achievement that you find.
Within the realm of K-12 online learning, one of my colleagues – Rick Ferdig – has written quite well, and succinctly, on this matter. One of the more recent instance was as a part of a MOOC designed to introduce practitioners and graduate students to the research related to K-12 online learning. You can view his contribution at https://virtualschoolmooc.wikispaces.com/research
– you’ll see he also discourages researchers from comparing online vs. face-to-face student performance, but instead focus on the conditions under which online learning can be effectively designed, delivered, and supported.
Again, I’m sorry to have to respond in this manner – as I’m sure that your faculty told you that this was a solid dissertation study. But I feel obligated to point out the fundamental flaw with the nature if this kind of study, and all other media comparisons studies – even though they continue to be pervasive within educational technology research.
It continues to boggle my mind that there are educational technology faculty out there that are still advising their graduate students to do media comparison studies (and it boggles my mind even more that these kinds of studies still get published in academic journals, which happens more than you would think).
Anyway, that’s my soapbox for this Monday morning…
As an aside, fortunately the student was in their proposal phase, so there is time to adjust their study to address some of these concerns (and the student themselves took my feedback as it was intended).