Understanding Participation in Online Courses:
A Case Study of Perceptions of Online Interaction


Noppadol Prammanee
Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment
College of Education
Northern Illinois University
DeKalb, IL, USA
nprammanee@yahoo.com
March, 2003


Abstract


This study examined instructor and learner perceptions and attitudes toward interaction in online courses on “engaged learning with technology (EWT)” delivered to K12 inservice teachers.  Participants included learners who were enrolled in EWT and a course instructor. Moreover, the participant included instructors who have expressed reluctance to teach online courses, participants who chose not to enroll in online courses, and withdrew early after the first session of an online course.  Qualitative and quantitative methods were used to analyze the interviews, documents, and online transcripts. Henri’s (1992) content analysis, five-step model was used to measure the online transcripts. The result of the study showed that most learners have a high level of satisfaction with the course content, which covers the use of technology and its integration into classroom teaching and learning. Analysis of data revealed that although perceptions regarding interaction varied among all interviewed, upon reflection all course participants agreed that the interactivity was at least adequate in learning.  Recommendations for assisting the educators in developing and delivering online courses effectively and efficiently will be offered.    

Introduction

The field of distance education (DE) is rapidly changing with the growth of technology such as two-way interactive video (TIV), interactive television (ITV), desktop conferencing, instructional computing, the Internet and World Wide Web (the Web or WWW).  Online/Web-based instruction is a subset of DE, which provides opportunities to learn anywhere and anytime for learners with access to computers and the Internet.  Currently, online instruction using both synchronous and asynchronous tools has become an alternative to the traditional classroom environment because these tools offer the promise of flexibility and individualization and can reach several kinds of learners.  For example, it will be able to reach commuter students, full-time working students, students having families, students with disabilities, and those who change residences. Therefore, many institutions of higher education are increasing the courses or degree programs that are offered entirely online (Hanna, 1998; Hara & Kling, 1999; Heeter, 1999; Khan, 1997; National Center for Education Statistics, 1998, 1999; Office of Higher Education, 2001).  

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study is two-fold. The first purpose is to gain a deeper understanding of the perceptions shared by learners who dropped out and who chose not to enroll in online courses and faculty who have expressed reluctance to teach online. The second purpose is to explore instructor’s and learners’ attitudes and perceptions of interaction after they have experienced an online course “Engaging with Technology” (EWT).  The findings from the study are intended to lead to deeper understanding of online instruction and to facilitate success in creating, teaching, and learning in online learning environments.   
 

Web-Based Instruction

Kahn (1997) defines Web-based instruction (WBI) as: “a hypermedia-based instructional program which utilizes the attributes and resources of the World Wide Web to create meaningful learning environment where learning is fostered and supported” (p. 6).  WBI is a new tool to support instruction and learning which uses the Web as a medium to carry instruction to the distant learners.  The Web is not only carries the media, but it also creates “global village” which allows people around the world to exchange information communication (Crossman 1997).  According to Ritchi and Hoffman (1997), “instruction can be defined as a purposeful interaction to increase learners’ knowledge or skills in specific, pre-determined ways” (p. 135).  A “Medium (plural, media) is the channel of communication…refers to anything that carries information between a source and receiver” (Heinich et al, 1999, p. 8).  Mathew and Dohery-Poirier (2000) address five uses for WBI for instructors:

Computer-mediated Communication in Education

Computer-mediated communication (CMC) is a combination of telecommunication technologies and computer networks (Berge & Collin, 1995; Ryan, Scott, Freeman, Patel, 2000) to transmit, store, and receive information by the users (December, 1996; Jonassen et al, 1995; Lewis, Whitaker, Julian, 1995; Paulsen, 1996) via synchronous (i.e. IRC, MUDs, MOOs) and asynchronous (i.e. e-mail, electronic bulletin board, newsgroup) communication tools (Ryan et al, 2001).  The CMC frameworks were classified into four interactions: one-alone — this occurs when individual retrieves information from online resources without communication with an instructor or fellow learners; one-to-one — is employing e-mail to assist in teaching and learning; one-to-many — is conducted via bulletin board or electronic mailing list service (listservs), and many-to-many — can be conducted via the conferencing (Paulsen, 1995).

Advantages and Disadvantages of Computer-mediated Communication (CMC)


Computer-mediated communication helps instructors put course materials online anytime at their convenience before class begins.  It is also easy for them to upgrade the course materials in the future.  Using CMC, the learners can communicate directly with instructor without waiting for permission to talk as is done in the traditional classroom setting.  CMC offers “development of high-level reasoning skills and high-level (deep) thinking” (p. 62).  Perhaps “high-level (deep) thinking” needs more time to think, and CMC offers that.  Thus, using CMC, learner can take time to think “deeply” before posting messages in a discussion area (Moore 2002).  CMC will atomically save the messages that have been posted in the discussion and chat forum for the further information (Hara, Bonk & Angeli, 1998; McComb, 1993).  Furthermore, the CMC technology can track the frequency and times each student logged onto the class (Hara, Bonk & Angeli, 1998, p.2).  Also, CMC provides online course material in assisting learners with study and preparation before the class begins (McComb, 1993).  According to Phillips & Santoro (as cited in McComb), instructors can contact students in particular groups with specific questions by using CMC without using class time.   In order to gain full benefits from CMC, the learners must be self-controlled and self-motivated in accessing the course materials online (McComb, 1993; Moore, 2002). Instructors should logon into class and give feedback to students more often (McComb, 1993).  

In spite of the many advantages of CMC, it does have some problems.  One might say the electronic communication tools still have limited features; however, when the technology developed is too advanced, the users lack knowledge and skills to use it (Aoki, 1995; Hara, Bonk & Angeli).  This might make some instructors and learners spend a lot of time doing coursework-related activities and learning new technology.  One of the biggest problems is the lack of social cues (Aoki 1995; Kuehn, 1994). When social cues are absent, the users have to guess what their audience is feeling (Hara, Bonk & Angeli).  

Because the absence of social cues makes the learners face a difficult time while learning online, many researchers such as Walther (1992, 1993, 1995, 1996) and Sproull and Kiesler (1991) are trying to find the best way to integrate social context into online classroom learning.   In order to solve this problem, McIsaac (1999) suggests that “socialization can be encouraged” using “communication strategies specific to the medium,” (“Social Context of Learning,” para. 1) such as (>-), (>:-<), and (/\/\/\) [emoticons] can help the users to communicate through the Internet.  
 
The Role of Interaction

Interaction is one of the most important elements of online instruction because it is helpful for learners in getting feedback from the instructor about their performance in course-related activities and also for encouraging learners to engage in active learning.  Many questions are raised regarding interactions, such as how important do learners perceive the value of interaction in online learning?  Some researchers and educators such as that of King & Doerfert, (2001) and Smith, (1996) shows that students and faculty perceive distance education courses to permit less interaction than conventional courses. Garrison (1990) claims that learners who always interact with their instructor and classmates are more motivated and have better learning experiences. Fulford and Zhang’s (1993) study found that “when learners perceive the level of interaction to be high, they will be more satisfied with instruction than when they perceive the level of interaction to be low” (p. 8).  According to Wagner, (1994)

Interactions are reciprocal events that require at least two objects and two actions.  Interactions occur when these objects and events mutually influence one another.  An instructional interaction is an event that takes place between a learner and the learner’s environment.  Its purpose is to respond to the learner in a way intended to change his or her behavior toward an educational goal. (p. 8)

One of the most influential models that deals with interactions in a DE course is the one developed by Moore (1989).  Moore categorizes interactions into three types: learner-content, learner-instructor, and learner-learner interactions. Hillman, Willis and Gunawardena (1994) added a fourth type of interaction called “learner-interface interaction,” which occurs when learners use technologies to communicate about the course content, ideas, and information with the instructor and their classmates.  The four types of interactions are described below.  

Learner-content Interaction

Moore (1989) states that learner-content interaction is the interaction that occurs “between the learner and the content or subject of study” (p. 2). The learner’s interaction with the intellectual content can affect “learner’s understanding, the learner’s perspective, or the cognitive structures of the learner’s mind” (p. 2).  Moore and Kearsley (1996) say that through interaction with the course content, learners can achieve understanding of the subject.  The interaction allows learners to construct new knowledge by processing incoming information into previously-stored knowledge structures. Content can be in a multimedia format, such as paper-based text, audio or videotape, CD and Internet communication tools.  

Learner-instructor Interaction

Learners consider learner-instructor interaction highly desirable and necessary (Moore 1989).  Interactions involve motivation, feedback, and dialog between the learner and the expert (who prepares the subject material) or the instructor.  After planning a curriculum, the instructor should try to motivate the students and maintain their interest in the subject matter.  Then the instructor should present the material or have it presented to the class by one of the students.  Next, the instructor should try to evaluate the students’ comprehension of the subject matter in appropriate ways.  The instructor should then provide feedback about the students’ progress and also encourage or motivate the students regarding the future activities of the course.  Moore and Kearsley say that effective interaction with the instructor allows the learner to interact with the content of the course, the assignments, or the evaluation.  Moreover, interaction with the instructor helps the learner take advantage of a more individualized type of instruction in which the instructor can respond to each of the different learners in a particular way.  Instructors assist in interacting with the subject matter of the course, motivating the learner to learn, and organizing the testing and evaluation of the distance learning program.   

Learner-learner Interaction

Moore states that learner-learner interaction deals with the exchange of information, ideas, and dialog among learners: “between one learner and other learners, alone or in group settings, with or without the real-time presence of an instructor”(p. 3). The purpose is to share information and ideas for problem solving as a group. Whenever more than two learners interact, group interaction occurs.  Moore and Kearsley assert that successful interaction depends on considering the learners’ “age, experience, and level of autonomy” (pp. 131-132).  For example, younger learners learn best when they interact in the same age level group.  However, adults and advanced learners do not need these prerequisites.  Learner-learner interaction occurs in discussion groups, real-time chat, and listservs (Moore and Kearsley).  Interaction among learners is helpful for pedagogical reasons because learners can assist other learners with the subject matter.  New technology, such as two-way audio/video computer conferencing and asynchronous and synchronous communication via the Web allows for stimulating communication among learners.

Learner-interface Interaction

Hillman et al, define learner-interface interaction as the interaction that takes place between the learner and the technology. To be successful, this “interaction requires the learner to operate from a paradigm that includes understanding not only the procedures of working with the interface, but also the reasons why these procedures obtain results” (p. 34). As distance education programs use more advanced technologies, the learners’ interaction with those technologies becomes increasingly important.  When learners expect to use technology to facilitate the learning, the instructor and staff have to make sure that those technologies will actually help them to learn.  Many researchers have been conducting research on how learners interact with diverse types of media. In order to participate in online education, learners need to have basic computer skills, access to the Internet and knowledge of the Internet software.

All four interactions are necessary for learners to be successful in learning.  The learners need to interact with the content. If they cannot understand the content, the instructor needs to assist them.   Also, the learners need to interact amongst themselves to discuss and share some ideas about course content, assignments, projects, etc.  Moreover, in online learning the learners cannot avoid interaction with the interface.  Therefore, if they do not know how to interact with the interface, then the delivery vehicle will not work for them, and inadequate instruction will occur.  

Research Design

Since the interactions are important for learners to receive the benefits from online learning environments, this study was designed to explore instructor and learner perceptions and attitudes toward interactions in online courses.  A case study was chosen because it was helpful to develop a “thick description” (Stake, 1995) of online course documents that can be used to gain a deeper understanding of learners in online courses.   

I chose the EWT course as a boundary for the study site because the instructor permitted observation of the online class (lurker) and interviews with him and his students to accomplish the objective of the study.  

Since EWT is still new in online courses and uses more advanced technologies (such as the Internet), it was chosen to be a model for other online courses.  For instance, it will be helpful for institutions to both offer online courses and plan to offer online courses in terms of developing and designing courses.  Moreover, the recommendation may be useful for faculty, instructional designers, and the learners.  In order to achieve the purposes of the study, I used both qualitative and quantitative methods criteria to analyze the sources of data used for this study.  The sources consisted of face-to-face and e-mail interviews, documents review (documents including course syllabus, participant’s guide, and other relevant materials), and content analysis (transcripts of the online discussion including both synchronous and asynchronous discussion).

Background of the Course

In 1998, a “Partnership for Technology Integration” was formed between the College of Education (COE) at Northern Illinois University [NIU] and the Dukane Corporation [.]"  The mission of the partnership was “To act as agents of change toward the adoption and educated use of integrated instructional technologies in K-12 settings and higher education [.]”  One of the principle activities charted to carry out this mission was to develop an online course to assist inservice teachers in developing engaging and technology enhanced lessons (Luetkehans & Robinson, 2002, p. 1190).

The Course

The purpose of EWT is to assist teachers to incorporate meaningful technology-related content in teaching to promote student success.  North Central Regional Education Laboratory (NCREL), (as cited in Luetkehans & Robinson) defines “Engaged Learning” to be encouragement for “Learning with Technology.”   According to Luetkehans & Robinson (2002), employing the NCREL materials as a resource for online learning environments were developed to incorporate individual, small group, and large group activities as teaching strategies.  These strategies included: “Student HomePages, Private Discussion Areas for Feedback, WebQuest, Synchronous Role Play and Discussion Activities, Streaming Video and Print Case Studies, Existing Web-based Tutorials, and Threaded Discussion Brainstroming and Debriefing Activities” (p. 1190).  

EWT is a 3 credit-hour graduate online course that aimed to provide in-service teachers with opportunities to explore, experience, and build skills in engaged learning with technology.  Concepts were based on NCREL course entitled “Learning with Technology.” The focus was on integrating tools rather than how to use the tools (NCREL as cited in Clemens, 2002).  EWT was developed during the spring of 2000 by four graduate students, including myself, for a class (Compute-Mediated Communication) project.  Initially, the course was offered primarily through the Blackboard (BB), which is available online at: http://webcourses.niu.edu.  Unfortunately, a few weeks after the class began many students in the EWT course experienced difficulty using the BB so the course was moved to the Webboard (WB). This is the reason why some of my data is from BB, although most is from the WB.

Participants

The EWT course had 12 students.  There were four students who were not willing to participate in face-to-face interviews but they were willing to allow me to lurk in to the discussions.  However, one out of four students did not participate in face-to-face interview or online discussions.  

Initially, the interviewees included eight participants—seven learners who were enrolled in EWT course and one course instructor.   One of the committee members strongly recommended that I interview faculty who have expressed reluctance to teach in an online class, learners who chose not to enroll in any online class, and learners who withdrew after the first session of any online course.   Therefore, a total sample of this study increased from 8 to 19 participants.  The 19 interviewees  were divided into five groups. Group A consisted of  seven learners who were enrolled in EWT. Group B included one course instructor. Group C, consisted of three non-course instructors—faculty who have expressed reluctance to teach an online course (Group D), consisted of three participants who chose not to enroll in any online course, and Group E consisted of five participants who withdrew after the first session of any online course.  

Face-to-face interviews were used with both groups A and B, and two of the three participants in group C.  E-mail interviews were used with one person in group C and all participants in group D and E.  In total, there were 10 face-to-face interviews and nine e-mail interviews.  As mentioned before, three were 12 students enrolled in the EWT class and only one student who did not participate in either the interview or online discussion.  Thus, the total number of participants in the content analysis was 11 learners and one course instructor.  The numbers of participants in this study included 23 individuals, including both interview and content analysis of online discussions (group A & B).

Data Analysis

For the case study, the purpose of data analysis is to link “to the fact that data have usually been derived from interviews, field observations, and documents” (Merriam, 1998, p. 193).  

This study attempted to answer four research questions, which were framed by four types of interactions: learner-content, learner-instructor, learner-learner, and learner-interface interactions (Hillman et al., 1994; Moore, 1989).   The following research questions were:

  1. How do learners and faculty perceive the value of interaction in online courses?
  2. What is the nature of the relationship between learner-content, learner-learner, learner-instructor, and learner-interface in the online class?
  3. What strategies did the instructional team design to promote interactions (Including learner-content, learner-instructor, learner-learner, and learner-interface interactions)?
  4. What might cause student reluctance in taking online courses or dropping out from an online course?  What might influence instructors to be reluctant to teach an online course?  

Moreover, I conducted sub-questions to analyze content analysis of online transcripts from Blackboard (BB) and Webboard (WB), which built up on Henri’s (1992) five-step framework: participation, interaction, social, cognitive, and metacognitive.  I was interested in how interactions started in online discussions, based on Henri’s model. The questions were:

  1. What is the frequency of participation (number of messages or statements) in electronic discussions during the four selected weeks?   
  2. How do the interactions (chain of connected messages) between instructor-learner and learner-learner occur in electronic discussions during the four selected weeks?   
  3. How extensive was the rate of social, cognitive, and metacognitive discussions occurring in electronic discussions during the four selected weeks?   

Analysis of Content Analysis

I used Henri’s five-step discussion-analysis framework to measure participation, interaction, social, cognitive, and metacognitive aspects of the online transcripts during the four weeks. The four discussion topics were: Week 3: Engaged Learning with ITC, Week 5: KnowQuest Activities (1-3), Week 8: LearnQuest Activities (1-3), and Week 11: CreatQuest Activities (1-3).  Therefore, these four selected topics covered almost all activities and were analyzed using Henri’s five dimensions.  The analysis of the transcripts used a five-step discussion-analysis technique devised by Henri (1992) as shown in Table 1, 2, and 3.  It includes:

Dimension

Analysis of Online Transcripts

Example

Participative

Discussion in four selected weeks

Total number of messages

Total number of lines

Total number of sentences
Length of discussion

Interactive


Independent statement

Direct response (DR)

Direct commentary (DC)

Indirect response (IR)

Indirect commentary (IC)

(IS)

“In response to Ray’s message 1”

“I agree with Ray’s answer that…”

“I think the answer is…”

“I agree with that answer…”

The statements that relate to subject under discussion, but do not lead to any future or prior statements

Social

Social cues related such as self-introduction, expression of feeling (e.g., I’m feeling great…”), greetings (e.g., hi everyone), and the use of symbolic icons (i.e., (J).   

I analyzed the statements or part of the statement instructor and learners posted on the WB and BB in the four selected weeks based on the social cues)

Table 1  The Analytical Framework (adapted and modified from Henri, 1992, p. 125).

Reasoning Skills

Analysis of Online Transcripts

Example

Elementary clarification

Observing or studying a problem identifying its elements, and observing their linkages in order to come to a basic understanding

Identifying relevant elements Reformulating the problem

Asking a relevant question

Identifying previously stated hypotheses

In-dept clarification

Analyzing and understanding a problem to come to understanding which sheds light on the values, beliefs, and assumptions which underlie the statement of the problem

Defining the term

Identifying assumptions

Establishing referential criteria

Seeking out specialized information

Making a summary

Inference

Introduction and deduction, admitting or proposing an idea on the basis of its link with propositions already admitted as true

Drawing conclusion

Making generalization

Formulating a proposition which proceeds from previous statements

Judgment

Making, decisions, statements, appreciations, evaluations and criticisms

Sizing up

Judging the relevance of solution

Making value judgments

Judging inferences

Strategies

Proposing co-ordinate actions for the application of a solution, or for allowing through on a choice or a decision

Making a decision on the action to be taken

Proposing one or more solution

Interacting with those concerned

Table 2 Analytical Model: Cognitive Skills (adapted and modified from Henri, 1992, p. 129).

As shown in Table 2, Henri explains the level of cognition in electronic involvements.  The cognitive skill involves problem solving and critical thinking skills on the part of the student, as shown in Table 3.  I employed these terms to analyze the data from the online transcripts.


Dimension

Analysis of Online Transcripts

Example

Evaluation

Assessment, appraisal or verification of one’s knowledge and skills, and of the efficacy of a chosen strategy

Asking whether one’s statement is true

Commenting on one’s manner of accomplishing a task

Planning

Selecting, predicting and ordering an action or strategy necessary to the accomplishment of an action

Predicting the consequences of an action

Organizing aims by breaking them down into sub-objectives

Regulation

Setting up, maintenance and supervision of the overall cognitive task

Redirecting one’s efforts

Recalling one’s objectives

Setting up strategies

Self-awareness

Ability to identify, decipher and interpret correctly the feelings and thoughts connected with a given aspect of the task

“I’m pleased to have learned so much…”

“I’m discouraged at the difficulties involved…”

Table 3 Analytical Model: Metacognitive Skills (adopted and modified from Henri, 1992, p. 132)
    
As shown in Table 3. I used metacognitive skills to analyze the data because it was more comparable to the data in this study.    

Findings to Date

The study was carried out from January 2002 - February 2003; analysis of the data continues today.  I expect to have the final results of the data analysis in late May 2003.  Thus, the preliminary results of the several trends can be used to indicate initial answers to the three main research questions.

Learners Perceive the Value of Interaction

Most participants (such as Ms. Patty, Ms.Vanessa, Ms Betty, & Ms Fay) said they perceived the value of interaction where both synchronous and asynchronous communication tools such as Blackboard (BB), Webboard (WB), and WebQuest (WQ) were used to be highly valuable.  Ms. Vanessa added that, “The instructor required us to post our work to the WB, read and make a comment on other messages.”  The course instructor (Ionny) explained that, “The learners perceived the value of interaction by exchanging ideas with one another and instructor via e-mails, posts, chat, and frequent phone calls.”

Nature of the Relationship between the Four Interactions

Learner-content Interaction

Most learners (six of the seven) said the content was appropriate for the objectives of the course and was presented in a clear and concise manner. Many participants (such as Ms. Barbers, Ms. Vanessa, Ms. Fay, Ms. Marry, & Jandra) said the BB, WB, and WQ enhanced their learning. Vanessa said, “I used all three.  The BB was really helpful and easy to access.  It was helpful to actually have something concrete to look at and to be able to see student responses.”  Ms. Barbers describes the course content, “the WB was very good and it allowed me time flexible. I used the BB and WB for looking at the assignments and posting the assignment and so it was nice to double check.”  

However, some students (such as Ms. Marry & Betty) who have low technology skills found the technology used in this course to be difficult to use:

Ms. Marry stated her frustration:

I felt like it was hard to navigate to WB or BB.  I never remember which one was which.  There’s the one with the dog and the one with the yellow.  Because sometimes I would go and I would get right into the yellow.  And I could not go back and find those red buttons.  There would be those red buttons and I want to go back to these red buttons and I could not find my way back.

Ionny gave the reason of the problems:

In this course that depends on the mediated communication, the chat and the discussion board, the largest obstacle is simply that there are special situations where the students are not well prepared.  These students did not come from our program [Instructional Technology].  They had not previously had a technical skill course or anything else.  

Learner-instructor Interaction

Most learners found their online interactions with the instructor (through the chat room and discussion board) to be very helpful. Most participants (such as Mr. Barbers, Ms. Betty, Ms. Jandra, & Ms. Marry) stated that the instructor played learning-facilitor roles by giving assignments: Betty said, “He gave encouraged us to bring questions to class on other technologies we want to integrate” Moreover, Betty added that, “He puts us in groups near the end for projects to allow us to interact more with other people plus to be able to read other students’ responses.”   

Ionny also offered help for assignments as part of this course by providing them his contact information:

I gave them my phone number.  I gave them my email.  I gave them my any contact information they needed.  I told them we did not meet face to face very often but during those times when we did meet face to face, I offered time before class and after class to be able to do things like that.

Learner-learner Interaction

Most learners agreed that interactions with their classmates were very helpful in doing projects and clearing up questions.  Most learner-learner interaction occurred because they had to work on a final project.  Most students for the final project picked partners in the same building so this was a major drawback of measuring learner-learner interaction.  Vanessa stated that, “There were actually three of us in this building that worked together so we had a lot of interaction.  But as far as the interaction with the other classmates it was low.”  
 
Most participants (Ms. Betty, Ms. Fay, MS. Vanessa, MS. Marry, & MS. Jandra) mentioned that they did not have more interaction with other classmates until the final project.  All participants said they exchanged ideas about the course content, assignments, questions, etc. with other students via e-mail and some post messages, chat, and phone calls.  

For those who worked on the group project with someone in a different school district, they discussed how they used e-mail, chat, and telephone to communicate with one another. When asked about the reason to contact their classmates for course-related purposes, all participants said for their “final project.”  

Vanessa said “to get feedback, to share ideas, to ask for suggestions anything in the class.”  

Learner-interface Interaction

Most learners were satisfied with the technology used in the classroom but they preferred WB more that BB because they found it is more user-friendly especially for those who have low technology skills.  Jandra said “BB works better but it failed: WB works better than BB.  But I think that the layout of BB is better but it just did not work.  I think BB would have been better if it worked, but it did not work.  So, it was bad.”

From my interview and observation, I found that this course was suitable for those who want to learn about using technology in learning—that is this course should be the perquisite for EWT.  Some participants (such as Ms. Betty, Vanessa, & Ms. Fay) also agree with this.  This is because some people have a problem with BB and some are comfortable with both BB and WB.      

This might be the reason why some students (such as Jandra, Vanessa) said they did not learn anything new because this course is too basic; however, some people (such as Betty, Barbers) said they learned a lot of new things from this course.  Ionny stated: “I think WQ was the most heavily used, followed by BB and WB.”  

Factors Causing Students Reluctance in Taking Online Courses

These are some examples of why students were reluctant to take online classes:   

Kendra stated her reasons:

From my previous experience in two videoconferencing classes and half on-line class, I prefer face-to-face interaction to totally on-line class. I think I am not getting enough interaction with my instructors and my classmates through on-line. If the course combines some face-to-face meetings and on-line class, it would make some difference in my decision in enrolling that course.  

Nathan said my major reason for not taking online course:

First, I used to attend the Web-based class (online class which use Web-based to support) and the ITV class (use instructional TV to support).  I felt like I still need to meet with my instructor and classmates in order to discuss the course content like assignments and projects.  After we discussed it synchronously and asynchronously I still was not clear what I am going to do.  Afterward, we used the phone call and ended up with face-to-face meetings several times in that semester.   This made me feel like the entire online class settings was not appropriate.   

Factors Causing Students to Drop Out From Online Course

Some examples of why students dropped out from an online class.

Lee and Frank shared the same reason that they dropped out:  

The reason I dropped the course was because I was taking another distance education course with the same professor and she was teaching it in the same format (online). Another reason was because of the amount of workload I thought the course would have.
 
Factors Influencing Instructors to be Reluctant to Teach Online Course

In response to the question whether three faculty members have taught online course before (only one faculty member has taught).  

Tedy gave the reason he did not teach online courses:

I have put substantial components of my courses online (syllabi, course readings, homework assignments, etc.), but I have not offered a course exclusively online (that is, no face-to-face meetings). I will continue to offer this hybrid format for all of my classes. Yes, you may interview me. Why haven't you taken the opportunity to teach online? The courses I have taught thus far at NIU (statistics and research methods) would be quite difficult to offer as a completely online course due to the content.

Prof. Lamos said:

I used online elements, in all of my courses.  Why didn’t you teach all online class – totally online class?  I don’t think that it fits well to the classes that I have been teaching.  For example, if I am teaching the class in software development.  I don’t believe it will work well for most students to try to learn the detail of some kind of software package strictly in online environment.  If it worked at all, I believe it would be much more time consuming for the students than to be in the class for they can get help from me or from other students in the class right then looking them over their shoulders and see what they are doing…

Week

Number of posts

Number of words

Number of lines

Number of sentences

Discussion period

3

51

6809

537

358

2/13 – 2/20

5

43

7329

685

370

2/27–3/6

8

36

5421

565

267

3/20 – 3/27

11

30

5508

563

249

4/10 – 4/17

Table 4. The Level of Participation in Electronic Discussions

I analyzed the number of messages, number of words, lines, and sentences as shown in Table 4.  In Week 3, participants posted a total of 51 messages. In Week 5, the participants posted a total of 43 messages. In Week 8, which involved the LearnQuest posting and discussion, this revealed fewer posts than those in previous weeks because students only posted and read other classmates’ assignments and not many students posted comments to others’ assignments.  Week 8 only contained 36 posts.  In Week 11, the discussion topic was about CreateQuest activity to help students prepare the lessons for their final projects.  This discussion did not contain as many words, sentences, and lines as the previous week because most learners were doing their final projects.  Therefore, in that week most learners dealt with their group projects in their own time and they do not pay more attention to discussion in the discussion board. 

Weeks

Direct response (DR)

Direct comment (DC)

Indirect response (IR)

Indirect comments (IC)

Independent statements (IS)

3

7 (38%)

2 (11.1%)

3 (16.6%)

6 (33.3%)

1 (5.26%)

5

5 (28%)

1 (5%)

3 (16.6%)

1 (5.5%)

8 (44%)

8

3 (13.7%)

2 (9%)

2 (9%)

3 (13.6%)

12 (54.5%)

11

4 (17.3%)

3 (13%)

2 (8.6%)

3 (27.2%)

11 (47.8%)

Table 5. Interaction Occurred in Electronic Discussions

In Week 3, most messages which contained assignments and final project referred to the beginning (the starter).  The discussion in Week 3 contained 51 messages.  Out of 51 messages there were 38% DR, 11.1% DC, 16.6% IR, 33.3% IC, and 5.26% IS. The discussion in Week 5 contained 42 messages.  Out of 43 messages there were 28% DR, 5% DC, 16% IR, 5.5% IC, and 44% IS.  The data revealed that Week 3 and Week 5 contained more posts and interactions than those in Week 8 and Week 11. It can be concluded that Week 3 and Week 5 class session were too early for learners to worry about their assignment and final projects so that learners had time to concentrate on discussion.  In Week 8 and Week 11, most messages involved the assignments and final project and also they did not have more interactions when compared to the early week (Week 3 &5).  The questions and comments related to assignments and final project, which most messages contained, IS more than any other relationships.  

Weeks

# of total
post

# of social

Average

3

51

13

1.08

5

43

9

1

8

36

2

1

11

30

0

0

Table 6. The Extensive Rate of Social in Electronic Discussions

In order to get to know one another in online learning environments, the users will normally use social cues in the very beginning week of the class to introduce themselves to classmates.  This study will not contain big numbers of social cues because it is an online class with combination of four face-to-face meetings.  In the first face-to-face meeting the learners and instructor had a chance to introduce themselves in a class.  Moreover, some of them came from the same school districts so they knew each other before.  However, a few of them did not attend the first face-to-face meeting due to bad weather.  Thus, this made them use social cues to introduce themselves again in the discussion board and chat before they had the second face-to-face meeting.  In Week 3 several learners included self-introduction in their messages.  By Week 11 learners knew each other well enough both from the second face-to-face meeting and the online discussions so the numbers of social cues decreased.  Since the learners knew each other well enough, the messages in the latest weeks such as Week 8 and 11 were more informal.      

Weeks

Elementary clarification

In-depth clarification

Inferencing

Judgment

Strategies

3

15 (20.56%)

20 (27.4%)

32 (43.8%)

3 (4.1%)

3 (4.1%)

5

24 (32.9%)

11(15%)

26 (35.6%)

10 (13.6%)

2 (2.7%)

8

15 (41.6%)

5 (13.8%)

14 (38.8%)

13 (36%)

4 (11%)

11

8 (40%)

7 (35%)

6 (30%)

5 (25%)

2 (10%)

Table 7. The Extensive Rate of Cognitive in Electronic Discussions

Table 7 shows that the elementary, in-depth, inference, and judgment categories contained more percentages than the strategies because the learners used the discussion areas to share ideas about assignments and final project.  For instance, one assignment required the learners to choose the WQs and explain how WQs can be applied in the classroom teaching and learning and post them into the discussion area.  Thus, to make sure that they chose the right WQs, they would make a summary, drew the conclusion, made a judgment, and then asked the classmates by posting on the discussion board. The strategies category is a problem solving process in which learners post some problems in the discussion board and others try to offer help by using their experiences.  However, this category did not contain a big number when compared to the first three categories.      

Weeks

Evaluation

Planning

Regulation

Self-awareness

3

7 (87.5%)

1 (12.5%)

0

0

5

0

5 (41.6%)

3 (25%)

4 (33.3)

8

0

4 (57%)

0

3 (42.8%)

11

0

8 (72.7%)

1 (9%)

2 (18%)

Table 8. The Extensive Rate of Metacognitive in electronic discussions

The metacognitive knowledge was difficult to capture.  Of the metacognitive skill categories, “evaluation” contained larger number than any other categories which included 88 percent of metacognitive posts; the other three contain low percentage.  It can be concluded that this class discussion is “engaging learning with technology,” so the discussion did not contain many metacognitive factors as such psychology and theory classes.   

Summary

The result of the interviews indicates that learners have a high level of satisfaction with the course content in learning to use technologies and integrate them into classroom teaching and learning. All participants agree that the Internet is a useful tool for them to interact with each other online.  However, two learners who had more advanced technology skills complained that this course was too basic for them and they did not learn anything new.  I would recommend to the department to break the class into two sections (the beginning and advanced) for learners to learn more.  Moreover, all interviewees have voiced concerned and recommended that they need prompt feedback from their classmates and especially a course instructor in synchronous discussions. Most participants were satisfied with the course even though they had limited interactions with their classmates and instructor.  In addition to increased interaction, most interviewees said they need instructors to be “starters” in discussion and “wrap up” in each topic.  Furthermore, some learners (who have minimal skills in technology) suggested that in order for them to use technology, they need instructor to lead them step-by-stem in the first and second face-to-face meetings. Synchronous and asynchronous discussions and face-to-face meetings were extremely helpful in answering questions allowed learners to share ideas with other classmates and a course instructor about assignment, final projects, and other activities-related to the course.  In face-to-face meetings the instructor can demonstrate learners how to use technologies such as digital cameras, scanner, and answer the questions related to the course goal.     

For the content analysis, I analyzed the average length of a learner’s post.  For example, in Week 3, the learners and instructor posted, on average, 133.5 words, or about seven sentences.  On average, learners posted more often during the early weeks than later weeks because in the later week learners concentrated more on their final project.  They posted when they were looking for more help in later weeks due to projects and computer/technology–related problems.  Also, many needed help in order to implement technology in their teaching.  Most of the messages posted contained the course content, computer and technology skills, and the course projects. Not only did the learners share knowledge, but also content analysis indicated the messages contained discussions of a high-cognitive level. Furthermore, after reviewing the messages each week I was able to distinguish learners’ ability levels on both the discussion board and the real-time chat.  For example, many introverted learners posted more messages and demonstrated higher cognitive skills in an online discussion board as compared to face-to-face meetings.  Also, the learners compared the messages posted by the class to get feedback on the technology and tools used in classrooms.  Analysis of data revealed that although perceptions regarding interaction varied among all interviewed, upon closer analysis, all course participants agreed that the interactivity level was at least adequate in learning. Detailed discussion analysis substantiated these perceptions, showing that deep levels of processing and interactivity were achieved.

References


Aoki, K.  (1995).  Synchronous Multi-user textual communication in international tele-collaboration.  Communication Institute for Online Scholarship, 5(4).  [Online].  Available: http://www.cios.org/getfile/AOKI_V5N495

Berg, Z. L., & Collins, M. P. (1995). Computer-mediated communication and the online classroom, Volumes I, II, and III. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press Inc.

Clemens, A.  (2002).  EWT 590 workshop: Engaging with technology.  Courses syllabus, unpublished.

Crossman, D. M. (1997). The evolution of the World Wide Web as an emerging instructional technology tool. In B. H. Khan (Ed.), Web-based instruction (pp. 19-23). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology
Publications.

December, J., (1996).  Unit of analysis for Internet communication.  Journal of communication, 46(1), 14-38.  

Fulford, C. P., & Zhang, S. (1993).  Perceptions of interaction: The critical predictor in distance education.  American Journal of Distance Education, 7 (3), 8-21.

Garrison, D. R. (1990).  An analysis and evaluation of audio teleconferencing to facilitate education at distance.  American Journal of Distance Education, 4(3), 13-24

Hana, D. E. (1998).  Higher education in an era of digital competition: Emerging organization methods.  Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 2(1). [Online].  Available: http://www.aln.org/publications/jaln/v2n1/v2n1_hanna.asp

Hara, N., Kling, R.  (1999).  Students’ frustrations with a Web-based distance educationcourse.  First Monday, 4 (12).  [Online]  Available: http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue4_12/hara/index.html

Hara, N., Bonk, C. J., & Angeli, C., (1998).  Content analysis of online discussion in an applied  educational psychology.  Center for Research on Learning and Technology, No. 2-98. [Online]  Available: http://crlt.indiana.edu/publications/techreport.pdf

Heeter, C.  (1999).  Technology enhance learning.  [Online].Available at: http://commtechlab.msu.edu

Heinch, R., Molenda, M., Russell, J.D., and Smaldino, S.E. (1999).  Instructional media and new technologies for learning (5th Ed.).  Prentice Hall, Englewood Criffs, NJ.

Henri, F.  (1992). Computer conferencing and content analysis.  In A. R. Kaye (Eds.),
Collaborative learning through computer conferencing: The Najaden paper (pp. 115-136).  New York: Springer.

Hillman, D.C., Willis, D. J., & Gunawardena, C. N. (1994).  Learner-interface interaction in distance education: An extension of contemporary models and strategies for practitioners.  The American Journal of Distance Education, 8(2), 31-42.

Jonassen, D, et al. (1995).  Constructivism and computer-mediated communication indistance education.  The American Journal of Distance Education. 9( 2) 1-4.

Kahn, B. H. (1997).  Web-based instruction.  Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

King, J., & Doerfert. (2001).  Interaction in the distance education setting.  [Online]. Available: http://www.ssu.missouri.edu/ssu/AgEd/NAERM/s-e-4.htm

Lewis, J., Whitaker, J.,  Julian, J. (1995).  Distance education for the 21st century: The future of national and international telecommuting networks in distance education.  In Z. Berg & M. Collin (Eds.), Computer mediated communication and the online classroom (vol. 3, pp. 13-29).  Cresskill, NJ: Haplton Press.  

Luetkehans, M., & Robinson,R.   (2002). Online professional development for teachers: Findings from a formative and collaborative inquiry.  Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia 2002:  Proceedings of ED-MEDIA 2002 (CD-Rom, p. 1190).  Denver, CO: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education.

Merriam, S. B. (1998).  Qualitative research and case study applications in education.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.  

McComb, M. (1993).  Augmenting a group discussion course with computer-mediated communication in a small college setting.  International Computing and Technology: An Electronic Journal for the 21st Century, 1(3).  [Online].  Available: http://www.helsinki.fi/science/optek/1993/n3/mccomb.txt


McIsaac, M. (1999).  Peadgogy, the Internet and the classroom.  [Online].  Available: http://seamonkey.ed.asu.edu/~mcisaac/paper_artibyte.html

Moore, M. G. (1989).  Three types of interaction.  American Journal of Distance Education, 3(2), 1-6

Moore, M. G. (2002).  What does research say about the learners using computer-mediated communication in distance learning?  American Journal of Distance Education, 16(2), 65-81

Moore, M. G., & Kearsley, G. (1996). Distance education: A systems view. Belmont,CA: Wadsworth.

Mathew, N., & Dohery-Poirier, M.  (2000). Using the World Wide Web to enhance classroom instruction.  First Monday, 5(3).  [Online]  Available: http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue5_3/mathew/index.html

Office of Higher Education (2001).  Higher education on the Web, 7(1).  [Online] Available at: http://www.nea.org/he

Paulsen, M. F., (1995).  An overview of CMC and the online classroom in distance education.  In Z. Berg & M. Collin (Eds.), Computer mediated communication and the online classroom (vol. 3, pp. 13-29).  Cresskill, NJ: Haplton Press.  

Paulsen, M. F., (1996).  Innovative Computer Conferencing Courses.  DEOSNEWS 1(14).

Ritchi, D. C., & Hoffman, B. (1997).  Incorporating instructional design principles with the World Wide Web.  In B. H., Hahn, (Ed) Web-based instruction.  Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

Ryan, S., Scott, B., Freeman, H., Patel, D.  (2000). The virtual university: The Internet and resource-based learning.  London, Kogan Page.  

Smith, C. K. (1996).  Convenience vs. connection: Computer students’ views on distance learning.  Paper presented at the Annual Forum of the Association for Institutional Research, Albuquerque, New Mexico. (Eric Document Reproduction Service No. ED 397 725).

Sproull, L., & Kiesler, S.   (1991).  Connections: New ways of working in the network organization.  Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

Stake, R.E. (1995).  The art of case study research.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

U.S. Department of Education. National Center for Educational Statistics. (1998).  Distance education in higher education institutions: Incidence, audiences, and plans to expand.  

Wagner, E. D. (1994).  In support of a functional definition of interaction.  The AmericanJournal of Distance Education, 8(2), 6-2.

Walther, J. (1992).  Interpersonal effects in computer-mediated interaction: A relational perspective. Communication Research, 19(1), 52-90.

Walther, J. (1993).  Impression development in computer-mediated interaction. Western Journal of Communication, 57, 381-398.

Walther, J. (1995).  Relational aspects of computermediated-communication: Experiment observations over time. Organization Science, 6, 186-203.

Walther, J. (1996).  Computer-mediated communication: Impersonal, interpersonal, and hypersonal interaction. Communication Research, 23(1), 3-43.


ITFORUM PAPER #68 - Understanding Participation in Online Courses: A Case Study of Perceptions of Online Interaction by Noppadol Prammanee. Posted on ITFORUM on March 14, 2003. The author retains all copyrights of this work. Used on ITFORUM by permission of the author. Visit the ITFORUM WWW Home Page at http://itforum.coe.uga.edu/