Academic Exchange Quarterly     Winter   2006    ISSN 1096-1453    Volume  10, Issue  4

To cite, use print source rather than  this on-line version which  may not  reflect print copy format requirements or   text lay-out and pagination.

 

Assessing Effective Online Instruction Sites

 

Brucetta McClue, Delgado Community College

Ashraf Esmail, Delgado Community College

Lisa Eargle, Francis Marion University

 

 

Brucetta McClue serves as adjunct faculty at Delgado Community College and is a Ph.D. candidate in Online Education.  Dr. Esmail teaches courses in a variety areas and conducts research on education, inequality, deviance, and the family. Dr. Eargle teaches a variety of courses and conducts research in the areas of education, organizations, inequality, and deviance.

 

Abstract

Using student evaluators and a random sample of on-line instructional sites, we assess the usefulness of on-line instructional sites for learning.  Theorists’ theories of learning and criteria used in constructing useful sites play a vital role in the development of effective sites.

 

Introduction

Societal changes have strongly impacted instruction and technology throughout the United States, hence, the transformation of our nation’s schools into a Web model via Web instruction (Meyer, 2003).  Twenty-first century education offers many alternatives ways of teaching thru home schooling, classroom online instruction, Web based instruction, distance learning, or knowledge based instruction for all levels.  Incorporating basic technological skills to enhance curriculum in the early stages of one’s educational path, no matter what the socioeconomic background, could in fact increase the effectiveness of instructions and related research in the area of online instruction.  The impact of online learning in the home, or in the classroom via distance learning opportunities affects the learning environment.  Web based and knowledge based instructions are geared toward specific interests in improved skills and advancement of the learner (Anderson, 2002).

 

Education in the United States in the 20th century has been transformed.  The demand for education reform has prompted parents and adult learners to search for alternative instruction methods such as technology.  Technology became ubiquitous in the job market, in government, in the education environment, and in the home.  Educators are now providing an alternative means to the earning of degrees via distance learning or home instructions without a student physically attending class (that is from Kindergarten to adult education).  The use of technology as a driving tool has reached millions across this nation without a traditional classroom setting.  Distance learning is not only convenient, but it is also provides an increased in academic skills and awareness. 

 

Many resources for on-line instruction sites are available free of charge on the Internet, but these sites need to be assessed by instructors to make sure that a site being recommended is useful (Mourant, 1999). Using student evaluators and a random sample of on-line instructional sites, this study assesses the usefulness of on-line instructional sites for learning. In doing so, we first examine relevant theories of learning and criteria used in constructing useful sites, before assessing the web sites.  Moreover, several researchers have contributed to the findings of online instructions.  According to Holstrom (2003), e-learning has an effect on many persons other than technology users.  This type of learning empowers and provides self-worth to individuals in disciplines such as education, social sciences, and economics by using various online supported resources websites such the adventures of Cyberbee and Classroom Connect.  While other related online websites will allow one to search for journal entries, and questia-online library of books and journals. 

 

Theories of Learning

Societal changes have had an impact on instruction via technology throughout the United States. “The societal implications of participation and collaboration could be immensely powerful.  One should draw on research in collaborative learning, which has significant cognitive and non-cognitive effects of collaboration.  For example, delivery of education through a collaborative, computer-mediated environment alters the relationship of the instructor, the students, and the course content.  The many-to-many, asynchronous nature of the medium democratizes access and encourages student input” (Harasim, 1993, p. 119-130).  Educators now look at preparedness as early as pre-kindergarten by incorporating technology skills into the curriculum, no matter what the socioeconomic background, requiring more attention and related research in the area of technology instruction.

 

Given that e-learning allows the learner to explore base on the previous information, Bruner’s Discovery Learning model states learning occurs through exploration, in which students discover the unknown or gain interchangeable knowledge.   Students develop processes for attainment of information from their experience.  Bruner believed that the student’s first growth is through stimulus, which represents how the knowledge is gained though related experiences.  This enables the student to attain information that has been stored for later recall. Bruner also discusses how the mental process of the person’s mind projects stimulus-response through discovery learning.  Discovery learning can be defined as an independent practice on the learner’s part to maintain information, without memory, with much self-confidence.   Students who complete individual discovery learning tend to recognize the connections within themselves, and what was learned with this type of discovery is placed in high value.  In discovery learning, Bruner makes note that students become individual thinkers and encourage the youth attitude of wanting to discover newness of ideas and the unknown (Bruner, 1966).

 

Bandura indeed believes that through observation, students learn the particulars of achieving goals and outcomes. Bandura (1977) stated: “Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do. Fortunately, most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action (p. 22).”  Fortunately, most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action.

 

Unlike Bandura, Gagne believed Information Processing View theory shows how information can be processed in simpler forms and as lower--skill tasks.  This includes the recalling of information with much practice (Gagne, 1985). Gagne’s model contains nine features that guide learning:

1. Informing the learner of the objective(s),

2. Stimulating recall of prerequisite learning,

3. Presenting the stimulus materials,

4. Providing learning guidance,

5. Eliciting the performance,

6. Providing feedback about performance,

7. Assessing performance,

8. Enhancing retention, and

9. Transfer 

 

In contrary to that, Vygotsky’s theory emphasizes the central role of social learning in comparison to attaining information and learning via the culture development of learning.  Observation learning and culture knowledge can bring about different learning attributes of intellect. Students learn through the involvement of parents, who provide knowledge of the culture.   The key elements included are social impact, scaffolding, and zone of proximal development.  The theory focuses on social interaction, which is support in students’ processing of learning from those more intellectually advanced (Patsula, 1999).  Vygotsky (1986) believes that instructors should direct the guidance of individual activities and allow capable students to work independently (Patsula, 1999).  For example, scaffolding learning gives helpful steps, which decrease as the students' understanding of the material increases.  To optimize learning, instructors should give necessary skills for independent problem solving those in turn lead to academic achievements. 

 

The zone of proximal development (ZPD) model of learning gives the student the direction of a competent person in direct correlation to the amount of knowledge that can be acquired from that competent person.  Vygotsky views adults as being the expert and the child student being the novice because of their level of thinking, and how they perceive the world differently.  As we age, the development of the mind becomes more complex and thinking changes (Vygotsky, 1986).

 

Application of Theories to On-Line Instruction

These theories are built on independence and self-directed discipline.  Bruner states (1966) that development should concern itself with the learner’s experiences, and the design must be structured so that the learner can easily adapt.  This makes learning an active process. Early in the study, Bruner indicates that learning should go far beyond information, and incorporating this concept via online instruction will help the instructor develop an environment that would be easy to use.  Bandura stated (1977) that learning is a social process, so in an online environment the instructor and the learner should make sure that the communication is flowing daily and should reflect one another’s behaviors, attitudes, and emotions via their reactions to each other in the discussion or chat room. Gagne’s theory (1985) focuses on learning as a theoretical framework, and his theory can be integrated just by relating to the level of learning that each learner’s skills have been pre-identified internally and externally.  Some of Gagne’s instructional events can be integrated as essential processes of online instruction, which includes: informing learners of objectives, stimulating recall of prior learning, providing learning guidance, eliciting performance,  providing feedback, and assessing performance. Finally, Vygotsky’s (1978, 1986) instruction theory focused on social cognitive development, which is a key to online instruction. Vygotsky’s concepts can easily be integrated because his major thrust is that social interaction plays a fundamental role in developing cognitive skills.  Online instruction has a constant social interaction, especially when constant flow of discussion takes place and the interaction among peers as well as learner-to-teacher interaction increase.  Social interaction is not actually spelled out, but it is integrated into online instruction, and Vygotsky can be considered one of the pioneers of this type of cognitive-learning.

 

 

Process of Teaching Using On-Line Techniques

One possible approach to understanding online instruction, according to Uden, McGuinness, and Alderson (2004), is to make sure that instructional models are coherent, effective, and beneficial by providing good design principles in the simplest form.  Uden, McGuinness, and Alderson stated, “There is convincing evidence that people who take the initiative in learning, learn more things and learn better than do people who sit at the feet of teachers waiting to be taught.  They (students) enter into learning more purposefully and with greater motivation.  They also tend to retain and make use of what they learn better and longer than do reactive learners” (p. 367).   That statement alone could in fact indicate that online instruction, which is mainly student centered and self--directed, is a good method of teaching.

 

With that in mind, what essential steps must one take to have an experience of online instruction while understanding the early development of this process, which included mostly theory? Hanna, Glouwacki-Dudka, and Conceicao-Runlee (2000) discuss the pre-instruction preparation, mid-way preparations, and adjustment with anticipation of a preparation at the end of the online course.  These are essential processes of teaching online techniques:

1. You should know who you are and determine if this is something you want to do,

2. You should identify your philosophy of teaching,

3. You should identify how you or the team should organize the course(s) for online delivery, and

4. You and/or the team should begin the online instruction course and implementation.

 

These authors suggest that before one begins a design one should assess oneself to determine whether one’s online teaching will be synchronous or asynchronous.  Professors, instructors, and teachers should be reminded that technology has made-learning student centered so some habits of teacher centered activities have to be altered. If technology is used improperly, it can serve as a powerful prevention tool for learning. The instructor should keep in mind that online instructions is student centered and involves more constructivist activities.  Hanna, Glouwacki-Dudka, and Conceicao-Runlee (2000) suggest that the teacher know, review, determine, and adhere to the following to establish a good online instruction site:

 1. Whether one is student centered or teacher centered,

 2. Whether one is a team player seeking help in the design or one to do it all,

3.  Whether one is willing to learn new skills to make sure that there is a good online teaching environment, 

 4. Whether one considers that one must understand one’s audience, the online environment, the technology, and/or the typology one must use to your online class,

 5. Whether one makes themselves available and ready to become familiar with the resources that are available,

6. Determine within oneself one how one feels about the physical absence of standing before the class as the instructor,

7. whether one is considering multi-types of interaction such as read it, review it and maybe quizzes,

8. Whether the instructor will be prepared and flexible at all times,

9. Whether one as the instructor defines your role in that online class, 

10. Whether one clarifies one’s expectation of the unknown,

11. Whether one expects the learner to share, create and hold to the knowledge ,

12. Whether expectations of the learner is built upon self-motivation and self-direction,

13. Whether one expects the learner to manage his/her time wisely,

14. Whether one expects the learner to be ready to learn, 

15. Whether one expects the learner to troubleshoot and contribute to class discussions,

16. Whether the instructor expects learners to teach others and share the experience,

17. Whether you expect the learners to read, 

18. Whether one expects learners to provide timely feedback and be leaders,

19. Whether one expects learners to listen to one another,

20. Whether one expects the learner to communicate with not only the instructor but the class, also,

21. Whether one expects the learner to be proactive and observe all processes, and finally,

22. Whether one makes sure the learner has a contingency plan just in case technology does not work properly (Hanna, Glouwacki-Dudka, and Conceicao-Runlee, 2000). 

 

 

Assessing Effective Online Instruction Sites

 

We use a list of hundreds on-line instructional web sites recommended by Dr. MaryAnn Shepard, one of Walden University’s faculty members. From this list, twenty-one online instruction sites were randomly selected.  These sites are reviewed and critiqued by the first author and eighteen college students. Of the eighteen students surveyed, seventeen responded.  The list below, obtained from EMC Software Module Evaluation, displays the factors that are used to critique and evaluate the websites.

 

  1. Documentation and Supplementary Materials
    1. Necessary technical documentation included
    2. Objectives clearly stated
    3. Learning activities that facilitate integration into curriculum are suggested
    4. Materials for enrichment and remedial activities are provided
  2. Program Content
    1. Instruction matches stated objectives
    2. Instructional strategies are based upon current research
    3. Instruction addresses various learning styles and intelligences
    4. Information is current and accurate
    5. Program is free of stereotype
  3. Presentation
    1. information is presented in a developmentally appropriate and logical way
    2. Examples and illustrations are relevant
    3. There is appropriate variety in screen displays
    4. Text is clear and printed in type suitable for target audience
    5. Spelling, punctuation, and grammar are correct
  4. Effectiveness
    1. Students are able to recall and use information presented following program use
    2. Program prepares students for future real-world experiences
    3. Students develop further interest in topic from using program
    4. There is an appropriate use of instructional software
  5. Audience Appeal and Suitability
    1. Program matches interest level of indicated audience
    2. Expected input is appropriate for indicated audience
    3. Reading level is appropriate for indicated audience
    4. Examples and illustrations are suitable for indicated audience
    5. Required time is compatible with student attention
    6. Program branches to remediation or enrichment when appropriate
  6. Practice/Assessment/Feedback
    1. Practice is provided to accomplish objectives
    2. Feedback is relevant to student responses
    3. Feedback is immediate
    4. Feedback is varied
    5. Feedback gives remediation
    6. Reinforcement is positive and dignified
    7. Assessment is aligned with objectives
    8. Open-ended responses and/or portfolio opportunities are promoted
    9. Collaborative learning experiences are provided for
  7. Ease of Use
    1. User can navigate through program without difficulty
    2. Screen directions are consistent and easy to follow
    3. Help options are comprehensive and readily available
    4. Program responds to input as indicated by directions
    5. Title sequence is brief and can be bypassed
    6. User can control pace and sequence
    7. User can exit from any screen
    8. Only one input is registered when key is held down
  8. User Interface and Media Quality
    1. Interface provides user with an appropriate environment
    2. Graphics, audio, video, and/or animations enhance instruction
    3. Graphics, audio, video, and/or animations stimulate student interest
    4. Graphics, audio, video, and/or animations are of high quality

 

Using the scoring the criteria displayed above, twenty-one sites are evaluated, both overall and for each the criteria. 

1.       Chemistry-www.chemistry.org

2.       Actionbio Science- www.actionbioscience.org

3.       Ology- http://ology.amnth.org

4.       Exploratorium-www.exploratorium.edu

5.       NASA-www.education.nasa.gov

6.       In Time- www.intime.uni.edu

7.       Internet4classroom-www.internet4classrooms.com

8.       The History of Computing-http://ei/cs.vt.edu/~history/

9.       Web English Teacher-http://www.webenglish.com

10.   Listen and write-http://www.bbc.co.uk/education/listenandwrite/ 

11.   High School Journalism-http://highschooljournalism.org

12.   The Write Site-http://www.writesite.org

13.   Children Picture Book Database-http://www.lib.muohio.edu/pictbks/

14.   American Literature on the Web-www.nagasakigaigo.ac.jp/ishikawa/amlit

 

15.   Online Poetry Classroom-http://www.poets.org/page.php/prmID/86

16.   A+ Mathematics-www.aplusmath.com

17.   Coolmath4kids-www.coolmath4kids.com

18.   Figure This! Mathematics Challenges for Families–www.figurethis.org

19.   Math Cats-www.mathcats.com/contents.html 

20.   Math that Counts-http://maththatcounts.com

21.   Learning Wave Communication: Engage Your Brains – www.learningwave.com/menu.html (Shepard, 2005)

 

 

Sites’ effectiveness are rated as follows: 1= not effective, 2=somewhat effective, 3=effective, and 4=very effective. Seventy-one percent (15 of 21) of the sites are considered to provide very effective (rating of 4) documentation and supplementary materials. Seventy-six percent of the sites are effective in terms of their program content. Fifty-seven percent are considered very effective in their presentation. Forty-three percent are very effective in terms of their teaching effectiveness. Thirty-three percent are very effective in their audience appeal and suitability. Only thirty-eight percent are considered very effective in terms of the feedback that they provide to users.  Nineteen percent (4 of 21) of the sites are considered to provide effective (rating of 3) documentation and supplementary materials. Fourteen percent of the sites provide effective program content.  Thirty-three percent of the sites have an effective presentation. Forty-eight percent of the sites have an effective rating in terms of their teaching effectiveness. Thirty-three percent are effective in terms of audience appeal. Fifty-two percent of the sites are viewed as effective in terms of their suitability. Twenty-nine percent are considered effective in terms of their practice assessment and feedback provided to users.

 

In general, the science and math web sites scored higher than the writing and literature sites, especially in terms of their documentation and program content (had more ratings of “very effective” than other ratings scores). The writing and literature sites tended to have their best performance in the areas of presentation and teaching effectiveness. Their weakest area (more ratings of “somewhat effective” than other ratings), in general, is audience suitability. None of the sites received ratings of “not effective” (a rating of 1).

 

Conclusion

 

These results suggest that using on-line instruction sources, as supplements or in conjunction with other methods of instruction, would be the most effective approach to teaching and learning. This assertion is based upon the 43 percent of sites considered to be very effective in their teaching effectiveness (students able to recall/use information, prepares students for real world experiences, encourage further interest in topic, and appropriate use of software). The other alternative, given this finding, would be to continue to revise and develop new ways to make a greater percentage of the sites be very effective. Students’ evaluation is the primary focus effectiveness requiring more time and a greater selection of websites to study.

 

One can quite easily state that online instruction has a greater impact in our society, both in the home and in the school.  One should be concerned with the effectiveness of online instruction and what the learner is actually taking in the learning process.  Even though online instruction is a growing tool, one still must be concerned with the content, development, ease of use, essentials of technology usage, and other growing pains.  Home scholars and schools should focus on this growing method of communication by making sure that the design of the instruction environment meets the standards in areas where they are allowed powerful advantages in increasing creative and problem solving skills, and on building the online instruction curriculum staff development foundation necessary to realize such benefits.

 

The challenge of the high technology society to education is to increase the online instruction on the part of educators and students whether home or school directed.  The challenge for educators is to assume the leadership role that promotes online development with new learning outcomes.  Embracing this new way of communicating is the survival tool needed to become educated and to be made competitive.

 

There was an overwhelming interest in evaluating online instruction sites with positive indication that this generation could learn and be competitive via online instruction.  Positive response from the evaluators presented a strong indication that these sites would be used to supplement their child (ren)’s education in the home.  For those with no children there were strong indications and comments that those Web sites selected would teach or would enhance education. 

 

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