Expectations and Demands in Online Teaching: Practical Experiences

Expectations and Demands in Online Teaching: Practical Experiences

Sorin Walter Gudea (University of Phoenix, USA)
Indexed In: SCOPUS View 3 More Indices
Release Date: May, 2008|Copyright: © 2008 |Pages: 340
ISBN13: 9781599047478|ISBN10: 1599047470|EISBN13: 9781599047492|DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-747-8

Description

Despite the considerable, growing interest in online education, most studies have focused only on the students' perspective. Merely a handful of studies have attempted to address the teachers' perspectives and little has been published on the online teaching experience itself.

Expectations and Demands in Online Teaching: Practical Experiences offers a better understanding of how teachers experience the online environment by exploring various dimensions of online teaching, including class preparation, process effectiveness and quality, and technology utilization. The book assists educational institution administrators supporting online education improve their understanding of how teachers experience online teaching, and of the issues these teachers face in their teaching.

Reviews and Testimonials

"What gives value to this book is not only the fact that it sheds light into the lesser known territory of teaching online from the teachers' perspectives, but more so the invaluable quotes coming from the interviewed subjects."

– Sorin Walter Gudea, University of Phoenix, USA

"This is a very useful book to anyone who teaches online. The book's particular value is in describing real and diverse personal experiences in online teaching, and very valuable guidance on how to deliver effective online courses."

– Dr. Thomas Acton, National University of Ireland, Ireland

I found this book to be an interesting mix of faculty viewpoints about online teaching. I enjoyed the elaborate and well-researched content.

– Dr. Catheryn Cheal, Oakland University, USA

This book is quite useful to anyone dealing or planning to deal with online teaching. Overall, it proves its name by providing a real insight in the form of practical experiences related to expectations and demands of online teaching!

– Ramesh Chandra Sharma, Regional Director, IGNOU Regional Centre, Pune

Table of Contents and List of Contributors

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Preface

TENATIVE

INTRODUCTION
Educational researchers have conducted many studies to investigate individual and group learning, as well as the impact of technology on the learning process. A great deal of literature is available to the researcher, a clear indication of the degree of interest around online learning and distance education in general. However, the great majority of the studies focus on the students’ perspectives (H.-L. Yang & Tang, 2003). A review of the literature finds only a handful of studies that attempt to address the teachers’ point of view. Little has been published on the online teaching experience itself. Furthermore, the literature review reveals tremendous inconsistency in findings.

This writer’s interest in the online learning environment started in early 2000, as he began teaching technology courses for the University of Phoenix . It was there that, for the first time, he got acquainted with the field of distance education and the use of the Internet to teach courses. Over time, based on his own observations and discussions with other online teachers at different universities, it occurred to him that the teachers describe their online experiences as either satisfying or frustrating to various degrees. Yet, none of them are left untouched by their online teaching experiences. As later discovered, these stances were not unique to one teacher, or to one university. Rather, online teachers from different educational institutions and universities, responsible for teaching different subject matters, report similar experiences.

If teachers are using Information Technology (IT) to teach online, what does that mean to them? What variations in meaning exist? What do online teachers experience? How do teachers in an online setting view teaching? How do they view it otherwise? What do they think the expectations are? What are the demands? Teachers seem to adjust to the teaching environment, and to embrace change. Yet, as they adjust, what do they give up? What do they feel they are gaining? These are some of the questions this book tries to answer.

The material presented in this book is based on numerous hours of personal interviews conducted by this author, and the answers to the questions above came from the online teachers themselves. For this, this author is immensely grateful and would like to once again bring thanks to all the teachers that had accepted to be interviewed. They gave even more of their time so that this study could be completed, for the benefit of the entire profession, students and teachers alike, for the society as a whole as it marches into the uncharted territories of teaching online.

What gives value to this book is not only the fact that it sheds light into the lesser known territory of teaching online from the teachers’ perspectives, but more so the invaluable quotes coming from the interviewed subjects; the honesty, sincerity and courage with which they opened their hearts, and looked into the good and bad of their work and profession, as it goes through this transitional process of developing a new way of “guiding thoughts” and disseminating information. Teachers that tackle online teaching are pioneers, ground breaking new territories, as this new way of education develops into its own. The integration of cutting edge technology into one of the oldest professions known to human kind is no simple thing.

The book - intended to be a handbook - is written in such a way that each chapter can stand on its own and can be read individually. Hence, some repetitions occur, and I hope you will accept them. This is particularly the case in chapters 3 to 8 which attempt to paint a picture that is as complete as possible. The many quotes sprinkled throughout the book pass on the passion of the respondents, and help frame the research questions mentioned earlier. Furthermore, these quotes are paramount to presenting teachers’ thoughts, perceptions, and beliefs; their lived experiences in online teaching.

Several categories of people stand to benefit from the information relayed by this study. Some of them are the teachers themselves; others are the course developers; the educational technology specialists; the school administrators; and last, but not least the students or anyone else interested and questioning this new area of development in the field of education. The teachers who are teaching online - or those considering doing it – would benefit from reading this book because it is based on information shared by other teachers who have experienced online teaching. In a similar manner, course developers could benefit from the insight provided by the teachers who teach online in order to produce courses that take into account the shortcomings of the technology used for delivery. Educational technology specialists stand to learn from the teachers’ experience teaching online through better being able to identify new potential directions for research and technology development, as well as for educational systems that are more user friendly, easier to use and to support rich media interfaces.

BACKGROUND
Current research points to various aspects of online education, yet not quite a complete picture can be drawn. Several recurring themes underline the perceptions of faculty members in relation to online education. Instructors and students alike when asked to assess their online teaching or learning experience either love it or hate it, with few reactions in between. A great deal of research has been published about the online learning environment. The dimensions explored in the studies published include various psychological, social, pedagogical, and technological factors that affect teachers’ attitudes. Among them are the organizational context (Brewer, 2001), personal interests (Scott, 2003), technology availability, skills, and ease of use (Chu, 2002), academic subject (Kinuthia, 2003), interaction (Guidera, 2000; Huang, 2001; Monson, 2003), faculty development (Hill Martin, 2003; Lewis, 2002), experience (McDonald Lucas, 2002), expertise (Perry, 2003), pedagogical skills (Angelo & Cross, 1993), lack of resources (Myers, 2003), disbelief in the quality of learning (Chu, 2002), the role of the teacher in the online environment (Kisner, 2001; Oliver, 2004), and increased time demands (Guidera, 2000; Iken, 2000; Kumari, 1999; University of North Carolina, 2004). Some of the studies are summarized in Table 1.

A review of the studies indicates that there are obvious differences in terms of the issues reported by faculty members and their ranking. Despite this growing body of work, anecdotal evidence indicates that we still do not know what the true issues are, or at least not all of them and how important they are. A clear understanding of the online teaching experience is still lacking.

This book brings value through its exploration of the online teaching experience, as lived by teachers.

ONLINE EDUCATION AND TEACHING
The quality of the online education experience has been the subject of ongoing debate among researchers and lay people alike. Among other factors, user satisfaction, student performance, and ease of use are discussed in the literature. However, despite a growing body of research and published studies in the field, some users – teachers and students alike - do not believe the approach is working (Cyrs, 1997; Schell, 2004). There are many conflicting views related to the use of technology to teach online. The variety of the issues revealed in research papers indicates that a good understanding of what online teaching entails is still lacking. The literature stops short of giving educational leaders a theory of how teachers experience and adjust to the online environment (Hatterius, 2004).

Faculty members often report opposite views of the online environment. Many instructors question their ability to utilize technology in order to provide an effective, user-friendly learning environment for the students (Chu, 2002; Kumari, 1999). Stated differently, teachers report frustration with a variety of aspects of online education. Frustration and satisfaction can be construed as indicators summarizing many diverse experiences. That being said, it seems that there are matters not well explained in relation to teaching online. Teachers’ attitudes, whether positive (Esch, 2003; Kinuthia, 2003), or negative (Chu, 2002; Kumari, 1999), seem to depend on many factors. Some teachers, when faced with the online environment, react not only in attitudinal terms, but also in behavioral and other terms. For some, the change results in favorable reactions and attitudes, while for others it is quite the opposite. Some teachers are successful and others are not. Why is that? There is ample evidence that some teachers have experiences that lead to frustration and dissatisfaction. Research is needed to address educators’ experiences with online teaching, and to help achieve the full potential of online education while ensuring access to adequate content, learning tools, and technologies.

Online education continues to expand (Bianchi, 2000; Chambers, 1999; Irvine, 2001). Mendenhall (2007) cites an Eduventures report stating that 7% of the U.S. post-secondary students were taking courses solely online. By 2008 every tenth student will be enrolled in an online degree (Golden, 2006). However, online education has not reached yet its full potential. A recent report found that only 4.6% of the Chief Academic Officers saw no significant barriers to the widespread adoption of online learning (Sloan-C-Resources, 2006).

Teachers are an important component of online education and their beliefs can affect the way they teach (Cuban, 1993). They are a key factor to educational change (Tyack & Cuban, 1995). As online education continues to expand, teachers and educational administrators must consider a variety of factors related to technology, administration, expectations, curriculum, course design and delivery, social interaction, learning, teaching - that may result in changes affecting education as a whole. Changes that involve deep understanding cannot begin with the whole system, rather they have to begin with the individual and spread through the system (Senge et al., 2000). A better understanding of the changes teachers experience in relation to online education has the potential to help teachers and educational administrators plan more effectively and be better positioned to address changes stemming from online education. It follows that increasing the teachers’ and schools’ capacity for managing change and bringing about continuous improvement is imperative (Inos & Quigley, 1995).

A good image is important if any industry or profession wishes to attract the best people (Lim, Teo, & See, 2000). As higher education institutions strive to find new ways to serve a changing society, the faculty members’ acceptance of the medium used for teaching is of significant importance (Goetzinger & Valentine, 1963; Jensen, 1995). If teachers are using IT to teach online, what does that mean to them? What variations in meaning exist? What do online teachers experience?

In general, faculty members recognize that the use of Internet resources in education cannot be avoided. Technologies that can help distance education offer a number of benefits to students and teachers alike (Chandler et al., 1999). Yet, faculty members’ disbelief in the quality of learning is a major obstacle in their adoption of Internet resources for their courses (Chu, 2002).

Some faculty members express general dissatisfaction with the technologies available for teaching, and assert that the demands for teaching are also greater than in the recent past (Oravec, 2003). Many teachers are unhappy about their lack of control over the situation (Altbach & Lewis, 1995). If it is true that teachers adjust to the teaching environment, they embrace change. Yet, as they adjust, what do they give up and what do they feel they are gaining?

Models of learning can influence the design of the online teaching environment and ultimately its effectiveness (Alavi, 1994; Piccoli, Ahmad, & Ives, 2001). The online environment may help the teacher with class preparation issues, assist shy students, and help deal with sensitive issues (Horton, 2000). Yet, faculty members’ perceptions of the effectiveness of the online learning environment vary (Esch, 2003; Guidera, 2000; Huang, 2001; Morse, 2003). What can make the online teaching process effective? The answer comes, at least in part, from the teachers themselves.

It is important to help teachers prepare for the online environment not only by providing technical training and curriculum development support, but also for allowing them to learn from other teachers’ experiences. For this reason, it is important to find out how teachers in an online setting view teaching; to learn more about what they think the expectations, and the demands are online. In short, to learn how teachers experience the online environment.

Education is situated at the intersection of teaching efforts and learning efforts by different people – teachers and students. Dreeben (1970) finds that prospective teachers would tend to be caring people who are not as much concerned with monetary gains as they are with doing creative work. In other words, teachers care: they are concerned about student learning, and about education itself.

Yet, much of the published literature focuses exclusively on the learners. While clearly the student body plays a significant part in education, one cannot discount the teachers. Questions concerning the circumstances of online teaching effectiveness can be asked. Some teachers may find themselves to be more effective in the on ground classroom, while others will find themselves to be more effective online. From talking to teachers who have been involved in online teaching, if often seems like they are doing very different things. The meaning associated with online teaching may be different, yet the reasons behind it are not clear.

Often, people use the label “online teaching” as they know what they are talking about. They use the phrase like it has the same meaning for everyone involved in online education. Teaching is - at least to some extent - about “awakening the enthusiasm involved in the learning process” (Dreeben, 1970, p.82). And, if it is true that teaching activities consist of an amalgam of spontaneous, diffuse, and ill-defined elements that together make teaching successful, do teachers believe that tradeoffs to teaching online affect their teaching? If so, in what ways? We must look at this from the perspective of the people who are doing it. And we must try to understand, based on their experiences, what makes sense with respect to the online teaching activity they engage in.

What follows are the results of a study predicated upon a particular stance for inquiry that is very flexible. The teachers that participated in the study shared their experiences with the author, whose task was to simply let them tell their story to the readers.

HOW THE ANSWERS WERE DEVELOPED
In seeking to describe and analyze teacher attitudes in relation to the online teaching environment, the focus of the inquiry centered on how teachers view online teaching.

This book presents the results of a study that consists of a grounded-theory approach, relying on in-depth interviews with faculty members teaching online courses. The intent was to sample professionals working at different colleges and universities that offer online classes and to interview them in order to develop a theory highlighting issues they can identify in relation to their online teaching experience. This qualitative study builds a theory providing a grounded understanding of the experience of teaching online, as viewed by the teachers.

Grounded theory relies on theoretical sampling and constant comparative analysis. Coding – open, axial, and selective – is used to create a theory. The unit of analysis is the individual teacher. Systematic coding and analysis, in an inductive manner, enables the researcher to develop a theory that is consistent with the data. The theory that gradually emerges through the research represents an attempt to develop an explanation about reality. It classifies and organizes concepts, and may help predict future occurrences of events. A more detailed discussion of grounded theory as research method is offered in Appendix A.

In this study, the grounded theory developed informs on how teachers experience online teaching. This theory fills a gap in the research literature, and may assist teachers and educational administrators in better understanding how the online environment affects teachers. By research design, the grounded theory study was limited in terms of the sample size and scope of inquiry. The use of a theoretical sample and its relatively small size does decrease the generalizability (transferability) of the findings of this study. The interview participants were selected purposefully further reducing the generalizability of the study. All of the participants are involved in post-secondary education and are teaching, or have taught, or have considered teaching, online courses. Theoretical saturation was reached with forty-four participants interviewed.

Participant Demographics
The operationalization of the study involved interviews. As the primary data collection instrument, the interviews allowed the researcher to explore the research questions in collaboration with the participants, and arrive at thick descriptions of the participants’ experiences in teaching online. As the interviews unfolded, it became evident that teachers have strong feelings about their teaching experiences. While all the participants had interesting accounts to tell, several of the participants stood out in terms of their teaching and online experience.

The interviews were conducted from October 2004 through May 2005. After the first round of interviews, follow-up interviews were used to seek clarification and explore the topic in greater depth. The demographic information reported by the participants in the study suggests a possible grouping of the participants based on their teaching modality experience: classroom, online, or hybrid. The participants were selected in a manner to allow for as wide a representation as possible, balancing gender, primary teaching modality (classroom, online, or hybrid), and affiliation.

In terms of gender, of the forty-four respondents in the sample, twenty-nine were males and fifteen females. The sample has an almost 2:1 ratio of males to females. Six group ages were identified, as detailed in Table 1. Most of the respondents in the sample were between 40 and 50 years of age. Notably, all respondents were at least 30 years old.

Consistent with the academic requirements in effect at their respective universities, all of the respondents held at least a Masters’ degree. Approximately one third of the participants held doctoral degrees, and two thirds of them held Masters’ degrees.

The participants described their teaching experience in great detail. Their current teaching environment ranged from classroom only to online and included a variety of hybrid, or blended environments. Some teachers taught in only one modality, while others taught in multiple modalities. The positions held by respondents were assigned different titles. The participants fall into two broad categories: academic faculty and part-time or adjunct faculty. There are twenty-one academics (e.g., Professor, Assistant Professor, Adjunct Professor, Associate Professor) and twenty-three adjunct faculty (e.g., Faculty, Adjunct Faculty, Practitioner Faculty, Instructor, Lecturer, Facilitator). While the subject matters taught by the respondents covered a wide range, there appears to be a higher occurrence of Management and Business courses. Yet overall, courses representations are fairly balanced among Business (Business - 20; Accounting/Finance - 5), Soft Sciences (Social Sciences - 14, Humanities - 2, Communications - 10), and Hard Sciences (Mathematics - 7, Computer Science/Information Technology/Engineering - 15).

Some of the teachers interviewed taught at multiple institutions concurrently: two participants taught at four universities, and two participants taught at three universities. More than one quarter of the participants (i.e., 12 teachers) taught at two universities. Yet the majority of the participants (i.e., 28 teachers) taught at only one institution. The mean of these data is 1.5 with a standard deviation of 0.8. Overall, respondents came from a total of thirty-two colleges and universities thus their experiences are not limited to a unique institution.

THE GOAL OF THE STUDY

A good theory that explains online teaching will help modify the way teachers are placed in the online classroom. It helps predict, control and understand online teachers’ reactions. By helping the teacher selection process, it reduces turnover and assists professional development processes. A theory of the online teaching experiences provides an improved understanding of how teachers might use online tools to enhance their teaching. It may provide an explanation of why some teachers do not teach online, and how the technology used in education affects their teaching. In addition, it may help predict teachers’ reactions relative to online teaching.

In order to increase the validity of the findings, the researcher reviewed the concepts derived from analysis with fellow researchers and academics. Throughout the course of the study, the researcher reflected on the concepts and their meaning. The process of reflection was evident in the researcher’s careful consideration of his interpretation and understanding of what the respondents reported. In an attempt to look at the data from the respondents’ perspective, the researcher carefully weighed in on what seemed to be the participants’ understanding of the phenomena. Convergence of the two positions was sought for. Cognizant of his limitations and biases, the researcher focused on dialogue as a means to generate knowledge about the phenomena, through collaboration with the participants (Jankowski, Clark, & Ivey, 2000). The theory presented in Chapter 11 was validated by the teachers who participated in the study: they concluded that it made sense and was a good fit to their experiences.

ORGANIZATION OF THE BOOK
The book is organized into twelve chapters. A brief description of each of the twelve chapters follows:

Chapter 1 identifies some of the various perspectives on online teaching. Specifically, its objective is to review what has been published in the academic literature about the online teaching environment, and the various aspects reported by online teachers.

For Chapter 2, four study participants were selected for in-depth profiling, as they were identified as representative, interesting subjects. Two of them, Jeremy and Deborah, are practicing only on-ground teaching. The other two, Derek and Sarah teach mainly on-line or hybrid, but with experience on-ground as well. Each interview revealed extraordinary personalities, driven in their profession by passion and love towards the act of education.

Chapter 3 sets to discover how teachers view online teaching, and what they experience when teaching online. It focuses on the accounts the respondents shared with this author, during the interviews taken for this book. A brief perusal through the literature finds reports of increased time demands, more preparation and hard work, as well as a need for improved technical skills – these being just some of the issues online education was reported to bring upon teachers. Yet, as a result of this research, new issues were found to exist, enhancing the knowledge on this subject of online teaching. To name just a few, are the extent of the adjustments made by teachers (discussed in greater detail in chapter 7), the skill gap in technology among teachers and students (covered in chapter 5), and the kind of adjustments that are made by the teachers when moving to an online educational environment.

In Chapter 4, teachers share their thoughts regarding the determinants for success in online teaching, for what makes some online teachers to be successful. A brief discussion of the relevant published literature is followed by discussion of the determinants of online teaching success, substantiated by copious citations from the interviews conducted for this book. Emotional involvement, teacher effectiveness, student quality, and technology reliability are only some of the issues identified as affecting online teaching success.

In Chapter 5, our interviewees describe how they use IT for their online courses; the possible variations in the meaning they derive from their online teaching experiences, as well as they offer several interesting suggestions. Teachers use technology in their daily activity. They are definitely not afraid to use technology in support of their teaching, and are not avoiding it. However, the online educational environment poses specific challenges. The contents of this chapter should help increase teachers’ awareness of what awaits them in the online classroom.

Chapter 6 discusses online teaching demands. Teachers are aware of, and reflect on a variety of issues related to teaching online. There are certain things they would like to change – things they feel would improve their online teaching. Their use of technology in the classroom affects their teaching. As technology continues to improve, its usability, availability, and actual use, are ongoing concerns. The same can be said for curriculum development, course design, and faculty training. As the teaching profession is changing, different challenges are posed to teachers and universities.

Chapter 7 reviews the gains and losses experienced by teachers who teach online courses. Educators note gains and losses related to the teaching environment. As they teach online, they learn from the experience and increase their awareness of what works well online. They adjust to the online environment, in an attempt to maximize the gains and mitigate the losses. Some of the adjustments they make are for the better, while others are for the worse. Based on these adjustments, the teachers make choices whether they continue to teach one modality vs. another, or leave the profession altogether.

Chapter 8 explores possible tradeoffs teachers identify in relation to online teaching. Teachers, in their teaching, have to constantly interact with their students, with their peers, with academic departments, with school administrators, course developers, and many others. Furthermore, the environment in which they function – where they teach – poses specific challenges they need to recognize and manage in order to maintain their effectiveness as teachers. The teachers who were interviewed as part of the study that is the basis of this book share their perceptions and experiences regarding the potential and actual tradeoffs they find themselves making, as well as the adjustments they make in response to the challenges presented to them by the online environment.

In the previous chapters, teachers shared their experiences and feelings about online teaching. They talked about how the online environment affects them and their teaching style; about the tradeoffs they find; the issues associated with technology and teaching online; about the adjustments they feel they have to make, and about the benefits and the losses they notice as a result of their teaching online. Having this in background, Chapter 9 tries to put things in perspective and find out how, if at all, these stories intersect. The chapter focuses on the central ideas that are related to online teaching - ideas that have been derived from the interview data. The chapter discusses the first four main categories: Teaching, Teaching Demands, Teacher Needs, and Teaching Dimensions that center on teaching.

Chapter 10 continues in the direction chalked out in the previous chapter and focuses on the central ideas that are related to technology and its use in the online classroom. It continues the discussion of the core categories identified in Chapter 9 and presents in detail the remaining categories: Teaching With Technology, Technology, Differences Among Modalities, Issues, Adjustments, and Choice.

Chapter 11 sets out to present a theory of the online teaching experience, as viewed by the teachers who teach online courses. It draws on the core categories presented in the previous two chapters and proceeds by validating the core categories by means of triangulation with other published research, by identifying relationships and interplay among the ten core categories, and by formulating the theory in narrative form.

Chapter 12 concludes the discussion of the online teaching experience. A few suggestions are made and advice is offered to educational administrators, online teachers, online curriculum and course developers, and educational technology professionals.

Appendix A presents the research methodology of the study that forms the basis of this book. The detailed discussion of grounded theory research offers valuable information to those interested in this form of qualitative research. It discusses grounded theory research in detail and includes the research design, and the operationalization of the study: sampling, data collecting methods and procedures, analysis, and validity issues.

Appendix B presents in tabular format the demographical information of the respondent sample. Each respondent is assigned a two digit number that helps identify quote authorship. Each of the quotes used in the book ends with a two-digit number (within square brackets); these numbers cross-reference to the respondents list.

Author(s)/Editor(s) Biography

Sorin Gudea lives in the Los Angeles area. An alumni from Pepperdine University (MBA 1998) and from Claremont Graduate University (MSMIS 2004, Ph.D. 2005), Sorin has worked in Information Systems for almost twenty years. At his current position, with a large organization, he is involved with Information Technology projects.

At times, Sorin teaches technology courses in the undergraduate and graduate programs at University of Phoenix, where he is a practitioner faculty in the College of Information Systems and Technology in the University of Phoenix’s Southern California Campus.

Sorin’ research interests gravitate around online education and training, information systems security economics, and knowledge management and organizational learning. He is an avid Information Systems researcher, and has presented several papers at some of the major conferences in the field. Some of his work was published in the International Journal of Electronic Business, the Journal of the AHIMA and in the Perspectives of the AHIMA.

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