What We Know About Assessing Online Learning in Secondary Schools

What We Know About Assessing Online Learning in Secondary Schools

Art W. Bangert (Montana State University, USA) and Kerry L. Rice (Boise State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-120-9.ch043
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In this chapter, the authors examine past and current efforts in evaluating the quality of online high school courses. They argue that policy organizations in the United States have made recommendations to guide the design and delivery of effective high school online courses. However, past efforts at determining the quality of online courses have focused primarily on broad-based program evaluations and the development of standards lacking specific evaluation criteria. They propose the development of evaluation processes and instruments based on solid theoretical foundations which embody learnercentered instructional practices, communities of inquiry, and a proven record of empirically-based research results. They suggest that a history of research evaluating instructional effectiveness using the Seven Principles of Effective Teaching combined with the inclusion of principles of cognitive presence in assessing deep learning may provide a useful framework for establishing empirically-based guidelines for evaluating the quality of online instruction.
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Online Learning In The K-12 Context

Web-based instruction is becoming a viable alternative for delivering coursework to high school students across the United States. Led by national policy initiatives supporting the use of the Internet for learning (Hassell & Terrell, 2004; U. S. Department of Education, 2004; Web-Based Education Commission, 2000), it has been estimated that 700,000 elementary and secondary students were enrolled in some form of online coursework for 2005-2006 (Picciano & Seaman, 2007) with 42 states having either supplemental online programs, full-time online programs, or both as of September 2007 (Watson & Ryan, 2007). The convenience of Web-based course offerings has attracted many students to virtual high schools. Students favor this form of instruction because it allows them to complete coursework that would otherwise be impossible to accomplish because of time, geography, financial considerations, family obligations, work requirements or other constraints which limit their opportunities to attend face-to-face classes (Richards & Ridley, 1999). Web-based learning offers possible solutions to public schools where budgets are tight and resources are limited for offering students the curriculum and the opportunities they desire (Chaney, 2001). The Internet is particularly well-suited for providing students enrolled in small, rural or low socioeconomic status school districts access to specialized courses not normally available to them.

The literature suggests that Web-based high school courses may be one solution to address a number of issues such as chronic teacher shortages, student drop-out rates, student disinterest, and low learner achievement (e.g., Chaney, 2001; Mupinga, 2005; Setzer & Lewis, 2005; Tucker, 2007). Online instruction provides greater educational opportunities for students from small rural schools who want to take more advanced math, science, foreign language and advanced placement courses that their districts typically are incapable of offering. Distance high school programs offered via the World-Wide Web also offer alternatives to traditional graduation pathways for students who are hospitalized or homebound, experience severe behavioral problems or have single parent responsibilities.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Computer Mediated Conferencing: Asynchronous discussions that occur in online learning environments.

SEOTE: Student Evaluation of Online Teaching Effectiveness

Seven Principles of Effective Instruction: Essential principals of effective face – to –face and web-based learning environments first proposed in 1987 by A.W. Chickering and Z. Gamson.

Critical Inquiry: Reflective thought that occurs as an outcome of the “real-time” or asynchronous discourse that learners engage in when involved in problem-solving activities.

Online Learning: The use of the Internet and the World Wide Web (WWW) to deliver interactive learning experiences.

Community of Inquiry Model: A model created by Garrison, Anderson and Archer (2000) that represents how written discourse used in computer mediated conferencing (CMC) activities promotes critical thinking.

Cognitive Presence: The extent to which learners are able to construct and confirm meaning through sustained reflection and discourse within communities of inquiry supported by computer mediated conferencing.

Teaching Presence: The methods that online instructors use to create quality instructional experiences that support and sustain productive communities of inquiry.

Social Presence: An online student’s sense of being and belonging in a course.

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