Research into the Design of K-12 Online Learning

Michael K. Barbour, Wayne State University

Before I begin to specifically discuss the research into the design of K-12 online learning, I should first provide a brief explanation as to why this MOOC is broken down specifically into research into the design, teaching, and facilitation of K-12 online learning. The following material is from an early draft of an up-coming chapter that will be published sometime in 2013 in the Handbook for Distance Education.

Research into the Roles of the K-12 Online Learning Teacher


One aspect of K-12 online learning that scholars have agreed upon is the fact that the growth of K-12 online learning has resulted in changes to the traditional role of the teacher. In a traditional classroom environment, the teacher is responsible for designing the instructional activities that get employed with the students, presenting the content or actually teaching the material, and helping to facilitate students while they are completing any independent work. In an online environment it is often the case that different individuals perform each of these tasks.

Davis and her colleagues were probably the first researchers to specifically delineate individual virtual school teacher roles as a part of their "Teacher Education Goes Into Virtual Schooling” (TEGIVS) project . As a follow-up to a series of online teaching case studies entitled “The Good Practice to Inform Iowa Learning Online” , Iowa State University secured funding from the U.S. Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Post Secondary Education (FIPSE) and partnered with the Universities of Florida and Virginia, Graceland University and Iowa Learning Online to create TEGIVS. The purpose of TEGIVS was “to build on that work [i.e., the Good Practice to Inform Iowa Learning Online project] to incorporate virtual schooling into pre-service teacher education” (Davis, Niederhauser, Compton, Lindstrom & Schoeny, 2005, p. 342). The TEGIVS project would to introduce and orient new and current teachers to three roles in the K-12 online learning environment: virtual school designer, virtual school teacher, and virtual school site facilitator (also called mentor teacher, mediating teacher or learning coach – depending on the literature) (Davis, 2007).

In a special issue of the Journal of Technology and Teacher Education devoted to K-12 online learning, Ferdig, Cavanaugh, DiPietro, Black and Dawson (2009) further delineated the different roles that teachers might undertake in the K-12 online learning environment into eight separate responsibilities. The Davis (2007) and Ferdig et al. (2009) K-12 online learning teacher roles are described, and compared, in Table 1.

Table 1.
Teacher roles in online learning environments
Davis’ roles
Davis’ responsibilities
Ferdig et al.’s roles
Ferdig et al.’ responsibilities
Designer
Design instructional materials. Works in team with teachers and a virtual school to construct the online course, etc.
Instructional Designer
The creator of the online course in accordance with content standards using effective strategies for the learners and the content
Teacher
Presents activities, manages pacing, rigor, etc.. Interacts with students and their facilitators. Undertakes assessment, grading, etc.
Teacher
The educator with primary responsibility for student instruction within an online course including interaction with students and assigning course grades

Online Facilitator
The person who supports students in a virtual school program. The facilitator may interact with students online or may facilitate at the physical site where students access their online course.
Facilitator
Local mentor and advocate for students(s). Proctors & records grades, etc.
Local Key Contact
The professional who assists students in registering and otherwise accessing virtual courses

Mentor
The academic tutor or course assistant for students

Technology Coordinator
The person who facilitates technical support for educators and students

Guidance Counselor
The academic advisor for students
-
-
Administrator
The instructional leader of the virtual school
While the Ferdig et al. (2009) classification is the more developed, within the literature the Davis (2007) has become the more commonly used.

Research into the Design of K-12 Online Learning


There are only a handful of studies that have examined the design and delivery of virtual schooling, most with methodological limitations. For example, Barbour (2005, 2007) first proposed ten – and later seven – principles of effective online course design for adolescent learners (such as those found in K-12 online learning environments). These principles were developed based on interviews with six course developers and teachers in a single Canadian virtual school. The researcher did not conduct an analysis of any of the asynchronous course content to determine if the developers and teachers actually implemented any of the “principles” that they discussed. The researcher also did not interview students to gauge their opinions on whether the principles were actually perceived as effective by the adolescents themselves. Essentially, Barbour did not undertake any additional data collection and analysis that would have allowed him to triangulate his findings. It is also important to note the virtual school where Barbour conducted this study used a primarily synchronous form of delivery (almost unique among K-12 online learning programs in North America), where teachers and students rarely use the asynchronous course content (Barbour & Hill, 2011).
vsc-presentation.jpg

A vodcast from the Virtual School Clearinghouse based on the results of Barbour (2007) - see http://virtualschooling.wordpress.com/2009/02/25/vhsm-vodcast-designing-effective-asynchronous-course-content-introduction/ for more details
In a separate line of inquiry, Barbour and Cooze (Barbour & Cooze, 2004; Cooze & Barbour, 2005; 2007) examined the potential for designers of K-12 online courses to focus on specific student learning styles. The researchers concluded that students who were visual learners (traditional modalities); possessed interpersonal, bodily-kinesthetic, logical-mathematical, and visual-spatial intelligences (Gardner’s multiple intelligences, or were assimilators (Kolb’s theory of experiential learning) were naturally the better online learning; and that course designers should focus on including course elements that would assist learners who did not posses these characteristics. Unfortunately, research into learning styles has been found to be quite unreliable (Coffield, Moseley, Hall & Ecclestone, 2004), and is seen by most researchers as a form of pseudo-science (Reeves, 2006). Similarly, Keeler (2006) also focused on the influence of learning styles on online course design for secondary students.

Using a sample course from the University of Oregon’s Center for Electronic Studying, Keeler, Richter, Anderson-Inman and Horney (2007) discussed the principle that online learning should be accessible, and how differentiated instruction and universal design could be used to create a course for students with learning disabilities. The following year, Grabinger, Aplin and Ponnappa-Brenner (2008) also described how universal design in online learning environments could be used to address the unique needs of students with cognitive impairments. In one of the few examples of empirical research, Keeler and Horney (2008) conducted an analysis of 22 online high school courses using the validated Instrument of Instructional Design Elements of High School Online Courses (Keeler, 2003). Their analysis found 38 design elements, from five categories (i.e., accessibility, web site design, technologies used, instructional methodologies, and support systems) were important with online instruction for students with disabilities (Keeler, 2004; Keeler & Anderson-Inman, 2004a; 2004b). However, their instrument was limited to description of the online course (i.e., asynchronous curricular material), and failed to account for the quality of that material.

To address these limitations, and the need to serve a wider range of students because of online learning graduation requirements, International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) - as the professional association representing K-12 online learning programs - conducted a review of published K-12 online course design standards that resulted in the release of the National Standards for Quality Online Courses (iNACOL 2007) . In the introduction to these standards, it states:
  • In partnership with the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), [iNACOL] is adopting the Standards for Quality Online Courses as a primary source, with an additional rubric for inclusion of 21st century skills, with reference to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (p. 2)

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills is in reference to a report on Virtual Schools and 21st Century Skills that was commissioned by iNACOL and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills in 2006 (see iNACOL & Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2006). To date there has not been any published research to test the validity and reliability of, or even support for the SREB standards. However, even though these standards have not been subjected to the rigorous process that most “national standards” undergo, jurisdictions such as Texas have adopted these standards for the design of their K-12 online learning programs.

References

Barbour, M. K. (2005). The design of web-based courses for secondary students. Journal of Distance Learning, 9(1), 27-36.

Barbour, M. K. (2007). Teacher and developer perceptions of effective web-based design for secondary school students. Journal of Distance Education, 21(3), 93-114. Retrieved from http://www.jofde.ca/index.php/jde/article/view/30

Barbour, M. K., & Cooze, M. (2004). All for one and one for all: Designing web-based courses for students based upon individual learning styles. Staff and Educational Development International, 8(2/3), 95-108.

Barbour, M. K., & Hill, J. R. (2011). What are they doing and how are they doing it? Rural student experiences in virtual schooling. Journal of Distance Education, 25(1). Retrieved from http://www.jofde.ca/index.php/jde/article/view/725

Coffield, F., Moseley, D., Hall, E., & Ecclestone, K. (2004). Learning styles and pedagogy in post-16 learning. A systematic and critical review. London: Learning and Skills Research Centre. Retrieved from https://crm.lsnlearning.org.uk/user/order.aspx?code=041543

Cooze, M., & Barbour, M. K. (2005). Learning styles: A focus upon e- learning practices and pedagogy and their implications for success in secondary high school students in Newfoundland and Labrador. Malaysian Online Journal of Instructional Technology, 2(1). Retrieved from http://pppjj.usm.my/mojit/articles/pdf/April05/02-Michael%20Barbour.pdf

Cooze, M., & Barbour, M. K. (2007). Learning styles: A focus upon e-learning practices and pedagogy and their implications for successful instructional design. Journal of Applied Educational Technology, 4(1). Retrieved from http://www.eduquery.com/jaet/JAET4-1_Cooze.pdf

Davis, N. E. (2007, February). Teacher's Education Goes into Virtual Schooling. A paper presented at the FIPSE Comprehensive Conference. Retrieved from http://ctlt.iastate.edu/~tegivs/TEGIVS/publications/VS%20Symposium2007.pdf

Davis, N. E., Niederhauser, D., Compton, L., Lindstrom, D., & Schoeny, Z. (2005, March). Virtual schooling lab practice: Case studies for teacher preparation. A paper presented at the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education International Annual Conference Phoenix, AZ.

Ferdig, R., Cavanaugh, C., DiPietro, M., Black, E., & Dawson, K. (2009). Virtual schooling standards and best practices for teacher education. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 17(4), 479-503.

Grabinger, S. R, Aplin, C. & Ponnappa-Brenner, G. (2008). Supporting learners with cognitive impairments in online environments. TechTrends, 52(1), 63-69.

International Council for K-12 Online Learning. (2007). National standards for quality online courses. Vienna, VA: Author. Retrieved from http://www.inacol.org/resources/nationalstandards/NACOL%20Standards%20Quality%20Online%20Courses%202007.pdf

International Council for K-12 Online Learning & Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2006). Virtual schools and 21st century skills. Vienna, VA: Authors. Retrieved from http://www.21stcenturyskills.org/documents/VSand21stCenturySkillsFINALPaper.pdf

Keeler, C. (2003). Developing and using an instrument to describe instructional design elements of high school online courses. Unpublished Dissertation, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR.

Keeler, C. (2004). Assessment in online environment: A cross-school description of secondary courses. A paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association. San Diego, CA.

Keeler, C. (2006). Designing online courses to meet diverse learning style preferences. A paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association. San Francisco, CA.

Keeler, C. & Anderson-Inman, L. (2004a). Instructional design elements of high school online courses: An instrument. A paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association. San Diego, CA.

Keeler, C. & Anderson-Inman, L. (2004b). A cross-school description of instructional design and delivery elements of high school level online courses. A paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting. San Diego, CA.

Keeler, C. G., & Horney, M. (2007). Online course designs: Are special needs being met? American Journal of Distance Education, 21(2), 61-75.

Keeler, C. G., Richter, J., Anderson-Inman, L., Horney, M. A., Ditson, M. (2007). Exceptional Learners: Differentiated Instruction Online. In C. Cavanaugh & R. Blomeyer (Eds.), What works in K-12 online learning (pp. 125−178). Eugene, OR: International Society for Technology in Education.

Reeves, T. C. (2006). Design research from the technology perspective. In J. V. Akker, K. Gravemeijer, S. McKenney, & N. Nieveen (Eds.), Educational design research (pp. 86-109). London: Routledge.

Readings:

Barbour, M. K. (2007). Teacher and developer perceptions of effective web-based design for secondary school students. Journal of Distance Education, 21(3), 93-114. Retrieved from http://www.jofde.ca/index.php/jde/article/view/30

Keeler, C. & Anderson-Inman, L. (2004a). Instructional design elements of high school online courses: An instrument. A paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association. San Diego, CA. Retrieved from http://coe.nevada.edu/ckeeler/teachingportfolio/researchinterests.html#Instructional_Design_Elements_of_High

Resources:

OHSU OpenCourseWare
  • all of the course content from the Open High School of Utah, the first online high school based solely on open access and open source principles

National Standards for Quality Online Courses
  • the revised standards released by iNACOL in 2011

Blogging Activity


On your blog, post an entry where you:
  1. Critique the iNACOL National Standards for Quality Online Courses based on the literature related to asynchronous course design (both K-12 and higher education).
    OR
  2. Use the iNACOL National Standards for Quality Online Courses to review one (1) course offered by a K-12 online learning program.