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A descriptive study of online interactions and learning effectiveness: Perspectives of online faculty and students

Dissertation
Author: Lo-An Tabar-Gaul
Abstract:
  The purpose of this study was to explore and investigate the learning effectiveness of online students at a 2-year community college based on three online interaction components: teaching presence, cognitive presence, and social presence. The research specifically focused on two online introductory-level computer courses within the Business and Information Systems Depar tment at a 2-year community college in Maricopa County, Arizona. Additional online presence components explored in this study included online communication technology and possible online retention components. Collected data was analyzed using descriptive statistical research method with the results presented in statistical, textual and graphic formats. Based on the results, the researcher found that teaching presence was the most significant component for successful online learning, as perceived by both online faculty and student participants. Cognitive presence was the second most important component in online learning environments for online learners. The results also recognized the importance of effective online interactions and pedagogy as factors in increasing online learning success. Further research on the relationships of online interactions and student demographics and background would benefit a larger population of online students and further validate the importance of learning effectiveness based on these online presence components.

Table of Contents Abstract iv Acknowledgement v Special Dedications vii List of Tables xii List of Figures xvii Chapter 1: Introduction 1 Overview 1 Purposes of the Study 2 Statement of the Research Problem 4 Significance of the Study 7 Research Questions 10 Definition of Key Terms 11 Summary 13 Chapter 2: Literature Review 15 Overview 15 E-learning and 2-Year Community Colleges 15 E-learning Trends 17 Preparing for the Net and Millennium Generations 20 Constructivism 23 Online Interaction 25 Community of Inquiry Model 26 Teaching Presence 27 viii

Effective Online Facilitator 31 Instructional Designs for Online Learning 34 Cognitive Presence 38 Course Contents and Designs 38 Online Contents Organization 40 Social Presence 41 Online Communication Technologies 42 Synchronous and Asynchronous Communications 42 Online Learning Management System 44 Online Communication Tools 46 Summary 53 Chapter 3: Methodology 55 Overview 55 Restatement of the Research Problem 55 Restatement of the Research Questions 56 Research Design and Measure 57 Description of Materials and Measurements 58 Question Formats 58 Online Student Survey Questionnaire 59 Online Faculty Survey Questionnaire 61 Scaling Method 63 Independent and Dependent Variables 63 Validity and Reliability 63 ix

Selection of Participants 64 Conducting Field Tests 64 Procedures 64 Discussion of Data Processing 65 Statistical Data Analysis 67 Limitations of the Study 69 Strength of the Study 69 Content Analysis 69 Ethical Assurances 70 Summary 72 Chapter 4: Results 73 Overview 73 Descriptive Analysis for Online Student Survey Questionnaire 74 Section A: Teaching Presence 75 Section B: Cognitive Presence 89 Section C: Social Presence .95 Sections D: Online Retention Elements 103 Section E: Interacting with Online Communication Technologies 113 Section F: Student Demographics and Characteristics 119 Descriptive Analysis for Online Faculty Survey Questionnaire 130 Teaching Presence: Q1-Q3 133 Cognitive Presence: Q4-Q6 136 Social Presence: Q7-Q10 139 x

Online Retention Elements 143 Online Communication Technologies 145 Faculty Demographics and Characteristics 142 Summary 154 Chapter 5: Findings, Recommendations and Conclusions 155 Summary of Findings 155 Online Student Survey Summary 155 Online Faculty Survey Summary 160 Comparisons of Perspective between Online Faculty and Students 161 Implication and Recommendations 163 Suggested Future Studies 165 Conclusions 165 References 167 Appendix A Permission to use Col Survey Instrument 177 Appendix B Original Copy of Col Survey Instrument 183 Appendix C Official Course Description for BPC110 Course 186 Appendix D Official Course Description for CIS105 Course 190 Appendix E Modified Online Student Survey Questionnaire 194 Appendix F Online Faculty Survey Questionnaire 210 Appendix G Approved Letter of IRB Application from Study Site 216 Appendix H Email Invitation Letter to Online Students 218 Appendix I Email Invitation Letter to Online Faculty 220 Appendix J Informed Consent Form - Online Students 222 xi

Appendix K Informed Consent Form - Online Faculty 226 xn

List of Tables Table 1. CIS105 Online Course: Enrollment and Attrition Trend. 8 Table 2. BPC110 Online Course: Enrollment and Attrition Trend 9 Table 3. Summary of Total Enrollment for Online Students 10 Table 4. Grouping of Sections A-C for Online Student Survey 60 Table 5. Additional Groupings, Sections D-F, for Online Student Survey 61 Table 6. Groupings for Online Faculty Survey 62 Table 7. Scaling Methods used in Both Survey Instruments 63 Table 8. Response rate from online students 74 Table 9. Frequency of responses for Ql 76 Table 10. Frequency of responses for Q2 77 Table 11. Frequency of responses for Q3 77 Table 12. Frequency of responses for Q4 78 Table 13. Summary report for Section Al 79 Table 14. Summary of responses for Section Al 80 Table 15. Frequency of responses for Q5 81 Table 16. Frequency of responses for Q6 82 Table 17. Frequency of responses for Q7 82 Table 18. Frequency of responses for Q8 83 Table 19. Frequency of responses for Q9 84 Table 20. Frequency of responses for Q10 84 Table 21. Summary report for section A2, Q5-Q10 85 Table 22. Frequency of responses for Qll 86 xiii

Table 23. Frequency of responses for Q12 86 Table 24. Frequency of responses for Q13 87 Table 25. Frequency of responses for Q12 88 Table 26. Summary Report for Section A - Teaching Presence Component 88 Table 27. Frequency of responses for Q14 90 Table 28. Frequency of responses for Q15 90 Table 29. Frequency of responses for Q16 91 Table 30. Frequency of responses for Q17 92 Table 31. Frequency of responses for Q18 93 Table 32. Frequency of responses for Q19 93 Table 33. Frequency of responses for Q20 94 Table 34. Summary Report for Section B, Cognitive Presence Component 95 Table 35. Frequency of responses for Q21 96 Table 36. Frequency of responses for Q22 97 Table 37. Frequency of responses for Q23 98 Table 38. Frequency of responses for Q24 98 Table 39. Frequency of responses for Q25 99 Table 40. Frequency of responses for Q26 100 Table 41. Summary Report for Section C, Social Presence Component 101 Table 42. Frequency of responses for Q27 104 Table 43. Frequency of responses for Q28 ....104 Table 44. Frequency of responses for Q29 105 Table 45. Additional responses (others) for Q29 105 xiv

Table 46. Frequency of responses for Q30 106 Table 47'. Additional responses (others) for Q30 106 Table 48. Frequency of responses for Q31 107 Table 49. Responses to Q32 108 Table 50. Responses to Q33 109 Table 51. Summary Report for Section D, Online Retention Factors 109 Table 52. Frequency of responses for Q34 113 Table 53. Frequency of responses for Q3 5 115 Table 54. Frequency of responses for Q36 115 Table 55. Frequency of responses for Q37 116 Table 56. Frequency of responses for Q3 8 117 Table 57. Summary Report for Section E - Online Technologies 117 Table 58. Frequency of responses for Q39 119 Table 59. Frequency of responses for Q40 120 Table 60. Frequency of responses for Q41 121 Table 61. Frequency of responses for Q42 121 Table 62. Frequency of responses for Q43 122 Table 63. Frequency of responses for Q44 123 Table 64. Frequency of responses for Q45 124 Table 65. Frequency of responses for Q46 124 Table 66. Frequency of responses for Q47 125 Table 67. Frequency of responses for Q48 126 Table 68. Frequency of responses for Q49 127 xv

Table 69. Textual responses for Q50 128 Table70. Response rates for online faculty participants 131 Table 71. Categories and formats of faculty survey questionnaire 132 Table 72. Frequency of responses for faculty survey, Ql 134 Table 73. Frequency of responses for faculty survey, Q2 135 Table 74. Frequency of responses for faculty survey, Q3 135 Table 75. Frequency of responses for faculty survey, Q4 137 Table 76. Frequency of responses for faculty survey, Q5 137 Table 77. Textual responses for faculty survey, Q6 138 Table 78. Frequency of responses for faculty survey, Q7. 139 Table 79. Frequency of responses for faculty survey, Q8 140 Table 80. Verbatim responses for faculty survey, Q9 141 Table 81. Verbatim responses for faculty survey, Q10 142 Table 82. Verbatim responses for faculty survey, Qll 144 Table 83. Frequency of responses for faculty survey, Q12 145 Table 84. Frequency of responses for faculty survey, Q13 146 Table 85. Frequency of responses for faculty survey, Q14 147 Table 86. Frequency of responses for faculty survey, Q15 148 Table 87. Frequency of responses for faculty survey, Q16 149 Table 88. Frequency of responses for faculty survey, Q17 151 Table 89. Frequency of responses for faculty survey, Q18 151 Table 90. Frequency of responses for faculty survey, Q19 151 Table 91. Summary of faculty demographics 153 xvi

Table 92. Additional comments 154 Table 93. Summary of results from online student survey questionnaire 158 Table 94. Summary of student demographics 159 Table 95. Summary of Faculty Responses on the Col components 160 xvii

List of Figures Figure 1. CIS105 enrollment and attrition trend 9 Figure 2. BPC110 enrollment and attrition trend 10 Figure 3. Interaction with Interface Conceptualized (Swan, 2003, 2004) 27 Figure 4. Sections A-F, online student survey questionnaire 71 Figure 5. Section A and its three subsections 72 Figure 6. Bar chart for Q4 75 Figure 7. Section B and its two subsections 89 Figure 8. Section C and its two subsections 96 Figure 9. Sections D-F 103 Figure 10. Groupings of questions for online faculty survey 133 Figure 11. Online teaching experience for online faculty 150 Figure 12. Years teaching at the 2-year college 151 Figure 13. Age groups of'online faculty participants 148 Figure 14. Levels of agreement on teaching presence 159 Figure 15. Levels of agreement on cognitive presence 159 Figure 16. Levels of agreement on social presence 160 xvm

1 Chapter 1: Introduction to the Study Overview This research was a descriptive and explorative study in the area of online interaction in two different introductory computer courses at a 2-year community college. The researcher examined and studied the perspectives of online faculty and students based on their interactions with the three online presence components: teaching presence, cognitive presence, and social presence. The researcher also analyzed the collected data to describe and identify the results to determine if there were any relationships between the online interaction components and student learning based on the perspectives of online students and faculty members. The researcher conducted an online student survey at the 2-year college to gather students' feedback on their learning experiences and perceptions when interacting with the following three online components. 1. Teaching presence: interacting with instructors 2. Cognitive presence: interacting with online course contents and interface 3. Social presence: interacting with peers The aforementioned three online presence components were developed from a community of inquiry (Col) model (Anderson, Rourke, Garrison, & Archer, 2000, 2001; Arbaugh, 2007; Garrison & Arbaugh, 2007; Swan, 2003, 2004). Dr. Swan and her co authors further expanded and revised the Col model and the survey instrument and presented at the EDMEDIA 2008 conference in Vienna, Austria (Swan, Richardson, Ice, Shea, Cleveland-Innes, Diaz, & Garrison, 2008). The researcher received permission from Swan (2003, 2004) to use her interaction framework (see Appendix A), and also to

2 revise and use the most recent Community of Inquiry (Col) survey instrument (see Appendix B) for online students in a 2-year community college setting. In addition, the researcher developed and conducted a separate online faculty survey questionnaire to use in examining and gathering faculty perspectives on the relationships between student learning and the three online presence components. Purposes of the Study The main purpose of this study was to investigate and explore students' perspectives in all online sections of two separate computer introductory courses at a community college in order to discover their perceived learning when interacting with instructors, with peers, and with course contents or course interface. The theoretical framework for this study was adapted from Swan's (2003, 2004) online learning effectiveness model, and the Col survey instrument framework (Anderson et al., 2001; Arbaugh, 2007; Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2001; Garrison & Arbaugh, 2007; Swan et al., 2008). The findings of this study will add to the existing research literature on this specific topic, especially for the 2-year community college systems in the area of learning effectiveness and online interaction. The results discovered from this study will also assist in the development of online interactive learning and teaching strategies for online educators, specifically at the 2-year community college level. The researcher decided to conduct this study based on extensive reviews of scholarly research and the latest findings in the area of online interaction. The research was a descriptive statistics analysis approach used in educational research for quantitative method. Gall, Gall, and Borg (2007) defined descriptive research as "a type

3 of quantitative research that involves making careful descriptions of educational phenomena" (p. 300). The use of descriptive research is valuable and beneficial for educational institutions because the research tends to focus on educators' attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs (Gall et al, 2007). More importantly, the results from "this type of research (sometimes called survey research), has yielded much valuable knowledge about opinions, attitudes, and practices. This knowledge has helped shape educational policy and initiatives to improve existing conditions" (Gall et al., 2007, p. 301). In addition, the results from descriptive research are usually easy to interpret and report in means, percentiles, and standard deviations. Gall et al. (2007) believed that educators prefer descriptive research because of the discovery of the cause and effect relationships when testing new instructional methods or programs. Specifically, the following were the purposes of this study, using the interaction components adapted from the Community of Inquiry (Col) framework (Anderson et al., 2001; Arbaugh, 2007; Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000, 2001; Garrison & Arbaugh, 2007; Swan, 2003, 2004; Swan et al., 2008). 1. To review and explore all existing online interaction models including Swan's (2004) model to gain further theoretical knowledge in this area. 2. To add to the existing scholarly research and literature collections in the area of online interaction, including its effect on online teaching and learning, especially in the community college system. 3. To examine the causal relationship between effective online interaction and perceived learning for the two introductory-level computer courses used in this study, based on the Col framework.

4 4. To examine and explore the different perspectives between students and faculty on each online interaction component adapted from the Col framework. Statement of the Research Problem Online interaction is still a relatively new area of study by researchers because of the complexity of online learning environments. The 2007 annual report from the Sloan- C Consortium stated that "online enrollments have continued to grow at rates far in excess of the total higher education student population" (Allen & Seaman, 2007, p. 1). The survey indicated that Almost 3.5 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall 2006 term; a nearly 10 percent increase over the number reported the previous year. The 9.7 percent growth rate for online enrollments far exceeds the 1.5 percent growth of the overall higher education student population. Nearly twenty percent of all U.S. higher education students were taking at least one online course in the fall of 2006 (p. 1). The authors further reported that "two-year associate's institutions have the highest growth rates and account for over one-half of all online enrollments for the last five years" (Allen et al., 2007, p. 1). The continuous growth of online course offerings has resulted in more studies in teaching and learning in online learning environments. Most of the research focused on how to integrate technology in online environments to facilitate student learning (McKenzie, 2000, 2002, 2003; McNeely, 2005; U.S. Department of Education, 2007). Some researchers have concentrated on developing and training online faculty in using online technology (Moore, Moore, & Fowler, 2006; Pankowski, 2004; Provenzio, Brett, & McCloskey, 2005; Stovall, 2007; Waterhouse, 2005), while others have focused on using technology to develop interactive online learning activities (Allen, 2003; Chin & Williams, 2005; Sims, 2003).

5 Additional studies in recent years have placed more emphasis on the aspect of online interaction, and its affect on teaching and learning (Richardson & Swan, 2003; Tu & Mclsaac, 2002). The majority of the research concentrated on four-year institutions, while very few studies focused specifically on 2-year community colleges. The aforementioned studies only applied to one component at a time—either on teacher immediacy or teaching presence; on peer-to-peer interaction or social presence; or on course contents design, which is cognitive presence—but not on all three online components at the same time, except for a recent study from Tung (2008). In addition, most of the studies have concentrated on a specific online program or the whole distance education program at the university level, but not on a specific course at a 2-year community college level. Thus, there exists a need for a study on online learning effectiveness based on online interactions of students at the 2-year college levels, either in an online program, or in a specific online course, especially in the business and computer information systems discipline. Significance of the Study The researcher examined students' perspectives of online interactions in two specific computer courses at a community college where the researcher currently teaches. The researcher also conducted the study in two specific computer introductory courses, instead of in a specific program or the entire online degree, as did many previous studies that were conducted at 4-year universities (Parker & Gemino, 2001; Shea, Pickett, & Pelz, 2003; Swan, 2003, 2004; Tu & Mclsaac, 2002). Some previous studies have sought to determine if online interaction may be one of the essential factors contributing to the retention or attrition of online students in higher education (Tinto, as cited by Rourke,

6 Anderson, Garrison, & Archer, 2001; Tello, 2002; Topper, 2005). Few studies have focused on online retention of a specific course or even a specific program at the community college level, specifically, at the researcher's institution, Mesa Community College (MCC). However, MCC does track and maintain the withdrawal and completion rates of all courses at the college for state funding purposes. The information provided by the Office of Research and Planning (2006) at MCC indicated the majority of research projects at the college have focused on program completion instead of course completion. Furthermore, there has not been any study on the high attrition rate for online courses at MCC. To prevent future budget reductions from lower enrollment, and to prepare for higher competition from other 2-year institutions, the college must find ways to increase enrollment and, at the same time, decrease the dropout rate, especially for online courses. Additional studies in recent years have placed more emphasis on the aspect of online interaction, and its affect on teaching and learning (Richardson & Swan, 2003; Tu & Mclsaac, 2002). The majority of the research concentrated on four-year institutions, while very few studies focused specifically on 2-year community colleges. The aforementioned studies only applied to one component at a time—either on teacher immediacy or teaching presence; on peer-to-peer interaction or social presence; or on course contents design, which is cognitive presence—but not on all three online components at the same time, except for a recent study from Tung (2008). In addition, most of the studies have concentrated on a specific online program or the whole distance education program at the university level, but not on a specific course at a 2-year community college level. Thus, there is a need for a study on online learning

7 effectiveness based on online interactions of students at the 2-year college levels, either in an online program, or in a specific online course, especially in the business and computer information systems discipline. This study was to focus on the possible online interaction factors causing attrition or teaching components that help increasing learning effectiveness in two specific online courses, CIS 105, Introduction to Computer Information Systems, and BPC110, Computer Usage and Applications (see Appendices C and D for official course descriptions for these two courses). The study specifically explored and gathered online students' perspectives in online interactions to determine how these components affect their perceived learning. The researcher also conducted a second online survey of online faculty members who teach these courses to gather their perspectives on student learning based on the teaching presence, cognitive presence, and social presence components (Anderson et al., 2001; Arbaugh, 2007; Arbaugh et al, 2007; Garrison & Arbaugh, 2007; Swan, 2003, 2004). At the community college where this study was conducted, the student enrollment in online courses from fall 1999 to fall 2007 had increased from 982 students to 4,467 students, according to the statistics recorded by the college's Office of Research and Planning (2008). Specifically, for the CIS 105 course, the enrollment has been phenomenal, growing from 154 to 557 online students from 2002 to 2007. During this same period, enrollment in online BPC110 courses had grown from 85 students to 267 students. Tables 1 through 3 illustrate the changes in student enrollment and attrition during the past 5 academic years (fall, spring, and summer semesters) for both CIS 105 and BPC110 courses.

8 Table 1 CIS J 05 online courses: Enrollment and attrition trend Academic year Enrollment Completed with Completed with Withdrew (Fall, Spring (n, %) passing grades failing grades without grades and Summer) (n, %) (n, %) (n, %) 2002-2003 2003-2004 2004-2005 2005-2006 2006-2007 Total 154(100) 275 100) 285(100) 387(100) 557(100) 1658 (100) 79(51) 112(41) 135 (47) 188(49) 268 (48) 782(47) 6 (4) 33 (12) 33 (12) 47 (12) 51 (9) 170(10) 69 (45) 130(47) 117(41) 152(39) 238 (43) 706 (43) Source: Office of Research and Planning, Mesa Community College, 2008. Table 1 illustrates a pattern of growth in student enrollment from the year of 2002 through the year of 2007 for CIS 105, an Introduction to Computer Information Systems course. The enrollment increased from 154 students in 2002 to 557 students in 2007 in CIS 105. At the same time, the percentage of students who withdrew from the course showed an average of 43% during these 5 years. The percentage of students who withdrew from CIS 105 was almost half of the numbers of the students who enrolled in the course, an alarming high number of dropped-out students. Figure 1 further affirms the high attrition rate in this course during the past 5 years.

CIS105 Enrollment and Attrition Trend 600 3 M)0 1 400 t 300 • < - % 200 s I 100 285 ^T M™ BUT 8% B£ W/ 2002-2003 2003-2004 2004-2005 2005-21)06 2006-200" Academic Year Figure 1: Enrollment and attrition trend for CIS 105 • Enrollment « Attrition Table 2 BPC110 online courses: Enrollment and attrition trend Academic year Enrollment Completed with Completed with Withdrew (Fall, Spring, (n, %) passing grades failing grades without grades and Summer) (n,%) (n, %) (n, %) 2002-2003 2003-2004 2004-2005 2005-2006 2006-2007 Total 85 (100) 105 (100) 134(100) 139(100) 267 (100) 730 (100) 49 (58) 49 (47) 80 (60) 89 (64) 135(51) 402 (55) 3(4) 12(11) 15(11) 15(11) 31 (12) 76 (10) 33 (39) 44 (42) 39 (29) 35 (25) 101 (38) 252 (35) Source: Office of Research and Planning, Mesa Community College (2008). Table 2 illustrates a similar increase in enrollment and a similarly high attrition rate during the past 5 years for the other course in this study, BPC110, an Introduction to Computer Applications and Usage. Figure 2 presents a graphical display of the enrollment and attrition rates for BPC110 course for the past 5 years.

„ 300 a 250 | 200 £ 1 5 0 85 •g 100 S 50 i ° S3 rv BPC110 Enrollment and AttritionTrend 26.2 ~ 134 139 "85 i f B M • • 33 p WW Jv- jvv #> # A i Enrollment lAttiition y Academic Year Figure 2. Enrollment and attrition trend for BPC110 Table 3 Summary of total enrollment and attrition for both courses for the past 5 years 10 2002-2007 CIS105 BPC110 Total Total Enrollment (n, %) 1658(100) 730(100) 2388(100) Completed with passing grades (n, %) 782 (47) 402 (55) 1184(50) Completed with failing grades (n, %) 170(10) 76(10) 246(10) Withdrew without grades (n, %) 706 (43) 252 (35) 958 (40) Source: Office of Research and Planning, Mesa Community College, 2008. Research Questions The researcher developed the survey instruments for online students in two online computer courses, BPC110, Computer Usage and Applications, and CIS 105, Introduction to Computer Information Systems, by using the following questions as the guidelines for this study. 1. What are the levels of learning satisfaction (or agreement) perceived by online students when interacting with the three presence components based on the framework developed by Swan (2003, 2004; Swan et al., 2008) ?

11 2. What are the relationships between the perceptions of online students and their characteristics (gender, age, ethnicity, education, and online experience) that may have influenced their perceived learning when interacting with the three online presence components? 3. What are the rating levels of importance in student learning perceived by online instructors of the three online presence components based on the aforementioned framework? 4. Is there a difference in learning perceptions between students and faculty based on three online presence components? Definition of Key Terms Affective. Social presence refers to the ability of learners to project themselves socially and emotionally, "as real people," in an online environment, as well as the degree to which they feel socially and emotionally connected with others in that environment (Swan et al., 2008, p. 2). Causal model. A causal model is a model that represents a causal relationship between two variables (Colorado State University [CSU], 2007). Confidence interval. The range around a numeric statistical value obtained from a sample, within which the actual corresponding value for the population is likely to fall, at a given level of probability (Alreck & Settle, 2004). Convenience sample. "A sample selected more on the bias of the researcher or data collection team's convenience than on the requirements for random selection with known probabilities of inclusion and representation" (Alreck et al, 2004, p. 439).

Full document contains 247 pages
Abstract:   The purpose of this study was to explore and investigate the learning effectiveness of online students at a 2-year community college based on three online interaction components: teaching presence, cognitive presence, and social presence. The research specifically focused on two online introductory-level computer courses within the Business and Information Systems Depar tment at a 2-year community college in Maricopa County, Arizona. Additional online presence components explored in this study included online communication technology and possible online retention components. Collected data was analyzed using descriptive statistical research method with the results presented in statistical, textual and graphic formats. Based on the results, the researcher found that teaching presence was the most significant component for successful online learning, as perceived by both online faculty and student participants. Cognitive presence was the second most important component in online learning environments for online learners. The results also recognized the importance of effective online interactions and pedagogy as factors in increasing online learning success. Further research on the relationships of online interactions and student demographics and background would benefit a larger population of online students and further validate the importance of learning effectiveness based on these online presence components.