The purpose of this qualitative case study was to examine preservice teachers' experiences and the meaning they gave to their experiences in a "Technology Applications in Education" online course. The theoretical framework was based on the "Rich Environments for Active Learning" proposed by Grabinger and Dunlap (2000). The attributes of rich learning environments for active learning are student responsibility and initiative, generative learning activities, authentic learning contexts, authentic assessment strategies, and cooperative support.
The study findings imply that the online learning/teaching environment requires reconstruction of student and instructor roles, relationships, and practices. Student experiences showed that the online environment influenced their learning. Preparing students for active engagement in learning and collaboration needs to be emphasized in both face-to-face and online environments. Understanding student expectations and motivations, and the personas they may take during online learning can help support active learning. Instructor guidance and support as well as peer support are important for improved communication that can enable active learning.
The convergence of technological, instructional, and pedagogical developments (Bonk & King, 1998) has helped a new paradigm of teaching and learning to emerge. Online education is impacting current university practices and policies and quickly changing the fabric of higher education (Rowley, Lujan, & Dolence, 1998). This type of education has the potential to provide a catalyst for a total reconceptualization of education in general (Daugherty & Funke, 1998).
It is critical to understand the pedagogical potential of online learning for providing active and dynamic learning opportunities for learners. Creating an active online learning environment requires learners and faculty to take active roles. Faculty can employ strategies and activities that will engage students in "producing learning" (Barr & Tagg, 1995) for active learning. A pedagogically effective convergence of active learning strategies and methods and technology tools can help faculty and students accomplish successful teaching and learning. The technology tools are important in the way that they provide a medium for instruction to be delivered; however, there is not sufficient research on the pedagogical integration of active learning into online teaching and learning.
This study investigated the preservice teachers' experiences and the meaning they gave to their experiences in a "Technology Applications in Education" online course. The theoretical framework was based on the "Rich Environments for Active Learning" proposed by Grabinger and Dunlap (2000). The attributes of rich environments for active learning are: Student responsibility and initiative, generative learning activities, authentic learning contexts, authentic assessment strategies, and cooperative support.
Simons (1997) described active learning in two ways; one involves decisions about learning and the second makes active use of thinking. The first definition implies self-regulated learning in which the learner uses opportunities to decide about aspects of learning. The learner makes decisions in the goal setting, planning, monitoring, and assessment phases of the learning process. The second definition explains active learning in terms of mental activity which "refers to the extent to which the learner is challenged to use his or her mental abilities while learning" (p. 19). Learning is an active process and it requires active roles for students and instructors. Brown and Ellison (1995) emphasized that active learning is not merely a set of activities. They noted "the objective of active learning is to stimulate lifetime habits of thinking, to stimulate students to think about HOW as well as WHAT they are learning and to increasingly take responsibility for their education" (p. 40).
In the present study, active learning is used in the context of learner engagement and involvement with the instructional content and learning processes such as thinking, questioning, reflection, metacognition, collaborative, and cooperative activities. Active learning environments can be established by the careful planning of instructional goals, objectives, strategies, and activities by the instructor. Active learners are self-regulated learners engaged with the instructional content and learning processes such as questioning, reflection, exploration, and interaction with others for solving authentic problems and generating authentic products. The convergence and interaction of carefully planned teaching and self-regulated learners and learning strategies can provide successful active learning.
Theoretical Framework of the Study
Grabinger and Dunlap's (2000) Rich Environments for Active Learning (REALs) framework was used as the theoretical framework for this study. The intent of the research was not to evaluate the course or the theory, but to gain a broader understanding of the experiences of students in an active learning environment mediated by online learning technologies. Active learning requires "well-developed lifelong learning skills and strategies, such as goal-setting, action planning, learning-strategy selection and assessment, resource selection and evaluation, reflective learning and time management" (p. 37). REALs have five attributes, each of which builds upon and uses the others to create a successful learning environment. These attributes are student responsibility and initiative, generative learning activities, authentic learning contexts, authentic assessment strategies, and cooperative support.
Student responsibility and initiative. Online learners need to be self-regulated, disciplined, and know how to learn and explore different sources and strategies for learning. Self-regulated learners set their own goals, determine their own activities and regulate those activities (Jonassen, 2000), decide on their learning styles and evaluate their progress (Huang, 2002). Students cannot actively construct and evolve their knowledge without taking responsibility and initiative for their learning. Intentional learning, questioning, reflection, and metacognitive skills are important elements of active learning environments.
Generative learning activities. Generative learning strategies involve problem solving, investigating, and researching, and creating solutions to authentic problems. Generative learning requires that students become investigators, seekers, and problem solvers and that teachers become facilitators and guides.
Authentic learning contexts and assessment strategies. Authenticity is important for creating an active learning environment with realistic problems that are relevant to students' needs and experiences. Assessment strategies should be connected to the learning contexts.
Cooperative support. Meaningful social interaction is the foundation for constructing rich environments for active learning. "Learning occurs in a social context through collaboration, negotiation, debate, peer review and mentoring." (Grabinger & Dunlap, 2000, p. 37). There are three components to interaction: (a) learner to content, (b) learner to learner, and (c) learner to instructor. First, the learner-to-content component occurs when students access online materials and receive task-oriented feedback from the facilitator. Second, learner-to-learner collaboration occurs when learners are engaged in discourse, problem-solving, and product building. Collaboration helps learners …