Best practice pedagogy is becoming more of an important issue as initial implementation technological problems and challenges are solved and online education becomes a more prevalent method of instruction. Whether it is professional development, training, or content courses, high school, undergraduate or graduate, electronic courses have saturated the education and training markets. The continuum of material contained in these electronic courses varies greatly from well-planned, -designed, and -delivered products to a text-based list of information. As a result, a plethora of best practice recommendations in distance education have been developed by a number of organizations to improve quality of distance courses.
The Concord Consortium, a researchbased group that investigates online technologies, states the following in their learning model for online teaching: "Asynchronous collaboration, explicit schedules, expert facilitation, inquiry pedagogy, community building, limited enrollment, high quality materials, purposeful virtual spaces and ongoing assessment" (http://www.concord.org/courses/cc_elearning_ model.html, 2000). A large part of the research conducted within the Concord Consortium focuses on the instructional design to promote inquiry and deeper thinking. The techniques utilized to promote the dual goals of inquiry and deeper thinking are visual models, peer collaboration, multiple revisions, scaffolding, and ongoing assessment. Other organizations have developed similar best practice lists that mirror the Concord model (Chickering & Ehrmann, 1996, PaIloff & Pratt, 2003).
It is this area of best practice distance education pedagogy that this article will focus, more specifically, on the design of high quality elements that promote higherlevel thinking. This article outlines an appeal for instructional technology and distance education (ITDE) managers to understand the strong connection between distance course design and student understanding, achievement, abandonment, and opportunity for plagiarism and, further, to consider that the use of visual tools is a research-supported technique for accomplishing these goals. There are, therefore, many questions that face the ITDE manager when deciding on appropriate and powerful methods to design distance education courses. Is distance education being taught in a manner that allows for students to learn and understand material, or is it presented in a largely text-based format? Does the present format of lesson presentation increase student achievement or are there better methods? Does the presentation of material affect student achievement or dropout rates? Can students understand complex materials via a text-only format? Do best practice online methods increase student satisfaction? Are there methods for addressing and reducing the incidence of online cheating and plagiarism? There is growing concern among online instructors that the methods used to instruct students may not be working at addressing the questions above. So, what does the ITDE manager look for when deciding to improve or initiate online instruction? The answer focuses on four areas of concern: higher level thinking, assessment, dropout or abandonment rates, and plagiarism or cheating and a best practice measure that, if implemented, will make a huge positive difference.
Deeper thinking and promotion of student inquiry have been an educational concern for many years. In online courses, it becomes a larger concern since many instructors, struggling with the technology, simply input large volumes of textual material into their online courses. Further, the level of thinking required from students is often limited. Most online courses, according to Jonassen (2002b) support "knowledge acquisition and reproductive learning." He expounds on the problem: "First, acquiring knowledge does not lead to or facilitate complex skill or problem solving development. Second and more insidiously, knowledge acquisition assumes an absolutist epistemology in which content is believed to be the truth" (p. 778). Peirce (2003) reiterates this view when he cautions against seeing students as containers to fill with knowledge. Additionally, he promotes the use of higher order thinking skills in online environments. Meyer (2002) concurs and cites the profusion of text-based instruction in distance environments that do not promote higher level thinking or problem solving.
One method of addressing these significant issues of concern that arise in online environments is the use of visual representations (Jonassen, 2002a; Meyer, 2002; Peirce, 2003). An unintended consequence of the use of visual representations may not only benefit from higher quality instruction but, as some studies (Jitendra, 2002) indicate, students are more satisfied with the use of visual representations in teaching. Watts (2003), in another study, calls for the application of quality face-toface good practice measures in distance education courses. She promotes the expanded use of critical thinking skills and renewed appreciation for diversity and relationships. She suggests that technology has the potential to increase appreciation of varied cultures and human diversity. Watts believes that technology can be the vehicle to bring people and cultures an increased sensitivity toward others. Jonassen (2002b) and Conrad and Donaldson (2004) also put forward methods to increase higher level thinking skills and critical thinking. They subscribe to the notion that distance education courses should not mirror the lecture-then-test format so common in face-to-face instruction, but it should be an opportunity to innovate and employ engaging and proven methods. Jonassen further explains a type of problem-solving activity called storyproblems, in which one essential component is the organizational graphic organizer. Jonassen also champions the Grafting of complex deeper thinking activities as a method for promoting systemic change in online teaching environments.
High-quality assessments go hand in hand with deeper thinking. Assessment in an online environment is becoming a crucial issue to understand and employ because of the free access to the Internet. This phenomenon has drastically increased the incidence of plagiarism among students in the online environment (Mason, 2002). For this reason, the use of quality and deep assessments must be adopted. The attributes of quality assessments, according to Mason, are: they are authentic and holistic; they are the vehicles for improvement; and they are reliable, valid, and cater to a variety of learning styles and needs. Visual representations meet each of these criteria as assessment tools. They require the production of a unique product; they cater to differing learning styles; they are tools for educational improvement and, by utilizing an assessment rubric developed by Hyerle (1996), they could produce a quantative score. Visual representation utilized as assessment tools are a powerful weapon in the arsenal of student improvement tools.
CHEATING AND PLAGIARISM
Plagiarism or outright cheating has arisen as a grave concern for online educators due to unlimited student access to material. One method of reducing the likelihood of students copying someone else's work is the use of visual representations, which produces a unique product that can not be copied from others, facilitating original work and thoughts. This forced processing of the material adds to student understanding and reduces the impact of rampant plagiarism (Mason, 2002).
DROPOUT AND ABANDONMENT RATES
The reported dropout rates from distance education courses are very high. A recent study by Wang, Foucar-Szocki, and Griffin (2003) has indicated that the current dropout rate from distance education courses is 26%. The analysis of reasons why students choose to drop out of distance courses indicates lack of motivation, poor instructional design, and lack of interactivity. Given these factors, instructional design again becomes a key issue for online courses. Wang et al. (2003) also recommend the use of graphics, among other strategies, to decrease the dropout rate and improve instructional design.
There have been some studies (Diaz, 2000, 2002; Institute for the Advancement of Education, 2003; Lorenzetti, 2002; Parker, 1999; Wang et al., 2003) conducted on dropout rates in distance education that will be synthesized and connected to use of graphic representations. Diaz (2002) recommends the use of good practice measures and further research to reduce online course dropout rate. He reiterates the view of extant literature in the field of distance education by stating that the student and course design factors are important for increasing the retention rate. The fulcrum for the balance of distance education success rests on student understanding and the delivery of content. Both of these criteria can be centered by the use of visual representations. Diaz's views are supported by anecdotal evidence (Carr, 2000; Lorenzetti, 2002) and quantitative evidence (Parker, 1999; Wang et al., 2003).
QUANTIFIED GOOD PRACTICE TECHNIQUES IN FACE-TO-FACE CLASSROOMS
One place to begin to explore the instructional design issue is with researchsupported best practice methods in the face-to-face classroom. Several studies have been conducted to quantify good practice methods by documenting their effect on student achievement. Marzano's ideas have endured; they are based on a firm foundation of well researched and documented studies. Marzano conducted a meta-analysis of instructional methods, examined the results of these studies to determine effect size, and then translated these results into percentile gains. The resulting data generated a list of nine instructional strategies that have been shown to increase student achievement based on the meta-analysis performed. The strategies from the synthesized studies listed in order of effect size from largest to smallest are, "Identifying similarities and differences, summarizing and note taking, reinforcing effort and providing recognition, homework and practice, nonlinguistic representations, cooperative learning, setting objectives and providing feedback, generating and testing hypotheses, questions, cues, and advance organizers" (Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock, 2001 p. 7). Marzano translated the effect size data to percentile gain, and these percentile gains ranged from 45-22 percentile points. These data indicate a powerful potential for instruction and increasing student achievement. Each of the instructional strategies mentioned above have good practice applications in distance education.
EFFECTIVE DISTANCE EDUCATION STRATEGIES AND DESIGN
Courses offered at a distance are still education and, therefore, while input and output modes are different, they still require a set of design strategies that accommodate good educational practice. Good design and educational foundational features of distance courses have been studied from a number of perspectives (Berge, 2002; Egan & Gibb, 1997; Hacker & Niederhauser, 2000; Jonassen, 2002a; Mayer, 2002; Robles & Braathan, 2002; Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2000; Watts, 2003; Winnips, 2001). What is known about this area of study is that good practice methods that work in a classroom also appear to work in distance education. According to Brabee Fisher, and Pitler (2004), today's technology supports Marzanos' nine strategies for increasing student achievement. Some of the supportive technologies are word processing technologies that accommodate making graphic organizers, the building of analogies and allowing for collaborative editing and dialoguing. Inspiration(TM) software is also a facilitative tool for the development of complex mapping and visual organizers. Digital media creation tools (Movie(TM), PowerPoint(TM), HyperStudio(TM); are also direct supporters of the creation of nonlinguistic representations.
In a study conducted by Mayer (2002), the component questions of visuospatial thinking effectiveness were investigated. Through experimentation, it was determined that deepest learning resulted from simultaneous dual input of verbal (spoken words) and visual (graphics). This is the definition of visuospatial thinking, and this is the condition in which true understanding takes place. Mayer (1989) also states that, according to his research on effect size differences for understanding with text alone versus text and graphics, "People learn more from words and graphics than from words alone." This idea has deep roots within human history; as Aristotle also said, "There can be no words without images." Mayer's view is a constructivist view of learning. Egan and Gibb (1997) also promote constructivist theory for designing online instruction. They studied the components of optimal student-centered learning tools and their application in telecourses. To maximize student outcomes, active, multimodal, visual activities must be employed in telecourse development. This trend promoting constructivism continues in a study by Berge (2002). They studied a variety of e-learning strategies to determine their effectiveness as tools of distance education. Their findings highlight the importance of interactions among students and between the instructor and students. They persist with emphasis of communication as a tool for development of self-reflection and inquiry skills.
Effect sizes were studied by Berge (2002) from a number of e-learning strategies, and the results indicated the importance of learner-centered approaches to instruction. The results also support the findings of Marzano et al. (2001) with regard to effect size of graphic representation use. Berge also urges distance educators to use effective learning strategies and construct valuable learning experiences for distant students. Mayer (1989) also measured effect size with use of visuals in distance education. He found significant differences in understanding between text alone and visuals and text combined. Hacker and Niederhauser (2000) also encourage active participation and collaborative problem solving along with effusive feedback and use of real-world examples in distance education.
Good practice distance techniques are also reiterated by the principles put forth by a number of authors in the field (Clark & Mayer, 2003; Conrad & Donaldson, 2004; Henry, 2002; Madrazo & Vidai, 2002; Meyer, 2002; Rosenberg, 2001; Schank, 2002; Simonson et al., 2000). These authors advocate the important aspects of the use of visuals in distance education to simplify, connect and explain thinking, increase collaboration and student understanding. Clark and Mayer (2003) promotes the use of technology in graphic form to increase understanding and support problem-solving skill development. Schank (2002) states that "memorization has no impact on behavior; it does not translate into learned skills" (p. 79). This notion of learning is rooted in the assumption that memorization meant learning had occurred. This assertion has little evidentiary support in fact or practice. Learning has occurred if the individual processes the information, anchors it in experience, and transcribes the information to the long term memory. Graphic representations facilitate and support this process. The assertions that graphic representations form a basis of distance education good practice measures are echoed by other studies and discussed below in multiple facets.
Cyrs calls for increasing the visual thinking skills because the new technologies lurking in our future will allow for more access to information for students. This freer access and improved technological tools should not be an invitation to continue less-than-exemplary educational practices, but should free instructors to deliver similar content with better methods and spectacular results (Cyrs, 1997a, 1997b). Cyrs also calls for the essential and expanded use of visual tools to sift, organize, and relate the multitudes of information now available to students, and he encourages online educators to expand their teaching skills to the capacity of the technologies available using the best distance education methods available.
Scaffolding is one unique method for online instruction that structures teacherstudent interactions for maximum understanding (Winnips, 2001). Scaffolding forwards the notion of the production of a quality product or task with the goal of less teacher support and more student independence. Teacher support is in the form of modeling and coaching with the end result, after multiple teacher-student interactions, of true understanding and increased motivation. Employing scaffolding in conjunction with graphic organizers is a visual method for showing student growth or progress through a complex unit.
Nonlinguistic representations as a separate category of good practice strategies in distance education have been researched by numerous people (Astleitner, 2002; Cyrs, 1997a, 1997b; Wolsk, 2003) and are an effective tool to increase student achievement in a distant environment. The results of these studies indicate a positive correlation between increased achievement on a particular measure and use of a graphic representation.
Early work by Bernard and Naidu (Bernard & Naidu, 1992; Naidu & Bernard, 1992) developed to assess the relative strength of the use of concept mapping in distance education produced conflicting results. Although the use of concept maps had a significant effect in cognitive outcomes, a distinction was made between high- and low-persistence concept mappers. After the data were disaggregated based on the level of persistence, the results demonstrated that the high-persistence mappers scored considerably higher on the cognitive measure while the lowpersistence mappers achieved much lower on the measure. This finding, according to the authors, could have been due to the increased time spent with the academic material while mapping. Although there were many limitations to the studies (clarity between high- and low-persistence mapping groups, selection bias, group equivalence) the authors conclude that the use of solid, research-based face-to-face classroom strategies can be of great benefit in distance education settings.
There is a fundamental shift in interaction, learning paradigms, and assessment techniques that must result from the change as one moves from face-to-face to distance teaching. Effective online assessment must be authentic, ongoing, multidimensional, and reflective to be effective in a distant environment. The added benefit is that online assessments allow the instructor to give weight to each student response to assess his or her own individual understanding (Robles & Braathan, 2002). The move away from multiple choice knowledge level assessment techniques in distance education is mirrored by Peirce (2003), Mason (2002) and Conrad (Conrad & Donaldson, 2004).
There is a call from experts in the field to have distance education students move away from regurgitative, text-based knowledge education to in-depth, higherorder thinking activities for two purposes; deeper understanding and plagiarism avoidance. Graphic representations also have the potential to increase student achievement in distance classes and to reduce dropout rates. These two results have enormous impact in the field because a serious look at factors that allow for student success in the ever-widening and pervasive field of distance education is necessary.
So, as the ITDE manager is faced with the myriad of questions and pressures that require balancing cost and benefit, there is a call for consideration of the issue of quality in online course design. The potential benefits of this consideration run the gamut from reduction of plagiarism, to deeper thinking, and movement away from knowledge based-only material, to more student satisfaction, to better retention rates. While wading through the choices for online instructional design, ITDE managers should look for the following essential components: high quality assessments that focus on unique and demonstrative products, visual delivery modes that promote higher level thinking and inquiry and high quality, and visual design that promotes understanding and student satisfaction.
ITDE MANAGERS SHOULD LOOK FOR THE FOLLOWING ESSENTIAL COMPONENTS: HIGH QUALITY ASSESSMENTS THAT FOCUS ON UNIQUE AND DEMONSTRATIVE PRODUCTS, VISUAL DELIVERY MODES THAT PROMOTE HIGHER LEVEL THINKING AND INQUIRY AND HIGH QUALITY, AND VISUAL DESIGN THAT PROMOTES UNDERSTANDING AND STUDENT SATISFACTION.
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Lynn M. Smith, Instructional Support Specialist, High School Science, DoDDS-EuropeCMR 41 9 Box 1 72 APO, AE 091 02-01 72. Telephone: 011-49-172-7020620. E-mail: Lynn.Smith@eu.dodea.edu…