Active Learning and Preservice Teachers' Experiences in an Online Course: A Case Study

Article excerpt

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.

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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.

ACTIVE LEARNING

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. …