THEMES AND STRATEGIES FOR TRANSFORMATIVE ONLINE INSTRUCTION: A Review of Literature and Practice

By Mayes, Robert; Luebeck, Jennifer et al. | Quarterly Review of Distance Education, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview
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THEMES AND STRATEGIES FOR TRANSFORMATIVE ONLINE INSTRUCTION: A Review of Literature and Practice


Mayes, Robert, Luebeck, Jennifer, Ku, Heng-Yu, Akarasriworn, Chatchada, Korkmaz, Özlem, Quarterly Review of Distance Education


INTRODUCTION

Institutions and instructors who provide distance education are faced with a rapidly expanding literature base for teaching courses online. As new programs and initiatives develop distance learning components, each is faced with the daunting task of sifting the rapidly expanding literature base in search of successful learning environments, instructional task formats, and communication strategies. Some of the existing frameworks and recommendations are based on research, while many others are built simply on the experiences of online educators.

In this article, we address the challenge of providing high-quality online instruction and review the current literature as it relates to six themes that have structured our approaches since 2005. In particular, we focus on the common context of our combined efforts - providing effective instruction in mathematics and professional development for mathematics educators at the secondary and collegiate levels.

Over the past 10 years, four graduate -level education programs have developed an extensive literature base on best practices in computer-mediated distance education in general and for mathematics education in particular. These projects include two National Science Foundation- funded Centers for Learning and Teaching, a mathematics and science project, and a successful master of science program for secondary mathematics teachers. Their combined review of the existing literature regarding online instruction (Mayes, Luebeck, Mays, & Niemiec, 2006) resulted in identification of six themes that informed the projects' efforts to provide quality online mathematics and mathematics education coursework. This foundation was recently expanded through another extended literature review in 2010. The process of mining the literature has been informed and enhanced by our own growing knowledge base gained through experimenting with course designs and delivery modes, interviewing successful online faculty, and conducting qualitative analysis of course materials and transcripts.

THEMES FROM THE ONLINE LEARNING LITERATURE

We first present the six themes and their associated indicators in matrix form (Table 1). This is followed by a summary of the literature and its embedded recommendations for each individual theme. We close with a discussion of how these themes and the literature supporting them interact with our own online experiences, which span 10 years of development and implementation and include audiences ranging from middle and high school teachers to doctoral-level teacher educators.

Learners and Instructors

Learners are drawn to online courses for their convenience and flexibility (Sullivan, 2001). Learner expectations for online courses include flexibility of time, place, and pace; affordability; relevance and applicability; competence; reliability and ongoing support; personal choice and personalization; and rapid feedback (Choy, McNickle, & Clayton, 2002; DiPaolo, 2002). In the early days of online instruction, courses were specialized, technology was limited, and students fit a narrow profile. The online student demographic has changed dramatically in recent years, as universities and education centers compete to provide online undergraduate and graduate courses for their students. In particular, the online setting provides a powerful and previously unavailable professional development alternative for teachers who are place -bound due to work, family, finances, or geography. Although the audience for our programs is comprised of adult learners - typically inservice secondary mathematics teachers - these themes and recommendations apply to all online learners.

Parker (2003) identified self-motivation and self-direction as learner characteristics that are essential to online success. Students need to develop "sophisticated abilities in problemsolving, making judgments, searching, analyzing, thinking critically, and collaborating with others" (Cowan, 2006, p.

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