Academic journal article Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue

OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONS IN QUALITATIVE RESEARCH: Keeping an Open Mind as Researchers

Academic journal article Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue

OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONS IN QUALITATIVE RESEARCH: Keeping an Open Mind as Researchers

Article excerpt

As technology advances, educational institutions work to appeal more to the nontraditional student often through the online platform. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2015, "5,954,121 students [were] enrolled in any distance education courses at degree-granting post-secondary institutions," and that number has continued to rise (National Center for Education Statistics, 2018, para. 1). Rapid growth within online programs requires rapid revision and constant reflection to meet the needs of students. Online education "has already succeeded in becoming an integral part of HE [Higher Education], and now it needs to turn its focus, from providing access to university education to increasing its quality" (Lee, 2017, p. 15). As online program advisors, professors, instructors, and instructional designers, we are tasked with improving the quality of our content, providing experiences to engage students, and conducting periodic research to gauge our progress.

THE STUDY PURPOSE

Typically, students enter online programs for the flexibility and convenience they provide (Gast 2013; Irani, Barbour Wilson, Slough, & Reiger, 2014). Coursework can be completed at home, after midnight, in pajamas, and with a glass of wine. Even though the nature of the online forum does not lend itself to the same kind of interaction that face-to-face instruction offers, institutions sometimes shy away from requiring much time in the field and often struggle to provide students with real-world interactions and experiences through an online forum. However, our communities and employers are seeking graduates who are well-prepared in their respective fields.

Trespalacios and Perkins (2016) found that there is a significant relationship between the learners' perception of learning in an online environment and their connection to their peers, the content, and the instruction. Therefore, we believed that project-based learning, such as field-based experiences, could be the answer to creating increased feelings of connectivity for distance education students. Project-based learning (PBL) within an online setting could help bridge the gap between "learning and doing" (Markham, 2011, p. 38). PBL that requires time in the field could serve as an alternative to the traditional written assignments and serve as "an alternative to the teacher-led, rote memorization style of teaching" (Stover, 2014, p. 60). The purpose of this case study was to explore the role that more field-based experiences could have in the perception of connectedness to the field within students enrolled in online curriculum and instruction courses at our university.

THE RESEARCH PLAN

Research supports the implementation of hands-on, field-based learning as an effective means for creating connectedness in online students (Markham, 2011; Stover, 2014; Trespalacios & Perkins, 2016). Therefore, three assignments for evaluation were chosen: a traditional written paper analyzing an education-related law, a field observation of a school board meeting, and a case study requiring classroom discussion to identify the appropriate ethical response to provided classroom scenarios. The three assignments requiring reflection for data examination were purposefully selected with the assumption that the first (written paper) would serve as a control group to contrast the other, more field-based assignments. The participants' perceptions and responses to questions about the traditional (written paper) assignment would be recorded and calibrated through comparison with their perceptions and responses to questions about the field-based experiential assignments. It seemed a simple but informative qualitative design.

THE UNEXPECTED RESULTS

In this qualitative study, the students responded to reflective questions before and after the selected assignment's completion. We also asked open-ended questions at the end of the course as triangulation of data. …

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