Reading between the Lines on Surveys. Bottom Up or Top Down: Which Way to Go for Research on the Scholarship of Teaching?

By Schmertzing, Richard W.; Stelzer, Jiri et al. | Academic Exchange Quarterly, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

Reading between the Lines on Surveys. Bottom Up or Top Down: Which Way to Go for Research on the Scholarship of Teaching?


Schmertzing, Richard W., Stelzer, Jiri, Schmertzing, Lorraine C., Academic Exchange Quarterly


Abstract

As the demand for use of technology in education increases so too should the attention to the scholarship of teaching within these technologically mediated environments. Interested in doing just that, a team of three professors worked together to assess the value of online research components in traditionally taught face-to-face classes. Fifty-six education students taking online classes responded to a Likert style survey that included a space for comments. Reported in this article are not only the generally positive results of the study, but also, and in some ways more importantly, interesting analysis issues that the research team dealt with in relation to the scholarship of teaching and survey research.

Introduction

Integrating technology into educational environments is rapidly shifting from a novelty employed by the technologically savvy to a requirement forced upon professors in higher education (GaPSC, 2001; NCATE, 2002; Simon Fraser University, 1998; Wright, 2000). As the demand for use of technology in education increases so too should the attention to the scholarship of teaching within these technologically mediated environments. Scholars of teaching have been characterized as faculty who "frame and systematically investigate questions related to student learning--the conditions under which it occurs, what it looks like, how to deepen it, and so forth" (Hutchings & Shulman, 2000, p. 48). There is hardly a more opportune time to ask such questions than when both the student and the teacher experience the change from face-to-face instruction to teaching and learning in an online environment.

Traditionally educational research has used surveys to gather data on classroom practices (Mayer, 1999). However, Mayer (1999) questions the validity of such data when he states, "the teaching process consists of complex interactions between students and teachers that a survey may not be able to do justice to" (p. 33). Although it is recognized that adding open ended questions to surveys can permit "respondents to express feelings, ideas, or reactions without being limited to preset categories" (Thomas, 1999, p. 47), survey methods texts also emphasize the complexity of analyzing responses to open ended questions and the amount of time involved by both researcher and subject as strong disadvantages to there use (Fowler, 2002; Thomas, 1999). Yet it is the contention of these authors that the advantages listed by Fowler when he states that surveys "permit the researcher to obtain answers that were unanticipated [and] may describe more closely the real views of the respondents" (p. 91) far outweigh the disadvantages when the issue at hand relates to the quality of teaching and learning.

In this article we demonstrate that in educational settings, and indeed we believe in all research on the scholarship of teaching, pragmatic action research (Levin & Greenwood, 2001) that is paradigmatically qualitative and logically inductive (Denzin & Lincoln, 1994) is a highly effective approach to understanding and improving practice. More specifically, we show the value of incorporating a qualitative component into survey research, particularly when the survey relates to the scholarship of teaching. We believe that such a mixed method design (Tashakori & Teddlie, 1998) has the potential to yield research results that might assist others in understanding more about the online teaching and learning environment and, consequently, improve practice.

The Study

Framework

As advocates of active learning (Race, 1998) and supporters of Boyer's suggestion to make research a standard component of undergraduate coursework (Boyer Commission, 1998), we are always looking for an opportunity to incorporate those activities into our classes. Such an opportunity presented itself to one of us who was able to move two required education classes to a WEBCT-based online learning environment that allowed him the opportunity to not only incorporate, but also emphasize research-related web-based activities in classes that had been taught in a traditional face-to-face format. …

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