A recent article in Educational Technology Research & Development stated, "The rate of online learning has increased expeditiously in the last ten years and at least 60% of students have taken at least one online course." However, despite the increase methods of delivery the quality of the delivery has remained in question. Many have suggested that online learning has truly enhanced the learning environment and lecture halls have also benefited from some form of online learning as part of its program. Although data has shown improvement in student learning using online means of communication, many still feel that the output of these types of environments are inferior to a face-to-face lecture. A major concern is student engagement that the quality of the engagement would decrease between student and teacher through the exclusive use of online learning, but research has pointed out that the formal and informal interaction between students and teachers increased and a different type of communal relationship developed.
Students and Learning
Student’s ability to interact is based on his or her learning communities and the active learning process, which then leads to personalization, self-actualization, higher self-regard and an opportunity to connect with other people. Also, student’s ability to learn autonomously viewed a student as one that is motivated and truly cares about his or her own learning. Students, who developed as autonomous learners, do so from dialogue with peers, the practice of engagement, a practice of student-centered learning and involving interaction, reflection and discussion.
According to report from the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska, Anchorage (ISER) report there were many areas that contributed to a less effective distance education program for Alaska Natives. ISER also interviewed representatives of 33 organizations that operated primarily in rural Alaska—because in many remote places, distance education courses are among the few sources of postsecondary education and training available locally. They asked rural employers whether they were satisfied with current distance education offering and what kinds of job openings they foresaw. Because their sample is small and local education authorities make up nearly half, they needed to be careful in making generalizations. Still, some findings stand out:
• Representatives of Native organizations, utility companies, and private businesses seem less satisfied with current distance education offerings than are local education authorities.
• Professional development for educators appears to be an area of sustained demand. This includes both pre-service courses for students in certification programs and counseling and in-service programs for instructional aides and teachers who want to be endorsed in special or bilingual education, technology, counseling, and specific subjects.
• Enhanced expertise in the use of computers, telecommunications, and technology is widespread need.
• More counselors are needed—to deal with substance abuse and domestic violence—as well as to work in schools.
• Health care professionals—especially nurses and community health aides—are in short supply, and it’s possible more training could be provided locally.
• Public administration, management, and accounting are among the skills Native organizations most often cited when talking about how they could benefit from more local education opportunities.
• Utilities and private businesses may need specific training and education that distance education courses could supply, but a more systematic and detailed survey would be needed to determine those specifics.
1. UA should develop a centralized management information system to track what courses are being offered by distance delivery, how they are delivered, and who is being served. There is currently no such centralized, ongoing system.
2. Programs and courses should be coordinated across campuses. Effective and efficient planning requires such centralized coordination, which currently does not exist.
3. In a rapidly expanding distance education market, UA must decide what products to create—and which to buy. UA should also identify niches (including technological niches) where it can most effectively concentrate its distance education resources.
4. A statewide external advisory committee or board should be established to coordinate between the existing internal advisory groups on each campus. Such an external advisory group would annually review distance education policies statewide.
Recent research on evaluation studies of online learning communities provided a systematic understanding of how such communities are evaluated; the findings provided that there is no one size fits all concept when it comes to online learning; instead an online learning environment must be a reflection of the needs of the learners. The areas are broken down into four taxonomic categories that recommend a comprehensive, on-going dialogue to measuring clusters or indicators or syndromes, of a particular online learning community (OLC). The four components are: evaluation purpose, evaluation approach, measures of evaluation and evaluation techniques.
Online Learning Environment
The basis of an online learning environment is to share information through the use of technology. The members become a cohort and begin to form not only a learning environment but an emotional one as well. The learners are reassured through the constant dialogue that commitment is being met from all members. The members also are aware that this is an emergent process and one that is not static but flexible in its means and modes of operation. The audience of pupils and teachers are relying on trust and mutual respect to carry the group through its completion. Through this informal environment, students are able to share professional and common interests that develop into virtual communities of practice. Students, who participated in an online class, felt more connected to the faculty, worked harder on projects, dialogued and asked more questions than traditional classrooms. Due to the social and emotional distance between students, many of them expressed not only ideas but their identity as well. This theory was seen as both a positive and negative aspect of online learning. Revealing more of yourself opens an individual up to more than just a learning experience but an emotional one as well; meaning that it is much more difficult to “hide” online vs. a traditional classroom setting.
However, before we start to implement anything, we must observe as much as possible the culture of the people we are trying to help. According to Barr (2007), “Three complementary and overlapping foci for interprofessional education (IPE) – preparing individuals for collaborative practice; learning to work in teams; and developing services to improve care – have been presented previously as a threefold classiﬁcation derived from a systematic review” (p. 1). “The fourth focus is less often found in the literature and is described more fully in this paper. It embodies six approaches to interprofessional learning, discussed in the paper, that are thought to be particularly relevant to the work of Pathways into Health with American Indian and Alaska Native tribes, and more widely wherever collaborative learning and practice are invoked to improve quality of community life” (p.1).
The part I will bring attention to is, Barr’s fourth focus, which is making sure that we look and listen to the community and the needs addressed by them before making decisions on their behalf. “This focus may appear, superﬁcially, much the same as the third. Indeed, it employs some of the same approaches and methods, but there are two critical differences. First, it substitutes improving communities for organizations. Second, it substitutes quality of life for quality of care. Its outcomes beneﬁt tribes, townships and neighbourhoods, not just the individuals and families that they comprise” (p. 2). The role of scholarship and research are vital components of learning, developing leadership and maintaining a learning organization. When examining educational issues in indigenous settings, we must consider the cultural and historical context, particularly in terms of who is determining what the rules of engagement are to be, and how those rules are to be implemented.
As indigenous people have begun to re-assert the “aboriginal rights” to self-determination and self-government and assume control over various aspects of their lives, one of the first tasks they have faced has been to re-orient the instructional infrastructures and practices that were established by their former oversees to make them more suitable to their needs as a people with their own worldview, identity and history (Barnhardt, 1991). In Alaska, indigenous people are a communicable group; their way of life is hearty, spiritual, subsistent, and displays a magnanimous disposition towards living a full life. Community of practices that evolve to share information and common objectives, will need to remain steadfast in preserving this already, rich culture. According to Barnhart (1991) Leadership should become a never-ending cycle continuing to learn as much about yourself as you do about others. Along the way, expect to face some tough questions, “Why am I here?” and “Who am I?” questions that are rarely encountered in our own familiar cultural worlds (pg. 12).
As the research continues, it is important to address the specific needs of the group such as identifying the purpose or purposes, values, influences, and success factors and barriers of the Online Learning Community (OLC.) It is imperative to explain both the summative and formative evaluations of a group. In OLCs, summative evaluation could be characterized as going beyond improvement to examine evidence of a learning community, such as collaborative knowledge construction and social networking among community members. Formative evaluation occurs as illuminative or integrative evaluation.
“Web-based instruction often appears to be tailored to the needs of a particular cultural group, recognising the specific learning needs, preferences and styles of a single, perhaps homogeneous, group of learners. However, in designing instruction, there is typically a tension between the need to ensure flexibility and access to learners of “multiple cultures”, while at the same time taking into account the need for localisation and a requirement to accommodate a particular set of learners’ cognitive styles and preferences” (Collis and Remmers, 1997; Damarin, 1998). The model of online learning and delivery requires specific values, styles of learning and cognitive preferences and tasks that go beyond just surface level comprehension, which will achieve a deeper level of learning and understanding; culture and learning are interwoven and inseparable; the ability to bring these two items together in a web-based learning environment is essential to influencing the micro culture of the learning environment. Learning then becomes a means of transforming the nature of human productivity and can quantitatively change the processes of cognition and amplify the cultural dimensions of communication, task analysis and problem solving.
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