You are on page 1of 59

Faculty of Education Brandon University Centre for Aboriginal and Rural Education Studies

Final Report of the Research Inquiry into Technology-Based Distance Education Delivery in Grade 9-12 Schools in Southwestern Manitoba

December 2009

Final Report of the Research Inquiry into Technology-Based Distance Education Delivery in Grade 9-12 Schools in Southwestern Manitoba

Michael Nantais, M.Ed. Assistant Professor Brandon University Clark Gawletz, B.Sc. Graduate Student Brandon University Marion Terry, Ph.D Associate Professor Brandon University

December 2009

Acknowledgments The research team would like to thank several people for their assistance and input into this inquiry. The first is Karen Rempel, Coordinator of BU CARES for her guidance, suggestions and for gently cracking the whip. Mr. Jerry Storie, Dean of Education and Dr. Arnie Novak, Chair of Graduate Studies at Brandon University, were very supportive of our project. One of the main drivers of the research was Mr. Dale Peake, Superintendent of Southwest Horizon School Division. Dale, a forward thinker, is always interested in improving education and was a good source of advice and input. Manitoba Education, Citizenship and Youth consultants Howard Griffith and Donald Girouard were also supportive and provided us with good suggestions and input. We also thank the superintendents of southwestern Manitoba school divisions for allowing their staff to take part in this study. Finally, we want to acknowledge the educators who agreed to be interviewed and/or part of our focus group. The discussions we had were stimulating and their input was forthright and detailed. Students in Manitoba are in good hands with such professionals, some of whom are listed below: Dale Peake, Southwest Horizon School Division Teresa Meggison, Southwest Horizon School Division Tracy Salamondora, Southwest Horizon School Division Janis Williams, Southwest Horizon School Division Dave Adams, Fort La Bosse School Division Kevin Tuthill, Fort La Bosse School Division Wanda Elliott, Fort La Bosse School Division Holly Forsyth, Fort La Bosse School Division Cam Mateika, Swan Valley Regional Secondary School Howard Griffith, Manitoba Education, Citizenship and Youth Donald Girouard, Manitoba Education, Citizenship and Youth

Table of Contents
Acknowledgments ....................................................................................................................................................... 2 Table of Contents ........................................................................................................................................................ 4 Introduction ................................................................................................................................................................. 6 Web-based Courses: A Manitoba Education Perspective ....................................................................................... 7 The Study ..................................................................................................................................................................... 8 Purpose ..................................................................................................................................................................... 8 Method ...................................................................................................................................................................... 8 Literature Review ....................................................................................................................................................... 9 Technology ............................................................................................................................................................. 10 Support ................................................................................................................................................................... 11 Time ........................................................................................................................................................................ 13 Instruction and Design ........................................................................................................................................... 13 Instructor Characteristics ....................................................................................................................................... 15 Learner Characteristics .......................................................................................................................................... 17 Findings...................................................................................................................................................................... 18 Policy ...................................................................................................................................................................... 20 Technology ............................................................................................................................................................. 20 Support ................................................................................................................................................................... 21 Technical Support .............................................................................................................................................. 22 Parental Support ................................................................................................................................................ 22 Administrative Support....................................................................................................................................... 22 Onsite Support.................................................................................................................................................... 22 Professional Learning ........................................................................................................................................ 23 Time ........................................................................................................................................................................ 24 Instruction and Design ........................................................................................................................................... 24 Strategies and Tools ........................................................................................................................................... 24 Communication .................................................................................................................................................. 26 Flexibility and Pacing ........................................................................................................................................ 27 Assessment ......................................................................................................................................................... 27 Social Aspects .................................................................................................................................................... 28 Instructor Characteristics ....................................................................................................................................... 29 Learner Characteristics .......................................................................................................................................... 29 Discussion .................................................................................................................................................................. 30 Policy ...................................................................................................................................................................... 30 Technology ............................................................................................................................................................. 31 Support ................................................................................................................................................................... 32 Technical Support .............................................................................................................................................. 32 Parental Support ................................................................................................................................................ 32 Administrative Support....................................................................................................................................... 33 Onsite Support.................................................................................................................................................... 33 Professional Learning ........................................................................................................................................ 33 Time ........................................................................................................................................................................ 34 Instruction and Design ........................................................................................................................................... 34 Strategies & Tools .............................................................................................................................................. 35 Communication .................................................................................................................................................. 35 Flexibility & Pacing ........................................................................................................................................... 36 Assessment ......................................................................................................................................................... 36 Social Aspects .................................................................................................................................................... 37

Instructor Characteristics ....................................................................................................................................... 37 Learner Characteristics .......................................................................................................................................... 38 Recommendations ..................................................................................................................................................... 40 Policy ...................................................................................................................................................................... 40 Technology ............................................................................................................................................................. 40 Support ................................................................................................................................................................... 41 Time ........................................................................................................................................................................ 41 Instruction and Design ........................................................................................................................................... 42 Instructor Characteristics ....................................................................................................................................... 43 Learner Characteristics .......................................................................................................................................... 43 Other ....................................................................................................................................................................... 43 Concluding Comments ............................................................................................................................................. 45 References .................................................................................................................................................................. 46 Appendices ................................................................................................................................................................. 50 Appendix A: Script for Interviews ........................................................................................................................... 51 Appendix B: Interview Questions ........................................................................................................................... 52 Appendix C: Letter to Focus Group Participants ................................................................................................... 53 Appendix D: Consent Form for Focus Group Participants .................................................................................... 54 Appendix E: Focus Group Materials ...................................................................................................................... 55

Table of Tables Table 1: Explanation of some terms used in this report . 7 Table 2: Summary of themes in the data .. 19 Table 3: Some Software Applications mentioned in the interviews 26 Table 4: Summary of Recommendations . 44

Introduction The past decade has seen a steady growth in distance learning opportunities, fueled by improvements in Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and demands for greater educational opportunity. According to Hannum and McCombs (2008), "Online learning communities are fast becoming a reality that can transform thinking and practice beyond todays traditional models and boundaries of schools and educational systems" (p. 17). Christensen, Horn and Johnson (2008) call online education a "disruptive innovation." They explain that the technology is originally met with some skepticism and caution, appearing as "a blip on the radar and then, seemingly out of nowhere, the mainstream rapidly adopts it" (p. 91). In the case of online learning, the most rapid growth has been at the post-secondary level. In the United States, the number of post-secondary students enrolled in at least one online course grew from 1.6 million in 2002 to almost 4 million in 2007, which represents 21.9% of the total post-secondary enrollment (Allen & Seaman, 2008, p. 5). In K-12 education in the United States, enrollment grew from about 200,000 students to 2 million from 2002 to 2007, and in 44 states there are significant programs of online learning (Cavanaugh, 2009, p. 2). In Canada, a similar trend can be seen. The Canadian Council on Learning (2009) reports that in 2003-2004, 36% of secondary schools in Canada had students taking online courses (p. 44). Not surprisingly, more rural secondary schools (40%) as opposed to urban schools (36%), offered online classes (Canadian Council on Learning, p. 44). Of even greater interest are the results of the 2008 Speak Up survey (Project Tomorrow, 2009) in the United States: "almost half of 6-12th graders have researched or are interested in taking an online course and more than 40% believe that online courses should be part of an ideal school" (p. 1). The factors influencing the need for and growth of online education in K-12 are many and varied. Manitoba Education, Citizenship and Youth (MECY, 2002) suggests several factors for this growth, including small, rural schools with small populations. Such schools are experiencing declining enrollments, and are thus either unable to offer a wide variety of courses or lack teachers with expertise in some subjects. Haughey (2002) suggests other reasons, including the need for an alternative to students who have timetable conflicts, students with attendance difficulties for a variety of reasons such as participation in sports or music, or students who require a prerequisite course. Regardless of the reason, there is a growing demand for online opportunities, because at the same time advances in ICTs are bringing "advantages to the learning process that are not readily available in other ways" (Canadian Council on Learning, 2009, p. 13). Research into the effectiveness of online learning has been conducted for many years. The results of these studies have been varied; however, the consensus is that there is no significant difference in the effectiveness of online courses as opposed to traditional face-to-face courses (Cavanaugh, 2001; Hiltz, 1997; Means et al., 2009; Sitzmann et al., 2007; Zhao et al., 2005). Many studies also point out that blended or hybrid courses, which use a combination of both face-to-face and online instruction, are most effective (Picciano & Seaman, 2009, Sitzmann et al.). It should be noted, however, that most of these studies have examined the post-secondary world, a shortcoming when interested in the application of online learning to K-12 education.

As noted earlier, the research literature is dominated by studies conducted in post-secondary settings. Clearly there is a need to investigate all aspects of K-12 online education and to examine ways to make it effective in the K-12 arena. The purpose of this study was to determine some of the characteristics of online education that are important for successful online teaching and learning. The data were collected in a series of interviews and a focus group meeting with educators involved in online learning in southwestern Manitoba. Thus, the perspective taken for this study was from that of the online educator. Table 1 provides a list of terms used throughout this report. Web-based Courses: A Manitoba Education Perspective Web-based courses are developed by MECY, but are not delivered by the department. These courses, based on the Blackboard Course Management System (CMS), are hosted by MECY as a service to school divisions. Teachers may request a course developed by MECY and use it as a resource with their face-to-face classes or as an online course. In all of these scenarios, the teachers have the ability to change the course structure to make it their own. However, it is expected that courses remain based on Department curricula or with the approval of MECY. Virtual schools, such as those run in other provinces and states, are not being considered by MECY. School divisions (accredited institutions) are entrusted with offering courses and the granting of credits. Accordingly, it is hoped that "implementation of the distributed learning model of online distance learning will result in a variety of online courses being available for a range of learners located both within and beyond traditional school division/district boundaries" (MECY, 2002, p. 9). MECY does provide training and support for online educators as well as a service in which the attempt is made to collect and share information about courses being offered in various school divisions across the province.

Table 1: Explanation of some terms used in this report

The Study Purpose The purpose of this study was to investigate technology-based distance education by exploring effective practices for course design, delivery and instruction. The most common method for technology-based delivery of courses in southwestern Manitoba is online courses, which most often use the Blackboard CMS and/or interactive television; as well, at least one division uses the Moodle CMS. This study was not designed to compare or to judge the technology used for delivery. Yates (2004) states that "research cannot be judged (taken up, used, approved, initiated) by practitioners as good research if the practitioner or the practitioner community has not heard of it" (p. 166). It was the researchers intention to produce a document that contains robust qualitative analysis and recommendations that can be used as a guideline for future information and communications technology policy and implementation that fit the needs of school divisions in southwestern Manitoba. The study was designed to provide a sounding board for the voices in the field, the teachers and administrators involved in the delivery of technology-based delivery of distance education. The researchers wanted to establish what the practitioners were experiencing on a daily basis, and what impact emerging technology played in the successful implementation of online education. As Friesen (2009) contends, educational technology must be studied from the grassroots to understand the how the teacher and student react to the use of these twenty-first century learning tools: E-learning research must also take into account practice, specifically the practices of teaching and learning. Practices of these kinds are not always anticipated in the technical design and improvement of ICTs in learning, and do not always occur right at or directly through a technological interface. As the study of the use of new technologies in teaching and learning, e-learning research consequently also needs to focus on what students and teachers are actually doing with technology in often complex circumstances and how they may be adapting it in unforeseen ways to their own educational practices and priorities (p. 9). Method The first phase of this study was a review of the literature. A discussion was also held with Manitoba Education, Citizenship and Youth consultants in order to obtain an overview of the state of online learning in Manitoba. In addition, one of the researchers attended a retreat of administrators and board members from a local school division in order to get a feel for the needs and challenges faced. The second phase of the study examined the state of online teaching and learning in rural southwestern Manitoba. The researchers' aim was to gain an understanding about the use of digital technology in distance delivery in this part of the province. Superintendents in southwestern Manitoba school divisions were asked to provide names of online teachers, administrators, and computer consultants who could be contacted for interviews and attendance in a focus group meeting. As a result, interviews were held with six practicing, experienced 8

online teachers representing two school divisions and four schools. Permission was obtained for recording of the interviews for subsequent analysis (see Appendix A). The guiding questions for the interview can be found in Appendix B. Notes were taken by the researchers during interviews and recordings of the interviews were transcribed for analysis. Information gathered from the literature and the interviews were then used to guide the focus group meeting. This meeting, which consisted of eight educators in addition to the researchers, was split into two groups for discussions. Focus group participants represented three school divisions, including administrators, consultants and teachers. The outline used to guide the discussion can be found in Appendix E. Discussions from the focus group were recorded by participants on chart paper and then transcribed. During the focus group meeting, discussion points were shared for further elaboration by the group. Transcripts of interviews and focus group notes were analyzed for key themes. The themes, garnered from practicing educators and the literature, formed the basis of the recommendations made in this report. For ease of reading, pseudonyms have been assigned to the research participants. Literature Review The literature on online learning is extensive and varied. It ranges from comparisons of online learning methods, to face-to-face classrooms, to an examination of course features that enhance achievement. The development of the Internet and dynamic improvements in technology have created the current trend towards online learning programs, but the topic has been covered in the literature for over a decade (Hara & King, 1999; Hiltz, 1997; Wegerif, 1998). There has been a dramatic increase in the number of articles and publications available concerning online learning in its many forms. As a result, there are many studies aimed at the general state of online education in a variety of jurisdictions (Allen & Seaman, 2008; Bernard et al., 2004; Means et al., 2009). Think tanks and research institutes are also good sources of information on the general state of online learning (Canadian Council on Learning, 2009; Canadian Teachers Federation, 2003). The bulk of research is in the area of higher education, so results from these studies must be taken as tentative when applying them to secondary education. Adult learners have different motivations for learning, are more mature, and have different reasons for taking courses. Several studies did address K-12 online education, however, and this body of knowledge continues to grow with the increasing popularity of online course delivery, as discussed in the introduction to this report. The literature review provides an overview of a number of the key themes in online learning: Technology Support this section includes technical, onsite, parental, administrative, and professional development Time Instruction and Design this section covers strategies and tools, communication, flexibility and pacing, assessment, and social aspects Instructor Characteristics Learner Characteristics

Technology A study of online learning requires an understanding of the technology used, and the methods by which the technology is employed, in the delivery of this form of education. There are numerous discussions about technology in the literature, owing to the central role that this theme plays in the online teaching equation. For example, Passey (2006) offers a perspective of the pedagogical needs of teachers by considering a selection of educational technologies. Passey examines the wide scope of digital technology, and how individual disciplines can adopt the technology that suits their purposes. Burbules and Callister (2005) present an assessment of the need to embrace a more enlightened view of technology as neither panacea nor pariah, but as a means to augment the learning experience in new and interesting ways. The authors contend that technology has allowed people the chance to learn, discuss, and embrace higher education offcampus in a forum that was previously available only to those on a college campus. Existing modes of course delivery can be enhanced by properly introducing technology into the structure to create a blended learning environment. Morrison and Lowther (2002), Coppa (2004), and Mandinach and Honey (2008) all examine the role of technology in the improvement of course delivery in schools. Their conclusions indicate that proper integration is critical to successful digital teaching and learning. Kim, Hannifan, and Bryan (2007) produced a pedagogical framework for the implementation of technology into science education practices. The study provided an analysis of factors influencing students inquiry at the macro-level (the systemic level, reform and standards), the teacher level (teacher community), and the classroom level (technology-supported inquiry class). The study provides a useful measurement instrument for further examination of technology integration. Kim et al. (2007) conclude, "The interactions among the standards, teachers community, and classroom contexts are key to exploring the role of technologies. It is not the innovative technologies per se that have an impact on students learning, but the interactive and iterative learning environments" (p. 1025). Deaney, Ruthven, and Hennessy (2006) found several outcomes from a study aimed at finding a better understanding of teacher thinking about integrating use of computer-based tools and resources into subject teaching and learning in the secondary school" (p. 477). The teacherresearchers in this British study volunteered to employ technology-based activities in their classrooms. They taught subjects ranging from science to language arts, and were to articulate at the outset attainable goals for the integration of information and communication technology (ICT). There were signs that teachers were thoughtfully and responsively modifying and extending their established repertoires of practice through incorporation of technology, and that patterns of classroom interaction were shifting towards more collaborative ways of working. Moreover, these adaptations, though gradual, appear to be robust (p. 479). The authors also state that a follow-up study indicated that teachers involved in the project continued to implement technology into their teaching approach, and extended their knowledge to colleagues within their departments. Although this study looked specifically at the face-to-face classroom, its lessons are readily applicable to online education.

10

Support Support systems are vital to successful online course delivery. From onsite support for hardware and software issues, to professional learning, support is a critical element for delivering online courses. Onsite technical assistance is perhaps the most necessary support elements for teachers and learners in online education. The literature clearly states that the presence of an individual or a team of information and communication technologists is essential for an online course to operate with few problems (Hannum & McCombs, 2008). The need for professional learning is evident in the literature (De Simone, 2006; Mishra & Koehler, 2006). Matzen and Edmunds (2007) examined the usefulness of professional learning aimed at introducing technology to classroom teachers. Their findings suggest that the method used to instruct teachers about technology will influence the future use of that technology in the classroom. The authors learned that professional learning sessions must inform teachers how to integrate technology into their teaching style. Otherwise, Matzen and Edmunds state, Professional development experiences that merely teach technology skills would result, at the least, in no technology use at all, or at the most, in a technology use consistent with teachers' existing instructional practices. . . . When, however, the technology is placed in the context of a specific instructional practice, teachers may use technology to support the demonstrated instructional practice (p. 427). Borko et al.(2009) discuss the problems in integrating technology in education. Technology changes at such a rapid pace that it raises many issues for educational institutions, ranging from the cost of these technologies to the fact that "the knowledge required to use digital technologies is never fixed. Accordingly, teachers and teacher educators must continually keep up with the changing opportunities and demands created by new technologies" (p. 4). Thus, professional learning, in both technology and pedagogy, is crucial for teachers. Borko et al. (2009) further suggest that the investment in technology and professional learning be "made wisely and efficiently so that they add value to the learning experience" (p. 5). The new technologies add the ability to deliver learning opportunities to educators. The use of video, social networks, and online professional learning programs allow support and just-in-time support. DiPietro, Ferdig, Black, & Preston (2008) conducted an extensive study of virtual school instructors. Although the authors contend that there is much to be learned from future research, their contribution yielded valuable insight into numerous aspects of online delivery, including productive professional learning. DiPietro et al. state, The knowledge gained from the results of this study can be valuable for the content included in virtual school professional development programs, providing a basis for extending in-service teachers knowledge about the selection of pedagogy and technology that are appropriately matched to the content and medium of

11

delivery for reconsidering the professional development opportunities offered to virtual school teachers. (p. 28) Deaney, Ruthvin, and Hennessy (2007) conducted a study that approached the integration of ICT applications into schools from a holistic perspective. This article provided a thorough overview of the process involved in introducing digital technology into an educational institution. Deaney et al.s paper looks at the challenges of ICT in an entire school, not just the classroom. The authors summarized their findings with a number of recommendations: To take a whole school approach in prioritizing development and coordination of ICT use through the school development plan and corresponding strategies. To offer opportunities for exploration and familiarization with technology, in order to boost teacher confidence and build up levels of technological expertise. To increase levels of technical support. To provide time, access to reliable resources and opportunities for individual and collaborative development and trailing, critical reflection and refinement of pedagogic strategies concerning ICT use in subject teaching and learning. To integrate ICT into departmental schemes of work and everyday classroom practice. To offer teachers informal and formal opportunities for long-term collegial interaction; guidance and practical/moral support - involving sharing ideas, strategies and resources, both within and between subject departments; these might include facilitating observation of colleagues lessons, presentation at meetings, peer training initiatives, electronic archiving of lesson materials. To exploit unrealized potential through extension of established practices to new (topic and subject) domains. (Deaney et al., p. 91)

One integral aspect of support is the role of mentors. The presence of an experienced and competent online instructor can be a tremendous support component for newcomers to online teaching. Ultimately, an online community of dedicated instructors would result in a collaborative approach to mentoring. Each mentor possesses a particular skills set, and a virtual community of many tutors offers even more possibilities. De Simone (2006) comments on creating an online community to facilitate teaching and learning in distance education: It is critical that training of DE teachers evolve and expand to incorporate issues such as defining ones role as a teacher in a virtual learning environment, building interactive learning communities of responsible learners, and creating a supportive collegial infrastructure so as to minimize not only isolation but also to increase feelings of belonging to a community of scholars, learners, and compassionate individuals. (p. 184) Norton and Hathaway (2008) compared the use of a group versus an individual mentor as a means of providing instruction for an online course. There was no consensus from the participants about the relative merits of the instructional styles. However, Norton and Hathaway indicated that there are many components that successful mentors must possess: 12

It is essential that those who choose or are asked to serve as instructor, facilitator, and/or mentor are well prepared to carry out the role of a skilled online guide. Those who serve in this role must understand the online learning process, the structure of the learning environment, the need to build relationships with learners, strategies for supporting and promoting learner self-regulation, and methods for summarizing and evoking student learning by asking thoughtful questions, building connections with prior learning and with future practice, eliciting reflective thinking, and promoting problem-solving. (p. 490) The role of a mentor, then, is crucial to creating an environment of learner comfort and confidence in online instruction. Good preparation and attention to detail will ensure that the experience is ultimately beneficial for everyone involved in the process of online teaching and learning. Time The time required to develop and deliver online courses is considerable. There is a great deal to consider when one makes the decision to teach in an online format. Course content must be developed for delivery in an online mode. The instructor must have a facility and ease with digital technology, or be willing to invest time and effort to become ICT literate. The literature does not contain as much information regarding the amount of time required as it does for many of the other themes in this study. This is of great interest, owing to the importance the interviewees afforded this topic. One author, Conceicao (2006), paid attention to the amount of time online instructors invested in their course development. Conceicao comments, Teaching an online course required more time to design and deliver instruction than a face-to-face course. Study participants explained that designing an online course required more time from the instructor because it involved (a) organizing content, (b) presenting information that addressed different learning styles, and (c) providing lecture notes in advance (p. 35). Although Conceicaos study was aimed at post-secondary instructors, the findings are of note because they speak to the universal challenge of designing and offering an online course. Instruction and Design Online learning that works is the product of proper instruction and design, and encompasses several key facets. Successful online delivery requires superior strategies and tools, as well as good communication between teacher and learner, flexibility and pacing, assessment techniques, and the social aspects of online delivery that create an online community for both teacher and students. Conceicao (2006) also examined the symbiotic relationship that exists between instructors and learners: In this new educational paradigm, teaching is no longer a one-way mode of instruction with the faculty member as the only expert. Knowledge becomes an activity shared by the online learning community. Expertise is part of a collective effort between learners and the instructor. Teaching becomes a constructive 13

process because each phase involves a challenging situation that needs to be resolved. (p. 44) The literature is replete with examples of what works, and what does not, in online education. For example, Ryan and Beaulieu (2009) discuss several key elements in instruction and design. They write about the importance of good content, pedagogy, assessment, technology support and infrastructure. These are all characteristic of successful online course development. Durrington, Berryhill, and Swafford (2006) offer a number of ideas for increasing interactivity, a key component in the design of an online course, according to the research on the topic. Another theme was the need to effectively communicate the content of the course in the online format. Hobgood (2003) makes several suggestions regarding online course development and delivery, and stresses the importance of communication in such a course, including the key role of the instructor in discussions. Murphy and Coffin (2003) also stress the importance of human interaction in online course delivery. Their study focused on the synchronous delivery of a high school French language course in Newfoundland, using a web-based video conferencing system. Murphy and Coffin note that the teacher is central to good communication. The instructor must emphasize the use of the technology tools to encourage student interaction. Northcote (2008) comments that teaching methods, not technology, are the most important elements in designing properly functioning online courses. Northcote offers several recommendations regarding instilling a sense of place in an online environment, including humanism, socialization, student contributions, teacher presence, graphic tools, and a guiding structure. Good design is an integral component of online course construction. Finding exemplars of solid design will require more research and diligent attention to what works well with existing applications. Among other factors, DiPietro et al. (2008) examined general characteristics of online instructors. They hoped that further examination of these instructor attributes would lead to the development of a specific set of guidelines for designing online courses. DiPietro et al. state, Future research needs to take these findings and turn them into surveys or observation tools for broader use. Armed with valid and reliable feedback regarding best practices, it will be possible to build the framework for an online education certification that will help to promote a standardized model for exemplary instruction in K-12 virtual schools. (p. 29) Anagnostopoulos, Basmadjian, and McGrory (2005) examined how teachers and students in a virtual classroom constructed social relations in synchronous and asynchronous web-based forums. Discourse-analytic methods were used to analyze the data. Background research for their report indicated that both teachers and students of online courses are more satisfied and learn more if they make themselves socially present, and that this predicts substantive engagement with ideas and meaningful discourse. Online courses allow the combination and recombination of old and new social conventions. Anagnostopoulos et al. examined the creation of new social spaces and what implications this holds for teachers teaching in a virtual classroom. They analyzed the postings in both synchronous and asynchronous forums in a university course, the goal of which was to specify how teachers and students constructed social relations as they interacted. They found that the online teacher must consider the challenges and potential of being 14

de-centred. Due to the separation of time and space in asynchronous forums, the teacher has fewer ways to respond while discussion is happening. The decentralizing of the teacher reflects the restructuring of traditional power relationships of the classroom. Students, on the other hand, have more control of their learning, which may lead to more engagement and exploration of course topics. Anagnostopoulos et al. stated that the challenge is for teachers to find ways to support student independence from the sidelines, and that online courses make student-controlled social spaces possible. Dipietro et al. (2008) comment that classroom management is often viewed as being a non-existent factor in online delivery. However, their research indicated that this was not the case. As DiPietro et al. explain, Classroom management in online education was a key component to quality online instruction. It helped to build a community of practice within the classroom (p. 28). The authors remark that more study of this topic is essential to gain an improved understanding of online course design. Albirini (2007) provides insight into the present state of ICT integration into the education system, by focusing on the movement away from an industrial model of education to an information age paradigm. Albirini comments that the crisis stems from a lack of new methods of instruction to accompany the technology initiatives. Thus, there is a need to re-invent educational models to meet the challenges of a post-industrial society. Conceicao (2006) writes of designing learner-centred online course design. It is incumbent that the course development takes the learner into account: The course design focused on developing learners' thinking skills and involved regular interactions with the learners. Interactions and learning activities were structured in a way that challenged learners' comprehension of content, encouraged new ways of thinking about course concepts, and fostered different approaches to thinking. (Conceicao, p. 42) Instructor Characteristics It is imperative that online instructors own a competent skill set for teaching in an online environment. Several studies have been dedicated to the characteristics of an online instructor. For example, Archambault and Crippen (2009) conducted a survey of K-12 virtual school teachers across the United States, in an effort to examine the characteristics and experiences of individual instructors. The researchers studied the demographics of the teachers, and found them to be experienced, innovative, and willing to be challenged. Kemshal-Bell (2001) prepared a report for the New South Wales Department of Education, based on examining the characteristics of good online teachers. Kemshal-Bell surveyed practitioners and students to develop a set of skills for online teachers. The following skill sets were found to be integral to becoming an effective online instructor: relating to the learner in an online environment managing the online environment 15

communicating effectively online using online learning tools in concert with effective online teaching methods

Durrington et al. (2006) offered several ideas to increase interactivity, a key point in successful online education. Although aimed at college instructors, the writers identify the need for online instructors to engage their students in open and constructive dialogue. Durrington et al. state, The important thing for instructors to remember is that although an online environment is different from face-to-face instruction, the goal of creating a stimulating, interactive learning environment for all students is the same, regardless of context (p. 193). DiPietro et al. (2008) conducted interviews with sixteen virtual school teachers, and found that good practice in face-to-face delivery does not always translate to success in an online environment (p. 12). They derived four themes that are critical for successful online instructors: general characteristics classroom management strategies pedagogical strategies: - assessment - engaging students with content - making courses meaningful for students - providing support - communication and community technology DiPietro et al. also discuss the shortcomings of research, especially in K-12, as well as specific content areas. The authors supply numerous charts with exemplars of these general traits. Their study is perhaps the most exhaustive examination of multiple aspects of online instruction. While all virtual school courses are delivered online, there are no criteria facilitating the selection of courseware tools and online resources to support student learning in various content areas. Mishra and Koehler (2006) have proposed a framework for teacher knowledge and technology. This model, which they refer to as TPCK (Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge), is the result of several years of study. It suggests that this knowledge occurs at the intersection of three types of knowledge: content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge related to a particular content area, and technological knowledge. To be effective, teachers need to have all three types of knowledge. Knowledge of technology has become an important part of teaching. However, rapid changes in technology pose a problem for teacher professional learning. Mishra and Koehler (2006) argue that the problem has been the focus on the technology itself and not on how it is used, stating, "Merely introducing technology to the educational process is not enough" (p. 1018). Teaching is a complex process and "developing good content requires a thoughtful interweaving of all three key sources of knowledge; technology, pedagogy and content" (Mishra & Koehler, p. 1029). The implication is that current methods of professional learning, which often consist of workshops focused on technology, are not adequate, and are "ill suited to produce the deep understanding that can assist teachers in becoming intelligent users of technology for pedagogy" (Mishra & Koehler, p. 1031). Having knowledge of a certain technology is not sufficient to using it effectively in the classroom. Teachers must be involved in 16

"authentic problem solving with technology" (Mishra & Koehler, p. 1034), so that all three types of knowledge can be integrated. Learner Characteristics Not unlike online instructors, students enrolled in online courses must possess certain characteristics as well. The amount of research dedicated to the learner appears to be less voluminous than the research dealing with the online instructor. However, according to Ross, Sibbald, and Bruce (2009), the emphasis on research aimed at instructor attributes will be superseded with more focus on the traits of the online learner: What is yielding new information is the examination of conditions that contribute to a good fit of the affordances of particular technologies to students needs. The implication for future research is that a shift is required to conducting studies that reveal decision making factors related to student use of technology and learning objects, and the outcomes of these decisions. (pp. 570-571) The literature that does exist on the learner identifies motivation and self-directedness as traits necessary for students success in online learning. Mandernach, Donnelli, and Dailey-Herbert (2006, as cited in Hannum & McCombs, 2008) identified three key factors for successful learners: timely, active involvement in the course by students, effective student planning and time management, and student initiative or motivation (p. 15). Hannum and McCombs (2008) also found that the type of technology utilized in online learning is less important than considering the background of the students enrolled in the course. They state, Real improvements in the effectiveness of technology-based instruction, such as distance learning, are unlikely without specific applications of well-documented research on what best supports learning for diverse learners, such as the incorporation of learner-centered principles and practices (p. 13). In any learning environment, teachers must assess each students learning style. However, this can be a complex process in an online course. As Mupinga, Nora, and Yaw (2006) state, The students learning characteristics are unknown, making it difficult to design effective instruction. Therefore, to maximize the students learning experiences, instructors need to be sensitive to diverse learning styles, needs, and expectations, and understand the online learning environment (p. 185). Mupinga et al. were looking for particular characteristics of online learners, and surmised that there might be a predominance of either extroverts or introverts enrolling in this type of course delivery. Their research revealed that there is not a principal style of learner in online courses, commenting that the design of on-line learning activities should strive to accommodate multiple learning styles (Mupinga et al., p. 189). In conclusion, they comment, Students needs included, but were not limited to, technical help,flexible instructors, course information in advance, sample assignments, additional reference material, and the same course management platform for all online courses (Mupinga et al., p. 189).

17

Findings In general, the participants were positive about the online experience, and saw a great need for this approach for the survival of small rural schools. A common feeling expressed was that online educational opportunities would allow access to courses that could not be offered because of small numbers or a lack of expertise, and that this would help maintain the viability of small high schools. One interviewee, Alice,1 pointed out that these courses "kept our schools open; otherwise our students wouldn't be able to get the courses they needed," and that "having our schools open impacts the community." Stacey further stated that online courses are "very important, especially for kids who want to go on to university because . . . schools, without this, would not be able to give their kids extras" that may be required for university entrance or success. Online education was seen to offer flexibility and choice to small schools. Stacey added, while laughing, "I thought I would get on board early because it secures my job a little bit better!" In addition to the important goal of keeping schools schools, without operating in small communities, other benefits and concerns this, would not be in regards to online education were brought forward. Darren able to give their pointed out that "the first few years we did keep track of some statistics and found we did have better success online than in kids the extras the classroom" when discussing the effectiveness of online learning. On the other hand, Jim pointed out that the pass rate is "not near what it would be in the classroom . . . and it is because they don't finish the course, not that they can't do it," alluding to further concerns that will be addressed later in this report. Other benefits discussed included preparation for post-secondary education and workplace training that often uses online approaches. A major benefit mentioned by several interviewees and the focus group was the flexibility that it offers schools in terms of scheduling and being able to access courses more frequently, or for students who need to make up a credit. Darren made the observation, "I think our kids are graduating with more credits now and I think some of the online stuff is helping." An interesting benefit offered by Bob was that this type of course offering offers flexibility for teaching administrators, since they are not tied to a classroom: "We don't have to leave the office . . . being able to work when you have time, it's convenient when you are the administrator." The other findings can be categorized as follows: policy, technology, support, time, instruction & design, instructor characteristics, and learner characteristics. Table 2, on the following page, summarizes these themes.

Pseudonyms have been assigned to the research participants.

18

Table 2: Summary of themes in the data. Main Themes Sub-themes

19

Policy It was evident from the interviews and focus group that there is a need for policy to guide all aspects of online learning. It appears that there is either no division policy or that such policy is not well known, or that policy is understood, not written. When asked about division policy guiding online learning, Alice stated, "no policy, just a very positive feeling for moving forward with online delivery, but nothing on paper." While the interviewees shared a common view that online education is necessary and positive, some confusion was apparent. It would be prudent to develop division policy to guide the entire process, from development and delivery of courses, to addressing seat sharing, scheduling and enrollment issues. A comment made by the focus group summarizes this feeling: "One of the most pivotal components is the need for a division-wide plan dealing with online issues." A suggestion made in the focus group and by some interviewees was that policy include a mechanism whereby students in an earlier stage in their education (as early as grade 7, 8 or 9) are exposed to online learning so that they can get acclimatized to the delivery method before taking full online courses later in high school, thus increasing their chances of success.

One of the most pivotal components is the need for a divisiondivision-wide plan for dealing with online issues

A mechanism to assist sharing of course seats between divisions was also seen as desirable by interviewees. Such sharing occurs, in some cases more efficiently than others; however, it seems to be limited by a variety of factors. In some cases, the division offering the course has enough students within its own division, so seats are not available for others, and in some cases it may be a lack of communication. Bob noted that sometimes students will sign up for several courses, dropping one or more later, at which time it may be too late for new students to join. It was suggested by a few interviewees that some regional coordination might help in this regard. MECY has attempted to enable this sharing with limited success: the information is only as good as what various jurisdictions supply, or are willing to share. Clearer guidelines and a concerted effort for sharing and communicating this information would be beneficial to all. A pilot project in this regard is being undertaken by MECY, Fort La Bosse and Lakeshore school divisions. The results of this project could lead to more efficient sharing of online course seats in the future. Technology While the focus of online courses should be on the learner and learning, technical issues were a dominant theme in discussions with educators. This is because the vehicle of delivery of these courses is modern technology, Darren commented that "hardware is huge, and network speed." In many ways, it is the recent advances in digital technology that have made online learning a feasible alternative. They enable timely communication and open up resources unheard of ten years ago. Thus, it is seen as crucial that the technology works and is reliable. An important aspect of the technology is efficient networks with bandwidth capable of handling modern digital tools, including video and the course management system itself. Alice summed 20

this up accordingly: "ultimately you want a learning management system that works seamlessly underneath the instruction, as soon as the management system gets in the way and you are wondering why it is not working, you have problems. So it doesn't really matter which delivery system." It is vital for successful online learning experiences to have working and reliable hardware with a speedy network. It was noted by the focus group that students also infrastructure, the infrastructure, if experience frustration when technology glitches occur. In you want to call it discussing shortcomings of a system that experiences that . . . is so frequent shut downs, Stacey commented, "I'm going to get important kids who do not want to take it [the course] and will use the system as an excuse" for being unsuccessful. Darren stated, "If they [students] try to log in and they can't get in, well, it's hard to blame them for not submitting assignments . . . so the infrastructure, if you want to call it that . . . is so important. It was noted in the focus group that many students have dial up connections at home, so bandwidth can be a major hurdle. Some of these issues are difficult to solve; however, they must be considered and planned for in delivering online courses. Software and platform issues can also cause problems. If a student does not have the same version or software that the instructor uses, this can lead to complications. Stacey gave the example, "It wasn't looking the same, they did not have the same editor I had, but if they used Firefox . . . you know, those little glitches. Small things, like having pop-ups turned off in a browser can cause problems. Ensuring that all participants have necessary software tools and settings is an issue to be aware of. Another issue related to the technology, and ultimately with the ability to deliver meaningful, interactive courses, is the issue of access to web sites and various online tools. Issues of filtering and blocking in some schools/divisions were a common theme among interviewees and focus group members. Such filtering was seen by many focus group participants as a major impediment to effective online delivery, since information required to teach is often blocked in the process of trying to protect students. In regards to this issue, Alice stated, "Kids have to learn how to discern what is right and what isn't" and digital citizenship is "important to include in any course. In addition, filtering can block access to online tools that a teacher might want to employ, from the use of YouTube videos to Skype. A final concern raised was access to hardware tools. Focus group participants noted that students must be given access to hardware tools, from computers to iPods, when they are required for a course. In one school, laptops for students to sign out and take home and internet access were available for those who did not have access at home. Another solution is to provide time in the school day for students to work on their courses at school. The issue of access is important, especially if courses are required by students for graduation or further studies. Support Research participants noted five primary types of support: technical, parental, administrative, onsite, and professional learning.

21

Technical Support From the discussion about the importance of the technology, it is obvious that technical support is also vital to successful technology-based distance learning. Technical support is needed for both hardware and software issues. Denise stated, "You have to have tech support. It is huge because there is nothing more frustrating than if the equipment isn't working, and kids give up. Stacey added, "Our tech guy is really good. He does a lot of work. If I have a question, he'll go and find the answer for me. The focus group also noted that technical support is pivotal to successful online learning. If the technology does not work, the learning is compromised. Students and teachers require someone to assist them with problem solving. Parental Support The support of parents was seen as both important and a challenge. Focus group members pointed out that many parents view face-to-face learning as the predominant and best delivery method, and it takes time to bring them around to accepting the format and seeing the benefits of online learning. Darren found that when online learning was first attempted, "the community absolutely detested it. However, by providing support and "staying ahead of the complaints the same kid took two online courses the next year. Stacey concurred, saying that "when I first started it was pretty negative I never had anything directly from parents, but you hear, but she added that things have The support changed since because word gets around and comfort grows with online learning. Bob agreed with other research participants would certainly that "it's not an issue. Parents are quite receptive to the fact that help to ensure the kids are going to be coming across something that they will success. probably use later on in life. Denise added that parents are supportive because they "think it is a way to keep our school open. Alice agreed that "there has always been a fear of closing . . . so the community was willing to try anything, adding, "Parents did not complain a lot about it," especially after they "showed them how it worked. Alice also noted that "now it is expected in the division and teachers are better at delivering" the courses. Parental support is also required, just as in a face-to-face course, to help when students fall behind or are struggling with the work. Alice made use of email because "if the parent knows, that really helps. It takes time, but it would in any course. Keeping parents informed also helps them buy into and be supportive of the idea of online education. Administrative Support Although administrative support was not a topic brought up in depth, the role of administration was seen as important. Often, the principal of a school acts as a contact who can support the teacher by talking to students who are not keeping up in their courses. Bob pointed out that "if everybody buys into it, the teacher, the principal at the other end, the parent, that kid is going to be successful, and that often principals are "very proactive in getting the kid back on line" when problems occur. The focus group pointed out that both school administrators and guidance counselors should play a role in screening candidates for taking online courses. Onsite Support Onsite mentors of some description were seen by both the focus group and interviewees as an integral part of a successful online program. In many cases, this person is the school 22

principal, someone whom the teacher could call to check on students who have not been online or are falling behind in their work. Stacey stated that onsite support is "huge, huge, and we've been really lucky that way because we tend to work with the same schools, so we have a kind of mentor in each school. The contact could also help administer paper-and-pencil tests, and so on. Alice reinforced this by stating, "There really needs to be somebody in each school who keeps an eye on the online students . . . The support would certainly help to ensure success. Darren also agreed, saying, "It's really important in our division. I think we have better results with our kids because I can phone . . .," and the contact can address the issue directly with the student; as a result, "the success rate if everyone buys into is much higher. Jim also agreed, stating, "They need someone there to raise their level of concern at times!" it, the teacher, the Denise saw this as helping students remain accountable, principal, at the other phoning the contact (often the administrator): "I'll say soend, the parent, that and-so has not been on for three days and is far behind. That kid is going to be is just making them accountable again. From these successful comments, it is obvious that onsite support is of utmost importance to these practitioners, and in some ways makes it "feel a little bit more like a regular classroom, according to Stacey. Professional Learning Professional learning (PL) for online teachers was another area seen as important for online teachers learning. Currently, PL is most often a one-day event, usually a training session held by MECY for potential online teachers. Denise stated that "that one-day in-service isn't nearly enough to provide an online teacher with enough to add much to the course. Darren pointed out that there was also a two-day session he attended, and that MECY consultants will come out to provide training if requested. It was clear that formal, organized PL about online learning is lacking. Visitations and time to collaborate with other online teachers is a commonly used and appreciated method of learning. Darren pointed out the benefits as "teachers talking to teachers it's pretty important, you know, to get rid of some of those fears about taking on a [online] course. Stacey agreed that visitations are valuable, adding that she was able to get together with other online teachers in the division and share "what worked, what didn't work. She added that she would like to go visit schools further along to share ideas. Bob also pointed out the value of experience: "Obviously, the longer you've done it, the more comfortable you are. Another interviewee, Alice, pointed to the value of online resources, such as blogs and other web sites stating, "Its been the best PD I've ever done. I mean, every day there is something new to learn" and "I get e-learning information and distance ed. information tons and tons of stuff every day. There are many avenues available for PL. Ideas from the focus group session included online PL sessions, webinars, and online learning communities, in addition to more traditional PL opportunities. It was suggested that MECY should take a leadership role in this area and, indeed, does provide training and meetings for web-based contacts from school divisions. Another suggestion, made on focus group exit slips, was to involve Brandon University in providing some leadership in both research and professional learning.

23

Time The teachers interviewed were acutely aware that becoming an online instructor requires a concentrated commitment to implementing course offerings in the distance format. According to the participants, it takes nearly twice as much time to develop and deliver an online course properly, as opposed to a traditional classroom method. Stacey commented that the time required to teach online is "at least double, adding that she was teaching "two courses, but I'd probably be working the same amount of time as if I was doing four. Alice reiterated the fact that it took twice as much time to teach online, although both teachers agreed that the initial process to design a course constitutes the greatest time commitment. Once a course is underway, the time commitment is still substantial. It takes time to read discussions, reply to students, grade assignments and give meaningful feedback, and monitor the progress of students. Alice stated, "you have to ask them questions. Then they have to respond to them. It all takes so much more time online. Communicating via writing is more time consuming than verbal communication. One of the findings the focus group mentioned was that the time needed to successfully teach online might prove to be an impediment to teachers who are unsure about the viability of incorporating an online course into their workload. Although the time commitment was seen as substantial, the benefits of teaching online, discussed earlier, provided a counterbalance. The structure of online delivery was also addressed by the respondents. Students were encouraged to work at their own pace, allowing more motivated students to complete and submit assignments before the due date. Instruction and Design Research participants noted five primary areas regarding instruction and design: strategies and tools, communication, flexibility and pacing, assessment, and social aspects. Strategies and Tools The teachers interviewed for this study were experienced online instructors, and were well versed in effective strategies and tools for successful course delivery. The types of this is just digital technology used by the participants spanned a wide array another another way to of methods, such as screen captures, podcasts, and other web enrich what tools. There were also different learning management systems: you're delivering one division used Blackboard, while another allowed the to the kids teachers to choose between Blackboard and Moodle. Stacey, who chose to use Moodle, had to design much of the course herself. In doing so, she posted assignments that she had designed, noting, "I just find it's a lot easier marking wise . . . because I designed them. It also meant more responsibility for her, but she added, "It makes the other parts of it easier too, because I know what's there. The teachers seemed to use technology within a comfort zone that they had constructed for themselves. As a result, there was little consistency in the type of web tools used within the group. Alice, perhaps the most accomplished of the online teachers, mentioned, "For me to tell you what the very best practice is . . . I'm not sure Ive found it yet. There was a consensus that each individual has to make the course his or her own, and allow the 24

structure to evolve over time. In some cases, this means adding content or web tools. In other instances, certain technology is removed and replaced by something else. Certain courses, such as biology, are a challenge, owing to the hands-on dynamic of laboratory work that is difficult to accommodate in an online format. Darren stated, "The kids kind of felt cheated when they took biology and they didn't get to get their hands dirty. Denise mentioned that she adds videos to her online course to make them more interesting. However, she noted that it is difficult to determine whether the students have actually watched them. She surveyed the students in one particular course about the effectiveness of the videos that she had posted. The students responded that they rarely watched them, or didn't watch them at all. Denise realized that her efforts to add an interactive element to the course were not being utilized. As a result, she decided not to rely on the video lectures for the course in the future. Denise also bemoaned the absence of lab work for science courses, even though there are lab simulations in video format. She also wrestled with the dilemma of decreasing the content of the course as a means to promote more interaction. Denise noted, "I have to cover less material just because all that interaction just takes so much time. Alice was enthusiastic about the role that technology played in her course delivery. She stated, "I think that what we For me to tell you can bring to the kids is going to change education. To me, this is just another way to enrich what you're delivering to the what the very best kids. Stacey commented that the online format opened up a practice is Im vast array of resources, such as websites, that are less likely to not sure Ive found be used in a face-to-face classroom setting. She thought that it yet. digital technology made sense to the students, noting, "I think it's more a part of their everyday life, so it's an easier connection that way. Stacey's experience with online learning changed the way she taught. She had the students do assignments that tested their ability to argue a position based on their own opinion. Thus, they had to do the readings (or listen to a podcast or watch a video), and learn enough about the subject to pass the assessment. Alice's instructional design was predicated on "thinking of a way to present the material without actually being there. When she first began teaching online courses, Alice taught in what she termed a "hybrid" format, or what is now commonly referred to as blended delivery. She provided a face-to-face class once a week, and posted assignments for the students on the management system. For Alice, the process allowed her to find what works well, and what instructional practices fit her online delivery. The web tools used by the participants varied a great deal. The development of Web 2.0 digital technology has dramatically altered the landscape of online delivery. Web tools are being developed continually, and teachers teaching online can be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of applications. Alice, for instance, mentioned that she would be overly enthusiastic about the technology, and was attracted to the technology tools because "they're cool. Now, she is more interested in the technology for solid pedagogy: "I want to look at the tools as a way that they can be a really good teaching enhancement. The teachers introduced their students to popular programs, such as Excel and PowerPoint, as well as newer types of web tools, including Skype, 25

Table 3: Some Software Applications mentioned in the interviews


(Please note that this list does not imply recommendation. This list is only a sampling of software that can be used to assist in delivery of online courses)

Bridget, and Jing. Table 3 describes some of the software applications mentioned in the interviews. Alice commented that simply inserting a PowerPoint presentation into the course is a simple and effective method of disseminating information. Podcasts were also developed by the research participants. Stacey and Denise, for example, incorporated video lectures into their courses. They also used IITV to deliver portions of their online offerings, although Stacey had encountered scheduling conflicts in some cases. In other instances, Stacey used Skype, a teleconferencing web tool, for her courses, stating, "It worked well because it was simple, and they got it. Alice used a program called Scratch from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in her animation course. She noted that each time the students used it, someone from MIT would offer a comment. For her, the technology linked her students in rural Manitoba to the world at large, and the benefits were, in her view, "money in the bank to me. They wanted to go back and do it again. Communication The types of communication necessary for successful online teaching and learning differ in several respects from the traditional face-to-face lecture style. The format of online teaching requires a central communication hub, where information can be given and received on a regular basis. Since, for the most part, the instructor does not engage the students verbally as one would in a classroom, there is a need for a place to disseminate modules, updates, and other forms of discourse. Most of the participants had built in some sort of method to communicate with their online students. Denise set aside an hour during the day to connect with students online. She found that students appreciated the opportunity to connect in a virtual medium in real time. As Alice noted, the hour-long information sessions "seem to sort of help their frustrations, too. They know that you can be reached at that time.

26

One aspect of communication that several teachers addressed was the importance of providing clear, concise, and consistent instructions for their students. Darren noted that he needed to be "more clear with instructions . . . You don't have the personal contact. It's all by notices and e-mails. Denise's experience was similar. She stated that she had to specific about what she expected from the students. Denise also stressed the importance of timely feedback from the students, a task that proved to be a challenge. She found that the lack of instantaneous feedback takes more effort and time. Denise offered, "It's harder to gauge if they're getting it or not, and so if you want to know if they're getting it or not you have to ask them questions. And they have to respond to them. And then that all takes so much longer online. The focus group also mentioned that feedback for students was a positive aspect of online assessment. However, they indicated that there was a time issue in providing quality, descriptive feedback. Flexibility and Pacing Flexibility and pacing figured prominently in the participants comments about good instruction and design, and much emphasis was placed on the instructional style of the teacher. Flexibility and pacing can take the shape of an entire school year to complete courses, rather than the semester system. The participants were cognizant of the differences in the online method of delivery. For example, Stacey related how she would allow access only to certain units but not others. She also implemented due dates for assignments (although she did allow some flexibility for submitting course work), as well as fixed exam dates. Stacey commented, "We get pressured that it should be a go-as-you-want course, but it doesn't work that way for me. So I always . . . put up suggested due dates this is where you should be if you want to be on track. Other teachers utilized the same philosophy as Stacey regarding deadlines and releasing course modules to the students. Alice mirrored Stacey's practice of providing clearly stated deadlines, with some flexibility built in. Also, she did not release all the modules for a course. Alice stated that she preferred to pace her students in a manner that allowed them to be comfortable without being overwhelmed. Darren had a much different approach with his course delivery. He taught a subject that began in September and ran until June the following year. However, some students wanted to finish it early, and they were allowed to work ahead. Another group wanted to begin in January, a full semester after the course had begun. Darren stated that instructors have to be diligent with this approach, carefully keep track of where students are in the course. Bob also let his students move at their own pace, noting that "if they're competent enough to move ahead and complete and hand it in, I just allow them to move ahead. He commented that he would prod students who lagged behind in their course work, but he was reluctant to force the students to work beyond their own comfort levels. Bob attempted to find a balance for all of the students in the course, without pressuring the less motivated to withdraw if they fell too far behind. Assessment Assessment is an important part of any course, and online courses offer challenges and advantages. The focus group stated that balanced assessment, with more emphasis on thinking skills, is needed in an online environment. Stacey said that she had moved to "marking them more on what they did, rather than what they can memorize," in an effort to incorporate higher order thinking skills. It was pointed out that cheating and plagiarism can be problems online; however, by using activities and assessment addressing higher order thinking, some of these concerns are not as important. When more traditional assessments, such as tests or exams, are used, an onsite contact to distribute, oversee and return the items is important. Alice made use of 27

the advantages of digital technology to access a wider audience for student projects: "It was amazing to see how thrilled the kids were to know that somebody in Boston had looked at this and sent them back a note . . . they wanted to go back and do it again, showing the value of real, authentic assessment. Formative assessment can be done using discussion forums; however, as discussed earlier, this takes time. An important part of assessment is timely and meaningful feedback, which is time consuming but vital to online learning.

"It was amazing to see how thrilled the kids were to know that somebody in this Boston had looked at this and sent them back a note . . . they wanted to go back and do it again

Social Aspects The social aspects of online delivery are often overlooked, owing to the use of technology as the primary means of instruction. Of course, the inherent nature of traditional faceto-face teaching has been the model for pedagogy for centuries. However, there is a rich social dimension to online teaching and learning that became apparent during the interview process. The social dynamic of online teaching and learning can take several forms, whether a blog, wiki, or a Skype session. The online aspect can motivate students to engage in discussion groups. The focus group put forth the notion that a central place to check announcements upon log-in would be helpful for students to see whether updates have been posted by the instructor overnight. Alice noticed that she was getting to know her students better, because of the presence of an online forum in her courses. Alice commented that "how [the students] respond to a forum . . . gives you a really good insight into the kids that maybe you wouldn't see because you don't ask them to do those kinds of assignments when they're in face-to-face situations. Alice enjoyed the interaction that occurred in her online courses, and stressed the need to establish a communication piece into the course design. She stated, "The students should still feel like they're in a course, even though they're working independently, or feel like they're part of some unit that is working to an end together. Alice's observations were supported by the focus group's suggestion that an online presence by teachers and students was absolutely necessary for success in online courses. To this end, it was posited that students post a profile and picture to promote collegiality. This would allow students to engage with each other in a meaningful manner. The interviewees commented on the differences that they had seen in certain students enrolled in online courses. Darren noted that certain students who are "quiet and shy, that sit in the back of the room and never say [anything], they'll speak up in discussion rooms or the opposite, sometimes they speak up way too much and they think they're your buddy. In some cases, the lack of a social aspect can play a role in student success. The focus group questioned whether the students enrolled in these courses were even concerned with any type of social interaction. Denise talked of a student who excelled in her online economics class, but "didn't really do very well in face-to-face classes as much . . . he loved not having the whole social aspect of learning. The focus group discussion identified the improved version of Blackboard as an influence for increased social interaction. Wikis were also viewed as a valuable tool for achieving an online community within an online course. Finally, the focus group indicated that the interaction between instructors and students is more important than communication between students. 28

Instructor Characteristics The majority of teachers and teacher/administrators interviewed for this study commented that they possessed a high comfort level with educational technology. Stacey commented that she kept her initial course design relatively simple, and added features as her comfort level with the technology evolved. Teachers also need to be willing to keep up with technological advances. For instance, Jim stated, "I get excited about new technology, and try to figure it out. I think that's key. Online instructors require flexibility as well, owing to changes in learning management systems (LMS), for example. Darren cited an example of having to learn a different LMS when his school division began to share courses with another division. He pointed out that he had to learn about Moodle, as opposed to the Blackboard system that he had been using in his division. Of course, challenges are inherent due to the nature of teaching in general. Teachers must be able to deal with technologically sophisticated students, as well as learners who struggle with the format, and with the technology itself. Denise noted that successful teachers must adopt the attitude that the technology will fail occasionally. She stated, "You have to be willing to try different things be a problem solver . . . If something doesn't work, you have to think about how you can present it in a different way online. Finally, online teachers were able to see differences in the way that they taught and in the learning outcomes of their students. For example, Stacey noticed that her students were attaining levels of understanding in a World Issues course that were higher than in a face-to-face classroom. The students were able to ascertain what resources were more credible for their essay topics, and were also able to discuss the reasons for their opinions. Stacey offered, "You get into these things that you would never get into if you were just teaching it in a class, and so I think they have a better kind of sense of their modern world than if we were doing it with a textbook. Learner Characteristics The key player in education is the learner. The question What characteristics does a successful online You have to be learner exhibit? was put to the research participants. One willing to try different sentiment shared by Stacey was that "there are some things to be a students that shouldn't be online, yet Denise related that she problem solver had "one student last semester who really did very well" on an online course, but "did not do well in face-to-face classes. Darren began by stating that "there is a lot of responsibility" in taking an online course. Descriptors such as responsible learner, independent, good organizational skills, good at planning, good communicator, motivated, good readers, patient, confident with technology, and problem solvers were used often to describe characteristics of successful online learners. Another important characteristic of a successful online student was identified by Denise, who stated they must "be willing to ask questions too, contact me when they are not getting something," adding that "sometimes kids don't realize when they don't know something. If some of these skills are lacking, more assistance is needed for the students. Again, this supports the idea of an onsite mentor and clear, concise communication. Alice spoke of a student who had an educational assistant who helped with organization and "keeping him on track," and was successful.

29

Jim shared the following insight: "You have to get them to buy in right at the start. If you can get them started, then they seem to keep going, but it is hard to get them going. Pointing out the importance of a good beginning to an online course, Jim added that once the students get through one unit and are familiar with how the course is run, it becomes easier for them. Denise added that students who do well are often "those who are self-motivated and they have another reason for learning that subject other than just the credit. Some independent, motivated students work ahead on their own, asking questions when needed. While it is not always the case that learners have this motivation, Denise said that finding ways to make them accountable seems to be a motivator for them. She also stated that making a course more interactive helps, and sometimes contacting a parent is necessary to make students accountable. From the discussions, we see that the nature of the learners has a large bearing on how successful they are in an online course, just as it does in a face-to-face classroom. In addition to the learner characteristics that were discussed, many benefits to learners were noted as a result of taking online courses. Students develop independence and responsibility, and are "a lot better at evaluating sources, as Stacey explained. Several interviewees mentioned that these skills will help students later in life, whether they attend postsecondary schools or enter the work force. Discussion We are rapidly becoming immersed in a post-industrial era that places enormous importance on individuals possessing both facility and literacy with technology. As a result, there is some concern regarding the progress of implementing technology into education as we move from an industrial model into the information age. ICT holds much promise for transforming education, yet we have not witnessed the full potential of this promise. Using ICT to assist in delivering courses to those in rural and remote areas, or to those whose schedules do not fit with schools, opens up many possibilities. The data in this study revealed pertinent insight regarding the state of online teaching and learning in southwestern Manitoba. The teachers and administrators who were interviewed stressed the importance of offering online education for the benefit of their students, owing to the prevalence of digital technology in society and the necessity of providing a rich educational experience in rural Manitoba. There was no disagreement in the views of those interviewed or members of the focus group. Online education is a viable alternative to the traditional classroom, and has become a necessary method of delivery in many rural schools. In order to make the most of this situation, Northcote (2008) reminds us, Instead of attempting to reproduce traditional classroom-based teaching methods, the affordances and technologies of the online environment offer opportunities for the application of different types of learning pedagogies. (p. 681) Policy "One of the most pivotal components is the need for a division-wide plan for dealing with online issues" (focus group comment).

30

The question of policy is not addressed directly in the literature. This is an area that requires research, owing to the integral role that policy plays in the formulation of effective online course offerings. However, it is seen as something both important and lacking by study participants. Provincial policy regarding distance learning and web-based learning, in particular, is in place. The policy in this area is currently under revision in order to reflect new technologies and pedagogy. What is also needed is planning at the local (divisional and school) level. Interviewees commented that such policy was often more of an unwritten understanding, rather than a complete policy or plan for implementation. Division policy should use provincial policy as a starting point and address issues of delivery, support, teaching and other concerns mentioned by the interviewees and focus group. Another important part of the planning process should include how parents can be informed about online learning. They can also be informed about the steps necessary to support their children, to ensure that their experience can be a successful one. The discussion and recommendations made in this report address many of the items that should be considered in division policy. Teachers and administrators actively engaged in online learning should be an integral part of any policy-making committees. A suggestion made by several participants was to expose students to online learning at an early age, possibly in late middle school or in grade 9. This can be done as part of a regular class and would serve to help students become familiar with the online tools utilized in this method of delivery. A unit, or parts of a unit, can be taught this way. Students can attain a comfort level that will be beneficial if they take online courses in later grades, or in post-secondary situations. Technology It is obvious that technology is vital to delivery of online courses. In fact, much of the discussion in interviews and the focus group centered around technology concerns. Although it was recognized that the technology should be a seamless, invisible part of online delivery, technical glitches were seen as major concerns to online delivery. Technology problems proved to be a point of frustration for teachers and students alike when they did occur. Only when problems of network speed, access to resources, software issues and other technical problems are solved, can attention be given to pedagogical issues. Questions of hardware access and software issues are best resolved early. A problem with online courses is that student access to equipment, because software and connectivity may be inadequate. Any policy should consider these issues. Solutions to these challenges include allowing time for students to work on online courses at school, where hardware and connectivity are available; listing all necessary software (and compatible versions) at the start of a course; providing hardware that students can sign out and take home; and providing timely technical support. One area of concern mentioned by the majority of participants was that some tools and websites were not accessible because of division and school filters. Filtering and blocking is an issue that bears scrutiny. Some tools may not be available because of bandwidth or other technical concerns. Whenever possible, teachers require access so that they may make full use of the power of the internet, both as a resource and to address issues of digital citizenship.

31

The fact that technology became the focus of much of the discussion in the interviews speaks to the relative infancy of online education. Once the technology becomes seamless, attention can turn to the pedagogy. Awareness and familiarity with up-to-date technological tools will always be important. The focus on technology must be not how it works or what it can do, but on how it can be used to enhance learning. Modern digital technology and web-based tools offer a tremendous potential for online education. Some of these tools, such as Skype, wikis, podcasts and blogs, are being used by research participants. Teachers must find tools that are compatible with their teaching style and goals. For this reason, technology is an important part of online course delivery, yet the focus must be on the learning, not the technology. Future research should move beyond technology and examine issues of pedagogy. Henry and Meadows (2008) state this idea elegantly: Rather, aspects of technology like all components of an effective course should be chosen according to how they help meet the learning objectives. To achieve excellence in online education, these resources must be applied judiciously. In the online world, technology is a vehicle, not a destination. Support Support for online teaching and learning includes a variety of aspects, ranging from technical support to professional learning. All types of support play an important role in successful online teaching and learning. A collaborative team approach would ensure smooth, seamless delivery. Each of the various areas of support identified by research participants is discussed briefly below. Technical Support It is obvious from the discussion above that technical support is an important part of online delivery. Technical support should be timely and effective. As several participants pointed out, the technology should not get in the way of learning. Many technical issues could be avoided if speedy, reliable networks are in place, and software and equipment are up to date and working. The technician is an important member of a good online course delivery team. Technical support is also important for assistance on software issues. This includes such factors as assisting teachers with the course management system, or making short video podcasts. In this case, a support system of online teachers with various areas of expertise could be formed for sharing information and resources. This support also points to the importance of professional learning. Parental Support Parental and community support is very important to successful learning in any type of delivery at the secondary level, but perhaps moreso in online education. Parents in small communities realize the importance of maintaining a viable school for their children, and are generally supportive of strategies that help keep a small school open (or that keep opportunities available to their children). Online education, however, is not familiar to many parents, resulting in a sense of mistrust. It is important to make parents aware of the benefits of online education. They should be informed about what it looks like, how it works, and how they can support their child and the teacher. Information should be provided via the internet, brochures, 32

and face-to-face meetings. Parent Advisory Councils could be recruited to help in this effort, as well. Having strong parent support is recognized as important by teachers and administrators. Once a course is underway, communication with parents is just as important as it is in face-toface classes. Email is seen by both research participants and in the literature as an important way to keep parents informed. It is essential that lines of communication are established for parents, teachers, and, ultimately, students. Administrative Support Administrative support is yet another important piece of the online education puzzle. If division and school administrators are not supportive of the online program, it will not be successful. Support can range from provision of resources, both technical and human, to encouragement and recognition of the important role that online education plays for students. Administrators would also be instrumental in communicating with parents about online options. School counselors were also identified by research participants as important in supporting online education. Understanding the nature of online learning would help administrators and counselors screen students who wish to take online courses, and to advise students and parents in their planning. Onsite Support Without exception, onsite support for students involved in online education was seen as key to success: A good first experience will promote your distance learning initiative, a poor one the opposite. In a recent study, it has been shown that secondary students who are provided support at the local school fair better and complete their course in a more systematic way than do students who are left to complete the course independently of any local supports (Beaulieu, 2003, as cited in Ryan & Beaulieu, 2009, p. 103). Onsite support is important for much more than technical assistance. This type of support can ensure that students have any handouts or instructions, can assist the teacher by checking in on students who are not accessing course materials or progressing, and can assist students when problems arise. The onsite support person would be a liaison between the teacher and student/school. In many cases in southwestern Manitoba, the principal takes on this role. Although this seems to work, administrators do have many other duties to perform. In some cases, the school secretary has filled some of these roles, such as distributing materials. However, the major functions of this role should fall to an educator. Since this role is of such importance, the researchers have recommended assigning someone to fill this position in any school that has students taking online courses. Professional Learning A key to successful online course delivery is the teacher. Online teaching and learning is different from the face-to-face classroom. A teacher needs to have comfort, confidence and knowledge in both online pedagogy and, of course, technology. Technology progresses at an amazing pace. New tools are constantly being developed. There is a wide variety of tools that can be used in teaching online, ranging from the course management system itself to applications 33

like Skype, blogs, wikis and podcasting applications. Expecting a teacher to be an expert is unrealistic, yet knowledge of tools available and how to use them effectively is important. The research literature points to the importance of an interest in and comfort with technology, and a willingness to try new ideas. Research participants echoed this claim. In addition, strategies for developing effective social interactions, course design and pedagogy are vital for student success. Ongoing professional learning opportunities and support are required to develop these skills. De Simone (2006) states, Teachers need to extend their learning to beyond how they will use the technology. They also need to understand how the technology enables and affects their pedagogy and need to be given the time to digest and accommodate this new knowledge. (p. 183) MECY provides some learning opportunities, although there is a need for more resources. Several participants suggested meeting and talking with other online teachers, online professional learning networks (PLN) that utilize the very technologies that teachers utilize in their courses can be used to create a PLN. Professional learning must be a part of any plan to implement online courses. Time Participants and the literature (for example, Conceicao, 2006) agreed that online courses demand more time from the teacher than face-to-face delivery. This is especially true if the teacher is involved in creating the online course. Several interviewees stated that the time spent on online courses was double that of face-to-face courses, yet it did decrease with experience. Comments from some interviewees point out that when the teacher is involved in course design, there is generally more success. MECY has many courses available on Blackboard for teachers to use and adapt to their own style. Teachers should start slowly and add features as they gain confidence. Although the time commitment is substantial, teachers also point out many benefits of teaching online courses, for themselves and their students. These benefits are discussed in other areas of this report. Thus, although time demands are generally greater in online teaching, particularly in the beginning, many benefits are also realized. Potential online teachers should be made aware of the time demands, but also cognizant of the benefits. Instruction and Design Instruction and design are integral components of any online course offering. Northcote (2008) summarizes the importance of design and instruction in online delivery: Just as effective face-to-face teaching and learning, online learning and teaching benefit from purposeful curriculum design in which learning purposes, learning guidelines and appropriate resources and learning activities and interactions are structured in meaningful ways. Without such guidance, individual online learners can find themselves confused, misplaced and even frustrated in terms of their lack of place-ness. (p. 677) Since a teacher is not physically present to clarify misconceptions, read non-verbal cues of students, or communicate readily in real time, the design and instruction must be clear and 34

organized. In this section, several aspects of instruction and design are discussed, including strategies and tools, communication, flexibility and pacing, assessment and social aspects. Such factors require careful thought and planning in delivering online courses. Strategies & Tools An important consideration for course design is to organize and structure content so that students can readily find what they need and as a means of scaffolding students as they work through the course (DiPietro et al., 2008). Several research participants commented on making clear instructions and notices in the same location so that students know exactly what is expected. Teachers should use a variety of strategies and tools to address learner needs and address multiple ways to engage with content, including text, video and audio (DiPietro et al.). Collaboration is an effective teaching and learning strategy, and can be used in online courses. New online tools can facilitate collaboration at a distance, yet precautions must be taken before implementing collaborative projects. Issues of equal participation, time constraints, and assessment must be thought out (Goold, Craig, & Coldwell, 2008). Although Goold et al's study was in a university setting, the precautions that they discuss are even more pertinent to a secondary school audience. It might be wise to take on simple forms of collaboration before any major emphasis is undertaken. Means et al. (2009) found in their meta-analysis that prompts for promoting selfreflection, regulation and monitoring can lead to effective online learning outcomes. Incorporating such opportunities for meta-cognition, and release of responsibility, are effective learning strategies. They would also address current assessment and instructional practice in Manitoba. Most of the literature on strategies for online learning centers around communication, socialization and feedback, as discussed in other sections of this report (for example, see DiPietro et al., 2008). As one interviewee stated, they are still searching for "best practices," experimenting with different ideas to see what works for different groups of students. There are numerous tools and web resources available that can be used in many ways. Teachers must find the ones that work for them in their situation. Some of the tools mentioned by research participants include screen capture tools (Jing), conferencing tools (Skype, Bridgett), discussion forums, simulations, wikis and blogs. Exploring and sharing strategies that work in a secondary setting would benefit all online teachers in southwestern Manitoba. Communication Of all the factors involved in quality online learning, effective communication and interaction is seen by many as perhaps the most important (Bernard et al., 2004, Durrington et al., 2006). Hara and King (1999) point out that ambiguous instructions and feedback were major sources of frustration for students. Haughey (2002) adds that feedback and support are important to reduce feelings of isolation. The importance of good, timely, clear and concise communication and feedback cannot be understated. Many strategies can be used to facilitate communication. Kemshal-Bell (2001) points to the effectiveness of a relatively old technology, email, as a good way to communicate. Research participants used a variety of tools, including online discussion forums and Skype, in addition to email. Participants in the research agreed with the literature in pointing to the importance of clear instructions and timely feedback, although this took time. A common suggestion made by participants was that a central, consistent, easy-to-use 35

communications hub be established as part of the course. In this way, students know exactly where to go for instructions and other notices. Several of the online teachers set aside a part of the school day to respond to students, even using synchronous methods where possible. All of the online teachers interviewed had time built into their timetable for this purpose. The online courses were considered the equivalent to a face-to-face course in their workload; thus, this time was available. The importance of communication and feedback is such that this time built into the school day is vital to success. When possible, time for some synchronous communication with students would be beneficial, as well, although differing timetables might preclude this possibility. Flexibility & Pacing According to many researchers, students enjoy the flexibility and sense of control they have in online courses. For example, in Rices (2006) study, Students reported appreciating most the fact that they could work ahead and at their own pace and the opportunity to develop new skills. (p. 435) Several research participants also pointed to this flexibility. The degree of flexibility depends to some extent on the teacher's style, the learner and other factors, such as the school year and timetable. Some teachers found it better to determine, to some extent, the pace of the course. Another allowed students to proceed more at their own pace, even allowing different entry dates and flexible pacing. Teachers new to the online option might want to have more control, gradually releasing it as they gain comfort. Of course, some of the flexibility that students enjoy is the ability to work on the course when they want, fitting it around their other activities, from work to extracurricular activities. It is recommended that online instructors consider issues of flexibility and pacing, and examine various options to choose what fits their style best. As much flexibility and control as feasible should be given to students since, for many, this is one of the principal reasons for choosing this option. Assessment Assessment in an online environment poses some unique challenges and opportunities. The research participants found that it is easier for students to cheat or plagiarize on assignments than in a face-to-face class. One solution was to address higher thinking levels and use more reflective practices. Assessment should follow the principles of good assessment. Incorporating formative assessment can be done, in part, by using discussion forums, or other online tools. Haughton and Romero (2009) state, An effective online instructor is able through effective interaction, to engage with the student at critical milestones throughout the course [and to] provide targeted and effective feedback that will result in successful outcomes. (p. 2) A vital part of any formative assessment is the provision of meaningful, timely feedback, as was discussed previously in this report. The opportunity for a wider audience for student projects is also possible, as described by interviewee Alice in the findings section of this report. Traditional tests may still be used, as well, if onsite support is available to administer the test. It is important that assessment be an integral part of course design and delivery. 36

Social Aspects The social aspect of online education is an area that receives much attention in the literature. Northcote (2008), Sadera, Robertson, Song, and Midon (2009), Shea, Li, Swan, and Pickett (2005), Wegerif (1998), and others point to the importance of building a sense of community in online courses, perhaps because the social part of education, taken for granted in face-to-face setting, stands out as lacking in online education. Unfortunately, there can be a lack of socialization in the traditional classroom, as well. The importance of a sense of belonging and interaction was echoed by the research participants. Online education opens unique opportunities to create social presence with tools such as discussion forums, chat and conferencing tools such as Skype. As a reminder of the important role played by the instructor, Coppa (2004) states, The course creator, not the course, empowers collaborative communities. Using the Internet to communicate without restraints due to place or time has allowed the quantity and quality of human relationships to increase. (p. 346) Kapitzke and Pendergast (2005) suggest that the occasional synchronous and face-to-face meetings with students add to student success by enhancing the student-teacher relationship. While this may not always be possible due to various constraints, an attempt should be made to connect with students either face-to-face or through a synchronous method. Much of the research cited above addresses higher-learning, yet the results can be applied to secondary education. It also seems that socialization is more important in a post-secondary setting. Research participants agreed that socialization, or interaction, between teacher and student was of more importance in a secondary setting than student-student interaction. Indeed, one participant noted that some students liked online learning because they did not care for the social part of the regular classroom. Still, communication and a feeling of belonging are still very important to cultivate. Some ideas for promoting this sense of community include a place where students can post a profile, having a forum for student conversations, and using emoticons, photos or other hints to help clarify and personalize communications. Instructor Characteristics The instructor plays many important roles in an online course, including roles in design and, of course, delivery. The instructor can often make or break the course. Studies of student satisfaction often mention the teacher as a reason for satisfaction - or for frustration (Hun Lim, Morris & Yoon, 2006, Shea et al., 2005). Online teaching requires a special type of teacher. The characteristics of good online teachers are described by Archambault and Crippen (2009): The profile of an online teacher, as depicted from this study, includes those who are seeking a means to engage with students, parents, and content via the Internet in order to meet a variety of needs including a greater sense of community; a better, albeit different, connection with students and parents; and the ability to teach without the constraints of a bell schedule or having to contend with issues of classroom management. From the descriptions of their experience with online teaching, they also appear to be innovative, adventurous, and willing to take on a challenge. (p. 382) 37

As described above, the online teacher must have a certain skill set. Teaching online is different than face-to-face teaching, offering many exciting challenges. Haughton and Romero (2009) state, Traditional teaching methods do not translate seamlessly to the online environment. This is because teaching online is quite different from face-to-face teaching, requiring a change in pedagogy . . . requiring, among other things, achieving engagement and trust, as well as developing confidence, and all this without the normal visual cues that traditional instructors are used to relying on. Such challenges require a teacher who is not afraid to take risks and be innovative. Research participants also backed up the literature, stating that interest in and comfort with technology is important. Since technology is so important to the delivery, being able to manage the learning environment and various tools would lead to a more timely and smoother delivery. The ability to problem solve technical glitches is also an asset, although this does not negate the need for quality technical support, as discussed earlier. One of the most important roles of the teacher in an online environment, as we have already seen, is in interactions. Several times in this report it has been posited that the key to successful online courses is the interactions that take place. Teachers have a crucial role to play in the online environment. They must guide, mentor, build relationships, scaffold learning, and build connections (Norton & Hathaway, 2008). On the other hand, teachers may also have to deal with a sense of decentralization, owing to the different dynamics in an online class as opposed to a face-to-face classroom (Anagnostopoulos et al., 2005). It is clear from this discussion that professional learning is important for online teachers to improve both their technical and pedagogical knowledge. The research results and the literature are replete with reports of the benefits of online teaching to the instructor. Conceicao (2006) and Archambault and Crippen (2009) report high satisfaction of online teachers. Further, Roblyer, Porter, Bielefeldt, and Donaldson (2009) report that teachers also found that their face-to-face teaching improved as a result of teaching online. In particular, they found that there was an increase in the integration of technology, communication and empathy, as well as more effective teaching strategies. These positive outcomes can be used as an incentive for teachers to become involved in online teaching. Learner Characteristics The learner is, of course, central to all of our efforts. Supporting the learner is very important, especially in a secondary setting. As Ryan and Beaulieu (2009) comment, students at this level generally do not have the maturity or motivation of adult students: The role of student supports must also consider the special circumstances of the secondary school student, who can most often be described as unable to work independently and subject to the problems of procrastination. In particular these students would perhaps benefit from local supports, provided at the school in addition to the supports provided by the course instructor. (p. 103)

38

The characteristics of online learners are somewhat different than the average high school student. The students interested in this type of delivery method are not unlike the instructors teaching them. These learners have a degree of discipline that allows them to be capable of taking some responsibility for their own success (to some extent, at least). Ryan and Beaulieu (2009) identify the following significant attributes of successful online learners: Self motivated Able to structure ones own learning Previous experience with the technology Good attitude towards the subject matter Learning and temperament styles Self-choice, rather than forced choice (p. 101-102) Not all secondary students possess the traits outlined in the description above. However, it reinforces the need for strong student support, as discussed earlier in this report. Teachers, parents, administrators, and school counselors all have roles to play in supporting students. Clear information should be available for students and their parents about the nature of online learning and the types of student characteristics that often lead to success in an online environment. This information could be available via brochures, web sites and meetings. Students should be carefully screened and advised by administrators and/or school counselors. As pointed out by one interviewee, and reinforced in the literature (Ryan and Beaulieu, 2009), getting students to build confidence and establish a comfort level with the course will lead to more success in the long run. In addition, students should be made aware of the many benefits of taking online courses. They should be informed of the skill set they will develop through online learning, such as independence, responsibility, and self-regulation. Finally, potential online learners should be cognizant that the experience may help to prepare them for future learning in post-secondary, or in their future employment endeavors. As Dodd, Kirby, Seifert, and Sharpe (2009) comment, Our findings indicate that students who completed one or more on-line distance education courses during high school were somewhat more successful in their first year of university as compared to students who completed no high school distance education courses. Perhaps more importantly, these results provide support for the provision of on-line education in high school as an alternative to the traditional face-to-face classroom format. While further studies in this area are warranted, there may be reason to believe that on-line distance education experience in high school is beneficial to students who are making the transition to post-secondary studies. (pp. 9-10)

39

Recommendations The following recommendations are grounded in the information that was gathered from the research participants. Policy That school divisions create clear and well-communicated plans and policy regarding online distance learning. This policy should direct all aspects of the implementation of distance education in the division and be well grounded in research. Policy development would ideally include representatives from various stakeholder groups, especially online teachers and administrators. Further, such policy should be informed by Provincial policy. That southwestern Manitoba school superintendents (or their representatives) attempt some regional coordination for online learning. Such coordination can assist in offering a range of courses and enhance sharing of seats between divisions. That school divisions devise a mechanism, as part of policy, whereby young students are exposed to online learning so that they are better prepared to be successful when taking full courses in grades 10 to 12.

Technology That school divisions make every effort to ensure that current, reliable infrastructure is available for online courses. This includes hardware for staff and students, as well as efficient and speedy network connections. Consideration should be given for allowing students to use their own technology at school, thus releasing some of the pressure on school divisions to supply it. That in any course, specific hardware and software requirements be communicated clearly to students at the start of the course. Further, that all required software and updates be installed on a school's computers before the course starts. That schools and school divisions examine the issue of filtering and blocking web content. Online educators and students should have full access to the tools and web sites required to make courses interactive and meaningful, and to address the issue of digital citizenship. That school divisions and schools ensure that students have access to necessary hardware and connectivity for online courses. If such equipment is not available at home, time and access should be provided at school so students can complete their course work.

40

Support Technical support. That school divisions and schools ensure that reliable, timely, technical support is available for both hardware and software problems that arise. Parental support. That school divisions and schools design methods to inform the community and parents about the benefits of online learning. This can be accomplished by producing brochures and web pages explaining the process and student characteristics best suited to online delivery and benefits. In addition, where possible, face-to-face meetings with potential students and parents can help to explain the process and gain parental support. Administrative support. That school divisions and school administrators, as well as guidance counselors, be familiar with online learning so that they can actively support the online teacher and help to advise students and parents about the nature of online learning and what it takes to be successful. The role of the administrator may differ from school to school; however, knowledge of this delivery method and support is needed for a successful program. Onsite support. That each school with students taking courses online appoints a person to act as an onsite mentor or contact person. This role should be part of that persons duties and time made available to carry them out. This person would provide support to students and act as a liaison for the online teacher. Professional learning. That school divisions and schools make professional learning a priority in planning for online learning. Training in both technology skills and online pedagogy is required and should be an integral part of an online learning program. Various avenues for providing this PL should be investigated and implemented. Professional learning. That an online professional learning community (PLC) for online teachers be established, where participants can share resources, experiences and ask questions of others. MECY could take a leadership role in the formation of such a PLC, using its web-based contacts to establish the community in school divisions engaged in online learning. Professional learning. That a forum for online teachers in southwestern Manitoba be organized. This forum could be the basis for exchange of ideas, creating the opportunity to make new contacts and opening avenues for research into other aspects of online learning. Brandon Universitys Faculty of Education, through BU CARES, could take a leadership role in organizing and hosting such a forum.

Time That school divisions recognize the time commitment required for successful online learning, particularly in the early stages. Teachers should be provided time or some sort of recognition for time spent teaching online courses. Teachers should also be made 41

aware of both the time commitment and benefits involved in developing and delivering online courses. That teachers involved in online learning be advised to start slowly and keep the delivery simple and straightforward to begin. Once comfort is built, extra features can be added to a course. That school divisions research optimum class size numbers for effective online courses, and limit enrollment as part of policy.

Instruction and Design Strategies and tools. That school divisions and schools utilize the talents and experience of their online teachers to mentor and guide potential distance delivery instructors on the strategies and web tools that work well. A list, or manual, of these strategies and tools could be developed by the divisions to assist new online teachers in course development. Communication. That online teachers continue to have a period of time scheduled each day to answer queries, and to update course information in a synchronous fashion, where feasible (synchronous communication will also depend upon the students timetable). This communication could take the form of a Skype conference or another form of synchronous technology. Flexibility and pacing. That online instructors implement the degree of flexibility and pacing that works best for their own teaching styles. New online teachers would benefit from hearing the various perspectives on the subject of flexibility and pacing, and choose the methods that correspond with their own views about instructional assessment. Assessment. That teachers make every effort to address higher order thinking skills in their courses to minimize the problems of cheating and take advantage of the features that digital technology can offer. Balanced assessment strategies should be used to match current provincial instruction and assessment strategies. Assessment. That online teachers provide timely and meaningful (descriptive, quality) feedback to students. Social aspects. That online learning courses have a communication piece built in to promote collegiality for the students enrolled in the course. The use of web tools such as wikis, blogs, and Skype sessions are effective means of ensuring an online presence for instructors and students. These programs are user friendly, and are also open-source software, available online at no cost to the divisions.

42

Instructor Characteristics That school divisions and schools administrators identify the most proficient teachers and encourage these individuals to teach online courses. Instructing online requires discipline, comfort with technology, and a desire to embrace professional growth. The teachers possessing these attributes are excellent candidates for the rigors of online teaching, and their potential must be tapped for the benefit of distance teaching and learning. Further, divisions should support these teachers in this endeavour by providing extra time for course preparation and delivery.

Learner Characteristics That students be made aware of the nature of online learning and characteristics that would help to make them successful. In addition, they should be made aware of supports available to them.

Other That further research into various aspects of secondary online learning, but especially into issues of pedagogy, be conducted. Brandon University's BU CARES, in partnership with school divisions and graduate students, has the potential to take a lead role in this endeavor.

Table 4, on the following page, summarizes the recommendations made in this report

43

Table 4: Summary of Recommendations

44

Concluding Comments The entire landscape of K-12 education is changing at a rapid rate, and the repercussions of lagging behind can prove irreversible for small rural communities. The need for state-of-theart teaching and learning technology has never been more critical than it is today. Alice commented during an onsite interview session, "We feel that it [online learning] is a necessity if we want our school open. This statement encapsulates the urgency of providing small towns and villages with the resources to keep their schools as functioning and thriving entities. It is evident that implementation of online solutions in southwestern Manitoba is in its infancy, since much discussion in both the interviews and focus group centered on issues such as technology and support (important to be sure) and less on pedagogy. As clear policy is developed to deal with these types of issues, steps to improve online pedagogy can be addressed. The recommendations made in this report will, hopefully, be a starting point for the development of sound policy regarding online learning opportunities. However, much research remains to be undertaken, especially at the secondary level, in order to ensure the successful implementation of online learning.

45

References Albirini, A. (2007). The crisis of educational technology, and the prospect of reinventing education. Educational Technology and Society, 10(1), 227-236. Allen, E., & Seaman, J. (2008). Staying the course: online education in the United States. Needham, MA: Sloan-C. Retrieved from http://www.sloanconsortium.org/publications/survey/pdf/staying_the_course.pdf Anagnostopoulos, D., Basmadjian, K., & McGrory, R. (2005). The decentered teacher and the construction of social space in the virtual classroom. Teachers College Record, 107(8), 1609-1729. Archambault, L., & Crippen, K. (2009). K-12 distance educators at work: Who's teaching online across the United States? Journal of Research on Technology in Education. 41(4), 363391. Bernard, R., Lou, Y., Borokhovski, E., Wade, A., Wozney, L., Wallet, P., . . . Huang, B. (2004). How does distance education compare with classroom instruction? A meta-analysis of the empirical literature. Review of Educational Research, 74(3), 379-439. Borko, H., Whitcomb, J., & Liston, D. (2009). Wicked problems and other thoughts on issues of technology and teacher learning. Journal of Teacher Education, 60(1), 3-7. Burbules, N., & Callister, T. (2005). Universities in transition: the promise and the challenge of the new technologies. Teachers College Record, 102(2), 271-293. Canadian Council on Learning. (2009). State of E-learning in Canada. Ottawa, ON: Author. Canadian Teachers Federation. (2003). Virtual education, real educators. Ottawa, ON: Author. Cavanaugh, C. (2009). Getting students more learning time online: Distance education in support of expanded learning time in K-12 schools. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress. Retrieved from http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2009/05/distance_learning.html Cavanaugh, C. (2001). The effectiveness of interactive distance education technologies in K-12 learning: A meta-analysis. International Journal of Educational Telecommunications. 7(1), 73-88. Christensen, C., Horn, M., & Johnson, C. (2008). Disrupting class: How disruptive innovation will change the way the world learns. New York, NY: McGraw Hill. Conceicao, S. (2006). Faculty lived experiences in the online environment. Adult Education Quarterly, 57(1), 26-45. Coppa, L. (2004). The ABC's of the virtual community. AACE Journal, 12(3), 343-347. De Simone, C. (2006). Preparing our teachers for distance education. College Teaching, 54(1), 183-184. 46

Deaney, R., Ruthven, K., & Hennessy, S. (2006). Teachers' developing practical theories of the contribution of information and communication technologies to subject teaching and learning: an analysis of cases from English secondary schools. British Educational Research Journal, 32(3), 459-480. DiPietro, M., Ferdig, R., Black, E., & Preston, M. (2008). Best practices in teaching K-12 online: lessons learned from Michigan virtual school teachers. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 7(1), 10-35. Dodd, C., Kirby, D., Seifert, T., & Sharpe, D. (2009). The impact of high school distance elearning experience on rural student's university achievement and persistence. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 12(1). Retrieved from www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/spring121/dodd121.html Durrington, V., Berryhill, A., & Swafford, J. (2006). Strategies for enhancing student interactivity in an online environment. College Teaching, 54(1), 190-193. Friesen, N. (2009). Rethinking e-learning research: Foundations, methods, and practices. New York: Peter Lang. Goold, A., Craig, A., & Coldwell, J. (2008). The student experience of working in teams online. Paper presented at Hello! Where are you in the landscape of educational technology? Melbourne, Australia. Retrieved July 24, 2009, from http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/melbourne08/procs/goold.pdf Hannum, W., & McCombs, B. (2008, May-June). Enhancing distance learning for today's youth with learner-centered principles. Educational Technology, 11-21. Hara, N., & King, R. (1999). Students' frustrations with a web-based distance education course. First Monday, 4(12). Retrieved from http://www.firstmonday.dk/issues/issue4_12/hara/index.html Haughey, M. (2002). Canadian research on information and communication technologies: a state of the field. 2002 Pan-Canadian Education Research Agenda Symposium. Retrieved February 3, 2007, from http://www.cmec.ca/stats/pcera/RSEvents02/MHaughey_OEN.pdf Haughton, N., & Romero, L. (2009). The online educator: Instructional strategies for effective practice. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 5(3). Retrieved from http://jolt.merlot.org/vol5no3/haughton_0909.htm Henry, J., & Meadows, J. (2008). An absolutely riveting online course: Nine principles for excellence in web-based teaching. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, 34(1). Retrieved from http://www.cjlt.ca/index.php/cjlt/article/viewArticle/179/177 Hiltz, S. (1997). Impacts of college-level courses via asynchronous learning networks: some preliminary results. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks. Retrieved from http://web.njit.edu/~hiltz/workingpapers/philly/philly.htm

47

Hobgood, B. (2003). Becoming an online teacher. Learn North Carolina. Retrieved September 9, 2006, from http://www.learnnc.org/lp/pages/online0604-1 Hun Lim, D., Morris, M., & Yoon, S. (2006). Combined effects of instructional and learner variables on course outcomes within an online learning environment. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 5(5), 255-269. Retrieved from http://www.ncolr.org/jiol/issues/viewarticle.cfm?volID=5&IssueID=18&ArticleID=90 Kapitzke, C., & Pendergast, D. (2005). Virtual schooling service: productive pedagogies or pedagogical possibilities? Teachers College Record, 107(8), 1626-1651. Kemshal-Bell, G. (2001). The online teacher: final report prepared for the project steering committee of the VET teachers and online learning project. New South Wales Department of Education and Training. Retrieved January 28, 2007, from http://cyberteacher.onestop.net/final%20report.pdf Kim, M. C., Hannafin, M. J., & Bryan, L. A. (2007). Technology-enhanced inquiry tools in science education: An emerging pedagogical framework for classroom practice. Science Education, 91(6), 1010-1030. Mandinach, E., & Honey, M. (Eds.) (2008). Data-driven school improvement: Linking data and learning. New York, NY: Teachers College Press. Manitoba Education, Citizenship & Youth. (2002). Distance education: A policy handbook for schools/divisions/districts. Winnipeg, MB: Author. Means, B., Yukie, T., Murphy R., Bakia, M., & Jones, K. (2009). Evaluation of evidence-based practices in online learning: A meta-analysis and review of online learning studies. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development. Mishra, P., & Koehler M. J. (2006). Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017-1054. Morrison, G. R., & Lowther, D. L. (2002). Integrating computer technology into the classroom (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall. Mupinga, D. M., Nora, R. T., & Yaw, D. C. (2006). The learning styles, expectations, and needs of online students. College Teaching, 54(1), 185-189. Murphy, E., & Coffin, G. (2003). Synchronous communication in a web-based senior high school course: maximizing affordances and minimizing constraints of tools. The American Journal of Distance Education, 17(4), 235-246. Northcote, M. (2008). Sense of place in online learning environments. Paper presented at Hello! Where are you in the landscape of educational technology? Melbourne, Australia. Retrieved July 24, 2009, from http://www.org.au/conferences/melbourne08/procs/norhtcote.pdf

48

Norton, P., & Hathaway, D. (2008). Exploring two teacher education online learning designs: a classroom of one or many? Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 40(4), 475495. Passey, D. (2006). Technology enhancing learning: Analysing use of information and communication technologies by primary and secondary school pupils with learning frameworks. The Curriculum Journal, 17(2), 139-166. Picciano, A., & Seaman, J. (2009). K-12 online learning: a 2008 follow-up survey of U.S. school district administrators. Sloan-C. Retrieved March 19, 2009, from http://www.sloanc.org/publications/survey/k-12online2008 Project Tomorrow. (2009). Learning in the 21st century: 2009 trends update. Retrieved August 26, 2009, from http://www.tomorrow.org/speakup/learning21Report_2009_Update.html Rice, K. (2006). A comprehensive look at distance education in the K-12 context. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 38(4), 425-448. Roblyer, M., Porter, M., Bielefeldt, T., & Donaldson, M. (2009). "Teaching online made me a better teacher": studying the impact of virtual course experience on teachers' face to face practice. Journal of Computing in Teacher Education, 25(4), 121-126. Ross, J. A., Sibbald, T., & Bruce, C. D. (2009). Characteristics of students assigned to technology-based instruction. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 25(6), 562-573. Ryan, T., & Bealieu, R. (2009). Secondary online education: A review and synthesis of central elements. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education, 10(1), 96-113. Sadera, W., Robertson, J., Song, L., & Midon, M. (2009). The role of community in online learning success. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 5(2), 277-284. Shea, P., Li, C., Swan, K., & Pickett, A. (2005). Developing learning community in online asynchronous college courses: the role of teaching presence. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 9(4). Retrieved from http://www.sloanc.org/publications/jaln/v9n4/v9n4_shea.asp Sitzmann, T., Kraiger, K., Stewart, D., & Wisher, R. (2006). The comparative effectiveness of web-based and classroom instruction: A meta-analysis. Personnel Psychology, 59(3), 623-664. Wegerif, R. (1998). The social dimension of asynchronous learning networks. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 2(1), 34-49. Yates, L. (2004). What does good education research look like? Maidenhead, England: cGrawHill. Zhao, Y., Lei, J., Yan B., Lai, C., & Tan, H. (2005). What makes the difference? a practical analysis of research on the effectiveness of distance education. Teachers College Record, 107(8), 1836-1884.

49

Appendices

Appendix A: Script for Interviews Appendix B: Interview Questions Appendix C: Letter to Focus Group Participants Appendix D: Consent Form for Focus Group Participants Appendix E: Focus Group Materials

50

Appendix A: Script for Interviews Script to be read to individuals from various Western Manitoba School Divisions for Participation in Preliminary Interviews Mike Nantais and Clark Gawletz, from Brandon University, Faculty of Education, are undertaking a study investigating best practices in technology based distance learning options for southwestern Manitoba superintendents and the BU Center for Aboriginal and Rural Education Studies. The purpose of this interview is to establish the types of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) systems and instructional strategies presently utilized by a sample of school divisions in southwestern Manitoba for online course delivery. Your comments will be recorded, if you agree, and notes will be made on your comments. They will be transcribed into an electronic format. Your identity will not be revealed in the transcripts and the written notes and/or tape recordings will be destroyed. You will not receive any remuneration for you participation, other than reimbursement for any expenses incurred. Participation is entirely voluntary. You are free to refuse to answer any of these questions and to leave the interview session at any time without repercussion. Results from this research will made available to the southwestern superintendents. The results may also be presented to interested groups and may form the basis for published papers. Do you have any questions? If you agree to participate in this interview, please sign this consent form.

51

Appendix B: Interview Questions Guide to Preliminary Interviews 1. Background: a) b) c) d) How long have you been teaching? How long have you been teaching online courses? Which subject(s) do you teach online? How do you characterize your comfort/ use of technology? Is this important to being a successful online teacher?

2.

What types of technology are presently incorporated into technology based distance delivery in your school/division? How would you improve the delivery of courses to students in your school division? ( Videoconferencing?, Online synchronous or asynchronous delivery?, A blend of technology?) Does your school division have a set policy concerning the implementation of digital technology as a means of delivering courses? Are you satisfied with the policy? What measures would you suggest that could improve this? How does this policy affect you or your program? How do/did you respond to the influence or impacts of the policy? What would you change in the policy or program?

3.

4. How important is the implementation of distance e-learning in your school division? What do you think are the main impacts for communities within your division? For each main impact: How would you describe the impact? Did distance e-learning improve the educational experience for the students? For the teachers? 5. How has this type of delivery affected your students learning and your instructional practices? How has digital technology contributed to learning outcomes? What changes would you make? What recommendations do you have? 6. From your experience, what factors and/or strategies make technology based distance learning successful? 7. Do you have any other comments to add? 8. Thank you for your time! 52

Appendix C: Letter to Focus Group Participants

53

Appendix D: Consent Form for Focus Group Participants

54

Appendix E: Focus Group Materials This appendix contains: script read at the focus group meeting, the agenda, discussion guide and exit slip. Guide for Focus Group Meeting May 27, 2009 Script to be read to participants at the start of the meeting: Welcome and thank you for your participation today. This purpose of this study is to identify key practices for the effective design and delivery of technology based distance education in southwestern Manitoba. The research team is conducting an extensive literature review and has conducted several individual interviews in the past few months. The goal of this focus group session is to gain further insights from your experiences on some factors identified by the research team, as well as to gather strategies that aid in effective delivery. The end result will be to inform practices most suited to the requirements of southwestern Manitoba school divisions. The research team will report on its findings and make recommendations that may serve useful for school divisions and practitioners. Further questions may also arise that can be the focus of future research projects. It is our hope that your participation will also be valuable to you by initiating thought and discussion and by providing networking with other like minded educators. As stated in the consent letter and form, your comments will be recorded, both on audio recorders and on chart paper, and transcribed into an electronic format. Your identity will not be revealed in the transcripts and the recordings and notes will be destroyed. You will not receive any remuneration for you participation, other than reimbursement for any expenses incurred (and a great door prize draw at the end of the day!). Participation is entirely voluntary. You are free to refuse to answer any of these questions and to leave the focus group session at any time without repercussion. Results from this research will made available to the southwestern Manitoba superintendents. The results may also be presented to interested groups and may form the basis for published papers. Once again, welcome and thank you for your participation.

55

AGENDA 1. Welcome, introductions & consent forms. (10 minutes) 2. Groups & instructions: (5 minutes) Administrators, Practicing Teachers 3. Questions 1 & 2 below: report to entire group. (30 minutes) 4. Begin question 3. (15 minutes) 5. 10:30 - 10:50 ~ Coffee break 6. Question 3 continued. (70 minutes) 7. 12:00 - 12:30 ~ Lunch 8. Report on question 3. (20 minutes) 9. Question 4 (30 minutes) 10. Quick coffee break (10 minutes) 11. Tips and tricks - sharing (20 minutes) 12. 2:00 pm ~ Wrap up and exit slip, expense forms. (10 minutes) If your school division is charging for a sub, please send invoice to: Mike Nantais, Faculty of Education Brandon University 270-18th Street Brandon, MB R7A 6A9

56

Discussion Guide for Focus Group Meeting 1. What do you think are the main strengths of digital technology as a distance delivery method for high school courses? 2. What do you think are the main weaknesses of digital technology as a distance delivery method for high school courses? 3. A number of factors & practices for design, delivery and instructional approaches have been identified by the research team from a literature review and interviews. Please comment on each in terms of importance in online courses, if and how the practice is addressed and any implications arising from their implementation? (if some apply more to one delivery method than another, please indicate) Social Aspects: comment on interactions between T-S, S-S, (the entire idea of social presence) communication classroom management

Instruction & Design: collaboration strategies for effective instruction range of activities & learning styles flexibility & pacing use of web tools

Assessment: types of assessment activities feedback, etc.

Technology: Support: technical support on- site mentors or other supports professional development technology expertise & comfort - both instructor and student access

57

Learner characteristics: What are the characteristics of a successful online learner?

Instructor characteristics: What are the characteristics of a successful online teacher?

4. Based on the discussion so far, what do you think are the biggest challenges facing the successful implementation of an effective technology based distance delivery system in your school/school division? For each of these challenges: Why is this a challenge? What are some possible solutions?

5. Tips and tricks please share any tips and tricks you use (or would like to use) to help students be successful in online courses or that make the instructors life easier? These tips may be put together and listed in an appendix in the final report. Exit slip (use the back if necessary) 1. Are there any additional comments or ideas that you did not get a chance to share? 2. What kind of format/product would you like to see as a follow up to this study? ie: In what ways can BU CARES assist in the development of online learning in SW Manitoba? (Research or resource development) 3. Do you have any other suggested research projects related to technology & education that BU CARES could initiate to help improve education in SW/Northern Manitoba? Thank you for your time!

58

Faculty of Education Brandon University Centre for Aboriginal and Rural Education Studies

59