Analysis (Part I)
This page was written by Megan Dick
The analysis of this case study is organised using Allen's (1998) six functions of a manager. The authors will examine whether the students' learning was managed effectively on this course by looking at each of the management roles set out by Allen. Issues relating to these management roles will be looked at within the context of management and learning theories. The first part of this analysis will look at Allen's first three functions; establishing objectives, organising and motivating.
Roger Allen (1998) lists establishing objectives as the first function of an effective manager. This is an essential role for a tutor in education. In order for a teacher to produce a focussed and effective lesson plan, they should always know what it is they want their students to have learned by the end of a lesson. In an on-line course, setting objectives is also important as shared learning objectives can create a collaborative learning community. According to Abdous et al (1998), a collaborative learning community should be built based on a group's shared learning goals. This will then create a shared purpose and give the learning of the group direction.
The authors set the following aims for the activity they set the students:
Students were specifically asked to do several things during this activity and this was set out in the Actions section of the activity. (Appendix A) The students were asked to read two case studies of teaching using ICT and to begin to discuss them in the on-line discussion area. They were also asked to post an aspect of their own experience of teaching with ICT to the discussion. However, there were some problems with the students accomplishing what had been asked of them. By examining Allen's functions of an effective manager, the authors hope to discover why their stated aims were not completely met. The authors feel they did establish objectives. However, when asked, most students responded that they thought they had only partly achieved these objectives. (Appendix C)
Bracewell et al (1998) stated that two important conditions that should be met in order for students to successfully participate in an on-line learning environment were that expectations should be clear and the centrality of the students' participation in the discussion should be clearly stated. For this course, the on-line discussion was central to the students' learning and the authors tried to make it clear that all students were expected to participate.
One problem seemed to be that students did not entirely understand the importance of the on-line discussion. The task assigned them was discussion-based, but some students did not entirely take this on board and expected something different. Student I responded that they felt the tutors did not give them enough support and that, " … there needs to be more face-to-face discussion and it would help to have a clear task to complete." (Appendix C) This answer shows a misunderstanding of the nature of the task and on-line learning. The course was not meant to be run with face to face sessions, as it was predominantly on line. This student also does not seem to have understood the centrality of the on-line discussion. The tutors should have picked up this basic misunderstanding of the nature of the course and corrected it.
Another reason for some students not participating fully was purely practical. The spring half term of the school year fell during the first half of the two week activity. The authors did post to the discussion that students who had missed the first week of the activity should just begin the activity when they returned and some did. However, others felt lost when they returned to the discussion and felt unable to participate. (Appendix C)
Another reason for some students not participating fully was that the case studies chosen were not relevant to those students who were in the Further Education sector. As the case studies were set in secondary school departments, these students felt they could not relate to them. This factor was not taken into account when the authors formulated their objectives. Abdous et al (1998) stated that a learning community should be set in a specific context, so that the students can draw meaning from it. The context was assumed to be teaching ICT, but this seems to be too broad a context for some of the course's participants to effectively take part.
Paulson (1995b) noted that the first of Mason's three roles of a computer conference moderator should be that of organisation. The moderator should set objectives and manage interactions amongst the students, in order to give them direction. The authors set objectives in Activity B and explained what the students needed to do to achieve these objectives. (Appendix A) They provided two case studies for the students to read and reflect upon and asked them to read some literature in the course text. They then listed the actions that the students were meant to do to complete this task. The structure of the course had organised the students into groups of similar interest and given them group organisers on-line where they could discuss the task and provide each other with web links they might be interested in. The authors assigned a member of one of these groups to be in charge of and lead the discussion forum for each week.
The literature bears out this method of organisation. Kearsley (1997) suggests that this division of students into smaller groups is an effective way for students to work collaboratively and share ideas on relevant issues. Kerka (1996) points out that if relationships among learners can be developed, the possible isolation of a long distance learner can be avoided. The students generally responded that they were happy with this set up. However, some felt that their groups had been too small to effectively discuss the issues. One group in particular had only two students, and this was deemed too small. Kearsley did state that groups of three or four were needed.
Course organisers and tutors are also responsible for providing resources for the students. To create an effective learning community, many resources should be provided for the students. (David H. Jonassen et al, 1998) Some students responded to the questionnaires that they felt that too few resources were provided for them. This issue is puzzling as the activity was only two weeks long. Two case studies and a chapter in the course text were provided as resources. There was also a library on-line that the students could use to find further readings if they wished. The authors feel that these resources were sufficient to provide for a short period of study. It is interesting to note that there were a few students who felt they would have liked more resources to be provided and more in depth discussion of the literature, but also stated that they felt they did not have enough time to devote to this activity. (Students B and I, Appendix C) These answers could be due to the students unfamiliarity with on-line learning. Hiltz (1995b) noted that some students might be happier with the predictability of a traditional classroom format. An on-line environment might provide so many opportunities for further learning, that students do not know where to start. Tutors might also not want to provide too many mandatory resources so that students do not get overburdened or lost.
Allen's third function of a manager is motivating. For an on-line course for adults, this function seems particularly relevant. According to Knowles' theory of andragogy (TIP Database, 1996), courses desinged for adults will be motivating if the adults understand why they are learning something. Johanssen et al's (1998) explanation of learning communities depends on similar ideas. Students should explore resources, rather than "swallow instructional packages likes pills." These ideas depend on students and teachers taking responsibility for their own learning, and therefore motivating themselves. If this happens, students contribute to the learning of the whole group by collaborating. Adult learners are responsible for their own learning and are often self motivated, as much of their post-compulsory education is voluntary.
Some students succeeded in motivating themselves. When students were asked what they had learned as a result of Activity B, one said, "It made me think about examples of my own teaching which have been effective and those which definitely haven't." (Student B, Appendix C) This student participated well in the discussion and asked the tutors for direction when unsure. However, other students experienced problems with motivation on this course.
Kearsley (1997) pointed out that some students are happy to actively participate in an on-line discussion, while others prefer to read messages and not respond. Some students did post messages to the on-line discussion saying that they felt anxious about posting. They felt unsure that they were saying the right things or posting in the correct places. The tutors responded to their posts, reassuring them that they were all on the right track.
However, some students still did not contribute to the discussion, and this had a de-motivating effect on other students. Student B commented, "I am put off contributing if no one else has contributed on that particular day." (Appendix B) This would obviously have a cumulative effect on other students. Student I felt that the tutors were not taking an active interest in who was participating. This student said, "I feel very isolated and have not felt any interest on the part of tutors - not even an email to ask WHY I haven't left a message." (Appendix C) This student was expecting more motivation from the tutors. As mentioned previously, students who are successful adult learners should be responsible for their own learning and motivate themselves. This student was also unhappy that they did not have internet access at home, only at school. Hiltz (1995) explained that students who have adequate access to the necessary equipment and interact well with other students and tutors gain the best results from an on-line environment. Student I did not seem to have had adequate access to the internet and so felt unmotivated.
These two factors therefore seem to be important requisites for successful learning and motivation in an on-line course. This is born out by another student's answers to the first questionnaire. Student G said, "I find it difficult to be disciplined enough to get on the computer during the day. As I am not online at home this presents a problem." (Appendix B) It is interesting to note that this student did not complete the course in the end.
The issue of relevance is also important for motivation. Those students in the Further Education field had difficulty feeling involved in the case studies, as they did not see them as immediately relevant to their environments. The main course tutor noted this in her answers to the questionnaire. (Appendix D) She said, "A lot of the motivation was due to relevance." She felt this especially related to the students in FE and that in the future, case studies that relate to FE training as well as teaching should be included for trainers in a non-educational situation.
This part of the analysis has looked at Allen's first three functions of a manager - establishing objectives, organising and motivating - in order to establish how effectively students' learning was managed on this course. The authors set objectives for the students, detailing their aims in Activity B. Most students only partly achieved the objectives set for them. There seem to be three main reasons for this. The first was because the centrality of the students' participation in the on-line discussion did not seem to be understood by all students. Secondly, some students noted that they were not able to give the necessary time to the task for several practical reasons. Lastly, the case studies presented to the students were not relevant to all. However, many students did reply that they had learned more about teaching with ICT and had begun to reflect on their own practice.
In organising the activity, the tutors did well, as students were organised into smaller groups where they could share their ideas with other participants of similar interest. Some students wanted more resources to be provided but the authors feel that if they had provided more resources, students would have been unable to complete the task in the two weeks assigned to it.
The fact that some students did not contribute regularly to the on-line discussion had a de-motivating effect on other students. These students did not contribute to the learning of the whole group and did not help to establish a collaborative learning community. The students who were self motivated and took responsibility for their own learning learned effectively during Activity B and felt able to seek guidance from tutors when they needed help. On-line learning seems to best suit these students and they achieved the best results from the on-line learning environment.
At this point you will probably want to view the Analysis (Part II).
Otherwise you may want to move on to the Joint Conclusions page.
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