Online Education for the Sense of Community and Students'
Master of Education in Teaching and Learning
Spring Semester 2004
Technologies have gained great popularity in primary
and secondary education. Computers and the Internet have been playing
more roles in terms of producing an online course to support students
since their time and distance may not be conducive to attend class. Most
of online students are participating in the online education because their
time and distance do not allow them to easily attend classes. Their scheduler
and geographic barriers can be accommodated through online education.
Students increasingly expect to participate in the online
education while they are working in their office or doing favorite things
at home. In addition, students will be able to benefit and improve their
academic career by using electronic and online resources available. Online
graduate students in Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania were given
the Online Education Survey via e-mail containing link to the online survey.
Their decision whether or not to participate in this study is voluntary.
We might have already seen a number of changes in the
higher education sector which have obtained the non-traditional education
such as, rapid growth in a number of online students, teachers, and courses.
This latter change has been significant within the development of online
education. Much effort and money has been spent in making technologies
available for supporting an online course or distance education and a
demand of non-traditional students which is rapidly increasing.
According to the general concept of online education,
an online course can benefit students as well as teachers in terms of
the removal of geographic barriers. Recently, many students and teachers
in the United States work in locations that are great distances away from
college and university, and cannot easily commute or attend class.
So, are there benefits to an online course other than
just the removal geographic barriers? I would like to study other benefits
of an online course to learning and teaching processes. The purpose of
this study is to determine if online education is able to create a sense
of community and provide positive student attitudes.
My action research focuses on the benefits of an online
education course for creating a sense of community and enhancing positive
students’ attitudes. After exploring several resources regarding
this topic, I would like to examine the main idea and gain some perspective
of online education.
Recently, technologies have gained great popularity
in primary and secondary education. Computers and the Internet have been
playing more roles in terms of producing an online course to support students
since their time and distance may not be conducive to attend class. Therefore,
an online course can benefit students in terms of the removal of geographic
barriers. Teachers will also be able to gain benefits from an online course.
Recently, many teachers in the United States also work in locations that
are great distances away from colleges and universities, and they cannot
easily commute or attend class.
Online education is known as anytime and anywhere learning.
Learners and teachers can easily participate in classes whenever and wherever
they are available. However, teaching and learning through the online
process still have to be as effective as traditional classrooms. Students
who are thinking to enroll in online courses will have the same question
in their mind: “Are the online courses as effective as classroom
sessions?” The answer varies depending on many factors just like
in traditional classrooms. The online education may be and may not be
effective for students and teachers. The Distance Education Department
of Colorado University provides the questionnaires for students who are
interested in registering online courses to give them an idea whether
or not online courses will fit for them . Some researches also provide
good characteristics of online learners and teachers such as good study
habits, time management skills, effective communication skills, and being
responsible and accountable for learning and teaching .
Recently, it is estimated that the online learning market
is growing 40 percent and generating $1.75 billion annually, according
to the Boston-based research firm Eduventures . The online education
is focusing on non-traditional working adult students. “The model
is based on flexibility and convenience,” says Seam Gallagher, an
analyst with Eduventures . On the other hand, the traditional students
also would like to take advantage of the flexibility and convenience from
enrolling in online courses.
Administrators of educational institutions should ask
themselves “Does the online education succeed in the retention rate
comparing to the traditional classroom?” According to Prof. Jim
Lengel at Boston University College of Communication, “…other
studies suggest that online courses suffer a much higher dropout rate
than classroom courses” . However, eCollage has found that
online retention rates are higher than traditional classroom rates among
its sample clients. Therefore, comparison of retention rates between the
online education and the traditional classroom is still inconclusive because
there are not many studies done regarding retention rates .
As the characteristics of online education which have
many resources on various web-sites, more reading, and more writing, it
is believed that people will pay more attention to detail and get to the
meat of the subjects. Indeed, almost one-third of same academic leaders
expect that learning outcomes for online education will be superior to
face-to-face instruction in three years, and nearly three-quarters of
them expect learning outcomes for online education to be equal t or better
than face-to-face instruction., according to a survey released last month
by the Sloan Consortium, a group of colleges dedicated to improving the
quality of online education .
Most of the materials provided by teachers in online
courses are from online resources. Only some of the required resources
are books or papers based on resources will be recommended. That means
the online students will be encouraged to discover various rich learning
sites. Most educations agreed with this power of online resources. By
exploring and discovering online, students and teachers will benefit as
- It can break the isolation of typical classrooms. Your students [and
you] can reach out to people and to learning opportunities from all
over the world.
- It can allow you and your students to experience people, places,
and activities not available in other ways (for example, Mars ... up
close and personal!)
- It can make learning more enjoyable and engaging.
- It can put the student in the driver's seat while teachers provide
the "map" to the desired destination.
- It can allow you and your students to be mentored and to mentor others.
- It can encourage your students to provide service to your community
and to those in need, near and far.
- It can allow you and your students to be active global citizens, participating
in "history in the making."
- It can provide relevant, real-life experiences for tomorrow's citizens.
- It can level the playing field for adults, children, ethnic groups,
gifted students, disabled learners, and people of different cultures
and socioeconomic backgrounds .
The participation in online education can also create
the positive effects for students and teachers as the face to face classrooms
do. According to “Vision of online projects dance in my head”
(1998), online education can establish collaborations, data collection
or exchange, mentoring projects, vicarious adventures, and events. Collaboration
in online courses will be able to provide an involvement of both single
student and teams from diverse locales. For group analysis, data collection
can be used to share with each other in online courses. Mentoring projects
in online courses can occur within the interpersonal exchanges between
more or different experienced members and others or professional and amateur
members. The online adventures will be thrilling and provide background
context for in depth studies. Lastly, the online events will help create
self-directed learners and active learning .
The article, “Psych Students Learn More Through
Distance Ed But Are Less Satisfied” of the Chronicle of Higher Education,
became one more entry into the ongoing debate over the quality and efficacy
of online learning (Carr, 2000) . From some studies regarding students’
attitudes to online teaching and learning, “results suggest
that students emphasized the importance of flexibility, good communication
and interaction. Students tended to differ in their attitudes toward asynchronous
communications with some highly appreciative of the time it offers for
thoughtful communication and the ability for all to voice opinions; others
miss the immediacy of face-to-face communication” .
The positive attitudes toward asynchronous communication
in online courses are believed to be able to enhance students learning
ability. This kind of communication typically does not take place in “real
time.” “So every participant has a real opportunity for
writing in a more considered way than she could speak in a tutorial. She
can edit, correct, expand and revise her statements before electronically
committing them to discussion” . Students also feel freer
to state their own opinions, including disagreeing with others . Students
who are shy or less verbal in participations can be given an equal to
share their ideas .
On the other hand, asynchronous communication cannot
provide physical interaction as face-to-face does. It can isolate students
and teachers. One student said “Online classes are great, but
not for me. You still haven’t captured the teacher-student interaction
that I got in the classroom.”  The lack of writing and typing
skills may be the main barriers and frustrations for communication within
According to some analysts, communities in online classes
can never be considered as communities because they cannot reproduce the
role and significance of communities just like physical communities do.
However, the report “People Can Create a Sense of Community in Cyberspace”
believes that some Internet groups can be considered communities. When
scholars talk about virtual communities, they are often talking about
“communities of interest” . Communities of
interest have existed for centuries but are widely acknowledged to have
become more significant as industrialization and urbanization began disrupting
agrarian lifestyles. The industrial revolution reduced people’s
dependence on their neighbors, increased their mobility, and expanded
their social contacts. All of these factors contributed to new patterns
of community networks built on something other than a shared place
. These all can prove the awareness of a sense of belonging and social
identity in online communities.
Most educators begin to realize that working in online
education is not really different from working in face-to-face classroom.
As a new concept so-called “learner-centered” is widely introduced
in teaching and learning world, students need to be given more active
roles in their learning. “It’s true in traditional classes,
and it’s more true online because you don’t have face-to-face
time”, says Charles Dziuban, director of the Research Initiative
for Teaching Effectiveness at the University of Central Florida .
Subjects were selected from full online graduate courses
regardless of gender, ethnic, or age. Subjects must be participating in
the online graduate course(s) at Lock Haven University in the spring of
2004. Online graduate students will receive an email requesting their
participation in a study to investigate the sense of community and student
attitudes in online education. The email will include an implied consent
form and a link to the survey for those wishing to participate. Subjects’
participation in this study is voluntary and will not affect their standing
at Lock Haven University.
The online questionnaire was created to encourage online
graduate students to easily access and participate. As it is the online
questionnaire, the survey will be accessed anonymously from the link provided
in the email, and no names or other personal identifiers were requested
on the survey. The results were deliberately evaluated and summarized
along with analysis of related literature.
Analysis of Data
The Online Education Questionnaire was sent to 188 subjects
who were online graduate students of Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania
according to eCollege’s survey tool. According to the methodology
section, they would get a message containing a consent form which had
an active link to the questionnaire located at the end. Students could
freely decide whether or not they were going to participate in the questionnaire.
It would be available and accessible online for 5 weeks. However, due
to the technical difficulty of eCollege’s survey tool, those who
were willing and decided to participate were unable to access the questionnaire
page during the first couple weeks.
Due to the technical difficulty at that time, the online
questionnaire had been recreated and moved to Lock Haven University’s
server instead. The message containing an instruction and a link to the
consent form was re-sent to subjects. Subjects would have only two and
a half weeks in order to complete the questionnaire. After that period,
there were 38 respondents deciding to participate in this questionnaire.
The questions created in the questionnaire were composed
from 4 different types of question. They were supposed to provide kind
of answers such; subjects’ demographic, subjects’ satisfaction
of online course involvement, subjects’ satisfaction of online communication,
and subjects’ attitude in the online course.
First, the population of respondents in this study indicates
that the majority of respondent [71.05%] was female. [Appendix
1; Table 2] The results also found that most respondents were between
mid-twenties to mid-thirties [68.42%] and Caucasian [89.47%]. [Appendix
1; Table 3 and 4] The results found that most respondents were enrolled
in a part-time school [72.97%] as they were a target student for online
education who would like to pursue in a higher education alongside with
working and taking care of family. [Appendix
1; Table 5] When asked about respondents’ GPA, 91.43% of respondents
earned greater than 3.0 GPA as a requirement of program. [Appendix
1; Table 7]
Second finding is the subjects’ satisfaction of
course involvement. From findings, respondents mostly accessed their online
courses 3-4 times a week [57.89%] or daily [31.58%]. [Appendix 2; Table
3] When asked to rate themselves the level of their involvement, 97.22%
indicated that they were involved [61.11%] and very involved [36.11%].
[Appendix 2; Table 4] When asked to indicate how well course procedures
and assignments could support online education objectives, most of their
answers were “Excellent” [51.35%] and “Very excellent”
[35.14%]. [Appendix 2; Table 6] The answers regarding the amount of reading
and writing in their online courses found that about 60% considered it
as appropriate, while about 29% felt that it was heavy. [Appendix 2; Table
8] When asked about satisfaction of their online courses, most respondents
felt; satisfied [61.29%] and extremely satisfied [38.71%] with not being
in a traditional classroom; and satisfied [42.11%] and extremely satisfied
[50.00%] with the quality of their courses. [Appendix 2; Table 9]
Thirdly, 34.21% of respondents spent only 1-2 hours
a week to communicate socially with other students and/or instructor.
The other [23.68%] spent 3 hours and more. On the other hand, there was
other 23.68% of respondents usually not communicating socially at all.
[Appendix 3; Table 2] The follow-up questions asked to indicate satisfaction
of respondents showed that most felt neutral, satisfied, and extremely
satisfied; with the socialization of the online course [89.48%], with
the work in the group activities [97.3%], and with the amount of contact
between you/other students and instructor [84.22%]. [Appendix 3; Table
Fourthly, by far the percentage of respondents feeling
that they were very active and professional [28.95%], and active and professional
[57.89%] were found as the largest population. [Appendix 4; Table 2] When
asked about how effective the teaching and learning in the online course
was, 84.21% of respondents answered that it was effective [52.63%] and
very effective [31.58%]. [Appendix 4; Table 4] The range between 75% through
94% of respondents felt that they were; satisfied [50%] and extremely
satisfied [34.21%] with their ability to apply the knowledge and skills
from the online course, satisfied [50%] and extremely satisfied [44.74%]
that they received at least one specific skill or tool that would enable
them to become more effective in their field, satisfied [47.37%] and extremely
satisfied [42.11%] with the materials they had been provided, and satisfied
[49.95%] and extremely satisfied [32.43%] that the online course changed
their behavior and enhanced their effectiveness in their learning process.
[Appendix 4; Table 5] When asked whether or not they would recommend online
learning to others, about 94.59% would do. [Appendix 4; Table 7]
The results found that students’
satisfaction of online course involvement was mostly positive. Online
graduate students of Lock Haven University were obviously satisfied of
being in the online learning. Although some of them were feeling that
the amount of work was a bit heavy, the online learning and quality was
able to provide the appropriateness and quality to their needs and satisfy
them with not being in a traditional classroom as their time was not conducive.
Students also felt that taking such courses enabled them to be more involved
and provided them course work which could support the objective of the
course. However, there were some comments concerning the communication,
interaction, and feed back such as;
“I think there needs to be
more interaction with the professor as far as keeping us updated.”
“I like the set up of the on line course. I have no recommendations.”
“…I would also list prominently the beginning and, especially,
the end date of the course on the page that appears every time the course
is accessed. Without having face-to-face communications, it is too easy
to "lose" the end date and have to struggle to catch up when
that date appears...”
“I felt there should have been more communication from the instructor
as well as I am somewhat dissatisfied that we have no grades and are half
way through the course. Especially in the first required courses when
it is a first graduate experience for many, early grades would be appreciated
so we know if we are doing things correctly.”
[Appendix 2; Table 10]
According to the Creating a sense of community around
a website, a community of people usually has most of these characteristics:
shared interests, shared values, shared problems/enemies, mutually supportive,
intimacy and physical face-to-face interaction at specific times .
A virtual online community shares most of these characteristics except
the last . The results also found that number of hours that students
spent on socially communicating in one week was low. Yet, learning in
online graduate courses is concerned with sharing materials and support,
intellectually discussing, and communicating about the same knowledge,
it can produce some significant characteristics of community. Nonetheless,
regardless of motivation to share, discuss, and talk, students may be
unable to develop the sense of community. Typically, students who are
satisfied learning or doing something will also be willing and motivated
to participate in any activity effectively. Most of online graduate students
of Lock Haven University were found that they are satisfied with: the
communication of the online course, the socialization of the online course,
the work in the group activities, the participation in the discussion,
and the amount of contact between you, other, and instructor according
to the results found. Unfortunately, some students made comments about
the down side of the sense of community in the online course, such as;
“Lack of student interaction
and ability to meet new people. Some professors are slow at responding
“…Professors not answering e-mails promply…”
“Live interaction is completely missing.....for phychological purposes
it may be needed for some your direction in some cases is less guided
and your role becomes compromised.”
“At times I do feel a little disconnected from the other students.”
4; Table 8]
The result of the attitude of online graduate
students of Lock Haven University in the online course were found that
most of them were really satisfied learning such course. They also had
a positive attitude of being involved in the online course. Most of them
felt that they were active, professional, and enthusiastic when they were
learning online. From the students’ comments, accessibility and
flexibility of the online course are still the major strengths of an online
course as it is originally a main idea of online education.
“Convience is a major strength.
I work 40+ hours a week and I am involved in an autism program so accessing
these classes when time is suitable to me is a major strength. Without
online courses I am not sure if I could attend school right now. I still
feel as if I am getting as well as an education as I would in a classroom.”
“Complete the course at my convenience. Professor availability was
great Learning process was very good flexability”
[Appendix 4; Table 8]
The other strength was that online positively changed
the learning process such as;
“assigned work can be completed
at your own convenience you ability to teach improves because of your
own role in online courses is reversed---you become the student and teacher”
“I feel that the major strength is that it doesent focus on lecturing
and other such teaching techniques that are used in face to face classes.
Also a great strength of online classes is learning is done by the students.”
“you can study as your schedule permits! easy access to additional
research as needed; can copy, cut & paste notes as you read making
it easier to compose follow up papers”
[Appendix 4; Table 8]
Students strongly agreed to recommend
others, would they consider taking the online course. The reasons were
stated such as;
“Definitely.This was a great
learning experience and I implemented many theories in our program. I
learned a great deal and satisified with my work.”
“I think online learning has both negative and positive aspects
to it. I recommend it to certain individuals but also discourage it for
others. It all depends on the needs and abilities of the person I am discussing
“I recommended online learning to others because it is nice for
those whom work full-time, have children, etc. Also, I think you learn
just as much online as you would from being in the classroom. Plus, there
tends to be more student/instructor interaction than I received when I
was in the classroom.”
“Because it gave me the ability to think outside of the box.”
“due to the convenience and the fact that the more classes you take
online the more you get used to them. They are an effective tool for learning,
even though you miss the personal interaction as in a regular classroom
“The flexibility outweighs any other factors and the information
is up to date and appropriate.”
“It is a unique way to learn course material and is a way to better
engage in the learning process.”
“Availability of courses, appropriateness of course content. Time
works for you instead of against you, if you have a full-time job.”
[Appendix 4; Table 9]
Finally, this study should be used on a broader scale
to provide helpful results and information in order to develop and enhance
the online education programs. Diverse population could add credence to
the conclusion of this study. A larger population would also be able to
make this study more credent.
Special thanks and acknowledgement goes to Dr. Marianne
Lovik-Power and David Staton. They made contributions to the basis for
 Distance Education
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