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Required Student Interaction and Online Courses

Thursday, July 17, 2014 -- Shane Dennison

Part 3: Are there possible alternatives for current student-to-student and student-to-teacher interaction expectations for secondary students taking online courses? (Part 3 of 3)

Live chat, class discussion boards, email, webinars, virtual field trips….

These are samples of online course interactions that have become staples over the past 10 years. Are they all needed for online student success? Or is it primarily the frequency and/or the application of a substantial grade percentage that needs to be changed to existing modes of online interactions between students and instructors?

The list cited below (Restauri, 2006) mentions several of the typically agreed-upon good practices regarding student-instructor interactions surrounding online courses.

1. Use frequent student-instructor interaction to enhance motivation, encourage persistence and success, and develop a strong academic support system.

2. Encourage supportive rather than competitive student-student interaction.

3. Use real-world applications and personal examples as assignments to encourage active learning approach.

4. Provide prompt and suggestive feedback rather than solely critical feedback. Be a guide.

5. Enhance and evaluate students’ time on task.

6. Utilize self-fulfilling prophecy as a positive contributor for high student expectations.

7. Recognize, plan for, and positively accommodate individual student needs, goals, and learning orientations.

Is number seven (or a version of it) really the main listing we should become most familiar with when planning how online communications will and should be required when discussing universal standard expectations? Now that online courses, in both the secondary and post-secondary arenas, have become more and more utilized in the past five years, do we as online course instructors, course providers, and national educational-technology standard setters need to reexamine both student-to-teacher and student-to-student interaction expectations? For example, recent studies have shown that, for many students, the high demand in student-to-teacher and/or student-to-student interaction that is required by the teacher has actually reduced course completion rates (Grandzol & Grandzol, 2011). They found that “more is not always better.” We all value interaction, and iNACOL and other online technology standard setters show this value through their rubrics. However, since structured online courses have come into the mainstream, some researchers have begun to question if we demand too much interaction. Arbaugh and Rau (2007) report: “learner-instructor interaction had the strongest correlation with perceived learning; learner-learner interaction actually had a negative correlation with delivery medium satisfaction. The more participants a learner had to pay attention to, the less satisfaction they had with the learning environment.” Yes, certain students at a secondary level may need more frequent interaction than their classmates and post-secondary students, but many students at both levels are often drawn to online courses, so online courses can become an alternative to dealing “too” frequently with other students or their instructors. Thus, students can lose focus on the content itself if they have to spend inordinate amounts of time discussing these topics with others and/or having to reply to each virtual classmate’s discussion board response. The same issues can arise if too much student-to-teacher interaction is required.

Yes, checking in is needed, a sense of your instructor welcoming your questions is needed, and of course, timely feedback and responses by your instructor are crucial for any online course. Group activities to foster teamwork within certain fields are also important. But how many “required” interactions a week are needed outside of a student needing help or guidance? And what percentage of a grade should be tied to interactions, whether student to instructor or student to student. Do we require interactions because we know in theory it’s “pedogogically sound” to offer the same frequency of interactions that the student can get in a face-to-face course? Or have we gotten to the point that we have so many required interactions (whether quality interactions or not) to abide by national educational technology guidelines/requirements or to complete a syllabus checklist?

Now, let’s return to my key question from above; is number seven (or a version of it) really the main listing we should become most familiar with when planning how online communications will and should be required when discussing universal standard expectations? Not every classroom student is the same, nor is every online student the same. At all levels, some yearn for plentiful interactions, while others see it as a distraction from achieving their overall goals of completion.

Part 1: Required Student Interaction & Online Courses: Can Less Can Be More? (Part 1 of 3)

Part 2: Current iNACOL and Student-to-Student & Student-to-Teacher Online Course Interaction Expectations (Part 2 of 3)

References

Arbaugh, J. B., & Rau, B. L. (2007). A study of disciplinary, structural, and behavioral effects on course outcomes in online MBA courses. Decision Sciences Journal of       Innovative Education, 5(1), 65‐95.

Grandzol, J.R., & Grandzol, C.J. (2010). Interaction in online courses: More is NOT always better. Online Journal of Distance Education Administration 13(2). Retrieved from http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/summer132/Grandzol_Grandzol132.html 

Restauri, S. L. (2006). Faculty-student interaction components in online education: What are the effects on student satisfaction and academic outcomes? (Doctoral dissertation). Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database. (UMI No. 3206695)