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Assessment of the online instructor.

INTRODUCTION

Online instruction has become a necessity for smaller institutions to grow and maintain a broader student base (Topper, 2007). In addition to fully-online courses, many schools offer hybrid options which augment the traditional classroom experience, mostly in a truncated and/or accelerated format, with an online component created to make up the deficit in contact hours and to enhance learning. Giving students a greater amount of flexibility with both scheduling and time management, online learning and hybrid learning has allowed smaller institutions to develop a unique student population that has been underserviced in the past.

Kirtman (2009) and others have shown results indicating that learning goals have been accomplished as successful whether instruction occurred in-class or online. Although online enhancements have given students measurable benefits, many students face certain challenges effectively employing online learning (Vigentini, 2009). Extraneous from financial and practical considerations, many students find online learning arduous (Topper, 2007). A certain student type may desire or require interaction with professor and peers for effective learning. Students may feel certain types of courses, particularly quantitative subjects, require active, face-to-face instruction, so that a real-time, interactive flow of information can occur.

Faculty members benefit from online instruction as well. Like their students, faculty members enjoy more flexibility in managing their time, an appreciated benefit as the role of faculty evolves in its service to administration as well as to the student body. The online format may provide less academic flexibility, but may allow faculty an enhanced ability to adhere to schedules and to learning objectives (Combs, et al., 2008). However, online learning has also provided faculty with different challenges (Lindsay, et al., 2009). Faculty members are charged with utilizing new and largely untested technology to teach otherwise familiar material, and the difficulties of removing the personal interaction partially or entirely from the process has rendered certain learning objectives particularly difficult to achieve. In general faculty satisfaction levels seem dependent on institutional support. Bollinger and Wasilik (2009) have stated that faculty satisfaction is generally high when the institution values online teaching and has established policies that benefit the faculty, such as additional release time for online course development.

Coincident with online instruction are distinctive challenges for assessing student development and learning. With traditional classroom instruction time reduced or nonexistent, unbiased evaluation should more readily occur, as the bias present in the classroom experience (the "mutual back patting" referred to by Pounder (2008), which results in student rewarding the instructor with a high teacher rating as a way to repay good grades or other positive interactions) should be significantly decreased or removed entirely. However, challenges exist for proper and fair measurement of student achievement. The assessment of student learning is an ongoing challenge, regardless of the venue, and this field will continue to develop over time.

THE MARKET FOR ONLINE EDUCATION

Online education is becoming more prevalent. According to the 2008 Sloan Consortium report, over twenty percent of all US higher education students were taking at least one online course in the fall of 2007. The Sloan Consortium report points to the poor economy, leading to an increase in both unemployed and underemployed students, as being positive to overall higher-education enrollment. Programs with the flexible structure common to hybrid and online course structures are strong beneficiaries of the adult population interested in pursuing a degree. In addition to the increased flexibility offered to students, the online and hybrid forums are becoming more popular for a variety of reasons (Mahoney, 2009). The cost-effectiveness of web-based instruction cannot be overlooked. Although the cost of utilizing a room may be part of a larger fixed cost, having hybrid or online offerings allows an institution or division to expand beyond its physical plant.

Online education is commonly defined as having 80% or more of course content delivered online. Felician College offers several online courses (which we will designate as "fully-online"). All of Felician's online courses have a proctored final exam requirement, which is, for most online course offerings, the only face-to-face contact.

However the Division of Business and Management Sciences within the college has a large non-traditional student population which is currently being served with a hybrid structure, which is commonly defined as having 30 to 80% of course content delivered online. In the Division of Business and Management Sciences at Felician College, of our 262 undergraduate students, approximately 40% are non-traditional students, achieving their degrees through on-and off-campus programs. New Jersey state requirements call for 37.5 hours of contact time for each three-credit course. Courses in the off-campus undergraduate programs and all of the graduate programs meet for either three or four hours over eight weeks, and the remaining contact hours are made up via an online component. (We currently have 83 students enrolled in the MBA program).

All of the traditional programs running on campus, as well as the non-traditional programs on-campus, which meet state requirements for full-contact time, have an online component (called an eCompanion). These will, at the bare minimum, have the syllabus attached, which includes the assignments, and virtual dropbox, which allows for electronic delivery of student assignments.

THE ASSESSMENT OF ONLINE INSTRUCTION

Institutions of higher education have acknowledged the critical need for developing standards that assure the quality of their online courses (Little, 2009), as online instruction is relatively new idea for both student and teacher. However, students' physical distance, their lack of direct responses, and the lack of restrictions over assessments found in the e-learning environment present challenges to evaluating the learning process (Halawi, 2009).

Although we continue to find student surveys to be useful and informative, there is considerable disagreement in relevant literature on the link between student evaluation of teaching and student achievement. While some studies may show that student evaluation surveys are valid multidimensional measurement tools, most investigations have found little correlation between student achievement and student ratings of their teachers (Alshare et al., 2009; Combs et al., 2008; Pounder, 2008; Topper, 2007). We are in the process of developing a new student satisfaction and feedback survey which we hope to present soon.

However, in order to attempt the fair evaluation of effective online instruction, we propose self- and peer-evaluation based on predetermined

measurements. The development of online course standards supplemented by collegial peer review can offer the basis for a quality assurance process (Little, 2009). In its best form, peer-reviewer comments can provide friendly recommendations as well as specific examples of how the course met or did not meet the standards, and provide the faculty with suggestions for improving the quality of the course as well as the teaching style. Beyond its critical role in instructor retention, program assessment, and accreditation preparation, a faculty evaluation system can signal to faculty an institutional commitment to their ongoing professional development (Mandernach, 2005).

Starting with the Spring 2010 semester, Felician College has required that all online and hybrid courses must be taught by faculty members who have taken an in-house certification course. The full-time faculty members have had the opportunity to learn how to create and teach online courses, via a five-week course, which has nine major assignments, including analysis of pedagogical issues and creation of components of an online course. The part-time faculty is required to take a four-week course on how to instruct online. As of today, 19 adjunct business faculty members have taken the course, which is offered twice a year, free of charge. Adjuncts, as of this time, are not allowed to develop courses.

In addition to the online certification programs, the Division of Business and Management Sciences has offered a chair-level position for the director of online pedagogy. This director has created a rubric to assess the online components of fully-online, hybrid, and traditional courses (see Appendix A). The rubric is divided into the two following areas:

* Course Design, which we define as how the online component has been structured; and

* Instruction, which we define as how the instructor facilitates learning in the online environment.

CREATION OF THE RUBRIC: EVALUATING THE COMPONENTS OF THE

ONLINE COURSE

The rubric for course design covers the four following areas:

* The Online Syllabus

* Access to Campus Services

* The Online Lectures

* Assignments

Evaluation of the Online Syllabus

The online syllabus is slightly different in format from a syllabus for a traditional course. The main difference is that the online syllabus needs to include a detailed explanation of what is expected from the students, both in-class and online. In a traditional course, student context influenced students' perceptions and interactions with the classes (Mahoney, 2009). Online interactions can be difficult because non-verbal communication cues are absent. Appropriate behavior, regarding proper etiquette for interaction, helps reduce misunderstandings, and thus must be properly and explicitly defined. However, as online students are somewhat removed from the instructor, and may not feel comfortable posting a question that can be viewed by other students, or may not consider the question important enough to email the instructor, it is important that the instructor provide explicit details regarding expectations which would normally be covered as an aside in class. To this end, the online syllabus also needs to includes a detailed explanation of what will be provided by the instructor, both in-class and online. Also, due dates need to be given exactly, and the proper method for delivering assignments needs to be explained. Reiteration is important, and these details are also listed at the assignment point. We have found that students are less likely to ask questions online, even via email, or may wait until the last minute to do so. Thus, detailed explanations are necessary to ensure student comfort. Again, because students tend to hand assignments in at the last minute, answering questions in a timely manner may be difficult. Thus, papers are given exact requirements for length and format, including proper citation of work. Also, quantitative assignments need guidelines regarding how much work needs to be shown, if assumptions need to be spelled out, and how diagrams or graphs need to be presented.

The syllabus also needs to include guidelines for interaction with the instructor. We require a virtual office, appropriate for general questions about the course and assignments. The response time is stated, so the instructor needs to check this regularly. Students are encouraged to email the professor with questions regarding grades. Additionally, grade rubrics are provided in the syllabus or as an appendix to the syllabus for each assignment type. Even more so than in a traditionally-taught course, transparency is important for student satisfaction.

A problem associated with online instruction is trying to ensure that the students feel connected to the college. As a mission-driven college, Felician strives to build a community, and thus we believe that a proper online component will provide the students with access to the following college services:

Access to the online library

In addition to including a Webliography, which is a categorized bibliography of supplemental online sources, access to the online library resources needs to be given.

Access to virtual office hours

Interaction with the professor needs to be encouraged as casual contact is not possible. By having a virtual office, which has been established as an online discussion thread, with a set response time (24 hours is usually encouraged), students contact will be encouraged.

Access to a virtual student lounge

Establishing another discussion thread as a virtual student lounge will encourage students to gain from shared experiences. Additionally, live chat rooms can be provided for a more private conversation.

Evaluation of the Online Lecture

Online lectures are created to replace a traditional lecture, but students are left without the ability to ask questions for immediate feedback. Thus, online lectures need to be more explicit, providing details that might not be presented formally in class, but may have been mentioned as an aside or as an answer to a clarifying question, but not adding too many details so as to lose the main audience. Hyperlinks to clarifying websites, additional lectures, or non web-based scholarly journal articles are a way to add in details which some, but not all students, may need. This layering of information needs to be designed to address the needs of all students, from the weakest to the strongest. This also helps to address different learning styles; in the context of online learning, some students will explore resources in a linear fashion, while others will loop on specific and more limited resources within the same session (Vigentini, 2009). These hyperlinks should also link to ancillary resources addressing different learning styles, e.g. podcasts and videos for auditory and visual learners; progressive online multimedia environments will continue to facilitate the effective delivery of online instruction because they provide the dynamics involved in high-quality instruction (Gaytan, 2009). For this reason, Felician does not allow 100- or 200-level courses to be given as fully-online.

Evaluation of Assignments

Again, without the ability to ask last-minute questions, assignments need to be handled differently in an online forum. Regular assignments, such as papers or answering questions from a text, are standard to any course. In an online forum, however, regular assignments require more explanation. Each assignment should have clear explanations as to what is expected from the student and what can be expected from the professor, as online assessment requires a more ongoing, systematic approach (Gaytan, 2009). For example, with a writing assignment, the format (font, margins, spacing, etc.) and length (number of words or pages, and if the appendices should be included in this) of the paper, including the proper method for citations should be discussed, the exact method for handing in the assignment, and a specific due date, as well as any course policies as to whether or not a late submission is possible, and if points will be taken off if a late assignment is accepted. Although many of these details may be listed in the syllabus, we have found that these facts need to be reiterated at the assignment point in order to have the majority of students satisfied.

Similarly, as with regular assignments, for online assignments, any specifics as to due dates, formatting, and expectations need to be clearly stated at the assignment point. Online tasks, such as online examinations and online discussions, require some level of interaction, and are designed to measure the appropriate learning outcomes, i.e. they need to replace something that would have been a graded assignment in a traditional class; for example, an asynchronous online discussion may replace an in-class debate. For students who are taking an online course for the first time, a brief explanation on this point has been found helpful for students.

Assessment is another way to provide contact time for an online course. Each assignment must have a designated method of assessment (usually an associated rubric, easily identified and found); this helps to provide answers as to what the instructor expectations are which could have been asked for and given casually in a face-to-face format. A detailed assessment method helps students gauge their strengths and weaknesses, and may help them prepare for the next assignment. The calculation of the final grade must also be made perfectly clear, as any grade disputes can adversely affect the quality of the course.

CREATION OF THE RUBRIC: EVALUATING ONLINE INSTRUCTION

Perfecting the format of the course is not the end of assessment; online instruction requires evaluation as well. The interactivity of instruction is particularly important, as these hours are meant to replace the contact hours missed from moving a course away from the traditional format. The faculty member needs to be motivated, and responsible to reply to all emails, post regular questions, and return assignments with the specified time (Hussin et al., 2009) in order to meet student expectations for a successful online experience. Thus, we assess online instruction through three forums:

* The Virtual Office

* Interaction in online assignments

* Timely and detailed grading of assignments.

Additionally, the instruction is evaluated at different points. According to Mandernach (2005) a singular formal interaction may be effective in the more intimate environment of the on-ground campus, where evaluators have ongoing opportunities to interact informally with instructors based on proximity, this practice does not translate meaningfully to the virtual classroom.

Evaluating Use of the Virtual Office

The virtual office, as explained above, is a place for students to post general questions. Online instructors need to make certain that questions are answered clearly, and ensure that turnaround time is within the stated horizon. The instructor needs to make certain to edit responses carefully, and make certain that questions which pertain to grades or student-specific situations are handled outside of this forum. The virtual office can be seen as an extension of traditional office hours, but is most commonly seen as the online extension of the give-and-take seen in a face-to-face classroom.

Evaluating Interaction in Online Assignments

Online assignments most commonly consist of online examinations and online discussions. Online examinations need to be graded quickly, with explanations provided. Many software packages provide instructors the ability to have the correct answers displayed automatically upon return; while this can help reduce the response time, the instructor should prepare a personalized communication for each student. Online discussions need to be given strict deadlines. We have found that assigning two due dates--one for the initial response, one for follow-up points, helps to ensure that students will refrain from procrastinating, and will allow the instructors two natural entry points to help guide the discussion with leading questions and comments. This also allows the online instructor to provide more detailed feedback.

Evaluating the Grading of Assignments

The grading of assignments must be detailed, as the face-to-face component is absent, and students tend to be reluctant to email or post questions. The absence of the friendly give-and-take present in face-to-face conversation may make written criticism seem unduly harsh, so it is particularly important for the instructor to stress the positive points as well as give specific details as to areas needing improvement. A quick turnaround time is also essential, so students are able to tackle future assignments with increased success.

CONCLUSION

Our conclusions are incomplete at this point; we have not had enough time and our sample size is not large for the proper testing of our rubric. However, we have developed a short list of ideas:

1. Syllabi need to be standardized.

2. Course formats need to be standardized. For this and the previous point, each student enrolled in a program cannot be expected to spend valuable time reacquainting himself to a new syllabus and course format. Students' expectations influence their perceptions and performance in the online learning environment (Mahoney, 2009), thus, managing their expectations, and developing a reasonable learning curve will help maximize student success.

3. Course and college expectations need to be established immediately, with as many anticipated questions, from the student and from the instructor, addressed. These first three points can be summarized in that the delivery model and supportive technologies must be consistent in an attempt to minimize the impact of change on both faculty and students (Gaytan, 2009), maximizing the potential of success.

4. Timely and detailed assessment is needed. Rubrics are the best way of standardizing this, and will allow not only the student to achieve greater comfort, but also will allow the instructor to have greater success, both in terms of speed and fewer conflicts with students.

5. The interactivity needs to be improved. This means a multidimensional online lecture, with hyperlinks designed to address questions for different student levels, as well as the encouragement of active participation in online discussions and a viable virtual office and student lounge can help with this dimension. According to Hussein et al., synchronous and asynchronous communication tools can be used to maintain high levels of communication among class and between the class members and the lecturers to promote the desired levels of interactivity.

6. The response time needs to be shortened, and again, to reduce the time spent grading, a detailed rubric appears to be the most helpful method for the online instructor.

7. Online courses need to be continuously modified, not just to reflect updated content information, but to revise according to student outcomes resulting from learning styles. Content includes all the conceivable materials that the students may need an in alternative forms (Hussin et al., 2009). According to Vignentini (2009), more prescriptive teaching measures might be required for lower achieving students, whilst higher achieving students tend to take learning opportunities autonomously without detailed guidance. In classes with a wider range of capabilities and preferences, a systematic approach to evaluation of styles should offer a customized and differential experience for all students which

would ultimately lead to better outcomes.

Ongoing faculty support for their teaching-learning is essential to ameliorate the perceived isolation of technology-enhanced education (Lindsay et al, (2009). A community of online learning in our institution has been created, centered about a separate ancillary division and the direction of online pedagogy. With this support in place, the acceptance of the assessment process has been positive in our division. Our faculty members have been apprised of every step in the creation of these rubrics, and have access to the rubrics when creating their online components. Additionally, the director of online pedagogy is available for consultation, and meets informally throughout the course duration. We stress repeatedly that the delivery only is being evaluated; the course content is not being appraised. Colleagues are best qualified to judge other faculty's teacher effectiveness (Shannon & Twale, 1996), and prior knowledge of strengths and weaknesses before evaluation help in creating an effective interaction. We stress that this is an ongoing process, and that the assessment of teaching via an online platform is a dynamic progression.

APPENDIX A

Hybrid Course Online Oversight First-Run Analysis Semester:

Start Date/End Date: Program/Cohort (if relevant): Course Name and Number: Creating Professor: Teaching Professor:

Points are designated according to the following scale: 3 points: The standard is met entirely; exceptional.

2 points: The standard is met well; there may be one or two minor details which can be improved upon.

1 point: The standard is met on a basic level; there will be several minor details which can be improved upon, or one or two major flaws which need to be reworked entirely.

0 points: The standard is not met in any way or the area is not covered at all.

Areas which do not receive 2 or 3 points must be reworked before the online component is used again. It is highly recommended that areas that receive 2 points be reworked as well.

Preliminary Overview (1-2 weeks prior to start of course):

Dates:

Part I: Course Home: Syllabus:

_______Specificity: The online syllabus should be detailed, with all information clearly articulated with specific but easy-to-follow directions to avoid confusion and misinterpretations.

_______Information: The syllabus should identify expected roles and responsibilities of students and instructor in

the online environment as well as all special resources, procedures and issues relevant to a hybrid class, and follow the guidelines established by the Division. Hybrid courses need details as to what will be in-class and when and what will be online; while these details may not be part of the syllabus but rather of the individual modules, it is necessary to include in the syllabus the unique relevant features. A table is recommended. Dates should be included.

_______Assessment: Course and module/unit objectives are aligned with the Division-recommended assessment. Detailed rubrics are provided for each type of assignment.

_______Tone: Syllabus should clearly establish policy but maintain a friendly tone to ensure student comfort.

_______Format: Font and font size (unless altered for emphasis) are consistent throughout. Important points are

highlighted with color or other emphasis. Graphics and pictures are of an appropriate size.

_______Policies & Rules of Conduct for Online Participation: College and course polices and rules of conduct

spelled out with a notation that all aspects of the college's catalogue and student handbook apply equally to the online student.

Library:

_______Presentation: Link to the library's online resource guide is functional. Explanation of usage is given. Virtual Professor's Office:

_______Presentation: The professor's response time is clearly stated. The online discussion function is working correctly.

Part II: Resources Webliography:

_______Quality of Resources: The resources in the Webliography are of a high standard.

_______Presentation: Each link is functional. Resources may be categorized. A detailed description of each resource is provided.

DocSharing:

_______Quality of Resources: The resources in the DocSharing function are of a high standard. Printable syllabus should be included here.

_______Presentation: Each link is functional. Resources may be categorized. A detailed description of each resource is provided.

Drop Box:

_______Functionality: Dropboxes exist for all assignments. Dropboxes can be accessed easily via the appropriate module.

Grade Book:

_______Functionality: All written assignments, threaded discussions, online quizzes and examinations, and proctored exams are located in the correct module and with the correct points.

Part III: Modules/Units

Overall Design:

_______Functionality: An appropriate number of modules exist. The modules are of an appropriate length, both in terms of detail and time schedule.

_______Format: Font and font size (unless altered for emphasis) are consistent throughout. Important points are highlighted with color or other emphasis. Graphics and pictures are of an appropriate size.

Instructional Objectives:

_______Clarity: Each unit or module begins with a clear set of instructional objectives that relate back to the course objectives. The instructional objectives offer participants a focus as to the learning outcome of the module.

_______Usage: The objectives are clearly designated as being a goal of work to be done in class, outside of class, or online.

_Assessment: Instructional objectives are aligned with the Division-recommended assessment.

Online Lectures:

_______Format: Lectures are of an appropriate length. Information is divided ("chunked") into multiple sections.

_______Usage: The lectures are clearly designated as needing to be read before a specific class. The lectures should indicate how it relates to work to be done in class.

_______Quality of Resources: Appropriate hyperlinks are utilized. All links should be functional.

Reading Assignments:

_______Format: Reading assignments are clearly explained. Due dates are clearly explained.

_______Quality of Resources: Online resources as well as the course text are utilized. All links should be functional. Use of unique sources of information (YouTube, PowerPoint presentations, etc.) to accommodate different learning types is encouraged.

Written Assignments:

_______Format: Written assignments are clearly explained. Due dates are clearly noted. Writing standards,

including length and formatting of paper, are included. Use of the dropbox, and use of additional resources (TurnItIn, LiveText, etc.) are clearly explained.

_______Quality of Resources: Written assignments should have a separate tab under the appropriate module. The due date should be entered in the Course Checklist. The dropbox should be functioning.

Threaded Discussions:

_______Format: Online scholarly discussions are clearly explained. Due dates for initial postings and responses are clearly noted. Writing standards, including length of responses and handling of citations, are included.

_______Quality of Resources: Online scholarly discussions should have a separate tab under the appropriate module. The due date should be entered in the Course Checklist. The threaded discussion function should be active.

Additional Assignments

_______Format: Graded online quizzes and examinations may be part of a hybrid course. Also, ungraded

interactive self-tests are a welcome addition. All additional assignments should be clearly explained. Due dates for graded additional assignments are clearly noted. Writing standards, if appropriate, are included.

_______Quality of Resources: Graded additional assignments require a separate tab under the appropriate module.

The due date should be entered in the Course Checklist.

Preliminary Overview Comments and Recommendations:

First Interim Check (1-2 weeks into the course):

Note that one or more scores of 0 or 1 will require that this course be subject to a second interim check. All courses will have this first interim check, as well as the final check.

Dates:

Virtual Office Hours:

_______Response: Professor is responding promptly to queries and comments made in the virtual office.

Drop Box:

_______Usage: Rubrics are being appropriately used and returned with grades to the students in a timely manner.

Grade Book:

_______Response: Professor is posting grades for all written assignments, threaded discussions, online quizzes and examinations, and proctored exams in a timely manner. Grades are being posted correctly.

Threaded Discussions:

_______Response: Professor is responding to each student individually with questions and comments showing a depth of understanding of the topic. Professor is utilizing leading questions to encourage further discussion, and correcting direction for discussions wandering off topic.

First Interim Check Comments and Recommendations:

Second Interim Check (3 to 5 weeks in, dependent on score of previous interim check):

Note that one or more scores of 0 or 1 will require that this course be subject to a third interim check. Dates:

Virtual Office Hours:

_______Response: Professor is responding promptly to queries and comments made in the virtual office.

Drop Box:

_______Usage: Rubrics are being appropriately used and returned with grades to the students in a timely manner.

Grade Book:

_______Response: Professor is posting grades for all written assignments, threaded discussions, online quizzes and examinations, and proctored exams in a timely manner. Grades are being posted correctly.

Threaded Discussions:

_______Response: Professor is responding to each student individually with questions and comments showing a depth of understanding of the topic. Professor is utilizing leading questions to encourage further discussion, and correcting direction for discussions wandering off topic.

Second Interim Check Comments and Recommendations:

Third Interim Check (1 to 2 weeks prior to end of course):

Note that one or more scores of 0 or 1 will require that the instructor of the course undergo three interim checks in the next course, fully-online or otherwise, to be taught.

Dates:

Virtual Office Hours:

_______Response: Professor is responding promptly to queries and comments made in the virtual office.

Drop Box:

_______Usage: Rubrics are being appropriately used and returned with grades to the students in a timely manner.

Grade Book:

_______Response: Professor is posting grades for all written assignments, threaded discussions, online quizzes and examinations, and proctored exams in a timely manner. Grades are being posted correctly.

Threaded Discussions:

_______Response: Professor is responding to each student individually with questions and comments showing a depth of understanding of the topic. Professor is utilizing leading questions to encourage further discussion, and correcting direction for discussions wandering off topic.

Third Interim Check Comments and Recommendations:

Final Check (1-2 weeks after end of course)

Dates:

Grade Book:

_______Response: Final grades have been posted. Grades have been given according to the grading policy listed in the syllabus.

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Vigentini, L. (2009). Using learning technology in university courses: do styles matter? Multicultural Education & Technology Journal, 3(1), 17-32.

Irene S. C. Parietti, Felician College

David M. Turi, Felician College
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