Online education in a community college without walls
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Distance learning is one of the most important forces driving educational reform today. Headlines touting the benefits of educational technology are commonplace in journal articles and newspaper and television reports. In the past five years, we have seen an explosion in the number of computer-mediated courses offered at two- and four-year institutions. An area of particular growth has been that of asynchronous online instruction. This growth has spurred the development of a new construct, the study of computer supported collaborative learning (CSCL). Research on collaborative learning within the setting of online instruction is limited and anecdotal at best. Emergent research on CSCL shows learners in this learning environment are not isolated. It is a vibrant network of people--an interactive learning community--that is not limited by time, place, or the constraints of a classroom. Examination of the practical application of this theory is critical, especially when withdrawal rates for distance learning courses can range from 30-80%. Therefore, there is a need to understand the experiences and perceptions of distant learning students and the instructional strategies used by faculty within the online classroom where the social and cultural context of the learning community is created. The purpose of this qualitative study was to observe the pedagogical practices used by online instructors and examine the perceptions and characteristics of those students taking community college online courses. Then, compare this finding to what research says is needed for online instruction to support and foster computer supported collaborative learning. This study focused on four community college instructors who teach web-based courses in English, developmental mathematics, history and management. The study also examined the demographics of the students taking these online courses in order to provide a descriptive background of the participants and to assess their perceptions and experiences. The research questions addressed in this study were: 1) What pedagogical strategies do instructors teaching online courses use?; 2) How do online instructors promote collaborative learning communities?; and 3) What are the learning experiences of the students who take online courses?