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A design-based research approach for creating effective online higher education courses

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Abstract This paper discusses how a design-based research approach is being used to explore how to design and develop authentic e-learning within the higher education sector. Like action research, design-based research is accomplished at the coal
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    Page 1   Parker, J. (2011). A design-based research approach for creating effective online higher education courses  .WAIER Research Forum. Forum presentation. University of Notre Dame. Fremantle, Western Australia.   Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.  A design-based research approach for creatingeffective online higher education courses   Jenni Parker Faculty of Arts, Education and MediaSchool of Education  j.parker@murdoch.edu.auThis paper discusses how a design-based research approach is being used to explore howto design and develop authentic e-learning within the higher education sector. Like actionresearch, design-based research is accomplished at the coal face, however, it involves anongoing iterative process to monitor the effectiveness of a specifically designed artefact “to provide immediate (and accumulating) feedback on the viability of its „learningtheory‟ or „hypothetical learning trajectory‟ ” (Kelly, 2004, p. 105).Design-based research consists of four connected phases: analysis, development of solutions, iterative cycles of testing and refining solutions and reflection and productionof design principles (Reeves, 2006). This paper focuses on phase one of the researchprocess. It identifies some of the challenges educators face when designing and deliveringstudent-centred learning environments and provides examples to demonstrate howtechnology is currently being used to support student learning in authentic onlineenvironments. It proposes one possible solution for improving the quality of onlinelearning in higher education and outlines the intended qualitative methodologies andprocesses for the following phases of the research project. Keywords : constructivism, authentic e-learning, higher education Introduction Over the past few decades there has been a massive swing among educational theorists andpractitioners towards a more constructivist approach to learning. However, research indicates there isa significant gap between the preferred constructivist online teaching approaches and actual practisesin higher education (Kim & Bonk, 2006; Maor, 2003; Oliver, 2005).This paper discusses how a design-based research approach is being used to design and implement anonline course based on authentic learning principles to create a more interactive and engaging onlinelearning experience for higher education students. Like action research, design-based research isaccomplished at the coal face, however, it involves an ongoing iterative process to monitor the effectiveness of a specifically designed artefact “to provide immediate (and accumulating) feedback on the viability of its „learning theory‟ or „hypothetical learning trajectory‟ ” (Kelly, 2004, p. 105). Design-based research Design-based research is also commonly known as design research, development research, and design experiments (van den Akker, 2006). It is an iterative research process which Reeves (2006)described as four connected phases, (Figure 1).It is a research approach that is being used more and more in education  —  particularly to investigateinnovation using technology-based initiatives  —because it “embraces the complexity of learning andteaching and adopts interventionist and iterative posture towards it” (Kelly, 2004, p. 105).    Page 2   Parker, J. (2011). A design-based research approach for creating effective online higher education courses  .WAIER Research Forum. Forum presentation. University of Notre Dame. Fremantle, Western Australia.   Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.  Key elements of this approach include: addressing complex problems in collaboration withpractitioners, integrating design principles with new technologies to develop practical solutions to theproblem and conducting effectiveness evaluations to refine the proposed solution and identify newdesign principles (Reeves, 2006). Figure 1 - Four phases of design research (Reeves, 2006, p.59) In this paper, I describe how each of these phases is enacted in a research study designed toinvestigate and improve online learning, specifically through the use of more authentic learningdesigns and tasks. Phase 1  –  Analyse the problem Phase 1 addresses three key areas: the problem, the literature review and practiti oners‟ experiences. During this phase, the researcher clearly articulates the problem and investigates what work hasalready been done in the same or related fields. By the end of Phase 1, the researcher should be able tocreate preliminary research questions to guide the research (Herrington, Reeves, & Oliver, 2010). The problem: Many online higher education courses are primarily information delivery vehiclesrather than effective online learning environments. Lack of time, online pedagogical competency andtechnical skills has caused many teachers to simply dump large tracts of information into onlinecourses. This information delivery model (Miller, 2000) has led to student boredom and isolation,resulting in high dropout rates and pleas for richer and more engaging learning experiences (Kim &Bonk, 2006; Maor & Volet, 2007; Reeves, Herrington, & Oliver, 2002). Literature review: The design of the learning environment plays an important role in successfulonline learning as “pedagogy and software design are closely intertwined in online learning - the „shape‟ of the software can help or hinder the teacher in what they are trying to do” (Pedagogy, 2010,p. 1). Therefore linking learner needs, pedagogy and technology is a challenge educators need toresolve to order to create effective online learning environments (Kim & Bonk, 2006).  Learner needs: 21st century learning To thrive in our emerging global society, learners will need expert thinking and complexcommunication skills (NETS for students, 2007). Just as the industrial revolution radically changedthe education system in the 19 th century the current knowledge revolution is starting to have aprofound impact on the way we learn. People want more control over where they learn, what theylearn and how they learn and more opportunities to interact with their peers and other supports(Collins & Halverson, 2009). But, emerging research indicates that many students lack the requiredskills for independent learning (Lombardi, 2007).    Page 3   Parker, J. (2011). A design-based research approach for creating effective online higher education courses  .WAIER Research Forum. Forum presentation. University of Notre Dame. Fremantle, Western Australia.   Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.  Pedagogy: Constructivist learning theories Constructivist learning theories are based on the premise that knowledge is constructed in the mind of the learner (Bodner, 1986) and that learning happens best when students are active participants in thelearning process. Constructivists believe learning is strengthened, deepened, and made more effectivewhen it is social, engaging, relevant to students, and offers learners multiple paths (M. Brown, 2007).Situated learning theorist believe learning is a process of enculturation and argue that knowledge is “a product of the activity and situations in which they are produced” (J. S. Brown, Collins, & Duguid,1989, p. 33). They define a uthentic activities as “the ordinary practices of    the culture” (p. 34) and believe that learners need to experience the activities and culture of the community in order to buildan implicit understanding of how to act effectively within the community.Authentic learning is founded on the theory of situated learning and is a process involving thedynamic interactions between the learner, the task and the environment (Herrington, 1997). Authentictasks that encourage and support student engagement and immersion in a cognitive real environmentcan facilitate self-directed and independent learning (Herrington, 2006), encourage confidence, and cultivate “portable skills” such as judgement, patience, synthetic ability and flexibility that most learners have difficulty in grasping (Lombardi, 2007).Emerging cognitive research in dicates authentic learning principles align with “the way the humanmind turns information into useful, transferable knowledge” (Lombardi, 2007, p. 7). Contemporarysociety uses the Internet to perform all kinds of knowledge based activities in their everyday life(Allen, 2009) and many researchers believe that authentic tasks supported by the affordances of newtechnologies that enable people to communicate and collaborate have the potential to improve studentengagement and knowledge construction (Carmean & Haefner, 2002; Herrington, Reeves, & Oliver,2006; Lombardi, 2007). Technology E-learning developers and researchers suggest Web 2.0 technologies have the potential torevolutionise the education sector moving it from a hierarchical teaching approach to a morenetworked approach (Allen & Long, 2009; Kop, 2008) but in order to take advantage of theaffordances of the Internet, higher education needs to provide learners‟ with easy access to the wealthof knowledge and sophisticated tools already available to society (Allen & Long, 2009).The major challenge for instructional designers and practitioners for implementing authentic onlinelearning is aligning the critical components of authentic tasks with effective learning principles(Herrington, et al., 2006). Other challenges are: determining how authentic learning theories andcharacteristics can be implemented effectively within rigid learning management systems (Agostinho,Meek, & Herrington, 2005; Carmean & Haefner, 2002), and how to provide support to teachers toassist them to use and implement new technologies (Oliver, 2005).Maor (1999) suggests teachers need to experience new learning environments as learners themselvesin order to implement changes to their teaching approach. Therefore online professional developmentprograms that assist practitioners to learn and use pedagogically sound technology could reduce thetension between pedagogy and technology and improve the quality of online learning (Maor, 2006). Practitioner experiences: Design research emphasises the knowledge of practitioners and seeks touse their insights in the design of the research and potential solutions to educational problems. Face toface informal discussions with peers revealed that professional development plays an important role inencouraging the use of constructivist e-learning approaches.Other key issues that emerged from the practitioner discussions were: the need to respond to studentdemand for quality online learning experiences; the importance of providing ready access todiscussion opportunities and forums; the need to provide more flexible learning options for students,difficulties with educating students to take more responsibilities for their learning, constrictions    Page 4   Parker, J. (2011). A design-based research approach for creating effective online higher education courses  .WAIER Research Forum. Forum presentation. University of Notre Dame. Fremantle, Western Australia.   Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.  imposed by the LMS, lack of recognition for providing quality online teaching, lack of time to learnabout new technologies, interface design principles, and online pedagogies.All practitioners agreed that the quality of the online discussions were better than face-to-face in-classdiscussions and that one of the most valuable methods for teacher learning was peer networking.The literature review and informal peer discussions suggest an authentic learning framework thatincorporates the affordances of new technologies has the potential to create rich online learningenvironments that foster deeper student learning and engagement. Research question: How c an an authentic learning framework be implemented within a learningmanagement system (LMS) to provide effective and sustainable online learning experiences forhigher education students? Secondary questions will contribute to the investigation of the primary question:1.   How effective is an authentic learning framework for designing and delivering e-learningcourses using a learning management system (LMS)?2.   How important to participants is each of the critical components of authentic e-learning foreffective learning within an online environment?3.   What support do practitioners feel are most important for using and implementing newtechnologies? Phase 2  –  Design and develop potential solution  Phase 2 of the design research approach focuses on designing and developing solutions to theproblem. During this phase a more targeted literature review will be conducted. Relevant theories,design principles and existing frameworks will be explored in depth to develop a framework for thecourse design (Herrington, et al., 2010). One possible solution for improving the quality of online learning in higher education  —  that will betested in the proposed research  —  is to create an online professional development course based on anauthentic learning framework where practitioners can experience online learning via a learning management system from a student‟s perspective, learn how to use an authentic learning framework  for designing and implementing their own authentic learning courses and have the opportunity tonetwork with their peers. The following guidelines derived from phase one will inform the course design:  1.   Select existing design principles that can be used to guide the design of an authentic onlinecourse for delivering a sustainable and effective professional development for highereducational practitioners.2.   Develop online pedagogies that are appropriate to achieve the desired learning outcomes.3.   Choose technologies to support online communication and collaboration.4.   Choose technologies that can be used as cognitive tools by students to demonstrate theirlearning.Existing online learning design principles, frameworks, pedagogies and technologies are currentlybeing explored. Pre-service teachers participating in two authentic online courses have been surveyedabout their learning experience and use of technologies such as: LMS discussion forums, Skype,Diigo, and Google Docs to determine the most effective tools for communicating, collaborating andcreating in an online environment. Data obtained will be used to guide the course design and resultswill be published in future papers once the final analysis has been completed. Phase 3  –  Implement and evaluate In Phase 3, the course developed in Phase 2 as a potential solution to the problem will be implementedand evaluated twice to determine the effectiveness of the framework. It is in this phase that data iscollected and analysed. Four major issues identified by Reeves and Hedberg (2003) will be used to    Page 5   Parker, J. (2011). A design-based research approach for creating effective online higher education courses  .WAIER Research Forum. Forum presentation. University of Notre Dame. Fremantle, Western Australia.   Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.  guide the evaluation design: anticipated evaluation decisions, the questions that need answering inorder to make the decisions, the information needed to answer the questions and data collectioninstruments required to obtain the information.The iterative implementations and evaluations will endeavour to answer the secondary researchquestions:1.   How effective is an authentic learning framework for designing and deliveringe-learning courses using a learning management system (LMS)?2.   How important to participants is each of the critical components of authentic e-learning foreffective learning within an online environment?3.   What support do practitioners feel are most important for using and implementing newtechnologies? Phase 4  –  Reflect and report Phase 4 of the study is where the researcher will reflect on the entire project and disseminateinformation to the broader educational community. The culmination of this work will be the finallearning design principles comprising guidelines for the design of effective e-learning environmentsin higher education. Conclusion Conducting research at a practitioner level where teachers are immersed in the theoreticalenvironment they are learning about has the potential to change existing online teaching practisesusing a bottom up approach (Oliver, 2005). Design-based research contributes substantially to suchchange through the publication of principles and guidelines for other educators in similar situations.The processes and results of this study are expected to contribute to knowledge about theeffectiveness and sustainability of authentic e-learning approaches. References Agostinho, S., Meek, J., & Herrington, J. (2005). Design methodology for the implementation and evaluation of a scenario-based online learning environment.  Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 16  (3), 229-242.Allen, M. (2009). Improving student outcomes using Web 2.0 concepts and a knowledge-networking approachRetrieved May 2010, from Link - ALTC Fellowship Learning in Networks of Knowledge websitehttp://altc-link.wikidot.com/start-projectAllen, M., & Long, J. (2009). Learning as knowledge networking: conceptual foundations for revised uses of the Internet in higher education . Australian Learning and Teaching Counctil.Bodner, G. M. (1986). Constructivism: A theory of knowledge.  Journal of Chemical Education, 63 , 873-878.Brown, J. S., Collins, A., & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning.  Educational Researcher, 18 (32), 11. doi: 10.3102/0013189X018001032Brown, M. (2007). Mashing up the once and future CMS.  EDUCAUSE Review, 42 (2), 8-9.Carmean, C., & Haefner, J. (2002). Mind over matter: Transforming course management systems into effectivelearning environments.  Educause Review, 37  (6), 27-34.Collins, A., & Halverson, R. (2009).  Rethinking education in the age of digital technology . New York: TeachersCollege Press.Herrington, J. (1997).  Authentic learning in interactive multimedia environments. Doctor of Philosophy, EdithCowan University, Perth, Western Australia.Herrington, J. (2006). Authentic e-learning in higher education: Design principles for authentic learningenvironments and tasks. In T. Reeves & S. Yamashita (Eds.), Proceedings of World Conference on E- Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2006  (pp. 3164-3173).Chesapeake, VA: AACE.Herrington, J., Reeves, T., & Oliver, R. (2006). Authentic tasks online: A synergy among learner, task, andtechnology.  Distance Education, 27  (2), 233-247.Herrington, J., Reeves, T. C., & Oliver, R. (2010).  A guide to authentic e-learning . New York: Routledge.Kelly, A. E. (2004). Design research in education: Yes, but is it methodological?  Journal of the LearningSciences, 13 (1), 115-128.
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