When Annie Hough-Everage, professor of education at Brandman University, surveyed her graduate-level online students about what factors helped and hindered their learning in the online classroom, she was surprised by their teacher-centered rather than learner-centered orientation. These were adult, graduate-level students who were themselves teachers and were not new to the online learning environment. Nevertheless, they placed a higher significance on what the instructor did in the course than on learner-centered approaches.
The survey consisted of five prompts along with a sampling of responses from Hough-Everage's students.
1) I learn best in online classes where the teacher _______.
2) Students in online courses help me learn when they _______.
3) I am most likely to participate enthusiastically in online classes when _______.
4) It makes it difficult for me to learn in an online course when ______.
5) It makes it easy for me to learn in an online course when ______.
The responses are probably what most online educators would expect; however, when analyzed, the largest number of responses fell into the category of “student reproductive conceptions of learning,” which refers to teacher-centered, didactic teaching.
“We thought we were engaging our students so that they understood that if you're fully online, you need to have a certain amount of independence and self-motivation. It was surprising that even though we have fully online programs, the majority of the students placed a higher significance on what the teacher did for them,” Hough-Everage says. “I hoped that there would be many students [expressing] self-determinant conceptions of learning, in which they place high expectations on their own behaviors. That is not what we found in the responses.”
Changes based on survey results
Hough-Everage was a bit disappointed by the results but accepted the reality and began looking at ways to “work with them and bring them someplace else.”
Based on the survey results, Hough-Everage has begun offering synchronous sessions to explain the rubric for the discussion forum and their role in the discussions. “By explaining that process, I'm trying to make a difference for these students so that they will have more satisfaction and hopefully more involvement in the creation of their own learning,” she says.
The synchronous sessions also help increase social presence, which is another factor that contributes to the online learning environment.
The initial survey was administered after the course. Hough-Everage has begun using the survey at the beginning of her online courses. “I want to build in getting this feedback from students at the very beginning so that we have a sense of how to work with the students,” she says.