Thursday, June 19, 2008

HBCUs and Online Learning

I have decided that I want my population for my dissertation to be 4-year, liberal arts HBCUs--I'm thinking in Georgia and/or South Carolina. I had been tossing that around last year when I took my qualitative class. I went to Academic Search Premier and ProQuest Dissertations to start. I typed in variations of HBCU, technology, adoption, online learning, distance education, course management system, Blackboard, WebCT. I found very few empirical studies utilizing HBCUs. In fact, I found very few discussions period. I did a Google search and search in Questia also. With similar results. Therefore, I sensed a gap in the literature.

In one blog (HBCU-Levers) I found the discussion of DLL (Digital Learning Lab) sponsored by Howard University. Among other things, DLL tracks HBCU participation in distance education. I found a report (2007) where they compared information from HBCU websites to the data gathered by Sloan-C surveys (which I used in my literature review to discuss the development of online learning over the past five years). I added the information about HBCUs to my lit review. In general HBCUs have been slower to adopt. In 2007, 40/103 HBCUs offered online courses—39%. However, I wonder at the penetration. How many courses are offered? How many online programs are offered? DLL did note that too many HBCUs still tend to ask their faculties build too many components themselves—even though all of the institutions employed a course management system (usually Blackboard or WebCT).

One thing that I had not paid attention to originally was that the Sloan-C surveys (and the DLL report) only looked at totally online courses. They didn't measure the level of adoption of web-based technologies (i.e. hybrid/blended learning or web-facilitated courses). I tried to see if there was information on this but ran into a semantic problem. What keywords would be used?

One of the questions I'm thinking of looking at is how the course management systems are used. That would deal with what features are used as well as what teaching practices are incorporated into their usage. I'd like to know whether the CMSs are simply used as document repositories (and essentially duplicating the in-class lecture format) or whether instructors are taking advantage of the various technologies to facilitate the class and then going the next step to integrating the technology into their assessments, etc. Several articles I've read decry the rigidity of course management systems. How does the integrated approach impact instructor's pedagogy? Limited research has been done on the influence of online learning on teaching practices in general. This takes it one step further.

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