Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Why is this study important?

One of the things I noticed in conducting my literature review for KAM I is that there is little recent research about what motivates faculty to adopt online teaching. In fact, much of the research was conducted back when faculty had to create their own web spaces. Almost all institutions that offer online courses/programs use a CMS (whether its a commercial product or open source). However, there has been little research done on the impact of CMS use on teaching or learning (Lane, 2008)--or even adoption of online learning methods.

According to Roger's diffusion of innovations theory, 5 characteristics of an innovation determine how quickly the innovation is adopted: relative advantage, compatibility, ease of use, trialability, and observability. So, how do CMS fit these characteristics? How might use of the CMS also encourage adoption of online teaching? With the advent of course management systems, putting courses online became much easier. In addition, I have been interested in developing a more constructivist online learning environment from the beginning of my studies. Can that be accomplished with the current CMS? Lisa Lane in a recent issue of EDUCAUSE Quarterly argues that commercial CMS limit instruction creativity and pedagogical approaches. Therefore, I'd like to explore HOW faculty are using CMS. This relates back to Roger's 5 characteristics--compatibility with the adopter's values and assumptions. Are faculty just perpetuating the old model? Are they actually integrating the technology in their teaching--beyond just offering the course online?

Another gap in the educational technology literature in general relates to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). There are 102 HBCUs in the United States. While they constitute only 3% of US colleges and universities, they enroll 28% of all African American college students and graduate 40% of the African Americans who earn doctorates or first professional degrees (Hubbard, 2006). This is a large segment of the higher education population that has not been addressed. Research has shown that many African Americans come to college lacking in technical skills. In addition, research has shown that faculty at many HBCUs are reluctant to adopt technology and/or online learning. Howard University reports that out of the 102 HBCUs, only 45 offer fully online courses/programs. However, most of the HBCUs have links to course management systems. In fact, only Paine College and Savannah State were listed in Howard's list; yet all the institutions in Georgia had links to Blackboard or WebCT. So, how are the CMS being used on these campuses? As higher education (and HBCUs especially) combat reduced funding, it is important to evaluate the return on investment in these CMS. Buzetto-More and Sweat-Guy found that students' (at HBCUs) interest in e-learning has been increasing. In addition, technology continues to be a major element of many jobs. If HBCUs are to remain competitive, they also need to make sure they offer their students skills they can use when they graduate.

Understanding why faculty do and don't use the CMS would be helpful in order to address their needs and perceptions. It may also help to identify the "opinion leaders," key players in the adoption process--to help frame the meaning of their experiences over time. Another essential element in the change process is whether the system (or institution, in this case) is open to new ideas or not. It could be that the institutional model for HCBUs does not lend itself to change. Faculty demographics would be an important indicator.

Hubbard, D. (2006). The color of our classroom, the color of our future. Academe, 92(6),

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