Supporting Self-Efficacy in the Online Environment
When I first started teaching online in 1999, I took a call from a student who was trying to send me her essay. She did not know where she had saved it. Of course, I knew that if she had used a [wikipop]Microsoft[/wikipop] product ([wikipop search=”Microsoft Word”]Word[/wikipop] or [wikipop search=”Microsoft Works”]Works[/wikipop]) that the essay was by default in her [wikipop]My Documents[/wikipop] folder. I talked her through the process, and to her surprise, I found it over the phone. She obviously thought I was some magician by her reaction. “How did you know it was there?” Because she was unaware of some basic knowledge, she was unable to thrive in the online environment. Luckily for her, she was able to return to human spoken language via the phone. Over the years, students’ computer abilities have improved, but overall, the computer abilities of students rarely meet the stereotype of the teenager who runs circles around their teachers. Instead, the world of higher education, especially the world of open access community colleges and universities, is filled with a variety of student computer abilities and without the proper supports will not have the appropriate skill set necessary to thrive in an online environment.
The importance of online education has been highlighted recently by the[wikipop] U.S. Department of Education[/wikipop]’s release of Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies which completed a meta-analysis of over one thousand studies between 1996 and July 2008. The study “found that, on average, students in online learning conditions performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction” (Means et al. ix) 1. Yet, students will not receive these benefits if their self-efficacy is lowered by an inability to use the computer and software.
Learning happens when students are intrinsically motivated. This largely happens when what students are learning has some importance to them, the environment that the learning is happening in is comfortable to them, and when students feel able to handle the material they are learning (Tileston 12)2. Currently, online learning fails many students on these basic requirements, especially in the area of an environment that for some even undermines their ability to feel able to handle the material they are learning.
Currently, when a child comes into the world of education, generally kindergarten, students are oriented to the new environment. They are taught where the desk is, where paper and pencil are, how to use these tools, when to use them, etc. Once children learn these tools and the environment of the classroom, they are prepared for new classrooms that will largely mirror this first one. Yes, new institutions such as middle school, high school, and college have new versions of these classroom environments, but they share much of the same attributes as the first classroom they entered. More importantly, if a student is confused or does not feel confident, there is a community in the form of a teacher or classmates to be able to ask questions in another well known environment for most students—spoken language.
The world of the computer is not so friendly or helpful. First, the mastery of the computer is an important element in many online classes. Students in an online class can probably turn on their computer and open the program that gives them access to the internet interface ([wikipop]Internet Explorer[/wikipop], [wikipop search=”Mozilla Firefox”]Firefox[/wikipop], etc.). They also probably can type in a search term into a page such as Google and follow the links to the information they want. Many also know how to bookmark a favorite website and return to it later. What many do not know is how to attach and share documents, how to use some middle level aspects of programs such as Microsoft Word or PowerPoint, how to navigate and use the tools within a classroom management system such as Blackboard, and how to find information beyond the simple Google search.
Computer skills are huge barriers to the average online student even at the advanced degree level. Marianne Fieseler (personal interview)3, a recent graduate of a online Master’s degree from the University of Illinois in E-learning, reports that the program was for professionals in industry looking to improve their teaching skills. There was a basic orientation online and then students began the completion of their first eight week course. Out of a class of 17, eight remained by the end. The major reason for the large drop in students according to Fieseler was the lack of knowledge of basic computer programs such as [wikipop search=”Microsoft PowerPoint”]PowerPoint[/wikipop]. Even though the college had an orientation for the degree, they still missed that some of the computer skills needed for the successful completion of the class might be a package of basic software programs that many online teachers probably consider to be easy to use and often used in the professional world.
In its infancy, online education was slightly better than a correspondence course. Student and teacher passed notes and assignment via e-mail and low tech websites. The technology learning curve for students and teachers was steep, and many students found getting past the technology hurdles difficult. Over the last decade the technology tools have become more user friendly and have therefore reduced the problems associated with engaging within the environment of the classroom. Nevertheless, many students are still not prepared to spend their whole class within the online environment because of access issues and lack of understanding how the internet works and how the systems like Blackboard work. It is important that if we wish to see student thrive in the e-learning classrooms, both virtual and real, we need to prepare students for these classrooms. Students must have a basic computer literacy that will allow them to thrive in the e-learning world and in the world of industry where computer and software skills are a basic necessity. Without training and preparation, students will not feel that they are in an environment where they can learn the material of the class.
- Means, Barbara, et al. Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies. ED.gov. U.S. Department of Education, Sept 2010. Web. 23 Feb. 2011. [↩]
- Tileston, Donna Walker. What Every Teacher Should Know About Student Motivation. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2004. [↩]
- Fieseler, Marianne. Personal Interview. 16 Feb. 2011. [↩]
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