A change in any one of the factors has to be 'compensated' by changes in the other two" (p. 27). Consequently, the type of instructional practices that may be best suited for one learning venue will likely be unsuitable and therefore ineffective in another setting. The goal, then, is to identify the optimal mix of the three elements to produce instructional practices for each setting (Koehler et al., 2004), and these issues are discussed further below.
Developing Effective Online Instructional Practices. Unfortunately, many educators may have become overly reliant on one teaching style to the exclusion of other approaches that may be more suitable for a given group of students. Prying busy teachers out of this "comfort zone of teaching" will require careful scrutiny of how these three elements affect teachers new to online learning environments to ensure they are provided with the support and training they need to succeed. This step, of course, is also true of conventional classroom instructional practices, but some educators may attempt to rely on what they know and fail to make the effort to realign their instructional practices with these emerging online learning environments. In this regard, Koehler et al. emphasize that, "When we talk about traditional face-to-face courses, these issues often remain in the background, because with years of practice and familiarity, faculty develop a series of pedagogical scripts that allow them to function without reflection" (p. 27).
Over time, these educators suggest that most teachers will gain the experience and expertise they need to use online learning venues to their best effect in the same fashion they have learned to accept other traditional teaching tools. For instance, Koehler et al. add that, "The content seems tried and true as does the kinds of representations we use. In addition the technologies we use become invisible -- in that, we often do not consider them as being technologies at all (good examples being chalk boards and overhead projectors)" (2004, p. 27). In reality, an overhead projector might have seemed like Buck Rogers' technology when it was first introduced into the classroom, but over time these technologies became fully integrated into the teaching repertoire. Moreover, just as all three of the streams discussed herein affect the overall delivery of online instruction, so too do all three of the constituent elements of online course development and design, content, technology and pedagogy. In this regard, Koehler et al. note that, "The incorporation of a new technology or new medium for teaching suddenly forces us to confront basic educational issues since this new technology or medium changes the relationship between all three elements" (2004, p. 27).
Unlike the three streams, though, the three constituent elements of online course design and development remain relatively new to many educators, and this newness requires a careful analysis of how these three elements apply to virtual settings (Koehler et al., 2004). As Koehler and her associates emphasize, "The addition of a new technology is not the same as adding another module to a course. It often raises fundamental questions about content and pedagogy that can overwhelm faculty" (p. 26). Therefore, identifying the level of educator awareness and understanding concerning these differences can help determine what type of training and support is required to maximize the return on investment in online curricular offerings (Koeher et al., 2004).
Statement concerning how together the stream supports the research problem. In order to realize the maximum return on the investment of scarce educational resources in online instruction, educators must gain competence in using the supporting technologies and recognize the differences involved between traditional classroom settings and online venues in order to develop effective instructional practices. The developmental and design aspects of this process are discussed further below.
Course development and design
Introduction. The final stream discussed below describes those factors that should be considered in developing and design online curricular offerings, followed by an examination of the constraints to promoting student engagement in online settings.
Factors to Consider in Online Course Development and Design
As noted above, this stream involves far more than simply placing existing course content online in a wholesale fashion and expecting positive academic outcomes. The course development and design process represent both an opportunity for participative interactions among faculty and students, but a number of factors must be taken into account in order to achieve optimal results (Puzziferro & Shelton, 2009; Podoll & Randle, 2006). The design of online courses should take into account a number of factors including students':
1. Values and beliefs;
2. Personal abilities;
3. Orientations toward learning;
4. Level of readiness to embrace the online learning environment;
5. Motivation as an online learner (Bach, Haynes & Smith, 2007).
Although geographic proximity may limit the ability of students and faculty members to meet face-to-face, the research to date indicates that at least one such meeting is highly desirable to allow students to meet each other and their teachers before commencing with the online course of instruction (Bach et al., 2007). In fact, at least one face-to-face meeting has been shown to enhance student engagement and satisfaction (Bach et al., 2007). When this alternative is not available, a Web-based orientation can be provided and students can be required to participate in an introductory discussion board where they can post photographs of themselves and, based on a series of standard prompts from the moderator, provide some background information concerning their goals in the online learning environment in ways that can serve the same purposes as face-to-face meetings (Bach et al., 2007).
With respect to online course development, Bach and her associates (2007) describe the approach they used with good results. The step-by-step process used by Bach et al. (2007) is set forth in Table 2 below.
Steps to Developing Online Curricular Offerings
Each faculty member module contributes their concepts and ideas for the online module on an assigned topic.
Promote active student engagement with learning materials
Each contributor "buddies up" with a colleague to exchange ideas and suggestions.
Develop support for potential course designs.
Presentation of Core Ideas
A facilitator identifies core ideas among the recommendations.
Describe the structures of the course designs.
Each faculty member fine-tunes their assigned topics.
1. Develop online curricular offerings that provide students with appropriate visual and auditory support.
2. Identify at least two tasks for each topic for students to complete prior to and following their accession of the online learning material.
3. Identify additional resources for students to access online that relate to the topic.
4. Provides students with an opportunity to comment on course design.
Launch the online course.
Provide high-quality educational services in an online setting.
Source: Adapted from Bach et al., 2007, pp. 160-161
Constraints to Promoting Student Engagement in Online Settings. A study by Koehler, Mishra, Hershey and Peruski (2004) provides some useful guidance concerning the numerous challenges and obstacles facing educational institutions in developing and designing online curricular offerings. According to these educators, "We have been struck by how challenging the issues are for developing faculty to teach online, so that the educational experience is of high quality for both the faculty and the students" (Koehler et al., 2004, p. 26). In addition, because a great deal of scarce educational resources are being allocated for online course development and design, it is important for educational institutions to realize a sound return on these investments (Koehler et al., 2004).
The research to date indicates that the following represent some of the more salient constraints to effective online course development and design:
1. Faculty members, who are accustomed to only thinking about teaching and courses in a more traditional face-to-face classroom, are often reluctant to tackle the job of teaching in a technological medium. Many faculty do not find value in learning the details of technology, believing that it only takes time (a limited resource) away from thinking about pedagogy and the other responsibilities they have, and that they may care more about.
2. Faculty members are often not well versed in technology. Additionally, many have learned successfully to be students and instructors without the use of technology, and therefore often question its relevance.
3. Faculty members often have extremely busy schedules and thus have limited time to devote to learning new technologies. Preparing to teach a new course (or an online version of a current course) requires extensive investments of time, something most faculty find burdensome.
4. Institutions often lack opinion leaders who have taught online and who can act as role models for less experienced faculty. Current diffusion theories emphasize how important opinion leaders are for acceptance within the larger social system. Thus institutions must also find ways to support and develop opinion leaders before convincing some less interested faculty members to take the plunge.
5. Faculty members often have preconceived notions and attitudes about technologies. Furthermore, research has shown these attitudinal beliefs are far…