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Implementing #virtual #education activities through good #educational #practices – #elearning #Panama

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IMPLEMENTING VIRTUAL EDUCATION ACTIVITIES THROUGH GOOD EDUCATIONAL PRACTICES

ABSTRACT

The purposes of this research are: first, to validate the potential of virtual education activities as an alternative in the teaching-learning process; second, to use the Chickering and Gamson (1987) model of good educational practices for writing and evaluating virtual education activities in a Master program; and third, to determine the impact of these practices in the teaching and learning process.  The research was conducted with the teacher and his ten students enrolled in the Master Program of Sciences of Information and Communication Technologies at Universidad Tecnológica de Panama. This research provides four important elements: first, general knowledge for enrich the planning and designing of college syllabus that requires virtual components; second, specific knowledge addressed to college teachers for writing virtual education activities using the seven good educational practices from Chickering and Gamson (1987);  third, self-assessment formats for writing virtual education activities,  by the teacher, at the beginning of the academic year and for the evaluation of these activities, by the students, at the end of the course and fourth, measurement of the impact in teaching and learning through the use of these educational practices. The investigation is descriptive and results show that all interviewees, the teacher and his ten students evaluated the virtual education activities favorably through the use of good educational practices.  However, the sample for the study is small, so it is required expanding  the sample and collect more data in future researchings.

KEY WORDS

Virtual Education, good practices in formative assessment, university assessment, composition of activities, learning process.

 

1. INTRODUCTION

Ebbers and Oscar (2014) identify two important dimensions of learning communities: (1) primary membership, which differentiates on the characteristics that group members hold in common; these include learning organizations, faculty learning communities, and student learning communities; and (2) primary form of interaction, which differentiates based on group member’s methods of interaction, such as in-person physical interaction, virtual interaction, or no direct interaction through correspondence.

Virtual education is a type of education that relies on learning communities composed by faculty and student through virtual interaction using the information and communication technologies (ICT’s). Therefore, ICT’s is not only an instrument or a new means of information and communication. ICT’s generate a new social space, and therefore a new educational space where students, faculty and administrative staff interact to meet requirements (Nikolov, 2009).

Virtual education is suited to the situation of many students, because, for example, the need to reconcile work and family activity with their training, the presence of a disability, and the possibility to develop the learning process to their own pace, situations that can be presented often, that cause students to be distanced from the study centers (Huddleston and Unwin, 2013).

It should be noted that the virtual education has characteristics that differentiates it greatly from the classroom education, among which are: (1) greater autonomy and independence of the students to develop their learning at their own pace; (2) many of the students are granted practical objectives, because these students are developing an occupation related to their studies, which greatly enhances their intrinsic motivation (Wighting, Liu and Rovai, 2008).

Cornelius-White and Harbaugh (2009) quoted that the aforementioned characteristics also demand greater self-regulated activity, responsibility, and commitment from the student; virtual education also limits students to build relationships and situations shared or collaborative learning through traditional ways. However, at present this constraint quoted by Cornelius-White and Harbaugh (2009) is being largely offset through the use of ICT’s and, more specifically, the use of forums, email, web pages, video conferences, and other new mediums; which are the core components of virtual spaces or platforms (Gouseti, 2014)

The virtual education activities are all actions performed by the student, as a part of instructional process through a virtual space or platform that belongs to the university; in the virtual space, students can interact with resources in order to understand, develop and complete their virtual education activities posted in the university platform (Tibaut, Rebolj, Menzel and Jardim-Goncalves, 2014).  The virtual education activities are the basis for teaching and learning in virtual education.  However, these kinds of activities can also be used in blended or hybrid education to complement classroom education activities (López-Pérez, Pérez-López, Rodríguez-Ariza, 2011).

The virtual education has been a subject of interest in many latitudes, including it in strategies and initiatives, such as:

  • The e-Europe Plan, approved by the Prime Ministers of the European Union, submitted in Lisbon on May 23 and 24, year 2000 (Europe – Summaries of EU Legislation, 2014).
  • The project on Higher Education using virtual modality, developed by the UNESCO International Institute for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean, in year 2002 (ANUIES-UNESCO, 2004).
  • The law number 30 from July 20, 2006; to establish the National Assessment and Accreditation System for Improving the Quality of Higher Education in the Republic of Panama, which emphasizes the importance of virtual education as a part of the teaching-learning process in Higher Education (National Assessment and Accreditation of Panama, 2014).

In Panama, the reality of virtual education is highly describable. The latest report issued by the Technical Oversight Committee of Panama (TOC) in February 2014, states that: from a total of 745 careers belonging to 32 approved private universities; 9 careers are offered through the virtual modality exclusively (1% of total); 42 careers have been approved in different modalities including virtuality (6% of total) and 703 careers have been approved in different modalities, not including the virtual modality (94% of total) (TOC, 2014).

After submitting the initial references, we formally present the three purposes of this research:

  1. To validate the potential of virtual education activities as an alternative in the teaching-learning process, through a case study conducted at Universidad Tecnologica de Panama, in the Republic of Panama.
  2. To use the Chickering and Gamson (1987) model of good educational practices for writing and evaluating virtual education activities in a Master program.
  3. To determine the impact of these practices in the teaching and learning process.

 

2. GOOD EDUCATIONAL PRACTICES

The concept of good practice or best practice appears frequently in the literature of business and public management; and is defined as an effective action that has facilitated a process or has been an alternative to a problem (Rodriguez, 2008).

Zabalza (2012) suggests that three conditions must exist to work with good practices: (1) the good practices must exist; (2) there must be a need to make good practices, visible and (3) good practices must necessarily refer to the fluidity and the unavoidable contextualization of the concept.

The term or concept of good practice was manufactured by Hammer (1990); and is defined as a way to do a job that produces a good result. A successful practice is recognized for being “innovative, replicable, evaluable and transformative” from the responsible exercise of autonomy. Davies and Kocchar (2012) also define good practices, as those that provide some degree of improvement, in the overall performance of a system in a specific context. At government level, the State of Virginia (USA) (2014) defines good practice as a superior method or innovative practice that contributes to improve performance of the process. Additionally, good practice presupposes an explicit act of decision that involves institutional resources (Global University Network for Innovation, 2012).

Good practice in college is defined as an experience (program, project) that contributes significantly to the social relevance of higher education institutions, promoting an active role in building a more just and sustainable society, in social, political, cultural, friendship and the economy means  (Observatory Network for Best Practices, 2011).  Bain (2005) defines it as, the successful in helping the students to learn; getting a positive, substantial and sustained influence; in their ways of thinking, acting and feeling.

The Group of Research & Multimedia from Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona (2014) defines good teaching practices, as educational interventions that facilitate the development of learning activities which efficiently achieve the intended learning objectives and other kind of learnings, with high educational value; including the following indicators: significance for students, student involvement, treatment of diversity, level of cognitive operations, social participation and collaborative work.

International institutions such as the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), the BID (Bureau International d’Education), the OSCE (Organisation pour la Sécurité et la Coopération en Europe), the BIDDH (Bureau des Institutions et des droits démocratiques) and the Council of Europe, have addressed the importance of collecting good practices in education to become a reference, in the development for the educational policies (Zabala, 2012).  In the Latin American Region, the Program for Educational Reform in Latin America and the Caribbean (PERLAC, 2014) has published a compilation of existing good practice, from 18 different countries in the region; these practices belong to the database: Best Practices in Educational Policy and Educational Reform. This publication is considered, as a part of the attempts of improving the quality of and the results of education. These good practices are grouped into the following categories: teacher training, management, curriculum materials, maintenance and improvement of school infrastructure, incorporation of new technologies, and evaluation systems.

 

2.1 MODEL OF GOOD EDUCATIONAL PRACTICES

The three models that have been studied for evaluation are listed in Table 1.  This table compares good educational practices models such as Chickering and Gamson (1987), Alexander (1997) and Coffield and Edward (2009).

 

Table 1: Models of Good Educational Practices

Criteria Authors Chickering & Gamson (1987) Alexander (1997) Coffield & Edward (2009)
Background Not applicable Not applicable Deepens the work of Alexander
Foundation of the model Seven principles of good educational practices Pedagogical approaches used reflexively, compiled by other teachers from interacting with them Context, knowledge, curriculum, pedagogy, evaluation, management and society based
What does the model describe? Specific list of seven principles of good Educational practices List of questions List of dimensions
Detail of the model Practice 1 – Encourages contacts between students and faculty.Practice 2- Develops reciprocity and cooperation among students.Practice 3 – Uses active learning techniques.Practice 4 –Gives prompt feedback.Practice 5 – Emphasizes time on taskPractice 6 – Communicates high expectationsPractice 7 – Respects diverse talents and ways of learning. Who, the administration or other power groups, propose a good practice, what is the purpose of this and what are the consequences?How a good practice is consistent, how the practice can be evaluated and the values that sustain the practice?What supports and evidences based on relevant educational research endorse them?What degree of utility does a presented practice has as a good one for both faculty and work context?What conceptions of good teaching and learning are the ones to inspire the practice of a teacher? Organizational features.Students.Previous history.Syllabus.Type of budgets.Values.Organizational knowledge and professional skills of the practice.

Content selection and learning.

Planning, sequencing and evaluation of the practice.

Skills, beliefs and values ​​of teachers.

Influences, relationships and adaptation of a good practice with the labor market.

Source: Prepared by authors

 

The selection of the model requires two steps.  The first step is evaluating the three models and then choosing one; each model will be evaluated from the parameters listed on row labeled as Detail of the model, from Table 1.  Based on the principle of simplicity, authors are going to choose one of the three models that better optimizes the writing of virtual education activities, by using the details of the model.

If the generic virtual education activity to be written, by implementing good educational practices is, for example: Comparative study of documents and analysis of an experience, problem or opportunity in the professional life of the student, which model would be the most optimal and  the simplest to understand from a teacher when planning and designing syllabus? Chickering and Gamson (1987) handle a timely list of seven principles of good practice; Alexander (1997) includes a list of questions and Coffield and Edward (2009) propose management dimensions.  Based on the previous parameters, handling a list of seven good practices are more optimal and it is easier to understand and apply for a teacher, than handling a set of questions or a set of dimensions; during planning and designing of the course.  The aforementioned analysis justifies the selection of Chickering and Gamson (1987) with respect to the other two models and meets criteria number 1.

The second step is validating the decision of the authors, by identifying similar studies as the one proposed in the current manuscript; where  Chickering and Gamson (1987) has been quoted, as core model.  Important studies for virtual education, have used the principles of Chickering and Gamson (1987), such as the researching developed by Graham, Cagiltay, Lin and Craner (2001); Hutchins (2003); Bangert (2004); Tobin (2004); Dixon (2012);  Babb, Stewart and Johnson (2013) and Cakiroglu (2014 ).

Authors of the present manuscript, value the work developed by Graham et. al (2001) that relates the 7 principles from Chickering and Gamson (1987) with a proposed set of on line instructions.  The relationship is presented as follows:

  • Principle 1, known as, good practice encourages student – faculty contact, has its corresponding lesson for on line instruction, which is: instructors should provide clear guidelines for interaction with students.
  • Principle 2, known as, good practice encourages cooperation among students, has its corresponding lesson for on line instruction, which is: well-designed discussion assignments facilitate meaningful cooperation among students.
  • Principle 3, known as, good practice encourages active learning, has its corresponding lesson for on line instruction, which is: students should present course projects.
  • Principle 4, known as, good practice gives prompt feedback, has its corresponding lesson for on line instruction, which is: instructors need to provide two types of feedback: information feedback and acknowledgement feedback.
  • Principle 5, known as, good practice emphasizes time on task, has its corresponding lesson for on line instruction, which is: online courses need deadlines.
  • Principle 6, known as, good practice communicates high expectations, has its corresponding lesson for on line instruction, which is: challenging tasks, sample cases, and praise for quality work communicate high expectations.
  • Principle 7, known as, good practice respects diverse talents and ways of learning has its corresponding lesson for on line instruction, which is: allowing students to choose projects topics incorporates diverse views into online courses.

 

3. RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

This research is intended to get the following objectives:

  1. General knowledge addressed to universities, especially in Panama, about the potential of virtual education activities as a part of planning, designing, and implementation of curriculum.
  2. Results that allow, both government and private universities, in Panama, the justification about the potential of virtual education, as an alternative to classroom education, in order to increase the number of virtual careers.
  3. Specific knowledge for university instruction, of how to write virtual education activities, by using the seven good educational practices from Chickering and Gamson (1987).
  4. Replicable formats for self-assessment of virtual education activities by the teacher; at the beginning of the academic period and for the evaluation of these activities, by the students; at the end of the academic period.

 

3.1. Participants

The unit of analysis is the teacher and the student; from their contributions to the research, the authors will test, the effectiveness, of writing virtual education activities by using Chickering and Gamson (1987).  The methodology was developed from a case study, in which the teacher and his ten students participated actively.  The name of the course is Simulation Modeling Dynamic Systems of the Master Program of Sciences of Information Technology and Communication offered by Universidad Tecnologica de Panama.

In terms of case study participants, this group of ten students has the following characteristics: the average age of participants is 26.2 years; 50% are males and 50% females. 80% of participants have at least a bachelor’s degree, prior enrolling the Master Program and only 20% have postgraduate studies, prior enrolling the Master Program. Regarding years of experience, 1 student had no previous working experience, before enrolling in the Master Program; 2 students had less than one year of working experience, before enrolling in the Master Program; 3 students had one year of experience, before enrolling in the Master Program; 3 students had 4 years of working experience, before enrolling in the Master Program and one student had 8 years of experience, before enrolling in the Master Program. The average of years of working experience, of the sample, is 2.4 years. Finally, 100% of students that had had working experience, before enrolling in the Master program, belong to the Technology sector.

 

3.2. Instruments

This research requires the use of three instruments, which are described below:

Instrument 1.  Faculty self – assessment matrix.

Purpose of the instrument: This instrument allows calculating the average that comes from the self-assessment performed by the teacher, when matching the activities of virtual education with the seven principles of good educational practice of Chickering and Gamson (1987). The average is obtained in the intersection, row = n + 1 and column = m + 1.

Deadline to fill out the instrument: At the beginning of the academic year by the teacher, the results should be reported the to the research team, a week after receipt of the instrument.

Structure of the instrument: An array of n + 1 rows (where n is the set of virtual education activities reinforced by the teacher) and m = 7 columns, where m represents the seven educational practices from Chickering and Gamson practices (1987) (practices are listed in detailed in the Table 1). The row (n + 1) and the column (m + 1) are used to calculate the averages obtained from virtual education activities or good educational practices.

Format: Refer to Table 2, with the key indicator at cell An+1, m+1

Instructions for filling out the instrument: The number of cells are obtained, from the multiplication of n number of rows (virtual education activities) and m = 7 columns (good educational practices).  For each cell, the teacher must choose one specific value of the domain from 1 to 5. If the activity n, after using the good educational practices from Chickering and Gamson (1987) did not meet the practice m criteria, at all, the value to be chosen by the teacher is 1; whether the activity n met the practice m criteria, in a poorly manner, the value to be chosen by the teacher is 2; if the activity n met practice m criteria, in a partially manner, the value to be chosen by the teacher is 3; if the activity n met practice m criteria, in a good manner, the value to be chosen by teacher is 4; and if the activity n met practice m criteria, in a largely manner, the value to be chosen by the teacher is 5.

Research question: Did the wording from activity n fulfill criteria of education good practice m?  Where m = 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.

 

Table 2: Self-assessment matrix for virtual education activities in relation to good educational practices.

# Virtual education activity Practice 1 – Encourage contacts between students and faculty Practice 2- Develops reciprocity and cooperation among students. Practice 3 – Uses active learning techniques Practice 4 – Gives prompt feedback Practice 5 – Emphasizes on time task Practice 6 – Communicates high expectations Practice 7 – Respects diverse talents and ways of learning AVERAGE OF THE ACTIVITY
1 Activity 1 E11 E12 E13 E14 E15 E16 E17 A1, m+1
2 Activity 2 E21 E22 E23 E24 E25 E26 E27 A2, m+1
3 Activity 3 E31 E32 E33 E34 E35 E36 E37 A3, m+1
4 Activity 4 E41 E42 E43 E44 E45 E46 E47 A4, m+1
n Activity n En1 En2 En3 En4 En5 En6 En7 An, m+1
AVERAGE OF GOOD PRACTICE An+1, 1 An+1, 2 An+1,3 An+1, 4 An+1, 5 An+1, 6 An+1, m An+1, m+1
Source: Prepared by authors

 

From Table 2: On one hand, cells E11 … En7 represent integer numbers in the set = {1, 2, 3, 4, 5}; each cell can contain a single value of that set (this value represents the evaluation from faculty).  On the one hand, the average per activity or A1, m+1 = (E11 + E12 + E13 + E14 + E15 + E16 + E17) / m; for A2, m+1, A3, m+1, A4, m+1, An, m+1 applies the same formula, only the row displayed in the pair is varied (n, m) where n is the row and m is the column. The average for good practice or Pn+1, 1 = (E11 + E21 + E31 + E41 + E51) / n; for An+1, 2, An+1, 3, An+1, 4, An+1, 5, An+1, 6, An+1, 7 applies the same formula used for Pn+1, 1, except that the column represented in the pair is varied (n, m) where n is the row and m is the column. Finally, the average of activity is equal to (A1,m+1 + A2,m+1 + A3, m+1 + A4, m+1 + An,, m+1) / n and the average of good practice is equal to  (An+1, 1 + An+1, 2 + An+1, 3 + An+1, 4 + An+1, 5 + An+1, 6 + An1+1,m) / m.  An+1, m+1. Both averages have the same value.

Instrument 2.  Student evaluation matrix.

Purpose of the instrument: This instrument allows the students, evaluate virtual education activities in order to determine, if these activities favored or not their learning process.

Deadline to fill out the instrument: At the end of the academic year, the students had up to 3 calendar days, to complete the instrument, after received it.

Structure of the instrument: There are two sections. The section  1 of the instrument is a form, with a set of questions related to the background of the section and section 2 of the instrument is a set of two matrixes of n rows (where n is the set of virtual education activities defined by the teacher) and 1 column; the first matrix allows the student evaluating the degree of understanding of the activities, in terms of the way they have been written by the teacher and the second matrix allows the student evaluating the level of impact of the virtual education activity, in his learning process.

Format:  Refer to Table 3

Instructions for filling out the instrument:

Section 1, background of the student, includes the following types of questions: two discrete questions (age and years of working experience); one question with mask (sex) and two multiple choice questions (highest degree achieved by the student and specialty based on UNESCO classification of Science and Technology areas in which the student has developed his career). For section 2 and depending of the number of activities, for each activity, the student should choose one value of the domain from 1 to 5.

Section 2 is associated to three research questions.  The first question of section 2 is about the degree of understanding of the activity by the student.  The participant can perform his evaluation from the following criteria: if the student evaluates the question 1 with a value of one (1), means that the student did not understand the description of activity n, at all; if student evaluates the question 1 with a value of two (2),  means that the student had a low level of understanding from the description of activity n; if the student evaluates the question 1 with a value of three (3), means that the student had an average level of understanding from the description of activity n;  if the student evaluates the question 1 with a value  of four (4), means that the student had an acceptable level of understanding from the description of activity n and finally, if the student evaluates the question 1 with a value of five (5), means that the student had a satisfactory level of understanding from the description of activity n. The student is allowed to choose one numeric value per activity.

The second question of section 2 is about how the activity n has impacted, the student learning process. The participant can perform his evaluation from the following criteria:  if the student evaluates the question 2 with a value of one (1), means that activity n did not support his overall learning process; if the student evaluates the question 2 with a value of two (2), means that activity n provided a good support to his overall learning process;  if the student evaluates the question 2 with a value of three (3), means that activity n provided an average level of support to his overall learning process; if the student evaluates question 2 with a value of four (4), means that activity n provided a good support to his overall learning process and finally  if the student evaluates question 2 with a value of five (5), means that activity n provided a largely support to his overall learning process.

The third question of section 2 is about which kind of activity does the student think supported his learning process largely for this particular course?  The student choose only one alternative: (a) classroom education activities; (b) virtual education activities; (c) distance education activities (non-virtual activities)

 

Research questions:

  1. How much did you understand the wording of activity n when you developed it?
  2. How much did activity n fulfill your overall learning process in the course?
  3. Which kind of activity do you think supported your learning process largely for this particular course?

 

Table 3: Questionnaire to be answered by the student

Please fill out the following questions:Section 1 – Background1)       Age:__________2)       Years of working experience: ________3)       Choose the highest level of education achieved so far:a.       Bachelor Programb.       Graduate Program

c.        Master Program

d.       Doctorate Program

e.        Post-Doctorate Program

4)       Select one specialty you have developed your career (Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness of Spain, 2014):

a.       Logic

b.       Mathematics

c.        Astronomy and Astrophysics

d.       Physics

e.        Chemistry

f.        Life Sciences

g.       Earth and Space Sciences

h.       Agricultural Sciences

i.         Medical Sciences

j.         Technology

k.      Philosophy

Section 2 – Specific questions. For questions 1 and 2, please evaluate from 1 to 5 (1 is the lowest and 5 is the highest) for each activity. For questions 3 please choose only one option from the three alternatives:

1)       How much did you understand the wording of activity n when you developed it?

 

ID Activity Description Score
1 Activity description for ID 1 E11
2 Activity description for ID 2 E12
3 Activity description for ID 3 E13
n Activity description for ID n E1n

2)       How much did activity n fulfill your overall learning process in the course?

ID Activity Description Score
1 Activity description for ID 1 E21
2 Activity description for ID 2 E22
3 Activity description for ID 3 E23
n Activity description for ID n E2n

3)       Which kind of activity do you think supported your learning process largely for this particular course? (select one answer)

a.       Classroom education activities

b.       Virtual education activities

c.        Distance education activities (non-virtual activities)

Source: Prepared by authors

 

From Table 3: On one hand, E11, E12, E13, E14 … E1n  represent cells with integer values in the set = {1, 2, 3, 4, 5}; each cell should have one value from the set and it corresponds to the answer of research question 1. On the other hand, E21, E22, E23, E24, … and E2n represent cells with integer values in the set = {1, 2, 3, 4, 5}; each cell should have one value from the set and it corresponds to the answer of research question 2.

 

Instrument 3: Tables with student evaluation summary.

Purpose of the instrument: This instrument allows the research team, to perform the calculation of the average, per case or student based on his assessment of virtual education activities; the average score for each activity and the mean average of the students that participated in the case study.

Deadline to process the instrument: This instrument should be processed, once the research team has gathered all assessments from the students.

Structure of the instrument: It is an array of n + 1 rows; where n is the number of students that participated in the case study; the row n + 1 represents the average obtained for each activity and column m + 1 represents the average of the evaluation obtained for each student who participated in the case study.

Formats: Table 4 and Table 5 have used the variable n, as the number of students and m, as the number of activities.  Key indicators for Table 4 and Table 5 are A1n+1, m+1 and A2n+1, m+1 respectively.

 

Table 4: Matrix to calculate the average of average from the evaluation of question 1 – instrument 2

Cases or Students VIRTUAL EDUCATION ACTIVITIESQ1: How much did you understand the wording of activity n when you developed it? Average per Case or Students
1 2 3 4 m
Student 1 –S1 E11 E12 E13 E14 E15 Average S1,m+1
Student 2 –S2 E21 E22 E23 E24 E25 Average S2, m+1
Student 3 – S3 E31 E32 E33 E34 E35 Average S3, m+1
Student 4 – S4 E41 E42 E43 E44 E45 Average S4, m+1
Student 5 – S5 E51 E52 E53 E54 E55 Average S5, m+1
Average n – Sn En1 En2 En3 En4 En5 Average Sn, m+1
Average per Activity (A) Average An+1,1 Average An+1,2 Average An+1,3 Average An+1,4 AverageAn+1,m A1n+1, m+1
Source: Prepared by authors

 

Table 5: Matrix to calculate the average of average from the evaluation of question 2 – instrument 2

Cases VIRTUAL EDUCATION ACTIVITIESQ2: How much did activity n fulfill your overall learning process in the course?  Average per Case
1 2 3 4 m
Student 1 –S1 E11 E12 E13 E14 E1m Average S1,m+1
Student 2 –S2 E21 E22 E23 E24 E2m Average S2, m+1
Student 3 – S3 E31 E32 E33 E34 E3m Average S3, m+1
Student 4 – S4 E41 E42 E43 E44 E4m Average S4, m+1
Student 5 – S5 E51 E52 E53 E54 E5m Average S5, m+1
Average n – Sn En1 En2 En3 En4 Enm Average Sn, m+1
Average per Activity (A) Average An+1,1 Average An+1,2 Average An+1,3 Average An+1,4 AverageAn+1,m  A2n+1, m+1
Source: Prepared by authors

 

From Table 4 and Table 5:

Where Average S1, m+1 = (E11 + E12 + E13 + E14 + …+ E1m) / m, where m are number of students.  Averages for S2, m+1, S3, m+1 , S4, m+1 , S5, m+1 , …, Sn, m+1  use the same formula except the row will vary depending on the case that is being calculated.  Average An+1, 1 = (E11 + E21 + E31 + E41 +  …+ En1) / n, where n are number of activities.  Averages for An+1,2, An+1,3, An+1, 4,…, An+1, m use the same formula except the column will vary depending on the case is being calculated.

A1n+1, m+1  and A2n+1, m+1 (students) = (Average S1,m+1  + Average S2,m+1 + Average S3,m+1 + … + Average Sn+m+1) / n  or   A1n+1, m+1  and A2n+1, m+1 (activities) = (Average An+1, 1 + Average An+1, 2 + Average An+1, 3 + …+ Average An+1,m)/ m

For question 3 from section 2, an instrument is not required, because each answer provided by the student, could be the letter a, for classroom education activities; the letter b for virtual education activities; or the letter c for distance education activities (no virtual).

 

3.3 Procedure

The research is descriptive and focuses on using the seven principles of good educational practice of Chickering and Gamson (1987) in a Master’s course at Universidad Tecnologica de Panama, specifically in virtual education activities.

The procedure follows the following phases: (1) the writing of virtual education activities by using the seven good educational practices from Chickering and Gamson (1987) previously listed in Table 1; (2) the usage of the format from instrument 1 (Table 2), so that teacher may evaluate virtual education activities with regard to good educational practices from Chickering and Gamson (1987); (3) the application of the format from instrument 2 (Table 3), so that students can evaluate the virtual education activities and the impact in their meaningful learnings.

The research was developed from a case study in which the teacher and his ten students enrolled in the course Simulation Modeling Dynamic Systems, participated actively.    As part of the methodology, the teacher fills a self-assessment survey and the students fill an evaluation survey of the course; in both instruments of evaluation, virtual education activities were assessed by the teacher and his students, from the perspective of teaching and learning respectively.

The actions taken by the teacher, who participated in the Case study, are listed as follows:

  • The teacher researcher with the collaboration of the research team selected one of the Master courses that had been assigned to the teacher, in order to conduct the research.
  • Students were invited to participate voluntarily.
  • The experience was organized as follows: the teacher evaluated (at the beginning of academic year) the virtual education activities in relation to good educational practices and that each student voluntarily, assessed the impact that each activity had had in their learning processes (at the end of the academic year).
  • The procedure was applied at the same course.

Table 6 summarizes the type of modality, the number of activities for the classroom phase, the number of activities for the virtual phase and the number of students that participated in the study case.

 

Table 6: Type of education, distribution of activities and description of participants in the case study

Variable Answer
Type of program Master
Type of academic period Semester
Type of education used to implement curriculum Blended
Number of class sessions 19
Number of classroom hours 3
Total of classroom hours 57
Number of recommended hours for distance education activities 40
Number of classroom and distance education activities (virtual and non-virtual) 7
Number of distance education activities (virtual and non-virtual) 5
Number of virtual education activities 4
Number of students enrolled in the course 10
Number of students that evaluated virtual education activities 10
Percentage of distance education activities compared to the total 71%
Percentage of virtual education activities compared to the total 57%
Percentage of students whom voluntarily participated in the case study 100%
Source: Prepared by authors

 

The case study duration was 69 calendar days and its main activities were: (1) Writing of the virtual education activities, based on good educational practices from Chickering and Gamson (1987), with a duration of 2 calendar days; (2) Evaluation by the teacher of his expectations regarding the implementation of the strategy, with a duration of 3 calendar days; (3) Implementation of the syllabus, which included the implementation of virtual education activities in a Master course, by using good educational practices from Chickering and Gamson (1987) model, with a duration of 61 calendar days and (4) Evaluation of the virtual education activities,  by the students whom participated in the case study, with a duration of  3 calendar days.

Table 7 shows techniques, resources, and generic activities; without Chickering and Gamson (1987) practices; used during the implementation of the curriculum for the Simulation Modeling Dynamic Systems course, specifically in the virtual education phase:

 

Table 7: Techniques, resources and activities used in the virtual education phase

Variable Details
Virtual education techniques
  • Discussion List
  • Stakeholders
  • Email
  • Debate through interactive chats
  • On line research
  • Forums
  • Mind maps
  • Semantic maps
  • Synoptic tables
  • Comparative tables
Virtual education resources
  • Virtual platform from Universidad Tecnologica de Panama
  • Digital instructional material
  • Virtual platform named humberto-r-alvarez-a.webs.com with 106 links including Harvard Business for Educators and Carnegie for the Advancement of Teaching
  • Google Scholar
  • Freeware libraries, specifically for the Information and Communication Technologies
Virtual education activities without Chickering and Gamson practices (1987)
  • Activity 1: Comparative study of documents and analysis of an experience, problem or opportunity in your professional life as a complex social problem

 

  • Activity 2: Find at least three applications of dynamic systems in literature and compare them based on methodology, results and applicability in general

 

  • Activity 3: Search in the existing literature, at least two references that mention aspects in their research by applying concepts of complex and/or dynamic systems and conclusions. If the student can’t find any available literature related to the topic; the student should make an analysis to determine how applicable dynamic systems are?

 

  • Activity 4: Analysis of causal diagram of the operating variables based on the student’s research proposal and the expected results
Source: Prepared by authors

 

Finally, the research team had used as a baseline, the 4 generic activities described in Table 7 to rewrite these activities using the 7 principles of good educational practices from Chickering and Gamson (1987).  These activities had been included in the syllabus of the course and had also been posted in the virtual platform of Universidad Tecnológica de Panama.

As an example, activity 1 has been rewritten and numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 have been used as tabs, to indicate that one particular practice has been included in the composition of the activity 1.  The numerical values have their corresponding peer in the set of 7 practices of Chickering and Gamson (1987) from Table 1.  In other words, the tab 1 refers to practice 1, the tab 2 to practice 2 and so on.

The breakdown of activity 1, including the 7 practices of Chickering and Gamson (1987), is presented as follows:

________________________________________________________________

Description of the virtual education activity 1, with the 7 practices separated by tabs:
The purpose of the activity is (3) to perform a comparative study of documents and analysis of an experience, problem or opportunity in your professional life as a complex social problem.  A synoptic table or a comparative table could be used, as a support technique, to perform this activity (3).  (1) (4) A forum to answer questions has been posted in the Forum section of the virtual platform; the student can also send an email to teacher@university.edu for any issues related to the assignment (1) (4).
The structure of the deliverable will include: an introduction, a matrix with the analysis, (2) the feedback from at least two classmates (2), conclusions and references.  (6) (7) Additional inputs to the basic structure of the document will be considered as a value adds (6) (7).  (5) The assignment might take 10 hours and will be delivered the second Friday of the academic year calendar (5).
________________________________________________________________

Based on the previous example, the 7 practices have been used for rewriting virtual education activity 1, the tabs 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 have been added at the beginning and at the end of the sentence that has adopted one or more practices from Chickering and Gamson (1987).

Table 8 summarizes the 4 activities that have been rewritten by using the principles of Chickering and Gamson (1987).  These activities were evaluated by both faculty and students during research process.

 

Table 8: Description of activities with Chickering and Gamson (1987) practices

Id of the activity  Virtual education activities that have been rewritten using Chickering and Gamson (1987) principles (baseline comes from Table 7) 
1 The purpose of the activity is (3) to perform a comparative study of documents and analysis of an experience, problem or opportunity in your professional life as a complex social problem.  A synoptic table or a comparative table could be used, as a support technique, to perform this activity (3).(1) (4) A forum to answer questions has been posted in the Forum section of the virtual platform; the student can also send an email to teacher@university.edu for any issues related to the assignment (1) (4).  The structure of the deliverable will include: an introduction, a matrix with the analysis, (2) the feedback from at least two classmates (2), conclusions and references.  (6) (7) Additional inputs to the basic structure of the document will be considered as a value adds (6) (7).  (5) The assignment will be posted in the Assignments Section of the virtual platform; might take up to 10 hours for completion and will be delivered on the second Friday of the academic year calendar (5).
2 The purpose of the activity is (3) to find, at least three applications of dynamic systems in literature and compare them based on methodology, results and applicability.  A synoptic table or a comparative table could be used, as a support technique, to perform this activity (3).(1) (4) Two forums have been posted for issues and clarifications: one is titled Questions for the teacher and (2) the second one is titled Questions among classmates.  In the first forum, students will receive feedback from teacher no later than 24 hours after the posting (1); in the second forum, we encourage students to collaborate with each other (2) (4).  (6) (7) The deliverable should be submitted in any editable format; however, graphical formats in html files are also welcomed (6) (7). (5) The assignment will be posted in the Assignments Section of the virtual platform; might take up to 10 hours for completion and will be delivered on the fourth Friday of the academic year calendar (5).
3 The purpose of the activity is to (3) search in the existing literature, at least two references that mention aspects in their research by applying concepts of complex and/or dynamic systems and conclusions. If the student can’t find any available literature related to the topic; the student should make an analysis to determine how applicable dynamic systems are.  Mind maps or semantic maps could be used, as a support technique, to perform for this assignment (3).(1) (4) An interactive chat will take place in the fifth Friday of the academic year calendar from 8 to 10 p.m., in order to share ideas prior to presentation of references.  Students can also send an email to teacher@university.edu to get clarifications from issues (1) (4).  (2) A forum has also been opened titled Questions and answers among classmates to promote collaboration (2).  (5) The assignment will be posted in the Assignments Section of the virtual platform; might take up to 5 hours for completion and will be delivered on the sixth Friday of the academic year calendar (5).  (6) (7) The format deliverable is open: therefore students can deliver either a word file, a video file posted in YouTube, a documentary and others (6) (7).
4 The purpose of the activity is (3) to perform an analysis of causal diagram of the operating variables based on the student’s research proposal and the expected results.  Mind maps or semantic maps could be used, as a support technique, to perform for this assignment (3).(1) (4) Students are welcomed to send an email to teacher@university.edu to get clarifications from issues during assignment development.  (2) A videoconference will take place on the seventh Friday of the academic year calendar in order to have a three way discussion (teacher to student; student to student) to learn from everyone’s experience (1) (2) (4).  (5) The assignment will be posted in the Assignments Section of the virtual platform; might take up to 10 hours for completion and will be delivered on the eighth Friday of the academic year calendar (5).  (6) (7) The format deliverable is open: therefore students can deliver either a word file, a video file posted in YouTube, a documentary and others.  The best formatting will be posted in the section Remarkable deliverables (6) (7).
Source: Prepared by authors

 

4. ANALYSIS OF THE RESULTS

The results will be presented on two perspectives: first, the evaluation from the teacher and secondly, the evaluation from the students that participated in the case study.

First, the teacher sent to the research team, the 100% of his answers of instrument 1 (refer to Table 2), which allowed the research team, discuss and tabulate the data in Table 9.

 

Table 9: Results of self-assessment by the teacher at the beginning of the course to obtain the projection to evaluate the activities in relation to good educational practices

ACTIVITY Practice 1 Practice 2 Practice 3 Practice 4 Practice 5 Practice 6 Practice 7 AVERAGE  PER ACTIVITY
Activity 1 – See details in Table 8 5 5 5 5 3 4 4 4.43
Activity 2 – See details in Table 8 5 5 5 5 3 4 4 4.43
Activity 3 – See details in Table 8 5 4 5 5 3 4 4 4.29
Activity 4 – See details in Table 8 5 4 5 5 3 4 4 4.29
AVERAGE PER PRACTICE 5 4.5 5 5 3 4 4 4.36
Source: Prepared by authors

 

The following results have been obtained from Table 9 (self-assessment performed by teacher):

  1. The activities 1 and 2 received an average of 4.43 and the activities 3 and 4, an average of 4.29; these two results mean that the four virtual education activities meet with Chickering and Gamson good practices, in terms of the writing.
  2. In terms of good educational practices, the average of practices 1, 3 and 5 is 5; which means, that the level of influence of these practices related to the four activities is high.
  3. The practice 2 received an average of 4.5 and the practices 6 and 7 achieved an average of 4, which mean, that the level of influence of these practices related to the activities is acceptable.
  4. The practice 5 (emphasize the time dedicated to the task) received an average of 3, which means, that the practice achieved a regular impact in terms of the activities. This specific practice does not satisfy the requirements of the teacher who participated in the research, specifically during planning and designing curriculum.
  5. The key indicator from Table 9 is An+1, m+1 = 4.36; which means that in general terms, learning activities have been written, in a way that have met with the seven good educational practices from Chickering and Gamson (1987).
  6. Second, 100% of the students have completed the instrument 2 and have delivered it on time. The results of the first research question that comes from instrument 2, section 2 (refer to Table 3) were tabulated in Table 10, by the research team:

 

Table 10: Results of evaluating section 2 – question 1 from instrument 2

CASES VIRTUAL EDUCATION ACTIVITIES AVERAGE PER STUDENT
Activity1 Activity 2 Activity 3 Activity 4
Student 1 5 3 3 4 3.75
Student 2 3 5 5 2 3.75
Student 3 5 5 5 5 5
Student 4 5 5 5 5 5
Student 5 5 3 3 5 4
Student 6 5 3 5 5 4.5
Student 7 5 4 4 4 4.25
Student 8 3 2 3 3 2.75
Student 9 5 5 4 5 4.75
Student 10 2 4 2 1 2.25
AVERAGE PER ACTIVITY 4.3 3.9 3.9 3.9 4.0
Source: Prepared by authors

 

The results from Table 10 are presented, as follows:

  1. The students 3, 4 and 7 evaluated the writing of the activities, excellently.
  2. The students 5, 6, 7 and 9 evaluated the writing of the activities, acceptably.
  3. The students 1 and 2 evaluated the writing of the activities, regularly.
  4. The students 8 and 10 evaluated the writing of the activities, poorly.
  5. The key indicator for Table 10 is A1n+1,m+1 = 4.0; meaning that the activities, in general terms, were written in an acceptable way, by the teacher.

The results of the second research question that comes from instrument 2, section 2 (refer to Table 3) were tabulated in Table 11, by the research team:

 

Table 11: Results of evaluating section 2 – question 2 from instrument 2

CASES VIRTUAL EDUCATION ACTIVITIES AVERAGE PER STUDENT
Activity1 Activity 2 Activity 3 Activity 4
Student 1 5 4 4 5 4.5
Student 2 4 5 5 3 4.25
Student 3 5 5 5 5 5
Student 4 5 5 5 5 5
Student 5 5 4 4 5 4.5
Student 6 5 4 5 5 4.75
Student 7 5 5 5 5 5
Student 8 4 3 4 4 3.75
Student 9 5 5 4 5 4.75
Student 10 3 4 3 3 3.25
AVERAGE PER ACTIVITY 4.60 4.40 4.40 4.50 4.48
Source: Prepared by authors

 

The results from Table 11 are presented, as follows:

  1. The students 3, 4 and 7 evaluated their learning process from the development of the four virtual education activities, with an excellent evaluation. Each individual average was equal to 5.
  2. The student 10 evaluated her learning process from the development of the four virtual education activities, with a regular evaluation. Her individual average was 3.25. The student 8 also evaluated his learning process with a regular evaluation; his evaluation average was 3.75.
  3. The key indicator for table 11 is A2n+1,m+1 = 4.48; meaning that activities, meaning that the learning process of the students were supported in a good level, through the four virtual education activities.

 

The results of the third research question that comes from instrument 2, section 2 (refer to Table 3) are presented in Figure 1:

 

Figure 1: Kind of activity that supported the student learning process largely

Figure 1: Kind of activity that supported the student learning process largely

 

In one hand, 30% of the students that participated in the case study, have evaluated that classroom learning activities, have supported their learning process largely; on the other hand, 60% of the students that participated in the case study have evaluated that virtual learning activities, have supported their learning process largely and only 10% of the students have evaluated that distance learning activities (non-virtual activities), have supported their learning process largely.

 

5. ACHIEVEMENTS

Were achieved, the three purposes of research? To answer the question, we proceed to review each purpose with their corresponding response:

First purpose: Validate the potential of virtual education activities, as an alternative in the teaching and learning process.  Answer:  The case study shows that 57% of the activities are considered virtual education activities.    In addition, 60% of the students considered that virtual education activities supported their learning process largely.   These high percentages in the number of virtual education activities in the syllabus and number of students supporting virtual education activities mean that the teacher and the students, in this particular case study, validate the potential of this kind of activity, in the teaching and learning process.

Second purpose: Use of Chickering and Gamson (1987) as a model to compose and evaluate the activities that take place in virtual education phase in a Master course.  Answer: The research methodology clearly indicates that the model was used successfully, by achieving the writing of the activities using Chickering and Gamson (1987); in addition, the virtual education activities were evaluated by the teacher and his ten students properly. Therefore, this second purpose was also achieved.

Third purpose: Determine the impact of these practices in the teaching of the teacher and the learning of the students.  Answer: On one hand, table 10 indicates that the teacher had evaluated, overall, with 4.36 the level of influence of good education practices in his syllabus, specifically in virtual education activities. On the other hand, Tables 11 and 12 indicate first, that students overall evaluated the writing of the four activities as good (the quantitative evaluation is 4), and second, that students considered, their learning, had a good impact based on these 4 virtual education activities (the quantitative evaluation is 4.48).  The three key indicators, An+1, m+1 , A1n+1,m+1  and A2n+1,m+1,  are equal to or greater than 4. Therefore, the answer is yes.

 

6. LIMITATIONS OF THE STUDY

During the period in which the study was conducted, the General Dean from Universidad Tecnologica de Panama had assigned to the teacher researcher, two Master courses in blended modality. The first course was offered in a semester period and the second course in a trimester period. The first limitation faced by the research team was the modality. The team was expecting to conduct the study in a full virtual course; however, both courses had to be developed with blended methodology. Then, the team had to face the second limitation: the number of courses in order to conduct the study. As quoted prior, both courses would be offered in different periods. Therefore, to avoid gaps in the results, the team chose to work with the semester course to have more time to perform the study. The third limitation had to do with the nature of the activities; at the beginning, the team wanted to include a project in the list of virtual education activities; however, based on the nature of the final project, the teacher researcher justified that the project required more classroom interaction; therefore, the development of the project was dismissed from the list of virtual education activities. The fourth obstacle was the limited sample of n = 10; master programs have a reduced enrollment; therefore, it is difficult to work with larger samples. Based on these four limitations, generalizations will not be included in the recommendations and conclusions in the present manuscript. The team suggests expanding the sample and then collecting more data by replicating the proposed methodology, in other researches, specifically in Master programs in Panama or internationally, in order to evaluate virtual education activities based on good educational practices.

 

7. RECOMMENDATIONS AND CONCLUSIONS

After completion of this research, the following recommendations are made:

The inclusion of good educational practices in the planning, designing and implementing syllabus, specifically in virtual education activities, energizes the teaching process.  In addition, the practices of Chickering and Gamson (1987) might assist faculty, to validate parameters of quality during their planning and designing of syllabus.

The virtual or platforms spaces are an effective means to implement good educational practices; through these environments, faculty can post and update, the activities, easily according with the needs of the course.   The study results will serve as a basis for universities, particularly private universities in Panama, to back their virtual careers, when submitting these proposals, to the Panamanian approval agencies. Therefore, the offer of this type of careers would increase eventually.

Implementing virtual education is a major challenge to be accomplished.  The researching team suggests, an updated line of investigation from this manuscript, through the composition of virtual education activities using the principles of Chickering and Gamson (1987) and the study related to on line instructions from Graham et. al (2001).  In addition of composing and evaluating virtual education activities, there are other topics in the virtuality, that could be researched such as teacher training based on competences, scientific research, development, evaluation and project management, competence-based curriculum planning and design, assessment of learning, and tutoring.

As a result of the presented descriptive research, authors of the present manuscript, can conclude that virtual education is explained from classroom education, because of that the authors resorted to three models of good educational practices, that were designed originally, for traditional education, for implementing one of the three models on virtual education activities.

Similarly, the results of the research show that not all practices were positively received by the teacher researcher; practice number 5 associated to emphasize the time on task, was assessed with an average of 3 (refer to Table 9). According to researcher teacher, the time to estimate the development of an activity is complicated to calculate, since each student has a unique learning style; therefore, authors conclude each person might complete a specific activity in different period of time.

Regarding the assessment of students, the first question related to the quality of how the activities were written and posted in the virtual platform, this key indicator reached an average of 4.0; while the overall learning process by the students reached an average of 4.48 based on a sample of 10 students.  This means that there is a difference of 0.48 points between the two indicators. The research team concludes that perhaps this difference is because students emphasize in understanding the activity first, and then focus on developing it and learning from it.  The research team realized, that the indicator A2n+1,m+1 (general learning, from virtual education activities) overcame A1n+1,m+1  (understanding virtual education activities) because of the teacher provided feedback to students, as soon as they had doubts about the activities; therefore, this favored A2n+1,m+1  more than A1n+1,m+1.

Finally, the team also concludes that virtual education activities are considered a good toolkit for students, in order to achieve their learning goals, because of 60% of the students have found that virtual education activities are the right path to maximize their learning capabilities, based on the case study.

 

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