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Running Head: Research Proposal

Learning and Writing Beyond the Traditional Classroom: Using Online Forums to Extend Learning in Adult Continuing Education Courses

A Research Proposal

Gillian Sudlow For Stephen Carey ETEC 500 Section 65B April 11, 2010

Running Head: Research Proposal Introduction

Several studies suggest the inclusion of asynchronous online forums (AOFs) in traditional classes can extend learning and engage learners, but do they have the potential to meet the challenges of Adult learners and the constraints of the Adult learning environment?

Background to Adult Learners and the Adult Learning Environment The following comes from my own 10 years of experience teaching Adult learners.

Adult Continuing Education attracts a variety of learners and learner challenges. Learners require flexibility as many are full or part-time workers; thus, any demands outside of class must be meaningful and tied to curriculum objectives. Many are non-Native speakers who come from rote educational backgrounds, for whom collaborative and constructive learning strategies are unfamiliar. Also, there are learners who are dropping back in following negative educational experiences who require a safe environment to nurture their self-efficacy. These categories are not exclusive; in fact, most Adult learners face a combination of these difficulties, if not all.

Added to learner challenges are time constraints. The Adult educational setting can be very intense for both teacher and learner as course completion is every 9 weeks. In this system, it is difficult to create a collaborative and constructive learning environment. Opportunities are rare to truly engage in material as instructors find themselves force-

Running Head: Research Proposal feeding content to meet the prescribed government curriculum. Any opportunity to extend learning outside of class must be maximized so students can use knowledge in meaningful and practical ways before formal assessment.

Why an English Class? Most of the research in using AOFs has been focused on preparing students for in-class discussions (Dengler 2008; Shana 2009; Tiene 2000; Trudeau 2005; Zhang et. al 2007). I believe that online forums have potential beyond discussion, and more specifically, can serve as effective primers for in-class writing on a given topic. The pre-writing exercise of responding online can serve as an effective scaffold to prepare a response to an inclass essay on the same topic as writing assignments for English classes are essentially written discussions.


This study proposes to investigate the following: 1. Will the inclusion of an AOF in an English 12 class with Adult learners increase student preparation, participation and engagement with class readings? 2. Will the inclusion of an AOF in an English 12 class with Adult learners have a positive effect on student attitudes and help foster online and in-class collaborative and constructive learning environments? 3. Will the inclusion of an AOF in an English 12 class with Adult learners improve learner performance in critical analysis and synthesis essay writing?

Running Head: Research Proposal Literature Review

Online Forums and Increased Learning Shana (2009) found using t-test analysis of pre-test and post-test scores of treatment and control groups that the treatment group, which used AOFs, improved significantly over the control group. The researcher concluded that students did better as a result of the AOFs, which encouraged a more meaningful learning experience through active participation with course materials (Shana, 2009).

Zhang et al. (2007) investigated the effects of AOFs on Language Arts skills, critical thinking and as a primer for in-class discussions. Following post-tests analyzed using ANOVA and Tukey tests, researchers discovered that although forums did not improve reading, grammar or vocabulary skills, writing and critical thinking skills improved significantly and AOFs served as an effective primer for in-class discussions. (Zhang et. al 2007)

Though the empirical results of these two studies are promising, their sample sizes, Shana (2009) 34 and Zhang et. al (2007) 54 are relatively small and culturally specific, thus limiting transferability. Gender bias further limits Shanas (2009) sample as all subjects were female. However, the findings of two other studies increase generalizability through corroboration.

Running Head: Research Proposal Dengler (2008) added an optional AOF to extend active learning beyond the classroom (Dengler, 2008). She concluded participation in the AOF afforded students the opportunity to practice writing concise, effective arguments in preparation for formally assessed written work (Dengler, 2008). Denglers conclusions though logical, are largely anecdotal and unsupported by hard data. Furthermore, her sample size was very small at 10, and it is unknown how many students participated in the forum.

Trudeau (2005) designed a Discussion Forum assignment to increase learning by having students become more actively involved with the material they are reading and discussing in class. (Trudeau, 2005) To assess its impact on student learning, students completed a self-assessment questionnaire. 93% of students responded positively when asked if the assignment helped their learning. They cited motivation, focus, others postings and active learning as equal contributors to this increase. Based on responses and his own impressions of student work quality, Trudeau claimed AOFs produced better learning and encouraged active involvement with course material (Trudeau, 2007). Though his sample size is acceptable at 181 students, Trudeaus findings are limited due to the subjective bias of the self-assessment survey and his own inferences.

Online Forums and Student Attitudes Shana (2009) administered a survey and follow-up interviews to determine the effects of AOFs on student attitudes. 93% of students found combining face-to-face classes with AOFs useful; 86% found the accessibility and interactivity of AOFs supported learning; 86% felt other face-to-face classroom activities could be done better online; and 100% of

Running Head: Research Proposal students would use AOFs again. In contrast, 67% of students responded negatively to using online discussions as an alternative to face-to-face. (Shana, 2009).

In an earlier survey study, Tiene (2000) collected data over two years to critically examine the differences between AOFs and face-to-face discussion. Overall, students found the AOFs to be user-friendly and convenient. Students appreciated having the time to think and construct responses; moreover, they liked that the discussions were archived and could be reviewed later. Like Shana (2009) Tiene discovered online discussion was preferred as an addition to face-to-face dialogue, not a substitution for it. (Tiene, 2000)

It should be noted that both Shana (2009) and Tiene (2000) tied participation in online discussion forums to course marks, which may have influenced the positive feedback. Still, I found it particularly interesting that students responded negatively in both studies to using AOFs as an alternative to face-to-face discussions.

Online Forums and Non-Native Students In a causal-comparative study, Hlas et al (2008) investigated how native speakers of English (NS) and non-native Speakers (NNS) differ when engaged in face-to-face and AOFs. After quantitative and qualitative analysis of 2395 units of conversational data, researchers concluded that while NS dominated face-to-face discussions, the online environment seemed to level the playing field for non-native and native speakers and thus provided greater equity to students. (Hlas et. al 2008) Researchers also noted that AOFs provided the time NNS require to reflect on discussion questions and craft responses,

Running Head: Research Proposal effectively reducing the inhibiting effects of cognitive load and limited linguistic skills of the non-native speaker. (Hlas et. al, 2008) Dengler (2008) agreed that online forums widen[ed] participation of students where gender and cultural identities may inhibit some students in a traditional classroom setting.

The findings of Hlas et al (2008) and Dengler (2008) are encouraging for NNS as both suggest that AOFs provide these students with a voice and an opportunity to participate. It must be noted, however, that Denglers sample of NNS was extremely small at 4, and neither study sought to investigate NNS reluctance to speak in class. Linguistic difficulties and cultural differences are suggested, but not supported by data.

In brief, all of these studies point to positive results for students using AOFs in traditional classes. Moreover, many conclude with best practice recommendations for using forums, many of which will be used in the following proposed study design.

Study Design

Method To assess student performance, a quasi-experimental method, non-equivalent control group design will be used. The independent variable will be the inclusion of AOF and the dependent variable will be student achievement on post-tests. Two English 12 classes will be studied successively each 9-week academic quarter, for a total of 8 classes. One class will serve as the treatment group and the other a control group. The treatment group

Running Head: Research Proposal will participate in 4 bi-weekly AOFs on MOODLE to scaffold students in preparation for 4 in-class discussions and writing assignments on the same topic. The control group will discuss and prepare the same 4 topics in class. For consistency in course delivery and assessment, the same instructor will teach all classes.

A follow-up online survey using Likert-style questions will be administered to gather demographic data and assess student attitudes towards AOFs (Appendix E).

Participants: The sample will be selected from Adult learners in a Vancouver Adult Education Centre. With a minimum class size of 15 and a maximum of 30, the sample size may range from 120 to 240 students. Age range is 16+. As per Vancouver School District guidelines, participants (and their parents for students under age 18) must give informed consent. Confidentiality will be ensured throughout.

Data Collection and Analysis: Data will be collected and analyzed at the end of each quarter and then again at the end of the academic year for synthesis purposes.

Pre and post-tests will quantitatively determine any significant increases in student writing performance. Prior to the introduction of the AOF both classes will be pre-tested by writing an assessment essay. The assignments will be double-marked using the BC Ministry of Educations English 12 Scoring Guide for Analysis of Synthesis Texts 1 and

Running Head: Research Proposal 2 (Appendix A). A t-test will determine equivalency of the two groups prior to commencement of the treatment.

The four in-class essays of each quarter will serve as post-tests. Again, the essays will be double marked using the Scoring Guide. T-tests will assess and compare the performance of both groups.

The survey will be administered and data will be collected and analyzed via SurveyMonkey.com, which will track respondents and non-respondents as well as analyze data using descriptive statistics, namely means and percentages. A chi-square test will determine if differences are statistically significant.

Procedure Following the pre-test, the treatment group will be introduced to AOF. As research recommends (Shana, 2009; Zhang et. al; Li, 2004)), students will participate in an Introductory Forum (Appendix C) where they will post a short introduction and respond to the posts of others. The instructor will model a sample post and reply and monitor the forum throughout the week, posting replies to each student and addressing any student questions and/or concerns regarding the forum.

Students in both groups will then be assigned 4 bi-weekly sets of readings and corresponding discussion and essay topics. (Appendix D) During each 2-week cycle, students in both groups will discuss the readings in reference to the discussion/essay

Running Head: Research Proposal topics and prepare an outline for use during an in-class synthesis essay. The control group will discuss and prepare in class. The treatment group will discuss and prepare using AOFs by posting responses to questions and then replies to others postings. As recommended (Zhang et. al, 2007; Trudeau, 2005; Li, 2004) instructions, purpose and evaluation criteria will be explicit for each discussion forum. (Appendix B) Participation in the AOFs will count for 20% of the students final mark. The instructor will monitor and create a presence in all AOFs by answering questions, prompting lagging discussion and stepping in to correct serious misunderstandings of text or task. At the end of each 2-week cycle, both groups will write an in-class synthesis essay on the topics discussed.

Following the conclusion of the course, students will complete an online survey.

Significance of Proposed Research

Despite positive results, current research reveals significant sampling limitations in terms of size, cultural diversity and learner categories. By selecting subjects from a population of Adult Continuing Education students, this study has the potential to sample up to 240 Native and non-Native speaking students of varying ages with diverse cultural backgrounds. Such a sample, though still limited in transferability would be a true test of the effects of AOFs on student learning.

Running Head: Research Proposal Moreover, this study proposes going beyond current uses of AOFs and exploring its potential as a scaffolding tool for improving academic writing skills. If results prove positive, learners and teachers and educational institutions will all benefit. Students will be more engaged in the learning and writing process. Teachers will have a new strategy option to teach critical analysis in academic writing beyond the classroom. Finally resource-strapped institutions will be able to meet educational technology demands of the government by implementing open-source course management systems like MOODLE.


Running Head: Research Proposal

Dengler, M. (2008). Classroom Active Learning Complemented by an Online Discussion Forum to Teach Sustainability. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 32(3), 481-494. Retrieved from ERIC database. Hlas, A., Schuh, K., & Alessi, S. (2008). Native and Non-Native Speakers in Online and Face-to-Face Discussions: Leveling the Playing Field. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 36(4), 337-373. Retrieved from ERIC database. Li, Q. (2004). Knowledge Building Community: Keys for Using Online Forums. TechTrends: Linking Research & Practice to Improve Learning, 48(4), 24-28. Retrieved from ERIC database. Shana, Z. (2009). Learning with Technology: Using Discussion Forums to Augment a Tradtional-Style Class. Educational Technology & Society, 12(3), 214-228. Retrieved from ERIC database. Tiene, D. (2000). Online Discussions: A Survey of Advantages and Disadvantages Compared to Face-to-Face Discussions. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 9(4), 371-84. Retrieved from ERIC database. Trudeau, R. (2005). Get Them to Read, Get Them to Talk: Using Discussion Forums to Enhance Student Learning. Journal of Political Science Education, 1(3), 289-322. Retrieved from ERIC database. Zhang, T., Gao, T., Ring, G., & Zhang, W. (2007). Using Online Discussion Forums to Assist a Traditional English Class. International Journal on E-Learning, 6(4), 623-643. Retrieved from ERIC database.

Running Head: Research Proposal Appendix A : In-Class Essay Holistic Scale Assessment

Source: BC Ministry of Education. Retrieved from http://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/exams/specs/grade12/en/2009.htm

Running Head: Research Proposal Appendix B: Student Handout

Online Discussion Forums: Tasks and Assessment

Introduction: Throughout this course you will be participating in a series of bi-weekly asynchronous online discussion forums on MOODLE. Because these discussions are asynchronous, you may participate when its most convenient for you. However, you must still adhere to set deadlines. Your participation in each of the forums will be assessed based on the quantity and quality of your posts and replies. The quality of your posts and replies will be assessed using the attached rubric. Your combined marks will count for 20% of your final grade in this course. Objectives: To foster a collaborative and constructive learning environment both online and in-class. To encourage participation and engagement with class readings. To encourage critical, yet respectful dialogue amongst students. To gain experience and improve performance in writing clear, concise critical analyses of course readings. To assist in preparation for in-class discussions and in-class synthesis essays. Instructor Participation: I will monitor the discussions throughout each week. I may post the occasional encouraging comment or answer questions, but this is meant for you to share and build your knowledge and understanding. However, I will step in, if necessary, to correct serious misunderstandings of text or task. Tasks: 1. Introductory Forum a. To gain experience in using asynchronous online discussion forums and proper netiquette, your first task will be to introduce yourself to the class online. b. In addition to posting your own introduction, you will be required to read and post a reply to at least 2 of your classmates introductions. This task will be modeled in-class by the instructor and evaluation criteria for this assignment is described in the forum. 2. Pre-Reading Discussion Forums a. Pre-reading discussion topics will be posted at the beginning of weeks 2, 4, 6 and 8. The objective of these forums is to get

Running Head: Research Proposal you thinking and writing about the topics and themes of each set of readings. b. To participate in these discussions, you will post a response to the discussion topic prior to completing the readings for the week. i. You must respond directly to the discussion topic in a clear and concise manner and adhere to a 150-word limit. ii. You will be assessed based on the Postings rubric included in this handout. c. In addition to posting your own response to the discussion topic, you will be required to read and post a reply to at least 2 of your classmates responses. i. Your replies must be clear, concise, critical and respectful. ii. You will be assessed based on the Replies rubric included in this handout. 3. 4 bi-weekly Discussion/Essay Preparation Forums a. Following the pre-reading task, readings will be assigned midweek during weeks 2, 4, 6 and 8. A discussion / synthesis essay topic will be posted online the same day. The objective of these forums is to get you thinking, writing and collaborating in preparation for in-class discussion and eventually an in-class synthesis essay on the same topic. b. To participate in these discussions, you will post a response to the discussion topic after completing the assigned readings. i. You must respond directly to the discussion topic in a clear and concise manner and adhere to a 200-word limit. ii. You must include direct references to all assigned readings in your response. iii. Your response must be posted by Sunday midnight at the end of the week. (ex. the first response must be posted by the end of week iv. You will be assessed based on the Postings rubric included in this handout. c. In addition to posting your own response to the discussion topic, you will be required to read and post a reply to at least 2 of your classmates responses. i. Your replies must be clear, concise, critical and respectful. ii. Your replies must be posted by Wednesday midnight of the following week. iii. You will be assessed based on the Replies rubric included in this handout.

Running Head: Research Proposal

Assessment Rubric for Asynchronous Forum Discussions - Postings

These discussion forums are designed to enhance your learning as you collaborate with others by sharing your ideas. Together you will develop and refine your thoughts and understanding of the course readings through the writing process. Review and reflect on the following feedback before you post your responses to each topic.


Acceptable Unacceptable 0 Points 1 Point

Good 2 Points

Excellent 3 Points
Participates several times throughout the week by following up on other students replies and refining original response.


Participates by posting Participates only by Participates not at own response and posting own all. following up on at least response. one reply. Posts adequate response, but ideas may be superficial Posts no response. or may not address all aspects of the task. Significantly under-developed. Posts a response that is off-topic, or demonstrates a serious misunderstanding of the texts or tasks. Includes no references or supporting experience. Adds only a superficial element to the discussion. Parts of the response may be off-topic or incorrect. Response relies on personal experience, but includes no references to readings

Initial Response Posting

Posts response that Posts well developed addresses all aspects response that of the task; some demonstrates critical critical thinking/analysis thinking and analysis. All is present. May lack aspects of the topic are development in some fully developed. areas Posts a response that is factually correct, but may be superficial. Is repetitive of others ideas. Does not add any new elements to the discussion. Response includes references to the readings, but these may be limited and/or inappropriate. Response is factually correct, critical and insightful. Engages other readers and prompts further discussion. Response cites appropriate references to the readings. References are clearly connected to other ideas developed in the response.

Content Contribution

References to Readings (not applicable to prereading discussions)

Running Head: Research Proposal

Response may be Response is too on the brief side, or brief to adequately take a long time to Response is clear, but respond to the task, come to a point, but and contributes new or the length to content is insights to the long, unorganized appropriate; some discussion; minor or may be errors in clarity or clarity or mechanics inappropriate, may mechanics are errors may be present. contain multiple present, but do not errors. impede meaning.

Clarity & Mechanics

Response is clear and concise. Insightful critical comments are made in an easy readable style; virtually free of grammatical or mechanical errors.

Assessment Rubric for Asynchronous Forum Discussions - Replies

It is important to reply to posts early in the discussion. This not only encourages the discussion to continue and generate more ideas, but it also encourages others to post comments to your response. Dont hesitate to offer a critique of another posting; just dont forget your netiquette . Review and reflect on the following feedback before you post your replies.

Criteria Frequenc y Content and


Unacceptable 0 points
Participates not at all. Reply posts are off-topic or limited or superficial, inviting no further discussion.

Acceptable 1 point
Posts only one reply. Reply posts are limited in their contribution to discussion; may agree or disagree, but offers no explanation

Good 2 points
Posts required 2 replies Reply posts may include thoughtful questions and agree/disagree statements with limited explanations. Contributes somewhat to furthering discussion Reply comments are friendly and respectful; appears reluctant to be critical of others posts

Excellent 3 points
Posts more than required amount of replies. Reply posts offer analysis and critique of other responses; invites the continuation of meaningful discussion by building on previous posts.

Netique tte

Reply comments are inappropriate.

Reply comments are friendly and respectful, but superficial.

Reply comments are friendly and respectful in their critique of others.

Running Head: Research Proposal

Appendix C: Introductory Forum Screen Shot

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Appendix D Sample Discussion Forum Screen Shot

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Appendix E: Sample Survey Instrument Screen Shots To view the sample survey in its entirety, click on the link below: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/JS5F9Q2