Volume 2, Issue 1, Summer 2003

Research-Supported Best Practices for Developing Online Learning

Dennis W. Sunal
Cynthia S. Sunal
University of Alabama

Michael R. Odell
University of Idaho

Cheryl A. Sundberg
Louisiana Tech University


An analysis was conducted of the body of research studies on best practice in asynchronous or synchronous online instruction in higher education. The analysis used specific research design criteria and categorized studies by the type of theory used, such as creation of typologies. Many studies had flaws in research design and generally were pre-experimental case studies. Those studies most closely meeting the research criteria indicate online learning is viable and identify potential best practices in four categories: student behaviors, faculty-student interactions, technology support, and learning environment.

Alternative Online Pedagogical Models With Identical Contents: A Comparison of Two University-Level Courses

Gila Kurtz
Rachel Sagee
Roni Getz-Lengerman
Bar-Ilan University


The research presented here has a double objective: comparing two undergraduate courses on research methods at Bar-Ilan University (BIU) in Israel, and examining students’ attitudes toward the subject matter, as well as their attitudes toward incorporating online learning into the learning process. The subject matter in both courses—one in the School of Education and the other in the Department of Political Science—was almost identical. Each of the first two authors of this paper taught one of the courses. The pedagogical online model of the courses is different; while the education course is categorized as fully online with no required class meetings and the predetermined content occupies most of the course, the political science course uses the wrap-around model, combining class setting, online interaction and discussions with predetermined content. Students’ attitudes were examined twice, at the beginning of the courses and at their end. Research findings reveal significant differences between the courses and between the two points in time. One possible explanation of these findings is based on processes of instructor-students interaction.

High School Social Studies Students’ Uses of Online Historical Documents Related to the Cuban Missile Crisis

John K. Lee
Georgia State University

W. Guy Clarke
Cherokee High School


This paper reports on findings of a study conducted to determine the usability and pedagogical qualities of two Cold War-related online collections of historical documents. The study was conducted in three 11th grade U.S. history classes. Data in the form of metacognitive essays written by students as they reflected on their work using the archives as well as interviews with students and classroom observations were analyzed using the constant comparative method. Findings indicated that both online collections were of limited value because of poor design and inadequate pedagogical interfaces. We found that Web sites, which feature historical documents but do not have pedagogy as an integral part of the design of the site, are of limited value in high school social studies classes. Without pedagogical intent in the design, resources are difficult to find, hard to manipulate, and of limited value for students who are doing the kind of closed ended or short-term inquiries that are common in high school social studies.

Learner Intent and Online Courses

Randall S. Davies
Indiana University


As the Internet and the use of technology becomes more prevalent in education, promised educational benefits have not always materialized. And the advantage of using technology to enhance a learning experience does not always lead to learning. There are many factors that affect learning. Of these, a student’s desire to learn may be among the most significant. Online learning offers many potential benefits but tends not to produce learning unless the participating students’ main intention is to learn and not just to get the course done. When the design of online courses deliberately or inadvertently promotes course completion as a primary goal or when the content and activities required of the online learner are too easy, students often abandon any real intention of learning. Understanding learner intent is especially important in online learning situations. Yet instructional designers have typically avoided concepts like volition and intent. These more illusive components of learning may provide valuable insights leading to a better understanding of how we should teach and design online courses.

Book Review: Breaking Down the Digital Walls: Learning to Teach in a Post-Modem World (By R. W. Burniske and Lowell Monke)

Reviewed by:

Richard E. Ferdig
University of Florida



R. W. Burniske and Lowell Monke have written a book about education and technology that requires a patient reader, one who is willing to reflect on issues without demanding resolution. This suggestion for a target audience originates from the authors in the beginning of their book on learning to teach in a “post-modem” world. The recommendation is useful, though, in preparing readers for the authors’ use of dialectical discourse. Drawing on Freire (1997), the authors define dialectical discourse as “a continual interdependent cycle of communication, critical thinking, and insight growing toward the light of truth” (p. 226). They highlight this type of interaction, as it is their main educational goal for past and future telecollaborative projects—to get students to emotionally engage in open-ended inquiry while being sufficiently detached to reason and accept ambiguity and tension.

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