How Might A Read/write Preference Impact Online Learning

In this Q&A, Five Colleges Professors Chatter on how a Read/Write Preference COULD Impact Online Learning and how this is IMPORTANT to STUDENTS.

How Might A Read/write Preference Impact Online Learning

Online learning has been an extraordinarily disruptive force in higher education, providing cost and time savings for students and substantial cost savings for institutions. However, researchers and advocates are growing increasingly concerned about research demonstrating that though participants in online learning tend to more effectively learn, the more extensive and lengthy the time spent on a course the less effective they are at learning.

Moreover, a 2015 literature review by the Tufts Center for the Study of Inequality, Higher Education and Learning found, that in addition to lower learning, studies have found a poorer on-time completion rate among students taking digital degree programs than those enrolled in face-to-face programs. Further, studies show that subject matter requiring a “bridge” teacher, such as business and creative writing, may yield larger benefits from a tutor-taught course compared to courses in which the student is the only tutor.

Finally, studies have also documented additional learning costs associated with students taking hybrid courses (an online component, as well as a blended, blended-traditional or hybrid-virtual or “do-it-yourself” course) that include both online and offline components. With new innovations and refinements in technology and platforms making blended, Do-It-Yourself, blended-online and Do-It-At-Home courses increasingly attractive to both students and institutions, the potential savings to institutions through a new option to deliver online courses, represented by the read/write preference, presents a new and intriguing opportunity to reform these sorts of difficult courses.

We did a quick scan of the relevant articles from around the web today to get an overview of what the situation is like, what practices exist (and don’t exist) to date, and how a preference could be implemented.

We were most interested in read/write preferences because they would be a likely first point of contact for institutions looking to adopt a change in delivery of online learning, an idea that is gaining momentum among high-profile higher education donors, as well as the Department of Education, and coming soon to a campus near you. It appears that many of the leading read/write preferences are steeped in literature and would likely emphasize multiple choice. While we were unclear as to how two readings a week per day would translate in a practical sense into a possible format (i.e. class size of 50 students/classes composed of 10 people), it seems to be possible that some institutions could use this reading week schedule and place excerpts in students’ laptops or books.

We found that the biggest challenges are limiting students’ ability to toggle from self-paced to a self-directed class. This is probably because many students opt to self-schedule courses simply because they don’t want to spend a lot of time on screen. But there are also practice modes. For example, students in pre-course sessions learn project and content management, and they build their building blocks for multiple choice tests. Could this practice mode be employed for read/write preference? We will need more research to develop this kind of a workflow for this category of preference.

Another challenge is students’ ability to open their laptop screen and stop to look up information they might have missed during class, so a practice mode for student capacity would be important here too.

Who would handle this process? One in two students would need a laptop; one in four would need a screen reader; one in four would need a desktop; and one in three would need a visual test. Where these students would use the screen reader is the critical question. Because of the challenges of reading passage and multiple choice exams, universities could in theory use a screen reader (which would ensure that multiple choice choices, for example, would always be the last questions) or assistive technology to assist with the other three, either by allowing students to look up specific points or a list of possible responses. But how would these students become familiar with a text reader? We would need more research to evaluate this possibility.

Conclusions: To get students on the machine, institutions would have to do more to retain them on-board. Perhaps adapting the read/write preference practice could bring in some of these students and infuse the notion of “flexibility” (i.e. checking and editing) with a tutor-teacher relationship that would provide study time, guidance, and coaching.

(This article was written by a member of our Research Advisory Board, Luis Salinas. Luis works in the faculty of psychology, edtech, and public affairs at New York University, Boston University, NYU Tisch School of the Arts, and Pace University. You can follow him on Twitter at @luisalsalinas)

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