«The purpose of this qualitative study was to examine how communication preferences, learning preferences, and perceptions about online learning ...»
When the online world literature instructor did not place the contents of an exam which required students to create a fairytale on the syllabus, it caused Badesha to be concerned about her abilities to meet the deadline for submission. Badesha admitted that she was not confident in her abilities in creative writing. When discussing her perception of the reading and writing assignments in the world literature class, she said, Everything was ok except for the fairytale because I like science and math, so the idea that I had to write a fairytale really threw me off. That really wasn’t on the syllabus. I could’ve prepared myself if I would have known that it was on the syllabus. I could’ve done some research on how to write it and been more proactive. I like to read the syllabus ahead of time to know what needs to be in on time. (PI, 5/12/10) Confidence in their abilities to meet the instructor’s expectations was very important for participants. Five participants indicated a need for samples and quick feedback on assignments so that they could submit exactly what the teacher wanted.
Grades for discussions, papers, and tests were posted in early April (OC, 6/06/10). Joshua wanted to get a better understanding of the professor’s expectations. He said that it would have been nice to get samples well-written assignments from the online world literature
instructor like he did in another course:
Sometimes I want the instructor to post an example from the material. I don’t know whether this instructor from this class posted examples. I mean, she just gave instructions. I have had another class where the instructors gave examples and what not, but I didn’t see any for this class. This class was more instructions.
We just follow the instructions, and that was it. (PI, 5/12/10) Joshua also mentioned how it would have also been helpful to meeting expectations if the instructor would have provided summaries capturing key ideas expressed by students in the discussion thread. He said instructors could have given “maybe their own thoughts and comments about the discussion. To give you a before and after summary of key points in the discussion thread would have really helped me to know what I needed to learn” (PI, 5/12/10).
Shannon said that she wanted to understand exactly what the instructor wanted in order to complete course assignment well. She was quite definitive in what she wanted as
Number one is truly understanding what the assignment is, asking what the instructor or the professor really wants and what the outcome should look like.
Once I do that, once I have that detail, I could research a particular topic or subject, whatever. Once I do that I am able to do the research, massage it, and pull it all together. (PI, 5/10/10) Angel recollected about an essay that she submitted in her online world literature class in early February; however, she did not receive her grade until the end of the session. She admitted to being unsure about her use of the Modern Language Association (MLA) referencing format, and had wanted to use the feedback to make the necessary
changes for her next essay. She shared her frustration by saying:
I know for me my first essay was in February, and I didn’t hear anything [about the final grade] until April. But to me, mid-March would have been better, at the latest four weeks. So I’m just saying that’s the most amount of time that I needed so that I can apply the feedback to my next essay versus I’ve done three essays and have not gotten back any feedback. Then I get the grade that indicates that I’m missing MLA formatting. (PI, 5/10/10) Angel also noted how the timely scheduling of feedback may have helped her to avoid writing incorrectly on future assignments. She also said clear expectations, even if through a post in the discussion thread, may have helped students understand the
professor’s expectations and reinforced learning:
I did three essays in literature, and I haven’t gotten any feedback on any of them yet for the whole semester. So I really wanted to know how I did and she e-mailed me back and said that I made an A grade, but I want feedback. If I’d been struggling, I would have been so disappointed to have made a bad grade after the semester is over and having been told your writing style wasn’t this or that. Give us some feedback based off of what is working. If people are writing and everybody does poorly then you get a discussion thread saying this is what I saw in the writing in order to give some reinforcement to ensure that everybody is grasping what the expectations are. Just don’t send me an e-mail with a general grade. This kind of stuff does tend to run together after a while. (PI, 5/10/10) Sheila also echoed a similar concern to Angel’s about the scheduling of feedback. She,
too, expected to receive her grades for assignments in a timely manner:
She waited until basically the last part of the class in order to grade papers and everything. I did not know what my grades were until right before the end of the session. That can be a problem. Instructors should make sure that they grade assignments in on time. (PI, 5/13/10) Tenille also discussed how timely feedback would include a one week turnaround. She said, So if you turn in an assignment so like a week. You should not have to wait for the end of the term or the end of the semester to find out how you are doing in class. It shouldn’t take longer than a week to turn it back in to it you. If they can do it in a few days, that’s great, longer than a week, I think is a bit much. (PI, 5/11/10)
She added how good courses are based on good teaching:
It is one in which the teacher is very knowledgeable about the subject. She has an open discussion type format with different topics is kind of laid back teacher. She is on time with grading, and we get good feedback on what to do to improve the work that has been turned in. (PI, 5/11/10) “Shorten, Condense, and Learning in Different Ways”: Handling Reading, Studying
Within this second theme, participants describe their preferences for smaller amounts of reading and their desire for study notes and group collaboration.
Reading and Course Preparation Study questions for each the literature readings were provided for all of the readings which were: Medea, The Epic of Son Jara, Canterbury Tales, and Othello (OC, 5/06/10). In addition, a breakdown of characters through a study guide was provided for the The Epic of Son Jara (OC, 5/06/10). Tenille summarized her expectations of the instructor when she captured the requirements of reading in a course. She defined good
courses as ones with manageable amounts of reading:
Good classes are ones that don’t require a large amount of reading, a moderate amount, but not a large amount. It would be just enough to get you familiar with the material into thinking and not to the point where you got to have extended hours and hours every week just reading. (PI, 5/11/10) Tenille was not the only participant who had concerns about the reading; in fact, six participants in the study noted their challenges with reading in the online world literature class. Jasmin thought that there was too much reading in the online world literature course. She said her preconceived notion about world literature was that “I thought it was a bunch of reading. So that’s about it. I just knew I had to do a bunch of reading” (PI, 5/12/10). The amount of reading was not the only problem with the texts students discussed; another reading challenge that one participant mentioned was comprehension of the reading. Shannon found that she had problems understanding the reading, too, especially when the texts were written in non-Western styles or old English. She explained, There were some challenges with the language. Trying to interpret the old language and what the author was trying to come across. I could read something and read it and I don’t know exactly what they’re saying. You just can read something, but you can’t get it right away. (PI, 5/10/10) Five participants who communicated concerns about the course reading discussed narrowing information as a way they found helpful in understanding the text. Sheila added how she attempted to condense the reading in order to respond on the discussion board. She noted, “I tried to condense information as much as possible because sometimes the reading assignments can be kind of lengthy, and I try to read in advance and then try to condense what I read in order to respond” (PI, 5/14/10). Sheila further added how study guides helped her prepare for exams. In preparing for a recent exam she said, I usually keep the information that is given before me and then the assignment that the information has do with the exam. I make sure that I keep the information together and then review that. I study that to prepare for exam, and I’ll make sure that I’ll go over any study guides that the instructor has given us and then I’ll just review any assignments in the study guide and go over them to prepare for an exam.
India also echoed Jasmin’s and Sheila’s concern about the amount of reading.
Like Shannon, she, too, was concerned about the reading’s complexity. When thinking about the expectations of the course, she said she thought the world literature class would include “reading a lot of stories from different parts of the world” (PI, 5/14/10). One way India was able to handle the reading requirement was to rely on PowerPoint slides to prepare for exams. She said, “I look back over tests and especially if the teacher has PowerPoint, I look back at the PowerPoint for important facts and information in order to study” (PI, 5/10/10).
Angel also confirmed Jasmin’s, Sheila’s, and India’s perceptions about the amount or reading required in world literature to be true. She discussed how she was
often overwhelmed by the reading expectations when combined with her other courses:
She remembered that she just read all the stuff and sometimes I was just overwhelmed with how much reading there was... It was so much required that it could be overwhelming, and then I got to read this and then in another class I got five chapters to read and then I would be like WOW! (PI, 5/12/10) Because of the amount of reading, Angel spoke about ways that helped her to understand it. She discussed how a “breakdown” through study guides and notes was a way for her to successfully understand, The Epic of Son Jara, an African work written in dialect and proverb with multiple characters. Angel added how course “cheat sheets” were
particularly helpful to her as a busy nontraditional student:
So I’m thinking about the story Son Jara. She [the instructor] got a lot of questions from students to the point that she gave us some cheat sheets. So she really just gave us a good breakdown on who the characters were. It was something to help ensure that we got the information. We are nontraditional students, and sometimes the learning curves are a little greater. And we just don’t have enough time as a traditional student would have. So giving us resources again and just assuring that we’re grasping the material and not just saying, ‘Okay, here’s your syllabus for the session. Let me know if you have any questions.’ (PI, 5/10/10) Faced with challenging and lengthy reading in her studies was not new to Angel. She faced similar problems with reading in her psychology class. Angel recalled how
PowerPoint slides allowed her to know what information to place her focus:
The discussion was okay in my psychology class, but my teacher provided a PowerPoint overview for every chapter so I can follow along with the PowerPoint as I was reading the textbook. To me it was like, ‘Hey, these are the things you need to make sure that you are familiar with.’ Some of the chapters could have so much material, and I just wondered, ‘do I need to know this or do I need to know that?’ It just really helped me to know the things that I need to focus on. This would have been great in the online world literature class. (PI, 5/10/10).
Similar to Angel, Joshua also mentioned how he needed to have course highlights of information when he prepared for exams. Joshua said to prepare for tests he would, “Have to flip through a couple pages of it [the reading] and jot down what I could” (PI, 5/12/10). His process of “flipping” through pages and jotting down “what he could” in order to study for exams implied his sense of being overwhelmed with the reading material. Just like Angel, he would have preferred to have had the information condensed in order to focus on what needed to be learned. He further added, Well, I usually go over my old tests and quizzes. If the professor would give a study guide, I would hope that she would give a study guide so that we know what will be on the test and what was assigned. I just prefer study guides to be honest with you. (PI, 5/13/10) In related sense, Amy also noted the length of the reading as a problem for her in world literature. So much so, that she wished that there was a class when all one did was read. She said, “Yeah, I think it was a lot of reading. I think that the world lit class should really be a class in the class where all you do is read” (PI, 5/12/10). Just like many of the aforementioned participants, she, too, must have a means to narrow the text when preparing for coursework. She also said she used PowerPoint when she wrote papers, too.
She explained, “When I get ready for a test, and I just go back over my notes and my PowerPoint and review, I basically do the same thing when I’m getting ready to write a paper” (PI, 5/12/10). Amy further added how she kept PowerPoint notes in an accordion
file to help her when she wrote papers:
Well, what works best for me is I get one of those accordion folders. As I get information like a PowerPoint presentation, I print it off. And I’ll keep it in order to have a notebook. So I can take plenty of notes, and because when I’m working on a paper, I like to look back and see how I should put things together.
(PI, 5/12/10) “The Professor is not the Only Way to Learn World Literature”: