«The purpose of this qualitative study was to examine how communication preferences, learning preferences, and perceptions about online learning ...»
For two participants, the ease of access extended to their perception that online learning provided easy college credit for courses. Not all the students limited their discussion about online learning to world literature. For example, Angel recalled a
psychology class she wanted to take face-to-face but later enrolled in online:
When I was about take a psychology class face-to-face with the syllabus that he handed out, I thought that there was no way that I could do that. And then when I went online, the course was up to 80 to 85 percent of what we were expected to do face-to-face. The same class. (PI, 5/10/10) Mariah also found online coursework less demanding. She admitted to taking world literature due to a lack of interest in the subject matter and for quick credit. She said, “It is just stuff that I’m not into it [world literature]. I take it online because it was convenient, quick, and I had to and I will... I wouldn’t have to go to the school” (PI, 5/10/10).
All ten participants reported various advantages to taking online learning.
Badesha summed up the advantages of online learning quite nicely when she said, “What gave me the desire to learn online was the convenience of it. There was more convenience than anything” (PI, 5/12/10).
Disadvantages of Online Learning While all participants discussed ways the online learning was convenient, students also reported disadvantages to such learning. Some of the complaints about online learning that participants discussed were technical issues with Blackboard, need for tutorials, accessibility issues, disadvantages of independent learning, and the lack of quality interaction between classmates.
Though five participants described online technology as easy to use, five other
participants also reported having technical difficulties. India was one of them:
Sometimes the Blackboard doesn’t work one day, and some days it would just crash. And you know it’s hard to work and is hard especially if you are taking a test or something. (PI, 5/14/10) Amy also recalled problems in online learning in another course. She discussed her
difficulty with completing essays in her psychology class due to technical issues:
There were too many problems on my last final in my psychology class and we were doing essays. So I had to do the same essay about four or five times.... If it freezes, it’s just very frustrating to have to do the same type essay over and over again. It might come out better, but it’s just frustrating. (PI, 5/12/10) Amy also reported problems with tests. She added, I’ll take the test and then I’ll just check and see what my grade is. Sometimes the test, you can put answers in and go back. And you’ll find that the test had not taken your answers, and then you’ll have to ask to contact the teacher and let them know and to see whether the test has graded your answers correctly.... I have and that happen quite a few times. Even when you try to save your answers, you can go back and you can look at your scores it will say, ‘No response’ so that I have to put another response there. (PI, 5/12/10) Sheila talked about being able to retake due to technical difficulties before her brother’s
funeral. She described the following technical issues:
Last September, I actually lost my brother and the day before I had to go to his funeral, my computer froze. So I went to a friend’s house and took it [the test] there. And I try to schedule my time to allow time for something happening that way. That would give me enough time to do that. I didn’t want to use my loss as an excuse and actually didn’t do as well. I did contact the instructor and she reset the test for me and let me take it again. (PI, 5/13/10) In addition to working around technical problems outside of their control, five participants also discussed trouble navigating Blackboard. Amy described students’ frustrations. She said, “In something like that [online course] with some people, they don’t know how to utilize the discussion board or the dropbox too and things of that nature.” (PI, 5/12/10). Tenille also said there was there was a need for a tutorial on Blackboard. She recalled a course she took face-to-face and the teacher assumed all the students knew how to complete and access assignments online. She also remembered her first online course. She said, The teacher just said okay go to blackboard. A lot of students needed to know how to do that. And it was because they had not been exposed to it yet. I think is very important to make sure that everyone understands the process. When I first started taking online classes this summer like the password I thought was the same as what I had for e-mail, and I had to get help desk a few times just until I got the hang of it. (PI, 5/11/10) Three of the participants were neither aware of the features of Blackboard nor how to use them properly. Joshua shared how he did not feel that he knew everything he needed to know about Blackboard. He said, And there was something that I just didn’t know about—like email. I don’t know whether I should have the browser like I should have. I checked the assignments to do or view my grades and I can check the assignments that are due, things of that nature. I did not know it had a chat too or an e-mail, and there were some tools that were missing out as well. They were not missing. I just was not familiar with Blackboard. I didn’t know about these things. I probably would’ve been able to utilize them. (PI, 5/12/10)
Shannon recalled not being sure how to take an online test her first time testing online:
The first test, I didn’t know what to expect and I think she did say it was going to be multiple choice. It was the first-ever I had done in online. I was antsy. ‘What if I push the wrong button?’ Some of the test you can see all of the questions. In some regions, you could only see them one at a time. (5/10/10) India also relayed some trepidation with using Blackboard. She discussed how trial and error and other students helped her learn how to navigate the system. India said, “At first it was difficult to understand which tab to press and where to find what information. I learned through other students and trial and error” (PI, 5/14/10).
Because online learning transpires via the Internet, two students discussed how access could have been an issue. For Tenille, a busy working mother, her travel to New York almost prevented her from submitting assignments in a timely matter. She recalled
how she always submitted her assignment but was almost not able to during one incident:
I did all the tests and the essay. A couple of them may have been like an hour later but a lot of them I did wait until the last minute to submit them. I remember one time I was in New York, and I was trying to post to this class and the people I was visiting they had a computer and I was able to submit it, but I just barely got it in.
(PI, 5/11/10) For Joshua, lack of computer ownership caused him to rush through a test. Often working from the campus library, Joshua discussed getting confused about library hours one day.
There was one issue when they changed the hours one time, and I had to rush to a test. I made my worst grade over. It is because I was rushing, trying to meet the time limit that was required. And so they [the library] changed the hours over the weekend. So that was really my fault because I was not knowledgeable about the time. (PI, 5/12/10) Another disadvantage two students discussed was the greater need to be self motivated
online. She described the difference between face-to face and online courses as follows:
In an online class you’re looking at more of an honor system and in an online class you have to be a lot more motivated. You have to be self-motivated because it is easy to procrastinate and to say that you will do this in a little bit. But in a classroom, you’re right there in front of the instructor and they can see what you’re doing more and see your learning paces more. But in online, you’re going to have to do that yourself. (PI, 5/13/10) Sheila also added the demands of being a working adult are not always remembered in online class. She continued, I just want to make it clear and make it to the instructors that we do have working families and things like that. And I think from my experience, some instructors forget about that. Sometimes it takes away the convenience from having the online experience. (PI, 5/13/10) Similarly, India also found that demands were greater for online students. In her opinion,
online learning is more difficult than face-to-face learning:
I think face-to-face learning, just based on what my friends say is a little less disciplined as far as actually like reading the work. You go to class, you just talk about it and you can pretty much catch on to what the reading was talking about.
But in online classroom, you have to read the information or else you look like a complete idiot on the assignment. (PI, 5/14/10) Angela echoed Sheila’s and India’ perception about the independent learning which comes along with online learning. She found students have be self starters when taking
classes online. She commented:
But with the online class you have to be more independent. When you’re online, you just have different teachers that teach differently. Some are more active, some are not. Some of them would just give your assignment and expect it to be there.
Some will give you the assignments and elaborate on the information. (PI, 5/12/10) In addition to the need to be a self starter, three other participants discussed how they felt online learning was not interactive enough. When Amy compared the online version of world literature to the face-to face-version her sister took, she found the face-to-face
version much more interactive. In fact, Amy wished she would have taken the class faceto face in order to have greater accessibility to the instructor:
My sister actually took the same class in the classroom, and I think that she might have had a better experience. I just think I should’ve taken the class in the classroom setting because online you can ask a question and there is a delay in getting a response back. If I had the teacher right there, she could have explained and given more detailed information [immediately]. (PI, 5/12/10) Though she recognized that interaction with students can vary depending on the course, she talked about how students do not have camaraderie like they would in traditional
I’ve had a lot of different experiences online interacting with students. It just depends. Some people talk a lot. Some people are short and to the point. I think sometimes in online learning you just don’t get as close as you do in the class from other students. (PI, 5/12/10) Joshua also believed that interaction is greater in classrooms. He talked about how the
level of participation would have increased face- to-face due to the professor’s presence:
To be honest about this, I think I would’ve gotten more from the subject. I say that to say that we would’ve been able to raise our hands and ask questions in person. Online nothing is visible and in person and that is the difference. So we’re able to get a great response from the professor and we can get people’s thoughts and everything in the classroom. (PI, 5/12/10) India also echoed Amy’s and India’ opinion that online classes are less interactive.
Having taken other online classes besides world literature, India found that some online
teachers were not as involved as her professor for her class:
My professors, well before my world lit class, I just saw them as the people that put the assignment up, never really getting involved. Now, my impressions are that there are online instructors who can teach the course like you’re in a face-toface class. Other online classes were pretty much like, ‘You all need to read this pages and do these pages.’ In the discussions, they wouldn’t post anything about the discussion. That was to say, ‘This is what you need to talk about and that was it.’ They would give you the assignment and then give us our grade. (PI, 5/14/10)
The purpose of this instrumental case study was to examine how communication preferences, learning preferences, and perceptions about online learning affect nontraditional African American students in their participation in online world literature courses at an HBCU in the southeastern United States. The research questions used in
this study were as follows:
1. How do nontraditional African American students attending a southeastern
3. How do nontraditional African American students attending a southeastern HBCU describe their communication preferences?
4. How do nontraditional African American students attending a southeastern HBCU describe their learning preferences?
5. How easily do nontraditional African American students navigate around the
6. How do nontraditional African American students perceive online content like quizzes, tests, discussion boards, and assignments?
7. How do communication and learning preferences and perceptions about online learning affect nontraditional African American students’ participation in online literature courses at this southeastern HBCU?
In this final section of the dissertation, I will discuss how the literature review and the research findings relate by answering the eight research questions in the study. In addition, I will also share implications and suggestions for further research.
Research Question 1: How do nontraditional African American students attending a southeastern HBCU perceive online learning?