«The purpose of this qualitative study was to examine how communication preferences, learning preferences, and perceptions about online learning ...»
While the participants had many opinions about online learning, their perceptions about this learning format can be captured best through the advantages and disadvantages they experienced. All of the participants revealed how online learning was advantageous to them. Because eight out of the 10 were working mothers, all eight discussed advantages which surrounded the ability to save time and have flexibility while managing the numerous responsibilities of family, work, and community involvement. Four other participants, who also included the only male in the study, spoke about how online learning allowed them to complete school work based on their schedules. Two commented about how online learning allowed them to take more courses.
Another benefit to online learning participants discussed was its ability to help with record keeping. Two participants discussed how records helped them to scaffold knowledge in and outside of courses. In addition, four other participants spoke about how they found accessing classroom materials and assignments easy. They enjoyed the ability to have class at their fingertips. For example, India admitted that online classes help her learn “because it’s right there” (PI, 5/14/10).
In addition, seven of the participants discussed how online learning was less demanding than face-to-face classes for a variety of reasons. For one participant, taking courses online helped to eliminate additional stress in her life because she did not have to drive to campus, find parking, and make it to class at a set time. Another participant found contacting the professor through the platform’s email device easier than meeting her in an office on campus. Still another student mentioned the ease of interacting with classmates. Three of the participants found that the ability to use one’s textbook while testing made taking tests easier online. Two other participants spoke about how getting course credit was quicker and easier than face-to-face courses because the amount of assignments was often reduced. In other words, there were fewer assignments in this online course than there would have been in one that was face-to-face.
Many of the advantages that the participants discussed also appeared in the literature. Puzziferro and Shelton (2008) noted that a major cause of the growth of online learning was the students’ ability to get 24-hour access to classes, work around adult responsibilities, gain easy access to course materials, and interact with students. Though the research also discussed students’ ability to communicate with other students from various locations and eliminate the boundaries if one should have physical limitations, the participants in this study did not comment on these advantages (Puzziferro & Shelton, 2008; Crow, 2008). In addition, the literature I surveyed did not reveal advantages of online learning for students who may have test anxiety nor does it support the notion that online courses are less demanding. In contrast to participants’ opinions of online learning as less demanding, research states how one must be self- motivated and an independent learner to excel in online courses (Vanderpool, 2009). Furthermore, Chen (2001) also discussed how students must be autonomous in highly structured online courses.
Moreover, interdependence is a form of autonomy in Chen’s theory.
Just as all of the participants commented about the advantages of online learning, they also voiced the disadvantages of such learning as well. All of them addressed issues with technology. For five of the participants, Blackboard sometimes failed to function. At times, Blackboard would freeze during testing or failed to record answers. Five participants also noted their inexperience with using the technology and how they needed tutorials about its use. Two of the students recounted access issues related to physical mobility and personal access to a computer outside of the university.
Additionally, six participants also discussed how they felt learning online was more difficult than in face-to -face classes. Three discussed how learners are more independent online and therefore needed to be self motivated. Three other participants also discussed how learning was not as interactive as the classroom. Specifically, one of the three spoke to how there was not a sense of camaraderie online like there is in traditional classroom environments. According to Angela, “you have to be more independent” (PI, 5/12/10). A few commented on how there was a lack of instructor presence online and others also discussed a desire for more precise instructions and more expedient feedback by the instructor on assignments and questions made by the students.
The disadvantages participants’ stated of online learning concurred with the literature. Participants’ comments about the self discipline required in online learning, difficulties with use of online learning platforms, and the alienation they felt in working with instructors and other students resonated with the literature (Vanderpool, 2009). In addition, students’ perceptions of the lack of positive communication online concurred with Chen’s (2001a) findings about perceived distances and Moore’s (1996) Theory of Transactional Distance. In the theory, Moore stated how students often will perceive that there is a great distance in courses where they lack positive communication with each other. As an extension, Chen (2001a) discussed how distance in dialogue can occur based online discussions, via email, and face-to-face. Participants indicated a void in communication in all three of Chen’s dimensions of positive dialogue. In other words, participants said that they wanted more discussion with peers and the professor both inclass and out-of-class, though this did not occur in the online world literature course.
Essentially, they want to “hit [them] up.” In addition, Chen’s (2001a) research about Leaner Interface Transactional Distance also concurred with the participant voices. Chen (2001a) cited how learners’ perceptions of user-friendliness of operation systems and ease of ability to navigate around course platforms minimized perceived distance. Because most of the participants experienced difficulties using Blackboard, there were feelings of disconnection and isolation in the online world literature course.
Research Question 2: How do nontraditional African American students attending a southeastern HBCU perceive face-to-face learning?
For eight of the ten participants, face-to-face instruction remained the model for which great classes are based. Three out of eight saw traditional classes as the model for teaching and learning had originally wanted to take world literature courses face-to-face because of the level of interaction and sense of camaraderie with classmates. Two other participants wanted discussion boards to mimic face-to-face instruction. Some participants felt that their learning and experiences would have been better if they had taken world literature face-to face. Still another shared that when she really wanted to learn a subject she would take the class face-to-face in order to ask the instructor questions and get immediate feedback.
Eight out of 10 participants said that the positive aspects of face-to-face learning included a higher level of interaction by students and teachers. According to these participants, high levels of interaction by students helped to create camaraderie among them. In addition, a high level of interaction by the instructor helped to increase more responses by students and heightened teacher immediacy. According to research literature, high levels of interaction by teachers and students are preferred by African American students (Holtgraves, Duline, & Kochman, 1994; Neuliep, 2002, as cited in Rovai et al., 2005). Face-to-face instructions allow African American students to use call and response, which is a preferred African American speech pattern. Furthermore, Boykin (1986) added how students are accustomed to the highly rhetorical speech patterns of faculty at HBCUs. Nonverbal cues like smiles, gestures, and movement are also a part of the culture in HBCU classrooms (Boykin, 1986). Walker (2003) found forms of dynamic speech like rappin’, stylin’, signifyin’, and call and response as important to African American communication as well. In addition, Duncan and BarberFreeman’s (2008) research supported the positive effects of collaborative learning on African American college students. Carson (2009) echoed these findings when he shared how African American students excel in higher education when they are allowed to work as a collective. Chen (2001a) also supported the importance of out-of-class communication as an important dimension that could minimize perceived distance in online courses.
In contrast, some participants also discussed the disadvantages of face-to-face instruction. Two participants spoke about the need to memorize information for testing in face-to face classes. Another participant found the lecture approach used in face-to face classes to be boring. Yet, another student talked about how face-to-face courses often require more group projects, which she did not like (Jasmin). Dominance by a few in classroom discussion was also noted as a disadvantage to face-to-face classes.
These findings corroborated what the findings noted before. Contrary to participants’ views, online learning is often viewed as more difficult in comparison to face-to-face instruction (Vanderpool, 2009). However, the research literature supported one participant’s view that lectures would be considered disengaging by AfricanAmerican students. According to the literature, African Americans tend to prefer teacher immediacy and prefer close contact with instructors who move about the classroom, show eye contact and engage the student in call and response (Boykin, 1983).
Accessibility, one of Chen’s (2001a) four dimensions to minimizing teacher learner transactional distance, and immediacy are key factors which can are found to minimize perceive transactional distance (Chen, 2001a).
Research Question 3: How do nontraditional African American students attending a southeastern HBCU describe their communication preferences?
Participants in the study talked about various preferences when communicating with classmates and the professor. Overall, their preference for communicating with classmates included lively two-way communication. While six out of 10 participants preferred face-to-face communication with classmates, three of the six said they would communicate via telephone if face-to-face interaction were not possible. Two more preferred telephone communication with classmates; and two others preferred text-based communication with other students. Those who preferred to communicate with classmates face-to-face mentioned their ability to talk openly and get an immediate response. Others who preferred face-to-face communication noted their ability to pick up on nonverbal communication cues. One participant, in particular, who wanted to talk to students in person indicated a desire to bond beyond classroom topics; however, a lack of knowledge about communication tools online was cited as a difficulty in making this interchange happen.
While some participants preferred face-to-face communication, they also wanted to use the telephone. Text messages were used by some of the students though a few of them preferred talking directly to classmates instead of texting them. Connecting with students through face-to-face communication included the desire to speak with each other during class breaks. This kind of person-to-person interaction was preferred even over the use of Elluminate because only the teacher could talk.
It is important to note here the differences in communication preferences of participants who are members of different generations. For example, on one hand, one Generation Y member-participant, preferred text messaging. This preference is characteristic of the descriptions of Generation Y members (Prensky, 2001). Perhaps, this participant felt that texting is a quicker and less intrusive form of communication.
However, two other Generation Y member-participants did not prefer texting but wanted to communicate face-to-face. On the other hand, a member-participant of Generation X preferred to communicate via email of its flexibility in her communication with others and allowed her to communicate around her schedule. Other members of Generation X wanted face-to-face or telephone communication. Therefore, one cannot generalize that members of certain generations have the same needs or preferences (Hargittai, 2010;
Kennedy et al., 2008).
The participants’ communication preferences concurred with the literature. Most said they preferred verbal forms of communication. This need for speech is documented in the literature which found that compared to other cultural styles of speech, African American speech is emotionally intense, expressive, dynamic, and demonstrative in comparison to Europeans’ (Holtgraves & Dulin, 1994; Kochman & Neuliep, 2002, as cited in Rovai et al., 2005; Walters, 2003). Many of the participants noted that they wanted speech in order to have interactive experiences. Interestingly, six out of ten participants said that they wanted to communicate in person in order to have an interactive experience, form communities, and pick up on nonverbal cues. The desire for face-to-face communication supported the literature’s discussion about the African American call and response speech patterns which is only applicable in live settings (Daniel & Smitherman, 1989; Foster, 2002; Walter 2003). Call and response allows the communicators to encourage dialogue and assures that the listener is indeed listening. In addition, call and response also allows for bonding among students allowing them to share their unique voice while connecting to the group (Kochman, 1983, as cited in Boone, 2003; Walter, 2003). The importance of being heard and feelings of belonging are key factors in culturally relevant andragogy (Imel, 2001). Imel (2001) reported the benefits of allowing adult ethnic-minority students to share their life experiences and form relationships with peers.
When it comes to communicating with the professor, communication preferences depended on who initiated the conversation and the environment of the communication.
When students initiated the conversation, four out of 10 preferred to do so by telephone;