«The purpose of this qualitative study was to examine how communication preferences, learning preferences, and perceptions about online learning ...»
The lack of appeal of the discussion board for African American students was noted by Rovai et al. (2005). In their study, Whites posted twice as many discussion boards as African American students. Similarly, Tynes, Giang, and Thompson (2008) also found how ethnic minorities did not discuss as much in online and offline discussions like their European American classes. The African American students in that study mentioned their sense of being overwhelmed with written words in the discussion board and their desire for auditory communication or visual images. This could very well be the case for participants in my study; several of the participants discussed their aversion to large amounts of written text. The other assignments included for the class consisted of two essays. Eight out of 10 participants mentioned a need for more examples of finished products and instructions from the instructor. They also desired more expedient feedback on assignments in order to make improvements in future writings.
Vanderpool (2009) states similar finding. Chen (2001a) also noted how perceived distance can occur if positive communication between the teacher and learner do not occur. He found that if students do not understand the concepts presented by the instructor that distance can occur.
Research Question 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 based on their ages, socioeconomic status, and geographical background?
The participants represented four different generational categories: Older Boomer, Younger Boomer, Generation X and Generation Y. Five of the participants are members of Generation X, which means they were born between 1965 and 1976. Members of Generation X discussed their need for high levels of participation from both students and the professor. Their preferences for modes of communication varied. In general, most of them preferred some form of oral communication with classmates. Two preferred telephone conversations and two of them preferred face- to-face conversations. Only one member of Generation X preferred email when it came to communication with other students. In addition, members of Generation X also preferred that professors contact them by email. Only one member of Generation X indicated a preference for face-to-face communication from the professor. When it comes to initiating the communication to the professor, most members of Generation X preferred to do so verbally. While two of the members preferred face-to-face, two of them preferred telephone contact with the professor. Only one member of Generation desired to initiate conversation with the professor via email.
The next largest generation in the study was Generation Y, those born between 1977 and 1990. The participants from Generation Y also said that they wanted a large amount of interaction from students and the teacher. Interestingly, their preferred mode of communication between students varied and did not indicate a pattern. While one member of Generation Y preferred to meet with students face-to-face, another wanted to talk by phone, and still another preferred to use text messaging. However, their preferred way to receive communication from the professor was via email as all of the members had this preference. In addition, all of the members of Generation Y preferred verbal contact with the professor. While two preferred facet-to-face interaction when initiating communication, one of them preferred to contact the instructor by telephone.
There was only one Older Boomer, born between 1946 and 1954, who participated in the study. All of her means of communicating to students and professors involved oral communication. While she preferred to communicate with students face-toface, she also preferred to initiate and receive communication from the professor by phone. Likewise, there was only one Young Boomer, born between 1955 and 1964, in the study. She preferred to communicate with students face-to-face; however, she preferred email communication with the instructor regardless of who initiated the conversation.
In terms of socioeconomic status and gender, nine of the participants hailed from middle class backgrounds as indicated by self report. In addition, nine of the participants were also female. Because of the homogeneity of the participants’ class and gender, no pattern emerged which emerged concerning communication preferences in this group.
Only one participant in the study was male. In addition, he was the only participant who indicated financial hardship. He mentioned growing up economically challenged and at the time of the study, he did not own a computer or a laptop. The mode of communication this participant preferred was face-to-face in conversations with classmates and to the professor, but he used email when engaged in conversations from and with the professor.
The majority of the participants indicated a desire to learn in smaller groups.
Often overwhelmed by the amount and complexity of the reading, these participants indicated a need for study guides provided by the instructor and a preference for working in groups to aid with their learning of the subject matter. In addition, participants indicated various modes of learning. None of the participants had a single mode of learning; rather, all of them had preferences which combined any combination of visual, auditory, multimedia, social, and constructivist means. For members of Generation X, three out of five members indicated a preference for the use of multimedia to enhance learning. Members of Generation X also indicated various modalities of learning. Four out of five members indicated a need to learn in social settings. While two out of five preferred to learn in groups, two others preferred to learn from their classmates. Two considered themselves auditory learners, while one expressed a need to learn visually.
Only one other member of Generation X considered herself to be a social learner.
The trends with Generation Y are somewhat different than Generation X. All three participants in generation Y said that they preferred to learn in groups. Two out of three said that they preferred to construct their own knowledge. In addition two out of three members of Generation Y considered themselves to be visual learners. Only one considered herself to need auditory or multimedia modes for learning. While the Older Boomer considered herself to be a constructivist learner who indicated a preference for learning in groups, learning from others, and the desire for auditory and visual stimuli, the Younger Boomer indicated a preference for auditory and multimedia when learning.
Because there was diversity in learning preferences and the majority of participants were women, there was no single trend in learning that emerged. The one male participant who also indicated economic struggles said that he preferred working in groups along with visual, auditory, and constructivist modes of learning.
The literature that I reviewed supported African American’s preferences for learning in groups (Boykin, 1983; Carson, 2009; Duncan & Barber-Freeman, 2008). In addition, literature also revealed how African American’s may have a preference for audio-and visual material to aid in their learning (Rovai et al., 2005). Oddly, the literature that I reviewed does not take into account the diversity of learning preferences among members of the African American community nor does the literature that I reviewed suggest that members of the African American community may have more than one preference for learning as participants in this study indicated.
Perceptions about online learning varied from one generation to the next. Two out of five members of Generation X wanted to initially take their course face-to-face but ended up taking it online due to traditional class availability and the stresses of balancing work with taking courses face-to-face. All five of the participants in Generation X indicated that they wanted more interaction by online instructors and four of them wanted more interaction with other students. In addition, these members of Generation X had problems with Blackboard navigation and technical problems with tests freezing. All of the participants from this generation found online learning a convenient way to get credit for courses. However, their preferences for two-way auditory communication and the diversity of their learning preferences often went unmet in online learning courses. As a result, online courses are a means to an end, though their standards of best learning and teaching are often based on traditional classroom teaching practices.
Unlike Generation X, Generation Y’s perception of online learning varied. Out of the three members of Generation Y, two of them purposefully enrolled in online learning.
One of the members of Generation Y was part of a blended course in an Honors program.
She was unaware of the online portion of the course until she attended her first class.
Unlike the other two members of Generation Y, she found the interaction among the teachers and the professor highly interactive. Her perception of the online learning experience was different because her class members were already part of a learning community who travelled together, cohabited in the same dormitory, and took other general education courses together. While two of the members of Generation Y reported technical issues in the online course, one member did not. Of the three participants in Generation Y, only the participant taking the blended course seems to enjoy her online learning experience. Interestingly, African American students are documented to perform better and enjoy blended/hybrid courses more than fully online courses (Cooper, 2008).
Another Generation Y member admitted to taking online courses as a means for quick credit; similarly the other participant took courses online to juggle a heavier coursework schedule. Like the members of Generation X, members of Generation Y expressed how real learning and teaching take place in traditional classrooms.
Of the older members in the class, the Younger Boomer took online courses intentionally; however, the Older Boomer wanted to take her world literature class faceto-face. Both members expressed their appreciation for the flexibility of learning online.
While the Younger Boomer reported no problems with Blackboard, the Older Boomer had difficulties navigating Blackboard initially. The Older Boomer also reported her surprise in the level of interaction that took place in online courses and was satisfied with it. In contrast, the Younger Boomer thought that the level of interaction among students and professor could increase. Like Generation X and Y, their preferences for live twoway communication were not met online, nor was the Older Boomer’s desire for group work. However, the lack of group projects was an attractive part of online learning for the Younger Boomer.
Though Prensky (2001) categorizes students’ experiences and preferences about technology based upon their generation, Hargittai (2010) and Kennedy et al. (2008) suggest that one cannot make assumptions about students’ experiences or preferences in learning with technology based on their age alone, just as participants in this study represent various generations and technological experiences and preferences revealed and a plethora of skills and technology preferences. In fact, students’ preferences and abilities concerning online learning may be more so connected to socioeconomic background, parental education, gender, race, and types of technology usage just as the participants in this study discussed (Hargittai, 2010; Kennedy et al., 2008).
In conclusion, eight participants juggled career, family and education. As a result of their many responsibilities, they had a desire to get things done. Taking online courses presented them the ability to get credit for courses without the hassles of meeting for class at a specific time or place. Though many of their preferred communication and learning preferences required high levels of personal interaction which normally transpired in face-to-face classes, participants took online courses solely for the convenience and flexibility.
Implications of this study may be divided into three categories: administrative practices, classroom practices and future research. The discussion about these three
Implications for Administrative Practices Many of the participants reported a lack of use of computers in their youth;
therefore, for them to optimally use many of the features in Blackboard was problematic.
Some students were not aware of all of the features of Blackboard; and some students were not aware of the “consequences” of pushing certain buttons. Administrators must be willing to include a “how to” session as an orientation to all students. In addition, administrators may also consider adding tutorials in all online courses which would allow students to be privy to self-service knowledge about navigating the course.
Several participants discussed how Blackboard tests would often freeze and sometimes would not save submitted answers. These difficulties could be caused by students’ lack of savvy about online testing which could be minimized with tutorials. In addition, these difficulties may be a result of low bandwidths that are only capable of servicing a certain number of students at one time; if this is the cause of testing difficulties, administrators should ensure proper amounts of bandwidth and other technologies in order to service online learners.
Participants discussed their perceptions of the lack of interaction among students and the professor. There were over 55 students in a single section of the online world literature course in this study (OC, 6/06/10) to which nine of the students were enrolled;