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«The purpose of this qualitative study was to examine how communication preferences, learning preferences, and perceptions about online learning ...»

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Mariah On the other hand, Mariah, a member of Generation Y and born in an urban setting in the northeastern United States, is a single mother of two small children and was planning to attend law school fulltime in the upcoming school term at a predominantly White institution (PWI) in the southeastern United States. She was determined to focus on entertainment law. Given the generation of her birth, she grew up in the digital age and recalled having a desktop computer at home; however, she remembered her energies focused on outside play rather than computers at that time. She admitted to not really using computers until she was in high school. Like most of her peers from Generation Y, she enjoyed text messaging, Facebook, and email. Ironically, she admitted a distrust of technology. She preferred to get information out of the library instead of online and never wanted to handle any money online especially related to shopping or banking. In addition, none of her law school coursework would be conducted online because she believed “some things you just need face-to-face” (PI, 5/10/10). Interestingly, she intentionally signed up for the online world literature class. Mariah had taken at least two other courses online at this institution before the study and felt rather comfortable doing so.

Angel A Generation X member born and raised in the southeastern part of the United States, Angel is a married woman who is the biological mother of one child, and the stepmother to four children. Her biological son is college-aged; the ages of the stepchildren are unknown. At the time of the study, she was an active member of her community and a leader in her church. She did not have a computer at home until she was in her mid-20s and remembered purchasing it as a result of a discount program her job was offering. The current recession brought Angel back to school to pursue her Bachelor’s degree. After her former job was outsourced, she found herself competing for jobs with others who had more education than she had with an Associate’s degree. Her plans are to pursue a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. Angel initially signed up and had one day of world literature class face-to-face. However, she found getting off from work, finding parking on campus, and making it to class in a timely manner was too stressful. As a result, she enrolled in the online version of the course. She admitted feeling reluctant about technology. “I know that we’re in a technology age, so I had better go ahead and embrace it, but I could live without it” (PI, 5/10/10). Angel remembered taking three or four online classes at the community college where she earned her Associate’s degree.

Tenille Tenille is also a member of Generation X. She, too, was born and raised in rural southeastern United States. She had an Associate’s degree in nursing, served in the military, and had attended another four-year degree granting institution before attending the southeastern HBCU in the study. Tenille recalled gaining experience with computers at a previous university and more heavily in the military, though she did not have access or use of computers growing up. More recently, Tenille loved technology and viewed it as a means to improve her life. She planned to enroll in an online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program after graduating from college. She enjoyed sending text messages, using a navigation system, using cell phones, and banking online. She enrolled into the online world literature class as a result of her love of technology. She looked forward to taking some online Spanish classes for personal interest during the summer of the study. “I use technology just to better myself,” she added (PI, 5/11/10).

Shelia Sheila is a member of Generation X who hailed from the southeastern region of the United States, too. She has been a nurse for over 15 years, has two adult daughters, and a few grandchildren. After graduation, she hoped to enter a public PWI to pursue a Master’s in Nurse Midwifery. Delivery of this program would be in a total online format.

She, like Tenille, is a big fan of technology. A fanatic Smartphone user, she shopped, researched information, and accessed her appointments through her mobile phone. She enjoyed information that was centrally located and easily accessible. Further, she admitted that computer use is key to her career in nursing. She recollected that the only technology she recalled using while growing up was the television. Her use of computers began in 1983 while she was a business major. She had taken over 10 online classes since

2008. Like Tenille and Mariah, she intentionally took the online section of the world literature class.

Badesha Badesha is a young boomer from the rural southeastern part of the United States.

She is a retired member of the military and a single parent of one adult daughter. Though she did not use computers growing up because they were not yet popular, she gained her experience with technology in her 20s through her involvement with the military. As a family advocate, she currently worked on computers, too. In her opinion, technology has both pros and cons. On the one hand, she found that it is helpful in taking distance education classes, but on the other hand, she was taken aback by technology’s abilities to prevent young people from learning basic, foundational mathematics skills. In other words, she preferred that people learn how to add mentally instead of depending on a calculator to do it for them. Even with this opinion, she also wanted to take the online world literature class. She summed up technology’s use as “a good thing, if used appropriately” (PI, 5/12/10).

Amy A member of Generation X, Amy has a four children ranging in ages from midteens to two-years-old. She is a self-proclaimed Muslim who had a desire to become a family and marriage therapist. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, she was one of the two participants from urban northeastern United States. Amy moved to the South about ten years ago because of the “beautiful skies and slow pace” (PI, 5/12/10). Though she was quite excited about technology, taking world literature online was her second choice due to the unavailability of face- to-face world literature classes. Though personal computers were up-and-coming in her youth, she did not gain experience with computers until 1988 when she worked at a documentation center. Amy said that “taking courses online... helps me manage my family, my household” (PI, 5/12/10). At the time of the study, she kept an online blog and was developing a program online.

Joshua The only male participant in the study, 27-year-old Joshua is single and has no children. Classified as a nontraditional student because he is financially independent from him parents, he hailed from the rural southeastern region of the United States. Joshua had little dealings with computers in his early youth because of the low income status of his family; however, he enjoyed playing Nintendo and Super Nintendo at his home. Joshua recounted taking an information management systems course in high school. Like most in his generation, he was excited about technology and enjoyed MySpace and Facebook.

Though he did not own a laptop, desktop, or Smartphone, taking world literature online was his first choice. He recalled using the university library to complete assignments for the online World Literature course. Amazed at the new technology to which he was being exposed, he stated, “well you know when you go to the library and everything else, you see new gadgets being used. Well, I’m just enjoying the new technology being brought about nowadays” (PI, 5/12/10).

India India is also part of Generation Y. Like Joshua, India is single with no children.

Taking a year off after high school graduation made India’s university classification as a nontraditional student. Unlike the other participants who took world literature online, India was part of a blended world literature course, in which the class sometimes met face-to-face while the other part was online. In addition, India was part of the Honors Program where she engaged with a community of other honors students. They all lived in the same housing unit and took general college courses together. She did not own a computer at home but did own Sega Genesis and a Nintendo gaming system. Her first experiences with computers were in school beginning at the age of nine or 10 when she received computerized math and reading tutorials. Currently, she paid bills, budgeted money, watched videos, and sent and received text-messages through her Apple Iphone.

She, like the other participants, had taken other online courses. In India’s opinion, “... as it [technology] expands, life gets easier and makes everything simpler” (PI, 5/14/10).

Jasmin Jasmin, the final participant, is a member of Generation X. At the time of the study, she was a married mother of two teenagers. She had completed an Associate’s Degree in Biotechnology and aspired to receive her four-year-degree because she was unable to find work. Born and raised in the same southeastern town of the HBCU in this study, she thought technology made life easier; she also admitted being tired of seeing her teenagers’ use of online social networks, cell phones, and text messaging. Ironically, she used, though not daily, all functions of technology, too, through cell phone use, texting, online banking, and online social networking. Jasmin was a unique participant because she used computers while growing up to help her mom who was a self-employed tax accountant. She recalled, “I would go to the office and with her. And she had the computer before Windows came out. I used to type in all the codes and do DOS and all that” (PI, 5/14/10). With her previous technology experience, she gladly enrolled in the online world literature course. The participants were categorized by their digital generation, age generation, nontraditional student descriptors, and geographic affiliation (see Table 1).

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To best understand nontraditional African American students’ participation in online courses, I used multiple forms of data. I created interview and observation protocols for the purpose of conducting one one-on-one interview that featured openended questions with each participant. I also observed archives of participants’ online world literature courses to determine the extent of their class participation.

Table 1 Participant Biographies

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Note. 1 = Did not enter college during the same year of high school graduation 2 = Works full time while attending college part or full-time.

3 = Is financially independent from a legal guardian.

4 = Has children.

5 = Is a single parent.

6 = Has a General Educational Development for high school equivalency rather than a high school diploma.

Interviews Interviews were conducted by asking participant questions and then recording their responses (Creswell, 2005). In fact, interviews are one of the most important sources of information in case studies (Yin, 2003b). The advantages of interviews are that they provide important information that cannot be gathered through observation (Creswell 2005). Furthermore, because specific questions will be asked, the interviewer gains better control of the information gathered (Creswell 2005). The disadvantages of the interview, however, are that as the researcher, information will be presented through my lens (2005). As such, researchers can never be quite sure if the interviewee is only reporting what the research may want to hear (2005).

Interviews were conducted via face-to-face and/or via telephone with each participant at a pre-determined time upon which they agreed. For some of the participants who lived near the university, the face-to-face interviews worked well. However, for those who resided a substantial distance from the university, the telephone interview was preferred by them. In addition, because my participants were nontraditional students who had to balance work, school, and family, the telephone interview was most beneficial for them. I fully recognized that the telephone interview would cause me to lose the ability to make observations about non-verbal language. Nevertheless, 10 face-to-face and/or telephone interviews took place. All interviews were later audio-taped and then transcribed. The interview protocol for students can be found in Appendix A.

Observations Observations are a means to gather information by watching the participants at a particular site (Creswell, 2005). The advantages of observations are that information is gathered first-hand by the researcher; although, the disadvantages of observations are that entry into observation may be difficult (2005). I conducted non-participatory observations of Blackboard course shells of the online and blended world literature courses. These observations of the course took place after the course ended. Based on questions in the observation protocol, I gathered and noted data about each student’s online participation and class assignment entries. The observation protocol for both online courses can be found in Appendix B. See Table 2 for an alignment of the research question with data sources.

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Data were analyzed by interpreting content, a method which may reveal social behavior and study the communication process (Babbie, 2003). Content for this study came from participant interviewees and observations of Blackboard shells. After the interviews were transcribed and the participants’ coursework was observed in Blackboard archives, I coded the information in order to look for similarities. Though subjective, coding is a process by which parts of the transcript are labeled and themes or similarities of discussion are sought (Creswell, 2007). Coding the data transpired in three phases: (a) reading the data; (b) organizing the data into categories; (c) selecting themes based on responses and observations.

Table 2 Alignment of Research Questions and Data Sources Research Questions Data Sources How do nontraditional African American Student Interviews and Observations of students attending this southeastern online courses.

Historically Black College and University perceive online learning?

How do African American students Student Interviews attending this southeastern HBCU perceive face to face learning?

How do nontraditional African American Student Interviews students attending this southeastern Historically Black College and University describe their communication preferences?

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