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

How easily do nontraditional African Student Interview, Observations of online American students navigate around the courses.

Blackboard platform?

How do nontraditional African American Student Interviews: Observations of students perceive online content like online courses.

quizzes, tests, discussion boards, and assignments?

How does communication and learning Student Interviews, Observation of online preferences along with perceptions about courses.

online learning affect nontraditional African American students’ participation in online world literature courses?

After all of the interviews and observations had been completed and read, I placed each research question as its own file in Microsoft Word. Then, each participant was given a color and his/her entire transcript was electronically highlighted using the assigned color. Anytime a participant’s response related to a research question, the response was electronically cut and pasted under the appropriate research question. This process was repeated for each participant. After sections of the appropriate content had been placed under the specific research question, the data for the research question were read again. Each piece of data was then given a name or phrase which represented its potential category. After a series of categories had been assigned, another Microsoft file was created which included the data organized by categories. The categories and the data subsets were then read repeatedly. If categories were similar in nature, the data were merged and formed into a single category. These categories were then analyzed and formed into themes.

Four themes emerged based on the research data: (a) “Hit Somebody Up”:

Communication Among Classmates, Students and the Professor; (b) Shorten, Condense, and Learning in Different Ways: Handling Reading, Studying for Tests, and Multiple Ways of Learning; (c) Relationships that Foster Course Interest: Connecting to Subject Matter, Content, and Peers Online; and (d) Impatience is a Virtue: The Benefits and Disadvantages of Online Learning.

The “Hit Somebody Up”: Communication Among Classmates, Students and Professor them was generated by the following data which were reoccurring comments by the participants: professor’s communications to them; participants’ communications to the professor, communications to the class; their need to know what the instructor wanted, asking the professor questions, need for high level of interaction from instructors; desire for quick turnaround for concerns and assignments. These data signaled participants’ need for a high frequency of communication from and with classmates and the professor.

The theme “Shorten, Condense, and Leaning in Different Ways”: Handling Reading, Studying for Tests, and Multiple Ways of Learning, was generated by repeated comments about the following: a desire not read too much information in the discussion posts, frequency of posting depending on students’ time, studying for tests using study guides, preferences for learning in groups, multiple modes of learning, and condensing reading assignments.

The theme, “Relationships that Foster Course Interest”: Connecting to Subject Matter, Content, and Peers Online emerged after participants were noted as repeatedly conveying the following: preference for information that pertains to real life, working with students from similar backgrounds, desiring to read interesting posts, reading posts based on similarity of thoughts.

The data from the theme “Impatience is a Virtue”: The Benefits and Disadvantages of Online Learning emerged from their interviews when they spoke about the advantages of online learning which included: ease in working with family; ease in working with technology; the importance of time in managing coursework; ease of course testing, viewing grades; keeping records, and allowing them to take more classes.

Participants also noted the disadvantages of online learning, too: technology issues, needs for tutorials, disadvantages of travel, needs for self motivation, and needs for student interaction. From this data, the importance of convenience to participants was also noted.

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My role in the research was that of a non-participatory interviewer and observer throughout the study. I conducted interviews and observations without altering the experience of the participants online or in interviews. This method of research was important because it allowed the participants to tell their past, present, and future experiences within a “specific context” (Creswell, 2005, p. 477). In other words, the participant rendered knowledge about the phenomenon and not the researcher (Creswell, 2005). However, subjectivity and objectivity co-mingle in studies, which could it difficult for the researcher to be truly objective when conducting research (Peshkin, 2000).

“To be forthcoming and honest about how we work as researchers is to develop reflective awareness that I believe contributes to enhancing the quality of our interpretive acts” (Peshkin, 2000, as cited in Creswell, 2005, p. 9). Therefore, disclosing my biases was a key component to discussing my role as a researcher. The subjectivities that I disclose include the fact that I am an African American woman who taught online courses at this southeastern historically Black university. I also have an agenda that includes my desire to use the information that I obtain to improve my own online teaching with the purpose of elevating the academic outlook and the marketability aspects of African American students who will someday be looking for jobs in the workforce.

The audience may view my study as a means of “drumming up business” for the university and myself. However, my intent as an African American woman and African American instructor rests in my personal desire to see that African Americans are not left-behind and that online learning has equal access, use, and opportunity for all, thus minimizing the effects of digital inequality. In addition, as an educator, I have a desire to see African Americans excel academically and financially in a world where the use of technology is ever increasing. Studies show how online learning is growing (NCES, 2009). In fact, 20 percent of all students enrolled in higher education programs are studying online. Online enrollment is nearly nine times greater than the overall higher education population (Allen, 2008).

In addition, at the time of the study, I was not participating as a teacher of an online course at this southeastern university. As a past instructor at this location, there could have potentially been some problems with teacher-student conflict, particularly with me having power over them as a previous instructor. I addressed this dilemma by selecting students whom I never taught. World literature is the final phase of courses offered in the English department that all students are required to participate. It is also the highest level course that I taught. This knowledge would have hopefully put students at ease and allowed them to be honest in their responses and provided even more credibility to my study.

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A common criticism directed at qualitative research is that it fails the canons of reliability and validity. Validating a study means that researchers have a method to assure accuracy of the study (Creswell, 2005). “Validating deals with the notion that what you say you have observed is in fact what really happened. In the final analysis, validating is always the truth” (Shank, 2002, as cited in Anafra, Brown, & Mangione, 2002, p. 92).

Yin (2003b) contended that using multiple sources of data, establishing a chain of evidence, and having a draft of case study reports reviewed by key informants are necessary to ensure accuracy of a study. Creswell and Miller (2002) elected to refer to eight verifications to assure accuracy of a study (a) prolonged engagement and persistent observation, (b) triangulation, (c) peer review order briefing, (d) negative case analysis, and (e) clarifying researcher and external audits (as cited Anafra, Brown, & Mangione, 2002, p. 30). Therefore, Creswell (1998) encouraged researchers to have a least two of the eight verification procedures. I heeded to Creswell and Miller’s (2002) and Yin’s (2003a) advice in that I selected two methods to verify accuracy—triangulation and member checking.

Triangulation “is a process of corroborating evidence from different individual types of data or methods of data collection in descriptions and themes in qualitative research” (Creswell, 2005, p. 252). “Triangulation puts the researcher in a frame of mind to regard his or her own material critically, to test it, to identify its weakness, to identify where to test further doing something different” (Fielding & Fielding, 1986, as cited in Anafara Brown, & Mangione, 2002, p. 24). I read through the typed transcripts of my interviews extensively and repeatedly. I looked for consistent themes and patterns that continuously emerged from multiple participants. Furthermore, I used my analysis of observations of Blackboard course shells to triangulate the individual interviews.

Member checking was conducted as well. The study’s participants read through their transcript and hand-typed responses to ensure that the words were those intended by them. This method ensured that the participants guide the research as opposed to the researcher, which is one of the guiding principles of qualitative research.

In addition, I used other methods to assure validity:

Being forthcoming about my biases allowed me to be honest in my efforts to conduct good research. “To be forthcoming and honest about how we work as researchers is to develop reflective awareness that I believe contributes to enhancing the quality of our interpretive acts” (Peshkin, 2000, as cited in Creswell, 2005, p. 9). Disclosing biases is a key component to building audience confidence. I openly acknowledged my subjectivites. The subjectivities that I disclosed included the fact that I am an African American woman who taught online courses at this southeastern historically Black college and University. I also admitted that I did and still do have an agenda that includes my desire to use this information that I obtain to improve my own online teaching and elevate the academic and financial outlook for African American students.

Finally, I selected participants with whom I had never taught. By doing so, I diffused the power differential that could have been experienced by the participants.

Selecting such participants also provided evidence of good research.

In sum, validating findings in qualitative research is often a difficult matter for those who prefer quantitative research because the very nature of qualitative research is subjective (Yin, 2003b). The methods used to increase audience confidentiality included triangulation of research, member checking, and disclosure of biases. As such, this elevated the trustworthiness of the study and hopefully aided in the credibility of the study’s interpretations and findings.

–  –  –

The overarching question in this study was: How do communication and learning preferences, along with perceptions about online learning, of nontraditional African American students, affect their participation in online world literature courses at a southeastern HBCU? Through the use of instrumental case study methodology, I collected data about the participants’ participation in the online course by conducting interviews with 10 nontraditional world literature students and examining through nonparticipatory observation their online world literature Blackboard course shells. Content analysis was used to determine how communication preferences, learning preferences, and perceptions about online learning affect these students’ participation in an online world literature course. The role of the researcher and trustworthiness of the study are also discussed.

–  –  –

The purpose of this study was to examine how communication preferences, learning preferences, and perceptions about online learning affect non-traditional African American students of in their participation in online world literature courses at an HBCU in the southeastern United States. This chapter presents the findings of the study. The findings are presented based on themes which emerged from 10 participants through cross case analyses of the interviews and course observations. Consequently, findings were based on personal interviews, which will be identified as (PI, the month, day, and year); and observations of the online course, which will be identified as (OC, the month, day, and year).

“Hit Me Up”: Contact with Classmates, Students, and the Professor “Hit Me Up” is a slang expression used to ask another to get in contact with you.

This communication can take place by telephone, email, text message, or on social networking sites. In this theme, participants discuss their preferences for communicating with classmates and the professor.

Classmates Participants expressed a desire to communicate via two-way communication.

While six participants said that they preferred face-to-face communication with classmates, three of the six said they would also prefer to communicate via telephone if face-to-face communication was not possible. Two participants preferred to communicate by phone; and only two reported their desire for text-based communication. For Sheila, face-to-face communication is a way to talk openly and get an immediate response. She said, “Well, I’m not a big phone person, but I would rather talk to them face-to-face and just having open dialogue and be able to speak openly and then get some response back” (PI, 5/13/10). For Amy, face-to-face communication means being able to pick up nonverbal cues. She admitted to participating in instant messaging and social networking to communicate with other students, though face-to face-communication was her


I am instant messaging, blogging and using Facebook to talk to people.

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