Online Teacher

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KATHERINE GREEN, Ph. D., Faculty Mentor and Chair ELAINE GUERRAZZI, Ph. D., Committee Member JOHN MARSCHHAUSEN, Ph. D., Committee Member

Harry McLenighan, Ed.D., Dean, School of Education

A Dissertation Presented in Partial Fulfillment Of the Requirements for the Degree Doctor of Philosophy

Capella University November 2008

3330685 Copyright 2008 by Faulkner-Beitzel, Carolyn All rights reserved



© Faulkner-Beitzel, 2008

Abstract With the increase in popularity of online education for the K-12 learner, a door has been opened for new teaching opportunities. The changes brought about from this opportunity have also impacted the role of the teacher and the very nature of teaching. How though does a teacher educated in the traditional, face-to-face model know he or she is ready to teach in this new learning environment? How do teachers learn to teach online? The purpose of the study was to examine and understand how high school teachers describe the experience of learning to teach online courses. A qualitative, interpretive research design provided the framework for the study. A guided interview questionnaire, journaling of prior experience, discussions about K-12 online studies, and an exit interview were used to investigate the experiences of a group of online high school teachers who had made the transition from face to face to online instruction. The analysis of data revealed that online high school teachers faced struggles and frustration during the transformation that could have been alleviated with training and professional development prior to commencing the teaching position. Recommendations are made for the development of a systematic training program to improve online teaching pedagogy and an online practicum experience for teacher education programs that could improve the effectiveness of teaching online. In addition, further research is needed about the K12 online teaching phenomenon to build the body of knowledge, influence stakeholders to better support online teaching staff, and encourage novice online teachers to continue the journey.

Dedication This work to date would not have happened without the dedicated support of my husband, Mark, and daughter Lillian. From the beginning of the idea to attempt a doctorate, the amount of time I was an “absent” wife and mother, to the end of the journey, both always encouraged me to pursue my ambition: Thank you Lillian, for making dinners when I was too busy to get up from the computer. Thank you Mark, for not getting upset every time I made you wait to talk until I could finish typing an idea. I can never be thankful enough for your underlying love. To my father Virgil, who instilled in his children the love of learning and my mother Lynnette, who is a constant, quiet source of strength: Daddy, the decisions you have made in your life have inspired me to make you proud. Mom, you have always been a beacon of love whether you realized it or I said it enough. To my small circle of friends who always listened when I needed to vent and supported me when I could not come out to play: Deb, Melissa, Eileen, Laurie, Mike, Tara, Sara, and Sue. For my past colleagues, Elizabeth, Tasha, and Rachel, I want to say a special thank you for reading my many versions, and offering me sound advice. Lastly, I want to thank my brother, Dr. Larry, for being the inspiration behind this journey. Without you having paved the way before me, I would not have thought it possible for me to join you.


Acknowledgments I would like to express sincere, from the bottom of my heart, appreciation to my mentor, Dr. Katherine Green, who inherited me, my driven attitude, and my proposed study long after the inception of the idea had been germinated in my head. You enabled me to regain confidence in myself and my abilities as a researcher, and supported me with positive reinforcement throughout the journey. To Dr. Elaine Guerrazzi, I would like to extend my gratitude for your flexibility in meeting deadlines. Lastly, to Dr. John Marschhausen, I cannot express how deeply you have impacted my role as an online teacher. Through your guidance, tutelage and pride in my accomplishments, I have come to believe that my words have value. I would also like to acknowledge four Capella learners, who have walked this path with me and will soon find themselves at the end of their journey: Rose, Diana, Dallas, and Julie, thank you for the pleasure of your company, the feted advice needed for me to complete my dissertation, and for being open to making a new friend in a sea of strangers. I wish you all the best.


Table of Contents







Table of Contents


List of Tables


List of Figures




Introduction to the Problem


Background of the Study


Statement of the Problem


Purpose of the Study


Theoretical Framework


Research Questions


Nature of the Study


Significance of the Study


Definition of Terms






Organization of the Remainder of the Study





19 v

History of K-12 Online Learning


Online Teaching at the College Level


Defining Online Teaching in Public High Schools


Transformational Learning


Gaps in the Research






Research Design


Setting of the Study


Instrumentation and Data Collection Procedures


Data Analysis Procedures


Validity and Reliability


Limitations of the Methodology






Description of the Sample


Description of Data Gathering


Description of the Research Findings








Summary of the Study



111 vi

Implications for Practice and Research













List of Tables Page Table 1. Example of Codebook


Table 2. Data Table Excerpt from Interview


Table 3. Recurring Themes from Data



List of Figures Page Figure 1. Application of Merriam's 4-part design.


Figure 2. Password protected Web site.


Figure 3. Study components located on the Internet.


Figure 4. Password protection of interview and discussions.


Figure 5. Journal password protection.


Figure 6. Participant teaching experience.


Figure 7. First pass coding.


Figure 8. Thematic framework.


Figure 9. Identification of skills needed for online teaching.




Introduction to the Problem With the advancement of technology and the availability for teachers and students to reside in different geographic areas, public cyberschools, serving children in grades kindergarten through twelve (K-12), have grown in popularity (Watson, 2005; 2006; 2007b). As such, teachers with little to no online teaching experience are hired to teach these students. Thus, online schools may not be serving the teachers who choose to work there. Problematic to current practice in online teaching is that little thought is given by administrators to how a teacher can maneuver his or her skills into the online environment. Even though studies have been conducted that mention the lack of technical support given to faculty as a barrier to online teaching (Berge, 1995; Bonk, 2001; Jones & Moller, 2002) most teachers are being hired by virtual schools based on the merits of their content certifications to fill an advertised, highly qualified position. Teachers who are hired into virtual schools may begin by thinking “teaching is teaching” no matter what type of classroom environment presents itself. It is common sense that teachers should be able to use prior experience and apply it to the online classroom. Research validated that this thinking was flawed (Jaffee, 2003; Yang & Cornelious, 2005) and argued that using traditional teaching approaches do not work in the online classroom because the whole experience of teaching and learning online is 1

vastly different (Bennett & Lockyer, 2004; Brennan, 2003; Savery, 2005; Southern Regional Educational Board [SREB], 2003). What research has not explored in much detail is (a) how teachers learn to teach in an online environment, (b) what happens if what they think should work does not, (c) what changes to current teaching practice are needed, and (d) where do teachers go to find out how to make those pedagogical changes. Additionally, teachers may wonder if the transformation becomes a personal journey or will the school help the teachers along the way with effective staff development programs? Lastly, the teachers might question if the pursuit of learning how to teach on the job is the most effective method of acquiring new knowledge. If teachers had been given an intensive training program prior to the first day teaching would that have made the transformation less difficult? Defining the challenge is in the identification of requirements for online teaching that will provide essential tools for a successful transformation from traditional teacher to online teacher. Subsequently, answering the question, how then, once hired, does a teacher learn to teach online is needed. Background of the Study In 2001, online student enrollments were reported at 40,000 to 50,000 either in a full or part time program (Clark). Four years later, enrollments jumped to approximately 700,000 (Berge & Clark, 2005) and the Peak Group estimated enrollment in 2007 as one million (North American Council for Online Learning [NACOL], 2008). Data cited in the Sloan Consortium report, K-12 Online Learning: A Survey of U. S. School District Administrators (Picciano and Seaman, 2007) found that online learning opportunities in K-12 schools had increased ten times the projected enrollment from six years prior. As a result, Picciano and Seaman also found that the growth in K-12 online education 2

outpaced university and college teacher training programs. NACOL (2008) estimates that online learning is still growing at a pace of 30% annually where only eight states do not have any form of online learning programs. As reported by the Center for Education Reform and published in Fast Facts about Online Learning (NACOL, 2008), virtual charter schools have increased from 60 schools in 13 states in 2002-2003 to 173 schools in 18 states in 2006-2007, serving 92,345 students. Based on virtual school enrollment data it is evident that students are finding a new way to learn. Teachers are also finding a new medium in which to teach. The traditional classroom teacher who chooses to teach online may do so with trepidation (Brennan, 2003). Will skills transfer from a traditional classroom model to an online model? How does the role change if classroom management no longer involves redirection of behavior? Does the teacher exhibit characteristics that will ensure successful online teaching? Leaders in the field of online teaching and learning have clearly stated that teachers need additional training in order to make a successful transition to teaching online (Berge & Clark, 2005; Cavanaugh et al., 2004; Palloff & Pratt, 2001; Watson, 2006). What is not known is what type of training is needed and if that training can be duplicated for all high school online teachers through the development of online pedagogy and best practices. Seeking evidence that impacts K-12 online education may help teachers in optimizing instructional context and learning environments. Societal and Technology Factors for Educational Change The recent growth of virtual schools for public school children may be linked to several changing factors within society and technology. Children who struggle in school 3

because of barriers to learning (Pennsylvania Coalition of Charter Schools [PCCS], n.d.), such as victimization due to bullying or discrimination, a pregnancy, being involved in the abuse of drugs or alcohol, having excessive absences due to an illness, or the inability to attend school during daytime hours that conflict with other responsibilities, have increased the prevalence of virtual schools in K-12 education. Reform-minded educators have identified this category of underserved students and have in turn opened virtual schools where those barriers have been eliminated. Another societal factor is the continued reports on today’s teacher education programs that are failing the students the programs are designed to teach (Levine, 2006). So many teacher education programs continue to educate future teachers through a lens of outdated perspective that is in direct odds with a changing global society (Sprague, Maddux, Ferdig, & Albion, 2007). Levine (2006) posited that when technology is a component of teacher education programs teachers are more prepared to teach today’s tech-savvy students. Other Factors Impacting Online Teaching Brennan (2003) noted that face-to-face pedagogy and teaching strategies are not easily transferred to the online environment. Instead these skills need to be “reconceptualized” (p. 16) where the teacher needs to adapt, change, and modify abilities in order to teach online. For that reason, a teacher with 25 years experience or a teacher with only a few years experience will both need additional training in order to teach effectively in a cyberschool (Wood, 2005). In cyber education, teacher preparation, or the lack thereof, can become problematic in designing instruction since learning to teach online encompasses a different set of processes than that of traditional teaching (SREB, 2003). Another process that differs from the face-to-face classroom and the online 4

classroom is that online teachers need to develop strategies that assist the cyber student to actively participate in the course (Savery, 2005). The history of K-12 online education has just begun to write itself, so there is a paucity of research in the field, especially relating to teaching. Research on learning effectiveness and student outcomes based on data from five to six years ago is just now available (Watson, 2007a). Most research studies have been conducted in higher education with adult learners and it is unclear how those findings can translate and be applied to the K-12 field. In order to affect online student success teachers should be qualified to deliver instruction via a Web-based environment. Finding out how teachers gain this knowledge and become qualified online teachers can lead to the development of best practices. Statement of the Problem The increasing numbers of virtual schools have opened the door for face-to-face teachers to teach in a cyber learning environment (Clark, 2001) and it is not known how high school teachers hired to work in a virtual school with no preparation in online education learn to teach an online course. This leads to teaching online without the knowledge of effective online teaching strategies and without a firm basis in online pedagogy (Brennan, 2003). With the influx of teachers hired by virtual schools many schools cannot quickly design or maintain high quality training programs for their new staff (Berge & Clark, 2005), forcing teachers to learn to teach online through trial and error. Recognizing the strategies that assist or the barriers that resist the transformation from traditional to online teachers can help teachers form their online pedagogy. Examining a more effective way to learn to teach online may reduce feelings of tension 5

to “just get a lesson posted on the Web” to feelings of satisfaction that the instruction has been designed and delivered in such a way that pedagogical discrepancies are reduced. Exploring this “inner dissonance” (Sockman & Sharma, 2007, p. 1071) as a component in the personal transformation process of the teachers who are learning to teach online can offer a foundation for future teachers who make the same transition. Purpose of the Study The purpose of this interpretive qualitative study was to examine and understand how high school teachers hired to work in a virtual school with no preparation in online education described the experience of learning to teach online courses, with the intent of providing recommendations for future teachers who make the same transition. It was important to consider the perspectives of new online teachers and to understand their experiences as they unfolded. Not understanding the experience of learning to teach online can be problematic in the identification of what new online teachers need in order to perform successfully in the online environment (Schofield, Melvill, & Walsh, 2001). Evaluating how teachers learn to teach online through the description of their own experiences may hold great promise for increasing teaching effectiveness through teacher education programs that include online components as well as designing efficient professional development programs about the essentials to online teaching. The research study revealed themes of a changing perspective, or a transformation process (King, 2002a), of the online teacher’s educational practice. Recognizing the barriers in the form of tensions or dissonance that resist the transformation of teaching in a changing online environment and challenging teachers to change their practice began the paradigm shift. Research related to teachers transitioning from the traditional to the 6

online format was examined and applied to data analysis. The results of the study helped identify motivating and inhibiting factors to learning to teach online and could inform universities to improve their online teacher education programs and administrators of virtual schools to improve their faculty development programs. Theoretical Framework Teaching in an online school affords teachers a new opportunity to practice their profession. Using the adult learning theory of transformation (Mezirow, 1991) to frame the study assisted the descriptive analysis of how a teacher learned to teach online. Focusing on the transition process from face-to-face teaching to online teaching as it developed was the key idea for this study. In the hopes of building a firm foundation for online teaching, data was analyzed using the Four Pillars (Berge, 1995) of online teachers’ roles. Transformational Learning Theory According to Mezirow’s (1991) theory of transformational learning, the process by which a teacher looks at how his or her teaching changes or transforms within an online environment was examined throughout this study. Transformational learning focuses on the tensions and comfort of the teacher within the new role of online instructor as the teacher’s prior face-to-face role was changed and transformed. The multiple experiences about the concept of transformational learning were identified through the experiences of the study participants. The online teachers in this study described their construction, validation, and reformulation (Cranton, 1994) of experiences in learning to teach online. An important factor within this transformation was for teachers in online 7

schools to view their pedagogy through the lens of Web-based instruction and be able to differentiate and demonstrate how their teaching strategies and methods changed and adapted to teaching online. Four Pillars of Online Teaching Roles According to Berge (1995), online instruction is categorized into four areas: pedagogical, social, managerial, and technical. Berge (1995) posited that not all the roles need to be carried out in their entirety, nor do the roles need to be enacted by the same individual. One of the most important roles in online teaching is that of facilitator (Palloff & Pratt, 2001). As a result, the pedagogical role allows the teacher to use individual insights to focus questioning and discussions on concepts, theories, and skills. Through the creation of a friendly, social, and trusting environment, the social role is essential for online teaching as it embodies the essence of the learning community. Setting the agenda and pacing for the course lies within the managerial role. The managerial role also tackles organizational, procedural, and administrative tasks. Lastly, the technical role allows the teacher to become comfortable within the Web-based learning environment. The overall concerns of the study participants as explored against Berge’s (1995) framework can detail a training program for transforming online teacher’s instructional delivery. Just as the adult learning theory of transformational learning provided a framework for teaching online, the four online teaching roles assisted in reforming teaching practice through the development of online pedagogy. Learning to teach online includes the active participation of the teacher purposefully evaluating the effectiveness of his or her teaching methods and applying new knowledge of more effective teaching methods that better fit the characteristics of students who learn online. Some literature 8

(Blomeyer, 2001; Conrad & Donaldson, 2004; Davis & Roblyer, 2005; Kearsley & Blomeyer, 2004; Kircher, 2001; Lynch, 2002; and Palloff & Pratt, 2001) has begun to offer lists of roles, characteristics, and skills of online teachers. However, in order to validate the research, it is more important to find meanings, experiences, and descriptions of teachers who actually have made the transition. In effect, this study found an understanding of online pedagogy as provided by the rich, personal narrative of the participants, where a holistic picture was presented instead of just a listing of specific teaching strategies. Research Questions The following research questions directed the study: 1. How do high school teachers in one cyber charter school perceive and describe their current online teaching experiences? 2. How do high school teachers in one cyber charter school describe the transformation of adapting face-to-face teaching to online teaching? 3. What do high school teachers in one cyber charter school recognize as being the most important roles, characteristics, or skills necessary to affect a successful online teaching experience?

Nature of the Study The study utilized an interpretive qualitative method design where the researcher studied online teaching as it happened. Working with study data, sub-categories of themes were identified and were further delineated into categories of pedagogical, social, managerial, and technical roles (Berge, 1995). The interpretive qualitative method helped the researcher in understanding online high school teachers’ experiences within the real context of the online teaching environment. In turn, the interpretive study attempted to 9

understand the phenomena of developing an online pedagogy as it was applied to learning to teach online through the meanings that the high school teachers assigned to the phenomena. The experiences were then framed in the theory of transformational learning (Mezirow, 1991) and categorized into diverse online teaching roles (Berge, 1995). Discovering and evaluating how a teacher makes meaning of how he or she learned to teach online was accomplished through the use of the participants’ own unfolding experiences. Initial structured interviews with follow-up open-ended interviews were used along with a journal reflection about individual prior teaching experiences and online discussion pertaining to online teaching principles. These measurements were reviewed and approved by Capella University’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) Committee on the use of Human Subjects in Research. Significance of the Study The significance of the study was threefold, in that the results impacted teacher training and professional development, transformed online teaching pedagogy, and filled a gap in the research literature. In the examination of online high school teacher’s experiences as they learned to teach online, barriers to a successful transformation were identified. Identifying barriers to successful teaching opportunities can lead to recommendations of guidance and training for future teachers. Watson (2006) has identified that teaching practices change as new technologies emerge. Since teaching in a cyberschool is primarily technology driven the focus in online education can ultimately change the type of teaching methods that are used. Teachers new to the online environment have to cope with new knowledge and skills that must be directly and immediately applied to the online classroom. However, a teacher thinking about 10

transitioning into online teaching may find it very difficult to learn his or her new craft and develop a strong online pedagogy because training is not given formally. Online Teacher Training K-12 online schools use a haphazard method of professional development and training for their new and returning teachers (Berge & Clark, 2005). For instance, Florida Virtual School has developed training modules that are used as benchmarks for other schools (Friend & Johnston, 2005). Large Unit District Association Virtual High School (LUDA-VHS) developed training programs that did not adequately cover all the special needs of online teaching and asked for support through their local university (Vrasidas & Chamberlain, 2005). Still other schools, such as the cyberschool where study participants were employed, have no formal training programs at all. Through the experiences of online teachers the study found ways to assist teachers in the development of online pedagogy. Transforming Pedagogical Strategies Cyberschooling is a relatively new phenomenon in K-12 education and the rapid pace in which cyberschools have been introduced into education delivery has resulted in the need to investigate how face-to-face pedagogical strategies are being transformed to K-12 online delivery. From the synthesis of K-12 research compiled by Learning Point Associates (Smith, Clark, & Blomeyer, 2005) professional development and training for effective teaching was listed as one of six themes for further research. The study identified several pedagogical strategies through the examination of high school teachers’


experiences as they learned to teach online. Data obtained from this study can fill the gap in what kinds of professional development should be offered to novice online teachers. Filling the Gap in K-12 Online Research For public schools, Web-based instruction is a fairly new concept and the teaching strategies employed in the brick-and-mortar classroom are not easily transferable to teaching students online (Jaffee, 2003; Yang & Cornelious, 2005). Furthermore, there is a limited body of research about K-12 online teaching since the education model is fairly new (Coppa, 2004). Research is needed to help identify the roles, characteristics, and skills that the K-12 online teacher will need in order to function effectively in virtual schools. However, as far back as 2002 and corroborated more recently, research identified that many K-12 teachers who currently teach online have learned to do so while on the job as opposed to pre-service education or formal professional development (Cavanaugh et al., 2004; Smith et al., 2005; Tripp, 2002). Subsequently it is not known how teachers really learn to teach an online course. K-12 not Adult Education The term teacher, used throughout the study, denotes an educator of school children, not an educator of adults. K-12 online teaching and learning in a cyberschool cannot be confused with distance learning for post-secondary institutions. Distance education was developed to meet the needs of adult learners. Cyberschools were developed to meet the needs of school-age children that were finding barriers to learning in the traditional model (Picciano & Seaman, 2007). An adult learner’s needs differ from that of a school age child (Rockwell, Schauer, Fritz, & Marx, 2000) and as such, roles, 12

characteristics, and skills of the K-12 online teacher will also vary from those educators who instruct adult online students at the college or university level (Cavanaugh et al., 2004). There is a significant body of research for distance teaching and learning for adults in higher education. For example, Bernard et al. (2004) performed a meta-analysis of 232 studies conducted between 1985 and 2002 focusing only on a comparison of distance learning to classroom instruction. As evidenced by an examination of literature conducted by Rice (2006) there is now more research to be found about K-12 online learning and student achievement. Exploring the literature further finds numerous studies examining post-secondary online teaching. However, there continues to be very little research found that examines K-12 online teaching. Cavanaugh et al. (2004) made it very obvious that it is important to make a clear distinction between adult and child learners, as young students present different learning characteristics than their adult counterparts. This study attempted to make this distinction more understandable. Since virtual schools are relatively new, past research has focused on (a) student outcomes and comparing virtual instruction to face-to-face instruction (Cavanaugh et al., 2004), (b) virtual school policy (Watson, 2006), and (c) enrollment characteristics and benefits (Smith et al., 2005). Through the evaluation of teachers who have lived the experience of learning to teach online data from this study can help in the development of best practices in preparation, support, online methods (online pedagogy), and additional resources for K-12 online teachers. Since Smith et al. argued that more data about K-12 online teaching and learning is needed, this study added to the growing body of research by closing a portion of the gap found. 13

Definition of Terms As Picciano and Seaman (2007) pointed out in a report about online learning compiled for the Sloan Consortium, there can be confusion related to terms commonly associated with K-12 online education. For example when discussing K-12 schools that deliver education over the Internet, the terms virtual, online, and cyber are used interchangeably. Following are additional terms used throughout this study: Asynchronous refers to the communication from teacher to student, or student to student, that occurs through e-mail, threaded discussion forums, or other modes of delivery that do not occur in real time. Brick and mortar identifies the traditional school model where children are taught in a physical building or classroom. Chatroom is a virtual place or space where students can meet to communicate, or “chat”, with the teacher and each other in real-time; predominately text-based but can also include audio and video through the use of a microphone and video camera attached to the computer. Course or learning management system (CMS, LMS) relates to the technology hardware and software platform used to manage educational content and administration of school procedures (Freedman, 2005). Cyberschool (Virtual school, or Online school) refers to a school where all educational content is delivered using Web-based instruction; students and teachers are separated; can be state, public, or privately run; in Pennsylvania, 11 cyber charter schools (all public schools) enroll close to 17,000 students where successful completion of


academic courses earns a high school diploma (Pennsylvania Department of Education [PDE], 2007; PCCS, 2005). Distance learning refers to the educational content delivered by means other than face to face and can include radio, correspondence, Web-based enhancements to a traditional course (blended), or entirely online (Greenway & Vanourek, 2006). Face to face (F2F) describes the instructional delivery for students who meet in traditional classrooms for instruction (see brick and mortar). Online instruction refers to the educational content delivered via a computer using the Internet; a form of distance learning (Picciano & Seaman, 2007). Synchronous refers to the communication that occurs in real time; can be face to face, such as by telephone or meetings; can also be virtual, hosted in chatrooms with audio and/or video conferencing capabilities. Web-based instruction is the educational content taught through the use of the Internet as the mode of delivery (Picciano & Seaman, 2007). Assumptions The primary assumption made for this research study was that the teacher who had made the transition to online teaching would also transform his or her face-to-face pedagogy into online pedagogy. However, reflecting upon the experiences that the teacher has during this process may not be enough to identify or even enact a change. A natural evolution is to seek information and processes that support one’s point of view, not to actually challenge oneself (Browne & Freeman, 2000). Therefore, if a teacher is attempting to change his or her practice, thoughts and feelings about teaching action should occur (Brockbank & McGill, 1998). A second assumption was also made about 15

the participants in that the purposive sample was chosen to provide deep and rich descriptions about learning to teach online. In addition, the participants are representative of high school online teachers who experienced the transition to learn to teach online. However, capturing online behavioral data involves a level of trust that the participant is giving the researcher accurate, valid, and reliable measures. It is assumed that the comments from the participants were actually completed by the individual enrolled in the study. The last assumption was made that the qualitative research method chosen will result in a more accurate representation of the lived experiences of the participants. Limitations Baseline data has not been established through credible comparisons in research and as such the findings of the study were limited in that no generalizability to all online high school teachers in all virtual schools can be made. Another limit was that bias may be introduced into the study since the researcher was, at one time, a co-faculty member to some of the participants in the study. Furthermore teacher perceptions of their experience could be influenced by other factors such as prior experience with online environments, technological resources available, established course expectations, or the rapid-fire advancement of changes and modifications to school processes. Other limitations could have occured during this study and efforts were taken to minimize them to maintain the credibility and dependability of data. Organization of the Remainder of the Study Chapter 1 identified the research questions and provided background information about cyberschools and the particular phenomenon of teachers transitioning from 16

traditional teaching to online teaching. The statement of the problem and the purpose of the study were discussed in detail. Chapter 1 ended with definition of terms used specifically in K-12 online education and a discussion about possible assumptions and limitations. Literature about K-12 online teaching and the theoretical framework of transformational learning as well as online teacher roles were examined in chapter 2. The review began with the history of K-12 online learning and moved to how high schools have adapted online teaching. The learning theory of transformation was reviewed in its application to the study. A comparison of higher education online teaching with high school methods was reviewed in order to make the distinction that teaching children is vastly different than teaching adults. Teacher education and professional development were examined to determine the extent to which the programs of study included online teaching strategies for novice online teachers. Lastly, gaps in the research were identified and discussed. In chapter 3 an interpretive qualitative methodology design using semi-structured interviews and document analysis was introduced. High school teachers employed in one Pennsylvania cyber charter school were the focus of the study. The study was explained in detail including sampling, data sources, data collection protocol, and data analysis. Issues in credibility and dependability were identified and discussed. Furthermore, predicted limitations to the study were explained. After IRB approval, chapters 4 and 5 were completed. Chapter 4 focused on data analysis including the identification of themes, coding, and a narrative synthesis. Data analysis was framed using transformational learning theory (Mezirow, 1995) and Berge’s 17

(1995) framework of online teacher roles. Chapter 5 focused on relating study data to the literature. Limitations to the study were identified and discussed. Finally, study conclusions were written and recommendations made for implications to practice and future research.



Introduction The literature review in qualitative research is used to frame the experiences of the participants related to the phenomenon studied, more so, than to answer prescribed research questions (Creswell, 2003). In order to bring an understanding to the forefront of inquiry in how high school teachers hired by virtual schools learned to teach online, several areas of interest were explored. As K-12 online education is less than fifteen years old, seminal works written in the late 1990s and early 2000s about the revolutionary change to K-12 education through the delivery of online instruction were reviewed. A research and theory basis for K-12 online learning was established around 2005 as evidenced by the publication of A Synthesis of New Research on K-12 Online Learning (Smith et al., 2005), a synthesis of findings from eight studies. Research was found on the preparation of online instruction, best practice competencies, and training in technical and practical skills as applied to distance education for post-secondary faculty and adult learners. Gleaning information from higher education and artfully applying the strategies and methods to online high school teaching were evaluated. Recent studies about high school online teaching and learning were reviewed and included information about (a) characteristics of online programs, (b) teaching and 19

learning strategies, (c) best practices, and (d) experiences of teachers adopting an online program. In addition other studies dating 2000 – 2004 were reviewed for historical analysis. However, the literature found did not reveal much information about how K-12 educators learn to teach, and especially learn to teach online. Nor did it identify how teachers developed and possibly changed their teaching pedagogy. Conducting this study added an important missing component to the body of research. Exploring if there was a connection between how a teacher transforms practice to the teacher’s prior teacher education background was reviewed. As well as if attending professional development programs on online learning proved beneficial to the adaptation of teaching methods from one delivery system (face to face) to the other (online). Finally, gaps in the literature were discussed. There was a distinct lack of research that focused on teaching in virtual schools. Therefore the review of literature expanded from scholarly journals, to conference proceedings, and reports from the government or other public and private organizations. Chapter 2 was not a detailed critical analysis of the literature that was reviewed to date. Instead it was a guide to how the researcher believed the ideas would flow from data collected. The study design allowed for determining how teachers learned teaching in an online environment. In addition, through the experiences of the participants, what essential characteristics and skills a teacher needed was acknowledged.


History of K-12 Online Learning The end of the twentieth century saw distance learning in higher education move from correspondence and public-television courses to blended courses. By 2001, more than 1,000 colleges and universities offered some type of virtual course (Maeroff, 2003). Charter schools began operating in the mid 1990s, and as with educational choice, it was only a matter of time before courses for K-12 students would be offered online too. Definition Providing the sequence to the evolution of K-12 online learning brings clarity to the history. According to a definition provided by Revenaugh (2005), a cyberschool allows teachers to instruct students even though there is a significant geographical distance between the two. Cyberschools, also known as virtual or online schools do not function within the traditional school district framework. In contrast, cyberschools can include charter schools outside or within the school district, state supported and managed schools within or outside the state, or schools managed by colleges, universities, consortiums, or private entities (Rice, 2006). The term virtual is interchangeable with online and cyber when discussing K-12 online learning models (Rice, 2006). Jones (1998) defined the term virtual as it was used “in computer science to refer to something whose existence is simulated with software, rather than actually existing in some physical form” (p. 45). Finn (2002) a board member of K12, Inc., the virtual school led by William J. Bennett, former Secretary of the United States Department of Education, added additional information to the definition relating the term to philosophical questions about virtual schools. Mills (2002) defined virtual schooling as “encompassing all technologies that facilitate learning through mediated 21

instruction without regard to separations in either space or time between the instructor and learner” (p. 1). Florida Virtual School summed up the definition as “any time, any place, any path, any pace” to education (National Association of State Boards of Education, 2001, p. 5). Just as there are differences in defining a virtual school so are there differences in the many forms that virtual schools embody. Benchmark Online Schools The first statewide supplemental online program opened in 1997 in Florida with 77 students. Florida High School served students in every school district within the state who wanted to supplement their traditional classroom studies with courses not offered in their brick-and-mortar high school. This model of online learning was considered supplemental to traditional education because the student still graduated from his or her district school. In 2006-2007, Florida High School had enrolled over 50,000 students (Watson, 2007a). Enrollments increased another 4,000 in 2007-2008 (Randall, 2008) making Florida High School one of the premier online schools in the nation. Another important pioneer in K-12 online learning was Virtual High School (VHS). VHS is a consortium of schools that offered online courses starting in 1996. VHS was developed by Hudson Public School District in Massachusetts with a Federal Technology Innovation Challenge Grant. The district created an online high school as a consortium with other participating schools. The grant expired in 2001 and VHS now operates as a non-profit organization. In 2003, VHS had over 200 members in 24 states and nine nations and the school offered over 120 online courses to approximately 2,000 students each semester (Donlevey, 2003). In 2008, VHS had 575 member schools enrolling 10,111 students in 30 states and 45 international schools offering 319 courses 22

(VHS, 2008). To participate in VHS a brick-and-mortar school pays the consortium a membership fee of several thousand dollars which covers administrative and operational costs of offering one online course to 20 students. Additional courses are charged an additional reduced fee. Participating in the VHS consortium and Florida High School allowed schools to expand academic offerings to their brick-and-mortar students. Types of K-12 Online Programs The models of Florida High School, now known as Florida Virtual School (FVS), and VHS have expanded since 1996 to include other entities such as charter schools, higher education institutions, and for-profit and not-for-profit organizations (Rice, 2006). K12, Inc., a for-profit company and the largest operator of online schools in the United States, reported revenue over $226 million in fiscal year 2008 on a student enrollment increase of 51% in one school year (Plumb, 2008). Picciano and Seaman (2007) consolidated the diverse types of cyberschools into a list of 10 different types which include 1. Other school districts that provide online learning courses 2. Charter schools within a district 3. Charter schools outside of a district 4. State supported virtual schools within a state 5. State supported virtual schools outside of the state 6. State technology service agencies (intermediate units) 7. Colleges and universities 8. Consortial agencies 9. Private, for-profit entities that offer selected courses 23

10. Private, for-profit virtual schools (p. 2) Varying Course Types In addition to the many types of schools, the courses taught within an online school vary. A study conducted by Allen and Seaman (2006) defined three types of online courses: 1. Online – all academic content is delivered online. 2. Blended/hybrid – a course that uses both the traditional, face-to-face model in the brick-and-mortar classroom with some online components added. 3. Web-facilitated – Internet technology is used to enhance traditional classroom instruction. As more and more data are collected, using consistent terminology ensures that similar measurements are used throughout the research process. Enrollment Explodes Current national enrollment data are not available as data collection is complicated by the ability of students to enroll outside of a school district or even a state. Clark (2001) completed a study that estimated 40,000 – 50,000 students were enrolled in online courses in 2000. Watson (2005) wrote in a national study of K-12 online learning state policies that many states did not have formal policies governing online learning. This lack of governance did not help research and data collection because “relatively little was known about online programs that conducted online learning” (p. 10). The U. S. Department of Education (NCES2005-10, 2005), relying on 2002-2003 school data, reported 36% of public school districts and 9% of public schools enrolled students in online courses. In that study though the definition of “distance education” referred to 24

courses taken by students in both elementary and high schools where the students and teachers were in different geographical locations. It included all types of distance learning and did not focus specifically on online learning. The findings reported approximately 328,000 enrollments in distance education courses for students who were enrolled in their public school. However, if a student took more than one course, the student was counted for each course taken, thus the enrollment number could include a duplicate count. Approximately 164,000 enrollments (50%) were either Web-based instruction or completely online. Using data from the U. S. Department of Education’s 2005 study (NCES2005-10, 2005) Smith et al. (2005) projected enrollment of 600,000 students for 2005. Although high, the data could not be determined inaccurate since significant barriers to obtaining accurate data had already been determined. In 2006, online learning programs had been established in 38 states, a jump of 72% from 1997. Of these, 25 states had state-led online programs and 13 states had 147 cyber charter programs enrolling over 65,000 students (Watson, 2006). Through the historical analysis of K-12 online learning it can be said that K-12 online education is rapidly growing across the country. As Watson (2006) stated, “students are finding increased opportunity, flexibility, and convenience through online learning” (p. 1). In the fourth annual report of Keeping Pace (Watson, 2007b), a report that looked at the status of K-12 online learning, 40% of the schools that reported in 2006 grew 25-50% in the 2006-2007 school year. In 2007, 42 states now had online programs; a 32% increase in one year. As of January 2007, the Center for Education Reform reported that there were 173 virtual charter schools (full-time online program) enrolling 92,345 students in 18 states (NACOL, 2008). Unfortunately, an exact national 25

student enrollment number cannot be determined as the differentiation of models disallows continuity in services offered. Nonetheless, literature validates the phenomenal, quick growth of online schools from 1996 up to 2007, the latest year research data are available. One of the primary goals of the 2007 study, K-12 Online Learning: A Survey of U. S. School District Administrators (Picciano & Seaman, 2007) was to “estimate the number of K-12 students enrolled in online learning” (p. 8). 7,700 school districts were invited to participate in a survey through a postcard invitation. The analysis data consisted of approximately 2% of all school districts (N = 366). The participants reported an enrollment of 17,349 in online courses, and 11,093 in blended courses. The researchers extrapolated data to the entire population of 48 million public school students and estimated that 700,000 students were enrolled in online or blended learning in the 2006-2007 school year. These data corresponded to the number identified by Smith et al. (2005) of 600,000-700,000 enrollments for 2005-2006. The researchers cautioned that data was obtained from public schools excluding data from six million private schools and one million home-schooled students. NACOL (2007b) has charged their organization with the development of a database that would hold data on all K-12 online schools operating in the United States. As of this writing, that database is self-reported and incomplete. Watson (2007b) also reported that schools are now developing practices that demonstrate success and may help to sustain online learning for the future. Until baseline data are established, credible comparisons through research are more difficult to obtain.


Technology Advancements Impact Online Education Several advancements to technology most likely helped to accelerate the growth of K-12 online education (Howell, Williams, & Lindsay, 2003; Simond, 2007; Sloman, 2002; Sprague et al., 2007). These advancements include 1. More private homes are connected to the Internet. A study conducted by the Leichtman Research Group (Dickson, 2007) identified 53% of American homes now have broadband connection; an 11% increase from 2006 (Horrigan, 2006). Broadband accesses the Internet up to 200 times faster (using a speed of 11.0 Mbps, an industry standard) than the original 56.6K dial-up modem of 1998 (Livingston Telephone Company, 2008). Furthermore, major U.S. cities are building wireless networks that will afford low-income families’ cheap access to the Internet (Davis, 2008; Wolke, 2008). This growth allows more people to access education online with faster Internet connectivity. 2. There are more free and inexpensive programs allowing voice and video transmission over the Internet. Skype®, a free downloadable software package allows its 309 million users ( to make “phone” calls and conduct videoconferencing using an Internet connection. E-mail providers such as Google®, AOL®, Comcast, and Yahoo® all offer voice and video capabilities for sending and receiving e-mail communications. In addition, companies such as AdobeConnect® or GoToMeeting® offer voice and video tools that can integrate into learning management systems. The ability to utilize voice and video software makes it possible for online educators to conduct synchronous lectures and class discussions or use a more personal voice mail instead of a static e-mail to communicate with students (Hartsell & Yuen, 2006). 3. The World Wide Web has transformed into a more collaborative community. Blogs, wikis, and social networking sites such as, MySpace® and Facebook®, are beginning to take hold in the online educational setting (Bull & Ferster, 2005). This type of collaborative environment is described as a “read/write” Internet or is referred to as Web 2.0. Despite students and teachers being separated in time and space while enrolled in an online school, a variety of collaborative projects can be designed and sustained through the use of innovative read/write Web sites. Edublog ( and Wikispaces ( were created specifically for K-12 online education where teachers can monitor and facilitate student to student interaction on group projects. 4. There are more high quality educational Web sites available. Maddux, Johnson, and Willis (2001) classified educational Web sites with interactive 27

capabilities as Type II Web sites. Type I applications (Maddux, 1984), such as Microsoft PowerPoint®, made it easier to incorporate technology into instruction in traditional ways. Type II applications allow a higher degree of interactivity and are designed to emphasize higher order thinking and problem solving skills. Microsoft has since increased the interactivity of its PowerPoint application by allowing users to embed audio and video links into slides. In addition, through the use of software such as PowerPoint Producer® or SplashCast®, users can also manipulate their own image and voice to narrate presentations. Many of the educational Web sites now use Flash technology (animation) and video and audio streaming to make use of interaction. An excellent example of a Type II application can be found at Study Island®, a leading Web site for state assessment preparation programs ( Students and educators use interactive games and activities to foster learning and advance academic skills. Having these types of Web sites available makes it easier for online teachers to incorporate other forms of learning methods into instruction. The transition from brick-and-mortar instruction to online instruction is complex and involves technical aspects of delivering educational content. As technology advances, the delivery of education no longer is confined to the traditional classroom model. Technology is improving rapidly; what was once “new” can be replaced within six months by a better product. As society strives to keep up with vast amounts of global change, educational institutions must continue to prepare students to function in a world that relies heavily on technology (NACOL, 2007b) and the development of higher order thinking skills, such as “creativity, problem-solving, communication, and analysis” (p. 1). Online education may just be the entry that these students need to access this everchanging 21st century world. The National Education Technology Plan As advances in instructional technologies continue to influence the way online courses are designed, changes are needed in the way teachers think about their role as cyber educators. Learning in a virtual school is a growing trend and within this cyber 28

education framework new standards are presently being defined. Therefore, to be effective at the K-12 level, “online courses must address the unique social, educational, and emotional needs” (National Education Association, 2003a, p. 3) of students. The National Education Technology Plan (NETP) published by the U. S. Department of Education (2004) lists “supporting e-learning and virtual schools” (p. 41) as one of the seven major goals recommended by educators, technology experts, and K-12 students from around the country. The NETP is a visionary document planning for the future of education where technology is a key factor in determining student success. Therefore, a prime area to focus online teacher professional development and training is in the advancement of technology skills and incorporating technology tools into Web-based instruction. Online Teaching at the College Level The literature review began with discussion about the current state of K-12 online education. Understanding why teachers choose to teach online and how these teachers learn to teach online through a review of post-secondary research was the focus of this section. It is important to understand the difference between adult and K-12 learners (Cavanaugh et al., 2004). Children present different skill sets than do adults, therefore different techniques and teaching strategies are needed in order to engage the young student in the learning process ((Davis & Rose, 2007). Adults may have developed characteristics of learner autonomy and responsibility but younger students still need guidance in order to acquire these skills. Examining online teaching practices and characteristics at the post-secondary level may provide insight and correlation for the K12 online teacher. 29

Why Teach Online? Understanding what motivates instructors to want to teach online assisted this study’s exploration of experiences about learning to teach online. The 2000 study, Needs, Concerns, and Practices for Online Instructors, (McKenzie, Mims, Bennett, & Waugh) focused on teaching practices in online instruction. Seventy instructors who had taught online courses for the State University of West Georgia were surveyed about why they chose to teach online, the hours spent preparing content, and the amount of time interacting with students. Seven reasons were identified for faculty motivation to teach online and include 1. The desire to get students more involved in technology. 2. The opportunity to innovatively use technology to enhance instruction. 3. The opportunity to meet distance learner’s needs. 4. Flexible working hours and location. 5. Responding to students who want to learn via the Internet. 6. The ability to interact more frequently with students. 7. The course was required to be taught online. In order to master instruction in the online environment, Wimberg, Jackson, Kinuthia, and Guest (2003) argued that faculty must “set their own goals, plan their own learning, use experiential learning, and evaluate outcomes of their goals” (p. 1936). In other words, designing professional development programs through the lens of adult learning theory can emphasize the ability of the teacher to understand the relevant content and context. The idea that high school online teachers identified similar motivations to teach online as their post-secondary counterparts emerged from data in this study. 30

Faculty Training The uniqueness of online teaching is based on the fact that teachers rarely see the students they are teaching. This alternative modality of delivering instruction needs to employ specific strategies that are different than traditional teaching strategies (KemshalBell, 2001). The literature research identified certain areas of expertise that may be needed in order to presume a real effort to transform teaching practice. These variables included characteristics, roles, skills, and instructional methods. However, the number one issue for online teachers is, How do I really teach students I do not see? Research in this area is completely lacking for K-12, but various studies have been done in higher education about the importance of faculty training in order to enact a shift in teaching perspectives. Training Supports Effective Online Instruction In 2000, Torrisi and Davis were calling for additional training for faculty in order to “exploit potential teaching and learning advantages in the new mediums” (p. 166). In a strategic development plan for Griffith University, flexible learning was targeted as a key initiative for teaching and learning. The plan stated that “the development of employment-related skills and the capacity for independent learning” (p. 167) was of prime importance to the university’s overall purpose. The new medium at the time was technology use in a traditional classroom. Flexible learning as a target goal was defined by Holzl and Khurana (2000) as not only the use of core technology, but also the methodologies needed in order to use the technology effectively. Participants in a study performed by McKenzie et al. (2000) also indicated that training was of importance in the effectiveness of online delivery. Faculty (62%) indicated receiving one to five hours of 31

training before teaching their first course and 17% also indicated receiving more than 21 hours of training. The number one recommendation (7%) from faculty that would further help them deliver online courses was to provide more and varied training sessions. A study of university faculty conducted by Kosak et al. (2004) asked the question again about sufficient training and support in developing online instruction. Participants were limited to online instructors in the University of North Carolina system (N = 83). More than half of the participants had attended some type of training offered from the university that included both online pedagogy and technical skill enhancements. Not surprising was data that indicated training was more well received when given as Webbased tutorials. Offering professional development for online teachers through an online delivery system affords them the opportunity to experience Web-based learning as their students would (Jaffee, 2003; Davis & Rose, 2007). Training Develops Online Pedagogy The idea that online teaching must also include a pedagogical change was introduced by Gibbons and Wentworth (2001) at the Distance Learning Administration’s annual proceedings. Gibbons and Wentworth posited that higher education institutions were rushing to jump on the online learning bandwagon at an alarming rate “motivated by promising financial forecasts” (Introduction, para. 1). By doing so, they felt students were being short-changed as no thought to the actual teaching, or pedagogy of online instruction was being examined. This same argument could be transferred to K-12 online teaching as well; that any highly qualified teacher is ready to teach online. The argument presented in the paper was that there is a distinct andragogical and pedagogical difference in training for online teaching. As online learning is directed to students who are 32

considered non-traditional learners, andragogical principles of self-direction compete with the pedagogical principles of teacher-directed learning. Three key factors that surround an online learner were identified: technology, curriculum, and the instructor. Furthermore, the argument was presented that online instructors must be trained to fully understand the differences between on-ground and online delivery methods, the conversion or development of on-ground course material to an online format, and the unique needs of the non-traditional learner. (Technology, para. 2) The study recommended that training should involve more andragogical than pedagogical principles where the concept of the learner, the learner’s experiences, readiness to learn, ability to problem-solve, and internal motivation are recognized as important to the nontraditional learner’s educational goal of success. Jaffee (2003) extended the idea of online pedagogy framed in andragogical principles and mentioned four pedagogical principles that easily transfer to the online classroom; interactivity, active learning, mediation, and collaboration. All four principles involve the active participation of students and the instructor in constructing new meaning to knowledge presented in course materials and content. He concluded that the power of pedagogical ecology was reported by faculty who changed teaching practice as a result of teaching courses online. This changing practice, or transformation, that included more student-centered approaches, is validated in further studies. In this study the argument presented was that the high school online teacher should be prepared to teach in much the same way as Gibbons and Wentworth (2001) or Jaffee (2003) have specified. It is reasonable to expect an online teacher to create lessons that engage students and encourage them to become critical and reflective thinkers. However, the most glaring difference between the post-secondary adult student and the 33

online high school student is that students who enroll in an online high school are mandated by law to attend school. Furthermore, laws govern public schools in that no student can be denied access to a public education. Thus, many students who choose to attend an online school are not fully prepared for the autonomy, self-regulation and time management, or technology skills needed in order to be successful. Consequently, the online teacher will need further development of online pedagogy to assist students enrolled in an online course, despite the student’s level of readiness to learn in the Webbased environment. Training Could Identify Components to Online Pedagogy A study conducted by Cowham and Duggleby (2005) identified the growing concerns of faculty as online education became more popular in England. In 1995, a small group of Web-based learning programs was developed by Sheffield College. The goal was to use Web-enhanced instruction in place of print-based materials. One instructor reported that “I found myself having to make up the rules as I went along…I felt disembodied, disadvantaged, and disempowered” (p. 3). In 1997, Sheffield College won funding to develop an online staff development program. Through a six year study that explored the pedagogical changes needed in order to produce, maintain, and offer online courses, they concluded that working in collaborative groups was necessary in order for faculty to understand the issues relative to sound pedagogical practice. The emerging online pedagogy included such principles as competence in the use of technology, understanding the necessity and demonstrating good organizational skills, using collaborative work, understanding and applying the principles of good Web design, and the observation of all legal and institutional requirements for course content. 34

Professional Development Opportunities It is beneficial for online teachers to experience the online environment in which they wish to teach in order to fully understand the nuances of teaching online. Davis and Rose (2007) reiterate that “teachers teach the way they are taught” (p. 7) therefore designing professional development opportunities within the Web-based environment in which teachers will teach can significantly improve the transformation of pedagogy. Online Role and Teacher Characteristic Changes Berge (1995) presented four changing roles of teachers who used computer enhanced instructional strategies while teaching. The roles included a change to (1) pedagogy through the role of educational facilitator, (2) the social community where the promotion of human relationships affirmed a student’s participation, (3) managing the classroom, and (4) the proficiency of the use of technology. Conrad (2004) expanded upon these four roles in a descriptive study of the experiences of faculty teaching online for the first time. Five instructors were interviewed prior to the start of their course and at the end of the teaching experience themes and categories that corresponded to Berge’s (1995) framework were validated. The overall concerns of the participants were in the pedagogical role related to content delivery. More specifically, the instructors felt it quite difficult to “let go” of their previous teaching experience in a teacher-centered model. In this study the high school teachers’ experiences were categorized into the Four Pillars of online teaching thus promoting a sense of balance to their concerns against their sense of transforming teaching practices. Post-secondary studies continued to espouse the importance of training faculty to teach online (Gibbons & Wentworth, 2001; Jaffee, 2003; Pachnowski & Jurczyk, 2003; 35

Youngblood, Trede & DiCorpo, 2001). Becoming more important as online education grew in strength and experience was the notion that the teacher changes methods for online teaching. Roles, skills, and even characteristics transform to better meet the needs of non-traditional students. A significant development in the delivery of online education was identified from data obtained in a study of seven institutions, members of the Learning Technology Consortium (Wingard, 2004). Faculty members (N = 56) from the institutions were asked to complete a survey about their Web-enhanced courses (blended model). The top five Web features used by the faculty were identified as the course syllabus (89%), e-mail (75%), lecture notes (54%), exercises (50%), and optional course readings (48%). The faculty used guest presenters (4%) and small group discussion (11%) the least. The techniques used to achieve student success in an online course were changing. Online instruction had moved distinctly out of the closet and into the forefront of instructional practices. Gone were the days when the instructor posted a syllabus and maybe some lecture notes on a Web page and still taught in the traditional classroom. Now instructors were using more Web-enhancements to supplement their traditional courses. Bennett and Lockyer (2004) argued that in order to achieve even more successful student outcomes online instructors needed to shift their pedagogy even further. Online instructors need to provide more group tasks, offer more flexibility in pacing, increase organizational and time management skills, provide electronic feedback, and make better use of online communication tools. A shift in roles was identified adding facilitator, researcher, course designer, and manager-administrator to the previous roles of lecturer, communicator, advisor, and assessor. Synthesizing from past research, the instructor role 36

was classified into four categories (Berge, 1995; Conrad, 2004): pedagogical, social, managerial, and technical. In 2004 the role was further defined in a study conducted by Heuer and King. The changing teacher role depended on the learner’s needs and skills produced in the online course. Participants in an online professional development course (N = 324) were surveyed to understand their perceptions of the role of online teacher. Validated from other studies cited, Heuer and King’s findings were clear in that the role of the online instructor was considered “multidimensional” (p. 6). The participants wanted the online instructor to be a planner, model, coach, facilitator, and communicator. They also expected these roles to change and/or overlap throughout the course. Heuer and King confirmed andragogical learning principles (Davenport, J. & Davenport, J.A., 1985) in that online students wanted instructors to interchange roles dependent upon the needs of the students. The most powerful indication that online teaching was not simple and that teachers needed additional training was through Heuer and King’s (2004) concluding statement, “It might seem that online instruction simplifies the role of the instructor. However, data indicates the need for the instructor’s constant, continuing, informed, and observant involvement” (p. 9). Liu, Bonk, Magjuka, Lee, and Su (2005) also explored the perceptions of online instructors’ roles using Berge’s (1995) four categories mentioned earlier. A case study of an online MBA program in a large Midwestern university drew upon faculty from the business school (N = 28). Through the use of semi-structured interviews questions relating to the four categories of roles were asked. Data identified several roles corresponding to each of the four categories. The pedagogical role included course 37

designer, profession-inspirer, feedback-giver, and interaction-facilitator. The managerial role included a conference manager and organizer-planner. The social role identified a social rapport builder. Lastly the technical role included a technical coordinator, media designer, and technology integrator. As technology changed from the mid 1990s to 2005, post-secondary schools were offering more courses online, and faculty became more motivated to teach online courses, the roles identified became even more diverse in a very short period of time (Wiijekumar, Meyer, Wagoner, & Ferguson, 2006). Not only did roles change when teaching online, but so did the skills and strategies needed to teach. Online Skill and Teaching Strategy Changes Heuer and King (2004) concurred that “different skills and strategies [are needed] for effective online direction” (para. 1). They argued that through the use of constructivist methods, where instructors allowed adult students to construct knowledge, students learned more; not only from each other, but also from the teacher as well. Participants (N = 16) in a study conducted by Hinson and LaPrairie (2005) reported that as online components were integrated into courses, such as video files, multimedia, PowerPoint, discussions, surveys, etc., instruction became more student-centered. Students (N = 137) also surveyed felt that with the introduction of additional online components their learning had increased. Young (2004) acknowledged these same findings; that the online instructor’s skill-set included a multitude of tasks that may not be present in traditional teacher skills. Course design, content preparation, course promotion, knowledge construction, e-material production, engaging virtual students, and interactions were


examples of these new tasks identified through the participants in the 4-year study (N = 59). Online learning has made many adjustments in a short amount of time and the rapid development of understanding online instruction through research has informed the field in the areas of motivation, training, pedagogy, roles, characteristics, and skills. Online instruction has moved from Web-enhancements in a face-to-face course to entire courses taught solely online, where the instructor and the student never meet face to face. Standardizing Online Teaching An important factor in implementation of distance learning is whether or not online instruction is delivered in ways that allow students to learn (Watson, 2007b). Therefore, research identified areas of development to improve online teaching. These include best practices, competencies, and standards. Best Practices Developed Examining the history of best practice in teaching begins with Chickering and Ehrmann’s (1987) publication of Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. The seven principles include (1) maintaining contact between teacher and student, (2) developing collaboration between students, (3) using engaging learning strategies, (4) giving prompt feedback, (5) managing time on task, (6) maintaining high standards, and (7) differentiating instruction. The International Board of Standards for Training, Performance and Instruction (2000) drew from that publication and developed 23 instructional competencies for online education in professional foundations, planning and analysis, design and development, and implementation and management. 39

Williams (2000) reported seven teacher competencies identified through a study that examined online teacher roles. Online teachers needed to be competent in (1) content knowledge, (2) teaching strategies and models, (3) general education theory, (4) skills with Internet tools and instruction, (5) designing effective interactive instruction, (6) research skills, and (7) modeling good behavior. Subsequently in 2001, Graham, Cagiltay, Lim, Craner and Duffy updated the traditional principles (Chickering & Ehrmann, 1987) to include seven online principles: 1. Provide clear guidelines. 2. Discussions facilitate meaningful learning. 3. Students should present to peers. 4. Feedback includes both information and acknowledgement. 5. Deadlines are clear. 6. Communicate high expectations. 7. Allow student choice to promote personal perspective. Examining these best practices in current literature (Bennett & Lockyer, 2004; Conrad, 2004; Cowham & Duggleby, 2005; Heuer & King, 2004; Liu et al., 2005; Wingard, 2004) suggested that even as technology changed and became more advanced, online teaching still followed the same principles outlined by Williams (2000) and Graham et al. (2001). Competencies Developed When students and instructors became more proficient in online courses, the profession naturally progressed to develop standards and traditions. In comparing the competencies provided by Williams, (2000) and Graham et al. (2001) further and more 40

specific competencies and standards were developed (Williams, 2003). In Choy, Dong, and Wang’s (2004) study a list of quality indicators for the design and maintenance of online courses was developed. From the faculty’s perspective Choy et al. concluded courses should be highly interactive, include a variety of supplemental materials, accommodate different learning styles, offer clear and timely feedback, establish clear expectations, and communicate with students often. Another shift of focus occurred for online education around 2006, after the early adopter phase and well into acceptance as the norm. Based on about ten years worth of research studies in distance and online education, the development of best practices and competencies filled a gap left in the field. This gap was felt by many teachers since these teachers had no formal education in online teaching methods and pedagogy. The term competency was further defined as appropriate prior knowledge, skills, attitudes, and abilities in a given context that adjust and develop with time and needs in order to effectively and efficiently accomplish a task and that are measured against a minimum standard. (Varvel, 2007, para. 13) Competencies and best practices were generated from the knowledge, skills, characteristics, and roles of the online teacher that were becoming firmly established in the field through prior research. Varvel (2007) studied student perceptions of effective online instruction (N = 295) and developed a list of 247 master online teacher competencies that were further generalized into seven distinct categories using a grounded approach. The categories identified were congruent with Berge’s (1995) Four Pillars of online teaching. 1. Competencies in the administrative category include institutional context, intellectual property issues and regulation, student issues and management, 41

other legal and ethical issues, instructor selection and evaluation, and support mechanisms. 2. In the personal role category competencies include content knowledge, teaching commitment, communication ability, time management, and other characteristics. 3. The next category identified competencies within the technology role which include access, proficiency, technical assistance, and legal and ethical use. 4. In the category of instructional design roles a competent instructor would present an effective course overview, can evaluate create and select appropriate resources, and includes a media rich environment. 5. In the pedagogical category competencies include teaching and learning theory, cognitive presence, instructional planning, motivating students, communication, materials presentation, instructional processes, tailored instruction, collaboration, student monitoring, and evaluation. 6. The assessment role category includes competencies in assessment purpose, online assessment challenges, assessment design and delivery, grading and feedback, technology use, self assessment, and theory. 7. In social processes and presence category competencies were developed for social presence, community of learners, culture, conflict management, and community practice. Online Teaching Standards Developed The use of this extensive list of online teacher competencies along with effective online teaching principles assisted the National Education Association (2006) and NACOL (2007a) to document standards for teaching K-12 online courses. Many of the standards mirror quality teaching in higher education and include, good communication skills, creativity in developing and delivering activities, designing collaborative and cooperative student activities, motivating and engaging students, and proficiency in technology. These standards and the work of other researchers will enhance the field of online education by providing teachers with a guide to best practices. Through the


research on online education practices held by higher education, online high schools and teachers can begin to interpret the findings and apply them to the teaching of children. Defining Online Teaching in Public High Schools More than half of colleges now offer distance courses (U. S. Department of Education, NCES2003-154, 2003) and subsequent interest in K-12 online education followed on the success of online teaching at the college level. When K-12 online student academic performance was found to be equal to or the same as traditional classes, even more virtual schools around the country were developed (Cavanaugh et al., 2004). One conclusion drawn from reviewed literature was that teaching a course online presented a unique set of experiences that influenced faculty success. What if any of these components affect K-12 online teaching? Teaching in a public school with school-age children may produce a multitude of issues that convolute known post-secondary online teaching practices (Russell, 2004). Traditionally, public education is held in a brick-and-mortar classroom where the teacher is able to interact and instruct students face to face. It is hard enough to get a thirteen year old student interested in the “history of dead people” (J. Baskill, personal communication, 2005) when you can see the student, let alone sustaining this level of motivation without a face-to-face perspective. Teaching a student online means the teacher cannot see the acknowledgment of “getting it” in student’s eyes nor see a hand raised when a question arises. A virtual class in an online high school today uses a variety of technology that is ever and fast changing (SREB, 2006). From electronic whiteboards, digital simulations, animations, synchronous and asynchronous discussions, chat, e-mail, instant messaging, video streaming, digital storytelling, etc. the online teacher has at his 43

or her fingertips more instructional tools than most face-to-face instructors will ever use in a lifetime of teaching. How does the online teacher of high school students find success in this new medium? The Online Teacher Training Model Teachers who are employed by cyberschools might have taken online courses, but literature revealed that few have taught them (Hughes, McLeod, Brown, Maeda, & Choi, 2007; Leu, Castek, Hartman, Coiro, & Henry, 2005). To a teacher who felt competent in using technology as a classroom learning tool, moving from a brick-and-mortar to a virtual classroom might have seemed like an easy transition. Even though teachers are somewhat effective with the necessary technology skills to be efficient, when placed in a cyber learning environment, these teachers quickly realized their guiding pedagogy was still based in a face-to-face perspective (Tripp, 2002). Teachers who found themselves in this situation with little to no experience in the development and teaching of online courses (O’Dwyer, Carey, & Kleiman, 2007) struggled learning to teach online. Such was the case in this study’s findings. Qualified Online Teachers With the growth of cyberschools surpassing expectations (Watson, 2007b), an increase in the demand for quality teachers has occurred. The pool of teachers who can teach in a Web-based environment may initially be thought of as quite large, but when narrowed down to those who have online teaching experience, the number of teachers shrinks considerably. Smith et al. (2005) reported less than one percent of teachers completed a teacher education program that also included components of online 44

pedagogy. About 82% of brick-and-mortar schools reported in 2005 that they held professional development in using technology to enhance classroom instruction (Parsad & Jones); however less than half of all teachers actually took advantage of the opportunity to improve this skill. Davis and Rose (2007) reported post-certificate endorsements for online teachers in only four states. Even with an increase of educational technology opportunities, teachers who transition from face-to-face instruction and hired by virtual schools still lacked knowledge and expertise in education technology theory and certainly may not have understood what it means to teach online. Lack of pre-service education. Current coursework at many colleges include components of educational technology, or processes to incorporate technology into the classroom thus meeting requirements in the National Educational Technology Standards for Teachers (International Society for Technology in Education, 2007). Although this may improve the online teacher’s technological skills it is not enough of an impetus to inform and transform teaching pedagogy. The delivery of cyber education is not discussed in most traditional, pre-service education programs (Lowes, 2008). Therefore, K-12 teachers generally have little to no preparation in online education theory. Although teacher education was not the focus of this study, additional research that identified the extent to which an apprentice teacher experiences online learning and learning management systems in their education programs could add insights into data analysis. Consequently, without training in a pre-service teacher program, navigating the demands of this new learning environment means that the online teacher learns to teach while actually teaching (King, 2002b). The need to determine an effective means of teacher preparation for online teaching is indicated where a variety of instructional strategies 45

based on traditional models and theories of education can be incorporated into online pedagogy and teaching methods. Ball (2000) found that subject matter methods and pedagogy were fragmented in the curriculum of teacher education programs. This fragmentation left teachers alone to figure out how to integrate subject expertise into how to teach. Ball’s argument paralleled this study’s findings in that online teachers also felt this tension when learning to deliver instruction in a Web-based environment. If brick-and-mortar teachers are not feeling prepared enough to teach upon graduation from an accredited program why would online teachers feel any different? Especially since online teachers are culled from the same pool that flock to brick-and-mortar schools. This study identified where there are gaps in practice and theory and recommendations were made that schools who hire teachers need to bridge the learning gap through effective professional development programs. Teaching for Self-Directed Learners Derrick and Pilling-Cormick (2003) studied self-directed learning skills in the K12 online environment and compared the skills to what happens in higher education. By focusing on “what learners should be able to do rather than know” (p. 1568), Derrick and Pilling-Cormick asked, what kinds of attributes and behaviors are necessary for high school online learners? Participants (N = 24 students and N = 21 teachers) were surveyed using the Self-Directed Learning Perception Scale, developed by Pilling-Cormick (as cited in Pilling-Cormick, 1997). The study concluded that the online environment does support self-directed learning, but it would also benefit the student by providing more opportunities for self-direction in the form of options within the online context. Including


activities that promote initiative, resourcefulness, and persistence would enhance the skills of self-directed learning. In Picciano and Seaman’s study (2007), 60% of public school districts (N = 366) had at least one student who had taken an online course. Two of the five perceived important reasons why schools offer online courses were to “meet the needs of specific groups of students” and “reduce scheduling conflicts for students” (p. 9). One school reported that their students “take a reduced schedule to leave early in the day to go to a job” (p. 10) while another school offered online courses “for advanced or remedial purposes, homebound students, or those who want to get ahead” (p. 11). High school students really benefited from the “any time” mode of instruction and were not “present” in school during traditional school hours. For the online teacher, this could pose problems in designing and initiating instruction and makes having synchronous discussions almost impossible and asynchronous discussions not as effective. Proponents of online learning for K-12 students believe the benefits of online education outweigh any negatives. Benefits vary from school to school, and community to community, but many components of online learning are consistent (Young, 2004). Enhanced course selection, course delivery, flexible schedules, individualized instruction, and access to qualified teachers are all seen enhancing educational choice for those that enroll in an online school. High school students attending an online school are still embedded in the banking theory (Friere, 1993). These students want the teacher to explain what knowledge is needed, give a test on the knowledge memorized, and then move on. Breaking this cycle using online education as the catalyst and moving to a more self-directed method of 47

learning will take time and a concerted effort on the part of the educator (Picciano & Seaman, 2007). Forming independent, self-directed, autonomous behaviors in students to foster life-long learning remains a constant struggle for face-to-face high school teachers and is an important skill for the online teacher to master. Online teachers in this study recognized through examining teaching experience what roles, skills, and characteristics were important to promote a self-directed learner. Additionally, through the lens of transformational learning data from this study was examined to understand in more detail what other teaching methods were needed in order to move students away from teacher-centered to learner-centered pedagogy. Professional Development and Support Wood (2005) argued that personal and professional support be given to teachers as critical to making the transition into online teaching, “regardless of how many years they have taught in a traditional classroom” (p. 36). The mainstream opinion was that if one is a good traditional teacher one can also be a good online teacher (Davis & Rose, 2007). Experience, however, said the opposite. Kelly Myers, a veteran teacher who made the transition from traditional to online teaching told Wood “it was like starting over. The transition was more difficult than I ever imagined” (2005, p. 36). Many, but not all, participants in this study agreed. Lack of Pre-service Educational Programs Many colleges and universities offer online learning for students enrolled in education courses and programs. However, a paucity of data exists when examining how many universities and colleges offer K-12 teacher education programs that include an 48

online teaching component. A quick Internet search (WorldWideLearn, 2008) found only eight post-secondary institutions that offered post-Master’s certificates in K-12 online teaching and learning, a 50% increase from the four reported by Davis and Rose (2007). Four-year post-secondary schools reported in Educational Technology in Teacher Education Programs for Initial Licensure (U. S. Department of Education, PEQIS-15, 2006) that 52% offered an educational technology component to their teacher education programs, but data was not aggregated specifically to whether or not the institutions provided online teaching components and field experiences in a virtual school. In an attempt to present a more complete picture, this study can provide teacher education programs with a set of skills online teachers should possess in order to teach more effectively. Furthermore, through this study’s design of reflective journal writing and peer dialogue, the formation of mentoring relationships helped change teacher praxis. Lack of Mentor Relationship Development Traditionally an individual enrolled in a pre-service education program is required to complete a field experience. The student-teaching experience allows the apprentice teacher to transfer knowledge gained from the education program to the public school classroom. Subsequently, a teacher in his or her first teaching position is paired with a mentor or more experienced teacher (Darling-Hammond, 2005) in a district designed, state-mandated induction program. The mentor teacher assists the new teacher in practicing the art of teaching that was taught in the traditional pre-service program. In the United States, new teachers are usually given a 1-year induction period into the profession (National Education Association, 2003b). In other countries, this period may be longer and the mentor relationship may last for several years (Wong, Britton, & 49

Ganser, 2005). However, with the quick start-up of cyberschools accompanied by the exploding enrollments of students, there is an immediate need for newly hired online teachers to begin teaching right away instead of developing a mentor relationship. Without the fostering of peer-to-peer collegiality the examination of praxis needed in order to make a transformational change may not occur. A valuable approach to learning to teach online is through the development of a mentoring or coaching relationship (Davis & Rose, 2007). Without a mentor the online teacher may rely upon the school’s professional development sessions (if offered) in the hopes of bettering online pedagogy. Lack of Professional Development Picciano and Seaman (2007) collected data from public schools in which barriers to the ability of offering online learning were examined. Of the schools surveyed, 65% responded that the need for teacher training was important in removing a barrier for student learning. The teacher’s first year was a transition period; the time when teachers learned to teach online. With a distinct lack of mentoring and professional development during the first year of teaching a burden was placed on the teacher to learn his or her job quickly and without support of more seasoned or experienced teachers (DarlingHammond, 2005). The teacher who has prior face-to-face experience may not convert teaching pedagogy effectively to the online environment without the support of experienced online teachers or successful professional development. In order for a paradigm shift to occur prior teaching methods need to be modified for the cyber environment (Jaffee, 2003). What emerged from this study’s data supported past research in that how new online teachers learn to modify strategies and methods should be through a systematic program of professional development aimed at developing new skills and 50

teaching new ways to adapt methods to changing technology (Rice & Dawley, 2007), not through trial and error. Teaching in the Online Context Anderson (2004) discussed teaching in an online context by reiterating that (a) content was supported by many different formats including, video, text, and multimedia, (b) the Internet allowed an almost infinite number of opportunities to retrieve content information and (c) both synchronous and asynchronous delivery supported interactivity which in turn created a context of rich, learning experiences. Therefore, a paradigm shift could occur; where the transferability of face-to-face classroom strategies transition to teaching online and new skills learned assisted the continued effort to maintain instructional effectiveness. Strategies Differ Data from this study supported past research in that teachers learned multiple new roles and needed a variety of new skills to make the transformation from brick-andmortar classroom teacher to online teacher work (Conceição, 2006; Prestera & Moller, 2001). Bennett and Lockyer (2004) listed over 23 different learning outcomes and 26 different teacher roles between traditional and online teaching. For instance, communicating with students in a traditional classroom setting probably meant the teacher would ask the student to approach her desk for a private, face-to-face conversation. Subsequently a telephone call might have been placed to the parent or guardian for follow-up. In comparison, teaching online means that the teacher rarely sees his or her student and communication is attached to whatever recent technological 51

advances the school has applied to its course management system (Brook & Oliver, 2006). Many cyberschools combine communication tools, such as e-mail, instant messaging, discussion forums, or virtual chatrooms. However, the majority of communication is still text-based and may lack a “personal” touch. The traditional teacher can again find the student within any part of the school building to facilitate a one-on-one intervention (Savery, 2005). The online teacher though must track down the student via instant message, e-mail, voice mail, or another form of virtual communication. The cyber student could be at home sleeping, at work, practicing their sport or talent, or away from home. Persistence is one key strategy developed by online teachers. Therefore, the solution in meeting these unique characteristics of teaching in a cyberschool lies in the transition period of learning how to teach online. Training through formal professional development does not occur in many instances for the new online teacher (Davis & Rose, 2007; Picciano & Seaman, 2007; Rice & Dawley, 2007) and this study’s results identified that online teachers had more difficulty finding and using strategies that were effective. When teacher education programs begin to include components of online teaching and cyberschools include systematic training then becoming an effective online teacher will turn out to be less dissonant. Struggling to Learn to Teach Online Teachers who make the change from face-to-face to online teaching may find themselves in the role of novice instead of experienced and may struggle with this shift in role (Hoagland et al., 2004; Yang & Cornelious, 2005). Sockman and Sharma (2007) referred to this struggle as a tension or dissonance, where an individual experienced a struggle during a paradigm shift. This research study investigated this changing role and 52

inner dissonance by exploring the professional role change during the transformational process. Through the experiences of online high school teachers a focused development of the online teaching role, as seen in this study, provided a greater likelihood of a successful paradigm shift from face-to-face pedagogy to online pedagogy. Transformational Learning One of the goals of teaching is for educators to view situations in which the students learn best. In order to accomplish this some type of reflective practice should be instituted by the teacher. In other words, how could the teacher better prepare for teaching? Viewing the experiences of teachers who learned to teach online through the lens of transformational learning theory framed this study. Transformational learning requires the teacher to become an active participant in his or her own learning (King, 2004). Factors to be considered when establishing a teaching environment that promotes transformation will be reviewed. What is Transformational Learning? Transformational learning was first reported by Mezirow (1978) among women who returned to college and how these women changed their view of themselves and their world through this action. When an individual reaches adulthood a distinct world view has been acquired through the interpretation of lived experiences. As people continue to age, new knowledge is integrated with prior knowledge, weaving a sense of continuity throughout their lives. Mezirow (1991) formulated his theory of transformational learning after many years of evaluating developmental and cognitive psychology, sociology, and philosophy in order to understand how adults learn, 53

transform, and develop. The original personal transformation theory (1978) consisted of 10 phases, but has since evolved into describing how people “construe, validate, and reformulate the meaning of their experiences” (Cranton, 1994, p. 22). Transformational learning focuses on a process of examining, questioning, validating, and revising experiences as they happen. When a person goes through what Mezirow (1991) terms meaning perspectives he or she discusses with others the meaning of the experience which provides an avenue to learning. Cranton (1994) defined learning as the “acquisition of any relatively permanent change in behavior as a result of practice or experience” (p. 48). In a transformative teaching environment, the teacher becomes a facilitator of personal knowledge. In this study the most effective way to understand how teachers experienced online teaching was to study them in their real worlds, the online school environment in which they taught. In addition, observing how teaching transformed using their experiences assisted in the elaboration on the meanings of those experiences. Through the process of transformational learning and shifting from a novice to a new paradigm user themes or meaning units emerged through interviews with the study participants. Using transformational learning theory to frame this study ensured a better understanding of the high school teachers’ experiences as they transitioned into online teachers. How is Transformational Learning Applied? In a 4-year study examining the experiences of students enrolled in an introductory education course, King (2004) used a mixed method design to identify the facilitating factors of transformational learning that the instructor and her students 54

experienced. Students in the course (N = 58), adult educators, completed a survey at the end of the course. Data concluded that 62% of the students felt transformation in their learning had been experienced. The participants further reported developing a more open mind to others and themselves, a strong relevancy to their work and lives, and an understanding of co-workers on a more personal level. A previous study (King, 2002b) researching students (N = 175) enrolled in a graduate course in education technology concurred with the later findings: That perspectives had changed both individual lives and also world views about the educational teaching practices. Another study reviewed examined the experiences of students in their first online high school class. Tunison and Noonan (2001) wanted to explore the students’ perceptions of the online program’s delivery and effectiveness. Using an exit survey the participants sampled (N = 50) identified several areas of perspective transformation. Students (32%) felt the preparatory course afforded new skills that could then be applied to the online course. The use of e-mail to contact teachers was seen as a very effective tool and the students felt that this communication mode was used more often as the course progressed. Students also reported feeling more confident in abilities to learn new material when collaboration with peers occurred. Transformational learning thus can offer greater opportunities to change through the process of reflective practices. Applying Transformational Learning to This Study Reflection is a key component in transformational learning theory (Cranton, 1994). This study used reflection in several different ways to understand the epistemic beliefs of the participants. Content reflection was used to examine the content of a problem or struggle. Process reflection, where the participant checked on how certain 55

problems were solved and the strategies used were documented in the journal. Premise reflection, or meta-reflection, where the participant questioned the problem or struggle itself was elaborated in the study discussions. Teacher participants constructed knowledge about the lived experiences while transitioning through the process of learning to teach online. Ally (2004) in Foundations of Educational Theory for Online Learning espoused that the use of interactivity kept teaching an active process. Teachers can experience transformation through the use of collaboration. Working with others affords the teachers a real-life experience. Teachers can take the strengths of others and apply those strengths to their own formation of learning. Building opportunities to reflect upon new knowledge gained encouraged meaningful and relevant connections and helped participants in this study embed new knowledge more firmly into memory. Torrisi and Davis (2000) examined transformation of learning in a study about reshaping practice. Torrisi and Davis firmly believed that the instructor’s role had to change in the online course. Brennan, McFadden, and Law (2001) concurred and explained that an effective online teacher would link new knowledge to existing knowledge, assimilate new knowledge through coaching, and affirm validity of new knowledge through practice. Transitioning into a new teaching environment afforded an opportunity to re-examine the ways in which prior learned teaching methods and strategies were reconceptualized to operate effectively within the new environment. This transference of prior knowledge into new ways that knowledge can be utilized is needed for transformation. In addition, the reflection about the changes needed in order to allow new knowledge to be constructed is through transformation (King, 2004). What worked 56

in the face-to-face classroom may not work in the virtual classroom. Teachers can assimilate new knowledge by accommodating the new cognitive structures within the collective experience of learning to teach online (Torrisi & Davis, 2000). An epistemological examination of how teachers learned and assimilated this new knowledge through the description of actual experiences occurred in this study. Through analysis of reflective data obtained from the participants how prior knowledge was ordered and then revised or how knowledge was tested and justified for valid applicability to the online environment was identified. From a transformative perspective, learning to teach online in and of itself is the search for meaning. To make meaning the study participants focused on their unique situations to understand the context of that experience. The combination of the participants’ learning experiences enabled the teachers to transform teaching practice. Gaps in the Research As K-12 online teaching is a fairly new phenomenon, most research about online education to date was conducted in the post-secondary arena. Online teaching in higher education research has identified a change to the roles, tasks, skills, and characteristics an educator needs to successfully transition to Web-based instruction. These areas of changing teaching factors have not been corroborated through research in K-12 online education. What has been learned about online teaching in higher education can be considered important to the K-12 classroom. This study can confirm applicability of some higher education findings. However, as there are a variety of virtual school types for K-12 online education, the real challenge was to determine if experiences described


by the study participants could be transferable to other high school online learning environments.



Introduction A qualitative study was conducted using an interpretive research design. Through an inductive approach, the study moved from the specific to the general building to a conclusion. The aim of the research was to objectively describe, as accurately as possible, the phenomenon being studied. The purpose of this study was to investigate the lived experiences of a group of high school teachers as they experienced the transition from traditional instructional methods to online teaching. The study identified important variables that can help create effective online instruction in order to transform online teaching practices. The questions evaluated included 1. How do high school teachers in one cyber charter school perceive and describe their current online teaching experiences? 2. How do high schools teachers in one cyber charter school describe the transformation of adapting face-to-face teaching to online teaching? 3. What do high school teachers in one cyber charter school recognize as being the most important roles, characteristics, or skills necessary to affect a successful online teaching experience?

Research Design Using an interpretive qualitative design the research discovered and evaluated how teachers learned to teach online. Using the participants’ own experiences as the transition occurs allowed the teachers to describe individual transformational processes. 59

Caelli, Ray, and Mill (2003) noted that interpretive qualitative research designs are being used more in contemporary education research to rigorously examine the qualities and characteristics of teaching and learning experience. According to Merriam (2002), qualitative research involves the construction of meaning while interacting within an individual’s world. For instance, when participants describe experiences the researcher constructs the meaning of those experiences. Interpretive research includes components of phenomenology where the researcher investigates the descriptions of individuals who have experienced a certain phenomenon (Moustakas, 1994). Therefore, an interpretive study will evaluate how people interpret their own experiences, analyze how those experiences construct their worlds, and synthesize meanings that are attributed to the experiences (Merriam, 2002). Merriam (2002) presented a 4-part design for using an interpretive qualitative method when studying a phenomenon. This design framed the study (see Figure 1). First, the study was framed with an educational theory. In this study transformational learning was used to evaluate the perspectives of the experiences the participants identified. The questions asked and the documents obtained were all guided by the theoretical framework of the study. Second, data were collected using qualitative methods. In this study interviews and document analysis were utilized. Third, data were analyzed where recurrent themes or patterns were identified as seen throughout data. The study also used Berge’s (1995) Four Pillars of online teaching roles to categorize themes or patterns identified. Lastly, interpretations of data were based on the researcher’s perspective of the meanings presented by the participants.


Figure 1. Application of Merriam's 4-part design. The main argument for using a qualitative research design in this study was to “uncover and interpret” (Merriam, 2002, p. 39) the meanings that the participants constructed as they attempted to make sense of the transition from traditional teacher to online teacher. As the phenomenon identified for this study is the transformation or transitioning process that occurs when learning to teach online the use of an interpretive study best identified and evaluated this process. Setting of the Study The study problem investigated a commonly experienced phenomenon and only one person can determine the “structure and essence of [that] experience” (Patton, 1990, p. 69) – the participant. To understand the experience one must first describe the experience to the researcher. The researcher then can interpret the description. One Pennsylvania cyber charter school was selected as the study site due to its steadily increasing enrollment growth where a need for hiring teachers was great. This 61

cyberschool also utilized an instructional model where most teachers designed and delivered original course content online (Allen & Seaman, 2006). Teachers are both subject matter expert and instructional designer. This factor was significant to the study in that teachers who are also instructional designers are more invested in creating and delivering quality, contextual instructional materials that enable successful student outcomes (Keppell, 2001) than a teacher who may only facilitate curriculum purchased from an outside vendor. This cyberschool received its charter from the Pennsylvania Department of Education in 2003. According to Picciano and Seaman’s (2007) category, the cyberschool is classified as outside a district. Data obtained from the Annual School Report (PDE, 2008) stated the cyberschool draws its students from 501 school districts from over 70 Pennsylvania counties. The school opened with an enrollment of 300 students in 2004 and eight teachers. Approximately 1,800 students were enrolled for the 2007-2008 school year with 72 teachers. This firmly placed the cyberschool on target with national enrollment projections (Watson, 2007b). The Sample To identify the primary participants, purposive sampling was used. The sample was selected based on the judgment of the researcher and the purpose of the study. The purpose of this study was to examine and understand how high school teachers learned to teach online, therefore participants in the study were selected from high school teachers who taught in the cyberschool (N = 37) during the 2007-2008 school year. An invitation to participate in the study was sent via e-mail to these potential participants in order to determine if additional study criteria could be met. Further criteria included those who (a) taught all courses in a Web-based learning management system, (b) created the online 62

course content that they taught, and (c) expressed a willingness to participate. The researcher sent a follow-up e-mail to all non-respondents (n = 21). Those high school teachers who responded to the invitation to participate and met the study criteria (n = 16) were sent the consent form via e-mail and instructed to return the signed consent form to the primary researcher. Once consent was obtained, the primary researcher made initial contact with each volunteer (n = 12) through e-mail informing them of enrollment into the study and included passwords for all study areas. Simultaneously, each participant was enrolled; using an alias, into a password protected Web site for interviewing, concurrent journaling, and forum discussions. Instrumentation and Data Collection Procedures Lichtman (2006) refers to the researcher in a qualitative study as central to the study. The interpretations from data were based on the known experiences and background of the researcher. When a researcher is responsible for data collection, human bias may occur. For disclosure, in this study the researcher was initially a member of the faculty from which the participants were selected. However, during data collection, the researcher left the cyberschool for other opportunities. The researcher was able to bracket biases about the research topic during the data collection and analysis processes. Techniques In an attempt to protect the rights of the study participants, approval was obtained from both the cyberschool and Capella University’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) prior to the beginning of the study. To further ensure the study participant’s anonymity each participant was given an alias to use. As shown in Figure 2, the study components 63

were also housed within a password protected Web page that was specifically designed by the researcher to capture the elements of the study.

Figure 2. Password protected Web site. The Web page (see Figure 3) was maintained by the primary researcher with technical support only provided by the service provider, Participants completed interview questionnaires, journal entries, and discussions on the Web site. The data collection was completed within an eight week period, beginning June, 2008 and concluding in August, 2008. Study events began when informed consent was obtained from each participant to ensure ethical research. The participants were enrolled in the password protected study Web site (see Figure 3) where interviews and journaling began as responses were posted. Data collection involved several documents thus triangulation occurred.


Figure 3. Study components located on the Internet.

Data Collection In the pursuit of answering the research questions, three qualitative data collection methods were used: initial and exit interviews, online journaling, and online discussions. Using multiple ways to collect data ensured triangulation. Furthermore, focusing on descriptions of experiences created a depth of contextual data. Initial Interview All participants took part in an Internet interview located on the study Web site in the forum area. To protect the confidentiality of the participants, the interview link was password protected, as shown in Figure 4. In addition, as each participant was assigned an alias, other study participants would not know their peers as they posted responses, thus anonymity was maintained.


Figure 4. Password protection of interview and discussions. The guided interview instrument consisted of open ended questions that related to the participants’ experiences during the transition to teach an online course. When additional questions were generated in response to a participant’s answer to a specific interview question, these questions were included in the final interview with that participant. Since it is argued (Cavanaugh, 2004) that a teacher moving from a brick-andmortar teaching model will need additional training in order to be successful in the cyber environment the following questions were used to focus the participant interviews: Aligns to Research Question 1 1. What is it like to be a teacher in a new context (online teaching)? 2. Describe the experiences that may have transformed your teaching. 3. How did these experiences change the way your teaching occurred? Aligns to Research Question 2 4. What preparation (educational or training) do you have to teach? 5. How well prepared did you feel when you first started teaching online? 6. What about that preparation do you feel has prepared/not prepared you to teach online? 66

7. How have you modified face-to-face teaching methods to your online course? Aligns to Research Question 3 8. Through your experiences, what skills are most important in order to be fully prepared to teach online courses? 9. Describe how you acquired these skills to teach online. 10. How do you feel about your overall experiences when transitioning into the role of online teacher? 11. What further training do you think you still need? 12. Through your experiences, what characteristics are most important for a teacher to possess in order to be fully prepared to teach online courses? The interview questions directed the participant to reflect upon experiences, feelings, beliefs, and convictions about teaching online. These interviews were archived within the study Web site. To ensure credibility of the data, each participant was asked the questions in the same order. After the participant had completed the interview the responses were copied and pasted into a data table and subsequently analyzed. A copy of the initial interview was made and presented to the interviewee during the exit interview for validation thus ensuring member checking. Through the lens of the lived experiences and descriptions of the teacher participant these questions brought a better understanding of the transformation process of becoming an online teacher. Online Journal As shown in Figure 5, each participant kept a password protected, online teacher journal (blog) of prior events that focused their experiences. As in the interview, the journal also maintained anonymity through the use of an alias. The study participants 67

reflected upon prior events identified to look at their experiences for positive responses to common problems or struggles that occurred within their teaching practice. Focusing on the experience acknowledged the value of the events that shaped a transformation in the teacher’s practice. In addition, it firmly put the teacher at the center of the transformation process. The same data table methodology outlined for the interviews was used to make meaning of the journal reflection.

Figure 5. Journal password protection. Online Discussion The discussion forums consisted of four journal articles that referenced aspects of K-12 online teaching. Questions designed to encourage reflection of the participants’ views about the article’s focus were posted (see Appendix A). The goal was to link new material to both prior and current experiences in order to understand the transition process that each teacher went through. The participants answered the question as well as held an asynchronous discussion with each other online. Topics discussed included (1) understanding online schools, (2) using traditional teaching methods to transform online teaching, (3) K-12 online teaching principles, and (4) and roles, skills, and characteristics 68

of an online teacher. The discussion area was located in the same place on the study Web site as the interview, and as such was password protected (see Figure 4). A data table was created for all responses. Exit Interview To validate the meanings identified the exit interview was planned to take place either face to face or via telephone. However, due to the timing (mid August) and that participants were preparing to begin the school year, all participants opted to complete the interview through the study Web site. Participant’s initial interview responses were available for review on the study Web site as a means of member checking. Questions generated from the initial interview, such as asking for clarification or elaborations were included. In addition, the following questions were also asked during the exit interview: 1. Have you been confronted with any other barriers or problems since our first interview? If so, how did you find a solution? (Research Question 1) 2. Can you identify one teaching strategy that has been the most beneficial in learning to teach online? (Research Question 3) 3. What, if any, further professional development sessions will help you prepare to teach your course(s) again? (Research Question 2) The exit interview process was designed to include as many aspects of the experience of learning to teach online that may prove important to the profession and as such the exit interviews with participants continued until no new perspectives were raised at which point saturation was met. According to Remenyi, Williams, Money, and Swartz (1998), a qualitative researcher’s strongest argument is uncovering the details of the phenomenon by understanding the real experiences and the factors that influence the personal journey of 69

the participant. Using interviews, journaling, and discussions helped to identify the factors that effected expectations. The documents along with the interview data were analyzed in an account of structural descriptions in order to make meaning to them. Ethical Consideration: Maintaining Confidentiality and Anonymity Permission from the cyberschool was obtained prior to the commencement of the study. IRB regulations and procedure concerning the use of human subjects was strictly adhered to. The study design incurred minimal potential risk to participants as the option to terminate their involvement at any time was given. In addition, the Web site being used for housing study data was password protected thus minimizing access from individuals not involved in the study. The Web page was administered by the primary researcher with technology support, when needed, provided by During the study, no technology support was needed. Furthermore, study participants were assigned an alias upon enrollment to protect anonymity from the Internet provider and from other participants. However, since quotations from document transcripts were used in data analysis and conclusions there was no full guarantee that absolute confidentiality or anonymity could be maintained. The names of the study participants were not used within this document as descriptive data was coded. Although the participants’ perspectives and experiences were described in detail using information obtained through interviews and journaling, an alias or pseudonym was used instead of number codes to articulate the personal nature and degree of humanness of the data collected.


Data Analysis Procedures In interpretive qualitative research a large amount of narrative data are initially collected. These data are then analyzed to see how many examples of a particular theme can be identified. The research moves from general statements based on specifics found in data to more concrete ideas. The researcher had access to the study Web site and examined completed documents to perform initial and subsequent data analysis. An iterative process was used where data collection and analysis were done simultaneously. The analysis led to further questions that were asked of participants during the exit interview. Three distinct stages to data analysis were used. The first stage, or the data gathering stage, began when data was gathered on the study Web site and subsequently, copied into data tables. During the second stage, the data sorting stage, data was examined and coded into themes and categories using a process outlined by Lewins and Silver (2007): Pass 1-find like words, sentences, phrases and create codes, Pass 2- review and revise codes in terms of similarities and differences, grouping codes or deleting codes, and Pass 3- finding relationships to the Four Pillars of online teaching (Berge, 1995). In the third stage, data analysis, a summative narration was completed to find meanings from the identified themes and sub-theme categories.

Once data was

collected the analysis transformed data through interpretation. Further analytical procedures included the 5-step inductive analysis process described by Hycner (1999). 1. Bracketing bias. The purpose of bracketing is to deliberately set aside personal views of the topic so these views do not influence how and what is learned (Merriam, 2002). This researcher had previously written in a private blog about her own personal experience when making the transition from traditional teaching to online teaching: 71

This has been my exact experience as I made the transition from a brick-and-mortar school to a cyberschool. With five years experience teaching in a traditional, brick-and-mortar classroom I did not feel that I lacked the necessary skills to begin teaching online. I was highly proficient in the use of technology. The classroom strategies I employed always included digital learning activities. I was a good planner and quite organized. Delivering instruction via a computer seemed like the perfect match for the way I enjoyed teaching. Within six months of being an online teacher, I was frustrated and felt that I was quite ineffective. How could I have gone from being a confident, experienced teacher to one who doubted my effectiveness in so short a time span? As I have further investigated my own experiences in relation to the explosion of cyber education, pedagogical frameworks, and online teaching strategies found in the literature, I have found ways to improve the characteristics and skills I need to represent in order to be a better online teacher. I have become very interested in identifying if my experiences are shared by other teachers who find themselves in the same situation. I am also curious to know if there are or could be proven characteristics, roles, and skills that an online teacher needs to embrace or even change from their traditional pedagogy when teaching in this new medium. (Faulkner-Beitzel, Personal blog, 2006) The researcher had to set aside personal views about making the same kind of transition the study participants described. Regardless of what the researcher thinks and feels about her own transformation, focusing on the lived experiences of those participating in the study as if the researcher has no experience with it at all was paramount. 2. Identifying units of meaning. The units of meaning are determined by reading and thinking about data and coding certain words, phrases, or segments from individual documents (Miles & Huberman, 1994). The constant comparative method was used to triangulate the data and identify emerging themes. Statements that helped the researcher to see the phenomenon of online teaching were coded (Lewins & Silver, 2007). Redundant codes were eliminated, and new codes were identified during subsequent data analysis. Clusters of units of meaning were grouped together to form categories. Word processing software was used for this process. 3. Clustering units of meaning into themes. Once all data were analyzed and units of meaning initially determined, data were organized into categories and then themes (Lewins & Silver, 2007) that corresponded to the Four Pillars of online teaching roles (Berge, 1995). The researcher identified critical elements of each category. Lastly key concepts or themes of the phenomenon were identified. 72

4. Summarizing and validating documents. A summary, or structural description, was done for each participants’ documents to incorporate all the themes into a narrative. To check for validity, the researcher returned to the participant and determined if the essence of data had been captured correctly. 5. Making a composite summary from all the themes found from the data. The researcher looked for themes that were common to most or all of the participants and wrote a composite summary of the integrated whole. A single, summative narration captured the themes and offered an explanation of the phenomenon. Validity and Reliability Using Lincoln and Guba’s (1985) criteria for judging a non-traditional research method, such as interpretive research, traditional terms validity and reliability are exchanged for credibility and dependability. The researcher examined data and described it in such a way that the focus remained on the online teaching experience and its meanings. When a check for accuracy was done credibility, or the trustworthiness, of data occurred. This happened by including triangulation of data sources, member-checking, using rich, thick descriptions to identify themes, using bracketing to identify researcher bias, and epoché to put away those biases during the research process. Dependability occurred when the researcher accurately described the changes that happened to the study participants within the context of the research. The researcher was able to find, define, and analyze the elements of online teaching. Data were then grouped into categories where repetitive or irrelevant data were removed, leaving only the textual meanings (Merriam, 2002) of online teaching. After describing the elements and the variation of possible meanings, the last step to ensure credible and dependable data was to synthesize the meanings and essences of the experiences into a summative whole. The researcher ensured credibility and dependability by maintaining the techniques outlined by Merriam 73

(2002), Lewis and Silver (2007), Miles and Huberman, (1994), and Hycner (1999) throughout the process of data analysis. Limitations of the Methodology This study found some data that were irrelevant to the purpose of the intended study. For example, the issue of quality of online instruction as it affected student outcomes was identified as well as other irrelevant information. It is important to note that this study did not address instructional effectiveness in online teaching. Alternatively, this study intended to understand the perceptions of teachers who have never taught online and how the experience of transition from traditional teaching to online teaching was described. Additionally, this study investigated one cyberschool in Pennsylvania using a distinct instructional model, thus the findings may not be generalizable to all cyber or virtual schools. The research study was designed to build upon the emerging body of knowledge. Thus, the findings of this study may support research found in current literature relating to effective teaching methods and strategies for post-secondary faculty that can inform best practices in the field of K-12 online teaching.



Introduction An interpretive research design provided the framework for this qualitative study. The purpose of this study was to examine and understand how high school teachers hired to work in a virtual school with no preparation in online education learn to teach online courses. The findings of the study are intended to provide recommendations for future teachers who make the same transition. The following research questions guided the study and the construction of the research instrument: 1. How do high school teachers in one cyber charter school perceive and describe their current online teaching experiences? 2. How do high schools teachers in one cyber charter school describe the transformation of adapting face-to-face teaching to online teaching? 3. What do high school teachers in one cyber charter school recognize as being the most important roles, characteristics, or skills necessary to affect a successful online teaching experience? In an effort to obtain experiences prior to the start of the study each participant was asked to write an essay of prior experiences in the school year that may have impacted how they learned to teach online courses. In addition to the interview, study participants took part in a Web-based discussion forum of journal articles that referenced certain aspects of K12 online teaching principles. The essay and discussion narratives are summarized and included in data findings. To articulate the personal nature and degree of humanness of 75

data collected, an alias was assigned to each participant and will be used instead of numbered codes. Description of the Sample An e-mail describing the research study was sent to all high school teachers at a cyber charter school in Pennsylvania. Thirty-seven potential participants were identified. Sixteen individuals initially consented to participate in the study, however after review of the study documents located on the study Web site, four individuals dropped out of the study. Thus 12 full-time high school teachers remained as study participants. The initial interviews took place during June 2008, using the Internet. The final interview took place during August 2008 and was attempted by telephone for all participants. However, all participants requested to complete exit interview questions again via the Internet study site. Pre-Interview Questions Prior to the Internet interview questions, the participants were asked the following demographic questions: 1. Are you male or female? 2. How old are you? 3. How many years of teaching experience do you have? 4. How many of the years above were in a traditional classroom and in an online classroom? 5. List your highest post-secondary degree. 6. If the degree is not in education, please explain how you are highly qualified to teach in the state of Pennsylvania. 76

Participant responses to the demographic questions are outlined in Figure 6.

Figure 6. Participant teaching experience. Study Participant Demographics There were an equal number of male and female participants falling within an age range of 24 to 40 years old. The participants teaching experience ranged from 1 year, a novice teacher, to 14 years. Of the total years teaching experience, most participants had only 3 years of online teaching experience, reporting that online teaching was relatively new for them. Four participants reported their first year of teaching post-education degree as an online teacher, meaning these participants had never taught in a traditional classroom setting except for their student teaching experience. Nine participants obtained at least a bachelor’s degree in either education or another course of study, whereas three participants had obtained a master’s degree in education. All participants are considered “highly qualified” in the state of Pennsylvania; meeting state education requirements to maintain a teaching certificate. 77

Description of Data Gathering Narrative data were analyzed to see how many examples of specific themes could be identified. In interpretive qualitative research, the analysis moves from general statements found in data to more concrete ideas. An iterative process was used, where data were both collected and analyzed simultaneously whereby the analysis led to further questions that were asked of participants during the exit interview. A project journal was kept where a sequential log of data collection and analysis events were documented to assist with organization of study components. The collection of data took place during three stages: (1) data gathering, (2) data examination and sorting, and (3) data analysis through summative narration. The stages occurred twice; once for the essay, initial interview and discussion data and then again once the exit interview was completed. Data Gathering Stage During the first collection of data gathering essay, initial interview, and discussion data were obtained from the study Web site, copied to individual participant Word documents, and saved to individual participant folders on the study computer. A folder, labeled “Data” was created within My Documents on the study designated computer. A file folder was then created for each study participant. The filename consisted of the study participant’s alias. Within this file, the data documents (essay of prior experience, initial interview, and discussion) were stored. Data files were kept on the study computer, which was password protected. The files were backed up daily to an external drive, which was kept in a locked storage box. During the second collection of data (exit interview), the same process was used. Thus all study data were downloaded


from the study Web site onto the study computer, saved in individual documents and folders, and protected for confidentiality, anonymity, and security. The data collection method was heavily influenced by LaPelle’s (2004) process outlined in Simplifying Qualitative Data Analysis Using General Purpose Software Tools. The use of word processing tools instead of specific qualitative data analysis software, such as NUD*IST or Atlas.ti, served this study admirably in analyzing text. Before transcription occurred, a table was built in Microsoft Word that would contain numeric codes and theme categories connected to data text. At this transcription stage, knowing the table template could be revised as the transcription process evolved a 4column table was created, as shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Example of Codebook


Level 2




Pedagogical role in online instruction allows the teacher to use his or her own insights to focus questioning and discussions on concepts, theories, and skills. 1.01


Understanding the nature of online schools 1.031

Delivering of content


Visual cues are lacking in online teaching K-12 online principles

The first three columns were reserved for theme codes and the fourth column was reserved for a brief explanation of the phenomena found. It was decided to not include 79

participant identification in the codebook, because all the participants were in the same role of online teacher from the same school. In order to preserve original data, each subsequent revision of the codebook was given a file name that corresponded to the date changes were made (yy/mm/dd): 080711_codebook. This configuration was used to allow for easy chronological sorting of files. In addition, the first, original document was given the filename with the word “original” included. This original document was locked so that data could not accidentally be changed. Data Examination and Sorting Stage During the data examination and sorting stage an inductive approach to data coding was used. The aim of coding is to understand the phenomena that data represents (Lewins & Silver, 2007). A 5-column table was created in Microsoft Word (see Table 2). Participant responses followed the interview question which was pasted into its own row. The responses to each interview question were copied from the original participant data file and pasted into a row of the codebook table. Each utterance was assigned a chronological sequential code number. The first column was labeled “Participant ID” and the alias was used as the identifier. The second column was used for the theme codes found (refer to Table 1). The third column indicated the research question number. The fourth column was the participant’s response or the interview question text. The last column was the sequential code. Once all the participant data were copied and pasted into the interview data table, the first pass of coding began. Again, to preserve original data, the original file was indicated in the file name, locked, and each subsequent pass of the data was saved using a chronological date filename: 080711_firstinterviewdata. This file


name process was used for each subsequent transcription and coding of all the other study documents.

Table 2. Data Table Excerpt from Interview Participant ID

Theme Code






What is it like to be a traditional teacher in a new context?





What is it like to be a traditional teacher in a new context?








Although I have never been in a traditional brick-and-mortar atmosphere, it is very different to teach in this atmosphere. In this type of setting, a teacher can struggle with defining what exactly their role is.




The table structure, as seen in Table 2, then acted as a database that was used to format data for analysis, modify codes when applicable, and sorted in a variety of ways; i.e. theme codes, sequence numbers, participants, etc. The data table was printed and then manually examined using multi-colored highlighters to differentiate main themes from each other. In the examination of interview data underlying meanings to the experience and patterns of attitudes were identified, sorted, and subsequently coded. The first pass through the data involved open coding (Lewins & Silver, 2007); finding like words, sentences, phrases within data and creating codes to make meaning of these key phrases. Key phrases related to the research questions were highlighted in different colors and assigned a code number. The second pass through the data involved 81

axial coding (Lewins & Silver, 2007); re-examining open codes in terms of similarity and difference linked to other data. Similar codes were grouped together, subdivided into more detail or merged into like categories. The third pass through of the data involved selective coding (Lewins & Silver, 2007); looking for themes or relationships in reference to the Four Pillars of online teaching (Berge, 1995). The data table excerpt in Figure 7 shows the extensive coding patterns identified during examination. A total of 22 groups of observations were identified during the third pass examination.

Figure 7. First pass coding.

During the data sorting stage, thematic groups were compared and the original 22 were collapsed into 15 key themes. An example of how each main category (level 1) was further collapsed into additional sub-levels of themes (levels 2 and 3) is shown in Figure 7. In an attempt to collapse data further, associations between themes were identified, resulting in four major categories with three sub-categories. This collapsing of data


occurred for each research question. The final illustration of the level of themes used to frame data analysis of study documents is shown in Figure 8.

Figure 8. Thematic framework. Data Analysis in the Summative Narration Stage Shown in Table 3, data analysis identified two primary themes and five secondary themes for Research Question 1, how do high school teachers in one cyber charter school perceive and describe their current online teaching experiences. For Research Question 2, how do high schools teachers in one cyber charter school describe the transformation of adapting face-to-face teaching to online teaching, two primary themes, four secondary themes, and one tertiary them was identified. Research Question 3, what do high school teachers in one cyber charter school recognize as being the most important roles, characteristics, or skills necessary to affect a successful online teaching experience framed three primary themes and two secondary themes. 83

Table 3. Recurring Themes from Data Research Question 1 Theme Code 1.0


Primary Themes Describing the traditional teacher in a new context

Identifying online teacher characteristics

Theme Code

Secondary Themes


Understanding the nature of online schools


Using traditional teaching methods in online teaching


K-12 online principles frequently change


Personal engagement


Drive, dedication, determination, detailoriented


Pedagogical role

Theme Code

Tertiary Themes


New skills needed

Research Question 2 2.0

The transformation


Describing how teaching changed


Social role


Managerial role


Technical role


Felt prepared


Did not feel prepared

Research Question 3 3.0

Preparedness to teach online


Additional training needed


Overall feelings of transformation

To retain the structure of narrative data instead of comparing themes across files, essay and discussion data were not coded in the same fashion as the interview data. Instead the 84

essay and discussion data were examined to find theme similarities within contextual passages and not key words or phrases. Data from these two instruments are reported as narratives where they apply to the themes, recognizing the overall feelings of the study participant’s transformation. Description of the Research Findings Most of the participants’ responses centered on the idea that they were delivering content in ways much different than they were used to teaching. Several themes emerged which are shown in Table 3 and discussed in the following sections. Research Question 1: The Traditional Teacher in a New Context In this section participants were asked interview questions and used reflective journaling and online discussions to answer Research Question 1 about how they perceived and described their current online teaching experiences. Participants identified that teaching online was very different than teaching in a traditional classroom, where interaction with students takes place face to face. Many advantages and disadvantages were described through the teacher’s experiences. Understanding the Nature of Online Schools Most of the participants stressed that until they understood the nature of online schools they felt frustrated in their teaching methods. Ned stated, “It is very different to teach in this atmosphere.” Although the participants identified the difficulty in transitioning from a traditional to an online teaching pedagogy, Ron said that “this environment gave me time to naturally assimilate into a new work environment.” The very nature of online schools, where there are fewer disruptions and less distractions 85

affords the teacher time necessary to perfect his or her craft. Even though time was considered a luxury, many teachers still struggled in finding their online teaching role as evidenced by Stephanie’s comment that “in this type of setting, a teacher can struggle with defining what exactly their role is.” As an online teacher, who were they? How did they interact with their students? How did they teach where delivering content was based on technology and not the human factor? Role change. Participants overwhelming talked about how their role was different than either what they had been taught in teacher education programs or learned in prior practice. They expressed their feelings during this transformation. For example, David said it was “exciting and scary” while Jane felt overwhelmed because not only was the teaching context new but so was “the new subject, new curriculum, and a totally different structure of management.” Communication change. Communication techniques are also different in an online setting. Stephanie expressed her feelings about not “feeling like a teacher” because she rarely heard from her students or she had a “challenging time communicating a topic virtually.” Rebecca found that in order for her students to understand she had to “break down information in a logical manner.” Benefits. Although the online environment presented challenges it also provided benefits not found in a traditional school setting. Napoleon welcomed the “flex time,” Adam was happy to “not deal with the discipline issues,” and Sarah felt that “cyber education promised focused instruction.” Lack of contact. However with these benefits came drawbacks and what the teachers missed most was the social interaction with their students. Jane stated that “in a 86

brick-and-mortar class I depended on looks on students’ faces and their questions about homework to determine learning and understanding.” Nicole also commented “Honestly, I miss the kids. Even if my kids get an A in my cyber class, I cannot really tell if they will learn and remember. I really miss doing hands-on stuff and being in the classroom.” Motivation. Not only missing the social contact, the teachers also recognized that a lack of social interaction disadvantaged them in how they motivated their students. Adam said that “not having that personal interaction with the students makes it much more difficult to keep them motivated and makes it harder to get a feel for what they do not know.” Changing environment. Lastly, teachers expressed views about the ever-changing learning environment and how constant change impacted their transformation. Sarah expressed this transformation best when she explained how her teaching had changed over three years of teaching online. Feedback from students my first year of teaching was a big first step in realizing that I needed to change the way I assumed instruction could be delivered. Adhering to state standards in my second year, which was previously not a priority, meant another revision of sorts with my lessons, although not a major shift. Lastly, the curriculum practices that have been implemented my third year meant taking a different look at the way I taught with respect to fitting in what I had to incorporate to make the state happy and what I would like to cover. Adam also felt that his “teaching is constantly being transformed by every success and failure that I experience.” Even though the learning environment had changed, many teachers felt that they could still utilize traditional teaching methods.


Traditional Teaching Methods in Online Teaching David expressed that “I teach my online course in the same manner as if I was in front of the class – they get the same teacher regardless.” However, Ned, who had never taught in a traditional classroom, still felt that “all aspects of traditional teaching methods need to be modified to teach an online course. Technology takes over when teaching online.” Using technology. Instruction is delivered using the Internet as the conduit from teacher to student. Teachers overwhelmingly felt that technology proficiency was tantamount to a successful online teaching experience. However, most teachers also communicated that a teacher does not have to be proficient before starting the online teaching job. Actually learning on the job and finding new mediums to use with instructional delivery makes an easier transformation. Kelly reiterated that “lessons must be content rich and explanatory to provide the instruction that was primarily verbal in the traditional realm.” New skills. One participant expressed that the teacher education program she attended did not provide any form of method instruction about how to teach online. Rebecca was quite clear about how her transformation hit a road block when she said It is frustrating because I came here and thought I had acquired the skills to be an effective teacher in my undergraduate courses, and I came to this school, and had to completely adapt the way I was taught to teach. Adapting traditional teaching methods to the online setting happens through acquisition and practicing of new skills. There are many new skills an online teacher must learn, and three that were identified by participants involved personalizing instruction, increasing interactivity, and providing extensive, written feedback. Ron holds 88

class discussions in chat sessions and uses forums to simulate a class discussion. He says that he is “able to meet with more kids individually and discuss their writing. I didn’t have much time to do this in the traditional setting.” Shawn uses audio and video presentations that to him “at least offer a face on one side” of the computer. Jane has gone one step further and created an avatar, a graphical representation of a person, and given it the name of Coach. “Coach is in my PowerPoint presentations and helps to remind students of content connections. Students can click on the Coach avatar and hear an audio presentation of supplemental information.” Online teachers recognize that providing feedback to students is the most effective way to increase participation. However, a quick note on a paper does not suffice. “Early on I learned to give feedback that would walk the students through their mistakes so they could learn from them” stated Jane. Stephanie felt that the cyber setting allows her the time to “provide extensive and thorough feedback on student work.” Not only having to learn how to adapt skills and methods to Web-based instruction, teachers also need to understand and utilize principles of online teaching. Changing K-12 Online Principles Several teachers that participated in the study wrote about a school-wide focus on instructional design principles and how using effective course design can improve student outcomes. Themes generated from data included using instructional design principles, synchronous instruction, and adding supplemental resources to curriculum. Making changes to how a course is structured and viewed on the Web page “changes the way in which I present information to my students. Integrating instructional design into my delivery helps students get it”, stated Rebecca. Sarah heard from her students that 89

incorporating synchronous instruction made a difference. She said, “I didn’t realize how much of an impact being face to face with the student made until I heard it from them repeatedly.” Sarah went on to say that when she could not hold a synchronous lesson she would always “include extra resources that might make up for the fact that I can’t be there to show step-by-step problem solving.” NACOL (2007a) has provided online teaching professionals with national standards and principles, however a teacher’s passion is what motivates him or her to excel within the learning environment. Personal Engagement and Passion I will say that in a cyber environment, roles change rapidly, from year to year. The structural paradigm shifted dramatically in my second year, and again in my third. One must be prepared to adapt accordingly. The environment is so new, one cannot expect status quo, for better or for worse. Expect and embrace change! (Kelly, essay data) Nothing can compare to the passion of a teacher. When a teacher is personally engaged in the process of teaching the sky seems to be the limit. Knowing that online education is a new way of delivering content, teachers who chose to teach in this environment understand the medium is changing and growing at phenomenal rates. The majority of study participants found that this environment of change invigorates them, both professionally and personally. My experience this year has been enlightening as a first-year cyber teacher. My colleagues and department head have been very helpful in giving me a framework for understanding the current trends in teaching in the cyber environment. However, what I have enjoyed the most about my transition is the fact that so much of this new terrain of online teaching is uncharted. I love creating and devising new methods of doing things that will ultimately meet my students right where they are. (Ron, essay data)


Participants, through interview and essay data, identified new teacher characteristics that are important for online teachers to embrace within their teaching pedagogy. This theme strand corresponds to both Research Questions 1 and 3. However, its importance is better discussed within the description of the traditional teacher in a new context. Online Teacher Characteristics Participants had the opportunity to identify teacher characteristics that they felt are essential for transformation into an online teacher. The first characteristic involves a drive to teach, to be passionate about your subject and students, and to stay motivated and dedicated. The characteristic which is most important for an online educator to possess is dedication. I encountered many teachers who did not have the Internet or tech savvy nature of many other teachers. However, they were more effective teachers, as they showed their dedication to teaching in many other ways. If a teacher is dedicated, he or she will eventually grasp the technology through hard work, and will be able to reach his or her students in a variety of ways. (Rebecca, interview data) Most participants felt that if a teacher who chooses to teach online is not passionate about the medium of delivery and how it can work to a student’s advantage then the teacher will become frustrated and disillusioned about online education. Reiterated by Nicole, “teaching online requires motivation to reach those students who have not succeeded or thrived in a brick-and-mortar classroom.” The second characteristic identified was determination, where the teacher believes in online teaching and is confident in the methods used. I feel that one of the greatest skills needed to teach online is determination. The majority of students attending online schools come from a very specific set of circumstances. These students can often be difficult to reach both socially and 91

academically. Teachers in an online atmosphere have to be determined to reach each student, and to make a personal connection despite having little to no personal contact. (Ned, interview data) Nicole says that you have to be “confident enough to really show yourself and who you are.” There are many aspects to the managerial role of an online teacher and being detail-oriented and organized is the third essential characteristic to have. Nicole thinks that “Organization is probably one of the top skills needed by cyber teachers. You absolutely need to keep on top of grading, creating lessons, and connecting with your students.” The fourth characteristic is creatively seeking sources or designing your own. David states, “I tried every trick I could think of to make the subject interesting, fun and relevant.” Jane went a step further and completed a course on the creation of virtual field trips. “I figure if I can’t find the activities I need, then I need to learn how to make them myself.” The fifth characteristic identified by participants is a willingness to collaborate with peers. The teachers in this study work in a cyberschool that requires them to work from an office not their homes. As Ned says, “Much of my influence in online teaching has come from collaborating with my fellow colleagues. I have learned a lot from seeing what other teachers are doing, and using those same strategies in my own classes.” Online teachers would not be able to build collegiality as easily if they worked in isolation. Bringing teachers together affords them many opportunities to work together and learn from each other. Stephanie, as a new teacher, was assigned a mentor, “but found asking those sitting closest to me or who taught the same subject” was more helpful than having conversations with her mentor. Another benefit of collaboration 92

identified by study participants is the ability to design interdisciplinary lessons, to teamteach or evaluate instructional strategies. One thing that did help my teaching was working with the other teachers in my subject. We divided up the lessons, enabling us to have more time to create better quality work, as well as to have more time to work with students. This kind of collaboration really helped all three of us evaluate that time necessary for student practice and acquisition, and reevaluate more quickly how students are doing and what changes, if any, should be made. (Jane, interview data) The last characteristic identified is the ability to accept that online teaching is a changing environment and to be flexible. The ability to accept change refers to the nature of cyber learning, especially at (our school). Each year is different and teachers don't necessarily know what to expect. I think that if I can focus on getting the content to the students I'll be fine through the changing technology and/or policies. This also goes hand in hand with "new" schools and organizations. Through all of the change it's important for teachers to concentrate on the student and not all of the peripheral "happenings" in cyber learning. (Shawn, interview data)

Research Question 2: Describing Teacher Transition/Transformation Through the use of Research Question 2, themes were found that correlated to how a teacher described how teaching changed or was transformed. Data themes found in this section correspond to the Four Pillars of online teaching roles identified by Berge (1995). Participants explored roles in pedagogy, social, managerial, and technology as well as identified new skills needed in order to make a successful transition. When participants described their experiences in transforming to online teacher they discussed how prior experience helped ease the transition. A few participants felt that their technology proficiency certainly helped them make a transition from face-toface teaching to delivering content solely through a Web-based environment. Napoleon 93

said that “being somewhat computer savvy has enabled me to be successful and learn in this environment.” Rebecca, however, felt ill-prepared to use technology and thus had a harder transition. She said “I did not have the technology skills or any experience with instructional design. I was floundering and trying to find my own way.” Adam “felt that the transition was what I expected. It took some time getting used to the specific technology, but otherwise was not difficult.” Sarah made the observation that she felt her transformation was easier because she had no prior traditional teaching experience. I’m confident that I’ve become a better teacher. Since the online teaching was such a new concept, relatively speaking, when I first started, I think I grew as a teacher and educator since starting. The transition wasn’t too extreme especially since I had such limited time in a traditional setting anyway. There were other teachers who felt that the transformation experience was overwhelming and challenging. I feel that it can be a very overwhelming experience. At our school there was a 12 week training session for new teachers that were very informative. However, when you went back to your cubicle and found yourself sitting in front of the computer one could be at a loss where to begin. (Stephanie, discussion data) I feel that it has been very challenging to teach in an online setting. Challenges I have faced have been the lack of student participation and involvement, the instability of the school’s software/resources, and being stationary for the majority of the work day. (Napoleon, discussion data)

However, Rebecca felt that the transition was quite difficult, and has subsequently returned to the traditional classroom. It has been a difficult transition for me- I am a very hands-on, verbal person, and teaching online has been a struggle for me in that I do not interact with my students as much as I would in the brick-and-mortar classroom. I do feel those professional development sessions, coaching from experienced teachers and my 94

own drive to learn how to be an effective online educator has helped me transition. Describing How Teaching Changed In describing how teaching had changed for the participants many identified themes that significantly corresponded to the Four Pillars of online teaching outlined by Berge (1995). In this section data findings are directly related to the pedagogical role, social role, managerial role, and the technology role of the online teacher. Pedagogical role. The pedagogical role in online instruction allows the teacher to use personal insights to focus on concepts, theories, and skills. The roles identified by the participants included communicator, motivator, and collaborator. Some participants expressed they were struggling to understand the pedagogical role. A not so surprising finding was that no participant identified the facilitator role within his or her pedagogy. It seems that the role of facilitator is more significant in post-secondary distance education settings than it is for high school teachers. The teachers within this study do not feel they are facilitating instruction, but are actually “teaching” instruction. Rebecca made it clear when she said I am the teacher. I design my own content that I put in my Web course. I hold synchronous chats where that content is discussed and questions are answered. I create assessments that reflect the student’s mastery of the content. I am in no way a facilitator.

Most of the teachers defined a facilitator as someone who monitors a course designed through an outside agency. A clear distinction was made through emerging data that, according to study participants, a facilitator is not a “teacher.”


In the role of communicator, most participants felt that this role was clearly defined. Teaching in an online environment means that communication is static and thus needs to be quite clear. The message cannot be misconstrued or misperceived. Thus, the importance of developing skills that convey a heart-felt message in words that lack any visual cueing is needed. Stephanie wrote that “teachers should understand how to effectively communicate with parents and students over the Internet and on the phone.” Rebecca concurred, “Teachers need to be great communicators. Online communication is essential.” The motivator role plays an important part in not only online teaching, but also in developing relationships within the school, with parents and students, and with the school community. Thus the motivator also impacts the social role. Teaching online requires motivation to “reach those students who have not succeeded in a brick-and-mortar classroom” (Rebecca). When in the collaborator role Jane says “it is good to be able to go to those more experienced to get help, as well as to help those who are less experienced.” Social role. The social role in online instruction allows the teacher to create a friendly, social, and trusting environment. The goal is to enhance the interaction within the learning community. The most frustrating role of the online teacher as identified by study participants lies within the social role. Teachers find it quite difficult to develop relationships with students and parents. As Nicole voiced, “I know there are kids who go to this school that I could make a difference for, but when they do not answer my e-mails or phone calls, what am I to do?” She goes on to state that, “in my office hours I try to get to know the kids instead of just talking about my course all the time.” Kelly found it hard to develop rapport in a virtual environment, “you can find ways to do it online, but 96

students must meet you half way.” However, most participants found that creating collegial relationships was not difficult. Stephanie took advantage of the proximity of her peers. This type of environment is very conducive to collaboration and I have been fortunate enough to take advantage of this. I have spent a great deal of time walking over to a colleague and asking them, “How do you do ...?” I also have taken on the mission of learning and tweaking things on my own.

Managerial role. The managerial role in online instruction sets the agenda, and completes organizational, procedural, and administrative tasks. Sometimes the managerial role is superseded by the implementation of programs dictated by both federal and state governments, as well as local administration, such as the school board or school administrators. Such was the case with the study participants. Using data from journals of prior experience, participants told this story. At the beginning of the school year a new learning management system was suddenly approved and teachers had to scramble during the first two weeks of school to change over lessons from one format to another with little training and direction. This also meant that students had to learn a new learning management system as well. The steep learning curve caused many students to withdraw from the school. School administration made a decision to not enact consequences for late work, because students and parents were expressing displeasure over this change. This decision thus meant that many students procrastinated until the last few days of the course each semester to turn in work. Thus, teachers became significantly overwhelmed in grading assessments and communicating with students. How one decision led to other consequences is explained in Jane’s essay about how she felt frustrated about communicating with students. 97

Some aspects of the transition were certainly easier than others…The most difficult is how to work with the students in a system that doesn’t work. In brick and mortar I could have students come to me in study hall, but in cyber I had the hardest time getting responses via IM or e-mail. Often messages left on answering machines went unanswered. The only advice I was given was to keep calling and keep documenting.

The lack of training theme was carried throughout several teachers’ essays. Stephanie described how “the teachers were given very little instruction on how to actually use this [the learning management system] and instead received ‘crash courses’ on how to set up your course in a basic format.” Study participants did discuss issues of pacing, setting objectives, making and enforcing rules, and the idea of being flexible throughout data on managerial roles. Courses at the study school are designed with a three week window, meaning that a lesson is posted and three weeks later it is due. According to Ron, “this allows the student to proceed through the lessons at his own pace.” However the disadvantage is identified by Kelly, in that there is no time to change or revise strategies to meet the needs of the students. Students are all working at individual paces and thus, when you find that something isn’t working, or students are confused it cannot be changed on the fly. In a traditional classroom, a teacher can gauge on the spot when students are not getting it. I can’t do that in my online course. Instead, Sarah says “it is about anticipating what they might have problems with ahead of time and providing a resource they can use to answer it on their own.” All study participants agreed that one of the greatest benefits to teaching online is the lack of behavioral management issues that cause downtime and disruption in a traditional classroom. Thus, when students sit down at their computers, the entire time spent is on instruction. Adam said that “not having to deal with discipline issues is 98

definitely a welcomed change.” Sarah stated that she could “focus on instruction.” Ron was exuberant in his response. I can actually teach! I can create lessons, awesome lessons, with all the power and resources of the Internet at my fingertips. I can also expect that every student in my class will actually have the opportunity to complete that lesson. No more interrupting telephone calls from the office. No fire drills. No assemblies. No writing referrals for the kid who always wants to disrupt. No lollygagging in the hallway. Nobody is interrupting my teaching time. The whole idea is empowering to me as a teacher. It’s like I can shut the classroom door and lock the kids in. I now have the ability to be as creative as I can be, striving to make lessons that are fun, engaging, and that teach the concept. What better place could I be? Technical role. The technical role in online instruction allows the teacher to become proficient within the Web-based learning environment. Online teachers need to master the medium. Study participants identified that the process of mastering the medium involved learning through trial and error, that experience increases with practice, and many opportunities were lost for additional training. Napoleon said that, “jumping into the platform and truly learning/picking up skills as I go” worked for him. However, Stephanie felt that her “teaching style has emerged after a great deal of trial and error.” Nicole was quite emphatic that the lack of training really affected her ability to transform. Basically, the first year was akin to treading water without a life jacket. You do what you can to try not to drown. Looking back, I would have to say I was disappointed in our “teacher training”. I have the fortune of being a quick study, so I did not do so badly. This year, I have seen the effects of this school on new teachers. I can say with conviction that there is really no training to BE a cyber teacher and our school is unsupportive as far as developing those skills. New Skills Needed and Their Acquisition In order to meet the needs of the roles identified, online teachers need new skills. New skills were identified through interview, essay, and discussion data (see Figure 9). Participants talked about how those skills were acquired. 99

Figure 9. Identification of skills needed for online teaching.

Participants also indicated that flexibility, although identified as a characteristic, can also be an acquired skill. Adam sums this theme up when he says, “When things work well, you try to replicate them. When things don’t work well, you try to modify them. When things don’t work at all, you abandon them.” Eight participants identified trial and error as how they learned new skills. Ned said, “The skills acquired to teach online have come strictly from the experience of teaching. Trial and error has played a large role in getting me to where I am today.” Ron explained that his “transition to cyberschool was on the job training.” He looked at other online courses and gradually found sources that met his teaching style. Sarah though made it clear that along with learning on the job a teacher should possess “an innate sense of curiosity to try new strategies and explore on your own.” Professional development sessions were established during the school year and were created by teachers for teachers. Only Rebecca identified that she took advantage of these online tutorials. Four 100

participants noted that they acquired new skills by watching or asking their peers. Sarah explained that she learned new ways of teaching by “seeing what other teachers are doing.” Three participants identified that prior experience was helpful in perfecting skills. Napoleon summed it up this way: The skills I acquired to teach online have been technical/computer skills I have accumulated throughout the years, lesson planning techniques I learned in college, and real classroom experience I have gained at previous schools. Computer skills are essential in an online environment where the majority of your day is spent composing then posting lessons, responding and posting messages, grading, all while sitting in front of a computer screen for eight hours daily. The classroom experience I gained has enabled me to be a better prepared teacher in a challenging online environment.

Research Question 3: Preparedness to Teach Research Question 3 focused on the roles, skills, and characteristics needed for an effective transformation to online teacher. Many of these have been previously identified and described. However, the discussion cannot be complete without also knowing how prepared or not prepared the study participants felt during their transformation. Being prepared, along with the findings about further training needed were examined in data. Although most teachers felt prepared to teach online, three participants made it clear that they did not feel prepared and described their experiences: I have to say that I did not feel prepared when I began teaching online. The fact that I was a new teacher definitely contributed to this, but I also felt much removed from the idea of teaching students online. As I was beginning to imagine how I was going to actually implement the instructional strategies that I had learned I was suddenly faced with the concept of conveying my thoughts in an online arena. I'm not sure if online instructional practices have been completely mastered yet, and I truly feel that comfort comes from experience. I do not feel that much of my preparation has prepared me to teach online. Teaching online is a completely different animal then brick and mortar. The fact that I can say this without ever being a true brick-and-mortar teacher leads me to believe that this may be more truthful then I even realize. (Ned, interview data) 101

I did not feel prepared at all; Certainly not through my credentials and teacher certification at university, and definitely not by the orientation here at school. Really, it seemed everyone was floundering and trying to find their own way. (Nicole, interview data) I did have some experience working with instructional technology; however, I did not know how to teach solely using the Internet as my only medium for delivery. I did not have any training on layout, or instructional design, so in that aspect, I felt unprepared. I felt very unprepared when I first began teaching. I learned through watching others and asking many questions when I was uncertain of something. (Rebecca, interview data)

Teachers Experience a Lack of Preparedness Regardless of how many years spent in online teaching, the majority of study participants felt strongly that their school was not doing enough to prepare them to teach online and to assist them in learning new skills. Especially during the studied school year (2007-2008), when the learning management system was abruptly changed, the participants felt that the administration’s oversight in not preparing for that event hurt their ability to be as effective instructing their students as they could be. David said I don’t mind figuring things out for myself, but I still could have used a little more guidance in how to do this cyber-school thing. I know that others who do not appreciate the “learning on the run” method have felt even more clueless starting out than I did. Nine participants felt they were prepared to teach online. They cited foundation in pedagogy, content knowledge, and technical proficiency as the reasons. Adam, Napoleon, and Ron felt their prior teaching experience prepared them to teach online. Kelly, Shawn, and Stephanie felt they were prepared to teach online because they had a good foundation in pedagogy and content knowledge. Stephanie stated


I feel that although teaching online brings with it many new aspects of teaching, the same fundamentals principles apply. I feel that I was well-prepared in my undergraduate experience to effectively create and implement objectives, skills, and standards. Although I am teaching online, I still strive to meet the needs of all of my students and incorporate diverse resources.

Jane and Sarah felt that certain teaching strategies learned and modified for online teaching helped them be better prepared. David felt his technology proficiency prepared him to teach online. Even those teachers who felt prepared also identified areas where he or she would like to improve. Additional training needed. Five areas were identified by study participants where further training was requested: 1. Current Web-based products and resources. Ned wanted “online education sources so that my classes can maintain effectiveness.” Kelly wanted access to “more interactive learning media.” 2. Up-to-date technology resources. Kelly also wished for “advanced technology courses, such as video production” and Jane echoed that wish in her desire to learn how to create applets. Stephanie felt that although most teachers feel proficient in using technology in about three months of being on the job, she would like to see “teachers learning more about effectively using technology in the educational setting.” 3. Instructional design principles. The study participants focused on instructional design principles in the last half of their school year as part of a school-wide initiative to create more structure within courses. However, several still identified that they could benefit from more training in this teaching strategy. 4. Online teaching principles. NACOL (2007a) online teaching standards were introduced to teachers at the study cyberschool and study participants still had questions about how best to include these standards within their instruction. Several participants asked for information and training in “online best practice and theory.” 5. Content knowledge. Only a few participants felt they needed additional training in their content area. Sarah wanted to “explore my subject more” and could benefit from observing how other teachers teach the same content in an online setting. 103

Summary A purposive sample of 12 online high school teachers provided data for this interpretive qualitative research study. All participants were employed by a cyber charter school in the state of Pennsylvania. In addition, each teacher also taught courses through a Web-based learning management system, created the content that he or she taught, and expressed a willingness to participate. Participants had teaching experience ranging from 1 to 14 years and only up to three of those years in an online school. Guided interview questions, essay of prior experience, and discussion of K-12 online teaching principles were used to investigate the real experiences the online high school teachers had while transforming from traditional educators to online teachers. The intent was to provide recommendations for future online teaching professionals as they make the same transition. Two primary thematic categories with five categories emerged during data analysis (see Table 3). To report the findings of Research Question 1, how do high school teachers in one cyber charter school perceive and describe their current online teaching experiences, the following categories and sub-categories were used: 1. The traditional teacher in a new context included secondary themes about understanding the nature of online schools, using traditional methods in online teaching, K-12 online principles change frequently, and personal engagement increases effectiveness. 2. Online characteristics included a secondary theme that outlined drive, dedication, determination, and detail-oriented as important factors in teacher success. Participants reiterated that teaching online was quite different then their traditional teaching experiences. Some areas of difference identified were, traditional 104

teaching methods needed modification, technology had to be understood and used in such ways to promote student interest, and new skills had to be mastered to provide effective instruction. Understanding the nature of online schools, the culture and environment, afforded the teachers the time needed to assimilate more effectively. The culture of teaching online includes learning to teach in a more static environment. This means principles of online instruction, such as instructional design and synchronous instruction are incorporated into lesson planning and delivery. The learning environment, interacting and communicating with students virtually, had both advantages and disadvantages. When an interaction actually took place the experience was positive for both teacher and student. However, getting an interaction proved frustrating for the teachers because many students were just not available, even though a variety of communication strategies and techniques were employed. Lastly, participants identified that new skills needed to be learned and teaching characteristics developed, in order to teach more effectively in the online setting. To report the findings of Research Question 2, how do high school teachers in one cyber charter school describe the transformation of adapting face-to-face teaching to online teaching, the following two primary thematic categories, four secondary categories, and one tertiary category were used: 1. The transformation identified how teachers felt during their transition process. 2. Teachers described how their teaching changed through the Four Pillars of online teaching. Within the pedagogical role, further issues were examined through the identification of new skills needed to effect a successful transition. Teachers in the study identified that prior experience helped them make an easier transition to online teaching. Those with more computer experience seemed more able to 105

quickly transform their teaching methods to accommodate the online student then those with less computer experience. However, several participants also felt that their lack of teaching experience, with the online teaching position being their first teaching job, gave them the advantage. With the first year teacher, methods and strategies had not been fully cemented into their own pedagogy and as such their transformation did not require a revision or modification of methods. All study participants expressed that the role of teacher changed in an online setting. Teachers felt a clear understanding of their roles in regards to social, management, and technology aspects, but struggled with the ideas of online pedagogy. Lastly, all participants identified new skills needed in order to teach online. How teachers obtained these skills was mostly through trial and error, but the teachers wished for more structured learning experiences supported through professional development. To report the findings of Research Question 3, what do high school teachers in one cyber charter school recognize as being the most important roles, characteristics, or skills necessary to affect a successful online teaching experience, the following three primary thematic categories and two secondary categories were used: 1. Preparedness to teach online where teachers either felt prepared or not. 2. Additional training needs were identified. 3. Overall feelings of transformation were elaborated and explained. The analysis of data revealed that online high school teachers who made the transition from traditional teaching to online teaching generally felt prepared for the transition. Furthermore, through their experiences the teachers gained the skills needed to teach an online course either through prior experience, on-the-job learning, or through 106

collaborative processes with their peers. Overwhelmingly, the teachers felt the cyberschool in which they were employed fell short in providing them the additional training and ongoing professional development needed to maintain and improve the skills learned through trial and error. The participants also identified changes in their teaching role which corresponded to the Four Pillars of online teaching (Berge, 1995): pedagogical, managerial, social, and technical roles. Participants also cited communication, motivation, and collaboration as key factors in effective online teaching. Lastly, although technology proficiency could be a factor in the ease of transition, most participants identified that by about three months they felt proficient enough to no longer be frustrated in managing their online course. An analysis and interpretation of the research findings is presented in Chapter 5. Included are a summary of the research study, conclusions as they relate to the theoretical frameworks, and recommendations for future research.



Introduction Chapter 5 summarizes the study and presents an interpretation and analysis of the findings at they relate to the research questions. The findings are discussed in relation to the conceptual framework as applied to the theoretical foundation of the study. Finally, the implications for online high school teachers are discussed and recommendations for future research are presented. Summary of the Study The growth of public cyberschools over the past decade indicates the popularity of online learning. Along with student migration from brick and mortar, teachers are also moving from brick-and-mortar classrooms to a virtual one. However, teachers are making the move without further training on what it means to be an online teacher. Furthermore, cyberschools may not be offering the most effective professional development to the transitioning teacher and thus teachers are learning to teach online while performing the duties of teaching. This form of “on the job” training has accounted for an increase of frustration on the part of the new online teacher. The introduction of online instruction has resulted in changes to the role and responsibilities of the teacher. Online teachers are challenged to make a pedagogical transformation to their teaching style without benefit of formalized training. Many 108

teachers are finding the transition to online teaching a difficult experience, as they feel unprepared to teach in this new learning environment. This research study investigated the experiences of high school online teachers who made the transition from a traditional classroom model to the online classroom. The study sought to identify how teachers learn to teach in the online environment, what works and what does not, and what changes to teaching practice are essential to ease the transformation. As such, the findings of the study could provide valuable insight to future teachers who are making the same transition as to the preparation needed, support warranted, and resources available. A review of the literature examined the historical rise in popularity of K-12 online schools (Clark, 2001; Picciano & Seaman, 2007; Smith et al., 2005; Watson, 2005, 2006, 2007b) and how online education at the post-secondary level impacted the application of online learning principles to the cyber high school (Cavanaugh et al., 2004; Davis & Rose, 2007). Study findings revealed that teachers felt online learning is an effective medium for high school students, but that their transition to teach in this new medium was hampered by a lack of additional training in new roles and responsibilities. This finding is supported through the literature (Lowes, 2008; Russell, 2004) in that the extent teacher education and professional development programs can support the novice high school online teacher has not been researched. The literature also indicated that teachers making the transition to teach online from a brick-and-mortar classroom are unsure about the challenges this new medium can create (Cowham & Duggleby, 2005; Heuer & King, 2004) and can find themselves in a dissonant perspective (Hoagland et al., 2004; Sockman & Sharma, 2007; Yang & Cornelius, 2005). Not only does the online teacher have to adjust levels of technology proficiency (Hinson & LaPrairie, 2005; Rice & 109

Dawley, 2007; Wood, 2005), there are new pedagogical, managerial, and social roles (Berge, 1995; Bennett & Lockyer, 2004; Gibbons & Wentworth, 2001; Jaffee, 2003) that they must master as well. The literature review also identified how the adult learning theory of transformational learning (King, 2004; Mezirow, 1978) could be used to make meaning of the transition process that each new online teacher experiences. The research study was guided by the following research questions: 1. How do high school teachers in one cyber charter school perceive and describe their current online teaching experiences? 2. How do high schools teachers in one cyber charter school describe the transformation of adapting face-to-face teaching to online teaching? 3. What do high school teachers in one cyber charter school recognize as being the most important roles, characteristics, or skills necessary to affect a successful online teaching experience?

An interpretive research design provided the framework for this qualitative study. The research was conducted with a purposive sampling of 12 online high school teachers from one cyber charter school in Pennsylvania. The guided interview instrument consisted of 12 open-ended questions and was used during the initial Internet interview with participants. Prior to the interview demographic information of gender, age, and teaching experience was solicited. Participants were also asked to journal about experience prior to the beginning of the study and to reflect on how those experiences may have impacted their transformation. In addition, participants took part in a Webbased discussion that referenced K-12 online teaching principles. Lastly, an exit interview was conducted to ascertain any further identification of experiences that may have affected a successful transition. 110

Discussion The purpose of the research study was to understand how high school teachers learned to teach online without the benefit of additional preparation to do so, with the intent to provide some form of best practices for future teachers who choose to make the same transition. The findings of the study support the current post-secondary distance education literature related to the differing roles (Berge, 1995) and responsibilities an online teacher encounters, with one exception. Teachers within this study explicitly identified their role as a teacher and not a facilitator (Conrad, 2004). Examining this distinction further could build upon the emerging body of knowledge related to K-12 online teaching and learning that is separate from higher education. The findings of the study also support the need identified in literature (Kosak et al., 2004; McKenzie et al., 2000; Torrisi & Davis, 2000) that through the transition process from traditional teaching to online teacher, further training in online pedagogy, to include instructional strategies as well as improved technological skill building, is a necessity if cyberschools want to employ a qualified, highly skilled faculty. Research Question 1: The Traditional Teacher in a New Context The question: How do high school teachers in one cyber charter school perceive and describe their current online teaching experiences? Data related to Research Question 1 were reported specifically from questions 1-3 from the interview and discussion questions 1 and 3. 1. What is it like to be a teacher in a new context? 2. Describe the experiences that may have transformed your teaching. 111

3. How did these experiences change the way your teaching occurred? Discussion 1: After reading The Virtual Revolution: Understanding Online Schools (Greenway & Vanourek, 2006), what prompted you to apply to teach in an online school and do you think your teaching has been effective? Discussion 3: After reading Essential Principles of High Quality Online Teaching: Guidelines for Evaluating K-12 Online Teacher (SREB, 2003), how does your teaching rate according to the principles outlined in the article? What is it Like to be a Teacher in a New Context? Findings indicate that online teachers feel online teaching is vastly different than teaching in a brick-and-mortar setting. The opinions of the teachers concurred with Bennett and Lockyer (2004), who identified over 26 different teacher roles between face to face and online teaching. The participants cited differences in communication techniques, motivating students one does not see, applying effective feedback to written assignments, and involving a high level of interactivity within lessons. The most frustrating, where several teachers struggled, was in defining exactly what their online role could be. The study participants’ experiences were very similar to those described by Sockman and Sharma (2007) and O’Dwyer et al. (2007) where faculty experienced tension and dissonance when shifting traditional roles to the online environment. Some felt that the process of role definition was overwhelming while others did not experience any dissonance during the transformation to online teacher. Participants also indicated that they felt a lack of community and that developing a relationship with students was challenging. Most online teachers felt that through the emerging field of teaching online they were challenged both on a professional and personal level to transform practice. Several even felt fortunate to be on the leading forefront of such an exciting opportunity and took every failure and success as a moment 112

to reflect upon and better teaching practice. This idea of using reflection to improve practice is a cornerstone of transformational learning theory (Mezirow, 1978) and correlates to the principle finding in the King (2004) study. In King’s study, participants explained that they felt the perspectives gained while teaching online had changed their views of teaching practice. The impact of technology use on how an online teacher designs instruction was the leading factor identified in this study about a teacher feeling as if his or her pedagogy was being transformed. Those teacher participants who had a higher level of comfort using technology and finding innovative ways to incorporate new multi-media tools into lesson designs were more inclined to feel their practice as being transformed. These findings are consistent with Kosak et al. (2004), where the study participants also expressed interest in developing technological skills to enhance online pedagogy. Describe the Experiences that May Have Transformed Your Teaching Findings highlight several experiences that were deemed important in the transformational process. One of which was the ability to quickly adapt to a new learning management system regardless of the lack of training received. This ability to be flexible and adaptable was seen as an advantageous teacher characteristic that the online teacher should possess. Another experience that several participants identified was the collegiality among peers. Individual teacher growth came about due to the ability to interact with peers about all forms of online teaching. Findings in this study showed that when a teacher learned something new, whether it was a strategy that was working for him or her, or a new techno-gadget that could be incorporated into lesson design, the experience was either shared during a department meeting, staff meeting, or even through 113

a group e-mail. The openness of teachers learning from each other created a community of educators who wanted to be effective and successful. This level of collegiality and collaborative learning is not often seen in the brick-and-mortar educational system. These same experiences are consistent with those described by Cowham and Duggleby (2005), where their study revealed that collaborative working groups helped faculty understand the issues surrounding pedagogical practice. How Did These Experiences Change the Way Your Teaching Occurred? Several participants alluded to how online teaching was less stressful than teaching in a traditional classroom and examined experiences where they could make that distinction within personal practice. In addition, having a less stressful teaching environment allowed the teachers to focus more on instruction and the application of a variety of instructional strategies that could meet the needs of the individual students enrolled in their courses. Some participants also explained that the most impact found on transforming practice was derived from the types of parent and student interactions experienced. Although many participants cited how frustrating it was trying to communicate and feeling easily ignored by students, they also explained that when conversation happened it was usually successful in changing or redirecting a desired behavior. The teachers felt that this type of positive change occurred because, for the most part, parents and their students were excited to be given an opportunity for an education that met their needs and through such excitement were more willing to cooperate with the teacher’s recommendations. The excitement generated from online teaching spills over into online learning and is consistent with why participants in Picciano and Seaman’s (2007) study enrolled in cyberschools: To meet the individual 114

student’s needs, reduce scheduling conflicts, to advance knowledge, or remediate skills. The relationships developed with parents and students did not seem to be adversarial but instead were collaborative in nature. What Prompted You to Apply to an Online School? The findings indicate that most teachers wanted to work for a school that afforded innovation with instructional methods. However, only a few participants understood the nature of online schools before applying for a job as online teacher. The other participants learned by trial and error what worked in their classroom and what did not. These findings coincided with the opinions of both Hinson and LaPrairie (2005) and Young (2004), who suggested that adjustments in teaching practice can more rapidly develop an understanding of online instruction. Through the examination of the participants’ experiences, it could be summarized that online teachers are quite happy in their chosen profession. Many cited the flexibility of working hours; being able to work from home when sick, staggering a work day into hours that fit their individual lifestyles, and being able to complete advanced degrees; due to a generous employer tuition reimbursement program. It can also be summarized though that if a teacher does not intrinsically sport such characteristics of flexibility, adaptability, or changeability then he or she may not find online teaching fulfilling or a positive experience. Rating Skills Outlined in the SREB 2003 Article Such was the case for one participant, who eventually concluded that although she had learned many more skills than what she started with, she missed the daily face-toface interaction with students and ultimately made the decision to return to the brick-and115

mortar classroom. Correlating to Heuer and King’s (2004) study, where instructors found that a constant and continual involvement in the teaching role improved practice, other participants in this study rated moderate to high skill adaptability while moving through the transformation process as being of importance to effectively teaching online. Again, the most challenging online teaching aspect identified by the participants was in promoting student participation and interaction. Research Question 2: Describing Teacher Transition and Transformation The question: How do high schools teachers in one cyber charter school describe the transformation of adapting face-to-face teaching to online teaching? Data related to Research Question 2 were reported specifically from questions 4-7 from the interview and discussion question 3. 4. What preparation (educational or training) do you have to teach? 5. How well prepared did you feel when you first started teaching online? 6. What about that preparation do you feel has prepared/not prepared you to teach online? 7. How have you modified face-to-face teaching methods to your online course? Discussion 3. After reading Essential Principles of High Quality Online Teaching: Guidelines for Evaluating K-12 Online Teacher (SREB, 2003), how does your teaching rate according to the principles outlined in the article? What Preparation Did You Have to Teach Online? All study participants had no online teacher training prior to their employ at the cyberschool, corresponding to literature that reveals most online teacher have little experience teaching online (Hughes et al., 2007; Leu et al., 2005). Several teachers cited using technology either in their former brick-and-mortar classroom or during a student 116

teaching experience. However, most technology used consisted of Internet searching or using a PowerPoint presentation to supplement a lecture-type lesson. This distinct lack of online teaching experience or training certainly supports the argument presented by Gibbons and Wentworth (2001) and others (Jaffee, 2003; Kosak et al., 2004; McKenzie et al., 2000; Pachnowski & Jurczyk, 2003; Torrisi & Davis, 2000; Tripp, 2002; Youngblood et al., 2001) that online instructors need training in online delivery methods. How Prepared Did You Feel When You First Started Teaching Online? Most online teachers felt well prepared to teach and cited past experience as the determinant factor. This finding is in contrast to several studies from higher education where faculty did not feel prepared to teach an online course (Bennett & Lockyer, 2004; Choy et al., 2004; Conceição, 2006; Conrad, 2004; Jones & Moller, 2002). The disparate findings from this study may be that high school teachers feel more prepared to make sudden changes in daily teaching routines to meet student’s needs than do university or college professors. Several participants initially thought that there were little differences between teaching online and teaching face to face and that fundamental teaching principles (i.e. developing clear objectives, aligning content to standards, having a good understanding of content, and using teaching strategies such as differentiated instruction) applied regardless of environment. However, as their teaching experiences progressed, many participants found that traditional methods of teaching had to be modified, revised, or entirely scrapped in order to effectively teach online.


What About That Preparation Do You Feel Has Prepared/not prepared You to Teach Online? However, when asked to elaborate on what has not prepared the teachers many cited the isolating effect of online teaching. Study participants, on a whole, felt removed from their students and consequently struggled to make a connection. Most discussed how they were challenged to convey thoughts and feelings in a static environment, devoid of visual cues and body language. In addition, most participants felt dissonance when attempting to develop strategies and methods that would be effective in the online setting, which coincided with the conclusions from Ball (2000), in which teachers do feel a significant amount of tension when learning to deliver instruction in an online environment. Several participants also cited a steep learning curve in their ability to incorporate technology into teaching practice. As teaching online is solely based on technology proficiency, until the teachers felt comfortable in their own skill set, lesson planning and the design of instruction mirrored their comfort level; as time progressed in the transformation process, technology proficiency increased, and so did the feelings of becoming a more effective teacher. How Have You Modified Face-to-face Teaching Methods to Your Online Course? Findings indicate that modification of traditional teaching methods meant using technology in a more interactive form and function, corresponding to the argument presented in the Choy et al. (2004) study, that the more interactive a course the better the outcomes. One participant cited that she used educational videos in both her brick-andmortar classroom and in her online course. But the significant difference for the student was accessing the video as many times as needed in order to master the content in the 118

online class as opposed to viewing the video once in the traditional class. This ensured, to this teacher at least, that content was being presented in such a way as to meet the learning needs of the student. Another method that needed modification was the need to use more and greater detail in written or recorded instructions. Studies reviewed in literature cited that communicating effectively in an online environment was a key element in building opportunities for student success and faculty motivation (Bennett & Lockyer, 2004; Heuer & King, 2004; Young, 2004). For example, one of seven reasons identified for faculty motivation in the McKenzie et al. (2000) study was the ability to interact more frequently with students. Jaffee (2003) opined that students and teachers alike needed to develop ways in which to communicate effectively in order to construct new meaning to knowledge. The teachers in this study elaborated that they had to anticipate and predict student questions during the lesson design phase and then build into the lesson answers for problems that may arise later in the student’s access of the lesson. This in effect can force the teacher to look at the content and only teach what is essential for learning. Differentiated instruction, a traditional teaching method that ensures that a variety of learning styles are being met by teaching content in different ways, was identified as being both easier and harder in the online environment. Participants felt it was easier in the way that delivering a variety of assignments was manageable in the learning management system. Teachers could choose from text based assignments to more creative assignments, such as video production, or audio presentations. However, it was also harder in identifying what students needed what kind of differentiation was time consuming, as a students’ pace through the course was infinitely varied. Trying to 119

backtrack and re-teach a student increased the teacher’s frustration with online teaching in general. Teaching strategies such as discussion and providing feedback emerged through data as being important areas that participants felt unprepared to tackle in the online environment. This conclusion was not unanticipated as research from literature (Bennett & Lockyer, 2004; Brook & Oliver, 2006; Cavanaugh et al., 2004; Choy et al., 2004) also indicates the difficulty, but importance, in providing effective and timely feedback. Since online teaching is primarily text based, assignments that needed feedback had to be downloaded, read, comments attached, saved, and re-sent back to the student. Study participants all found this process to be overwhelming and time intensive. To alleviate the time involved, many teachers developed extensive comment databases that could be copied and pasted into student feedback. However, by doing so, this experience caused teacher tension. The teachers felt they were not giving individual feedback to students and did not feel as effective in improving student mastery. Finding innovative ways to hold discussion, whether synchronous or asynchronous, occupied a lot of teacher preparation time. When a fun and interactive way to entice students to attend a chat session was found, teachers rejoiced and shared their experiences with peers. Research Question 3: Preparedness to Teach The question: What do high school teachers in one cyber charter school recognize as being the most important roles, characteristics, or skills necessary to affect a successful online teaching experience? Data related to Research Question 3 were reported specifically from questions 8-12 from the interview and discussion questions 2-4. 120

8. Through your experiences, what skills are most important in order to be fully prepared to teach online courses? 9. Describe how you acquired these skills to teach online. 10. How do you feel about your overall experiences when transitioning into the role of online teacher? 11. What further training do you think you still need? 12. Through your experiences, what characteristics are most important for a teacher to possess in order to be fully prepared to teach online courses? Discussion 2. After reading Teaching in an Online Context (Anderson, 2004), explain how teaching online may be different than teaching in a face-to-face classroom? Discussion 3. After reading Essential Principles of High Quality Online Teaching: Guidelines for Evaluating K-12 Online Teacher (SREB, 2003), how does your teaching rate according to the principles outlined in the article? Discussion 4. After reading Highly Qualified for Successful Teaching: Characteristics Every Teacher Should Possess (Thompson, Greer, & Greer, 2006), provide examples of how you have applied each characteristics to your online course. Research question 3 elicited the most data and discussion as study participants were eager to share what skills were important to online teaching and how they acquired those skills. What Skills Are Most Important? The skills identified through study data are similar to the seven competencies identified by Williams (2000). Findings indicate several important skills necessary to make a successful transition to online teacher and include knowledge of subject, proficiency in basic technology, ability to use multimedia tools, and information literacy. In addition online teachers should build skills in effective communication and instructional design. Although most of the participants came to online teaching with some prior teaching experience within the subject area taught online, several voiced frustration 121

in how to effectively deliver that content through Web-based instruction. Where the teacher may have relied upon a lecture-discussion style of teaching in the face-to-face classroom, they found it almost impossible to maintain this teaching method in the online classroom. Whereas the structure of a post-secondary online course revolves around the building of community and discourse, in the high school setting this is not always the case (Derrick & Pilling-Cormick, 2003). Although the study did not measure student satisfaction, anecdotal data identified a similarity with the findings of a study conducted by Tunison and Noonan (2001) in that teachers struggle with the benefits of online learning; freedom and autonomy. Teachers in the study indicated that students enrolled in their courses were not autonomous and self-directed. With this lack of student efficacy a larger burden was placed upon the teacher to explain and elaborate and detracted from the focus of creating a learner-centered environment. A critical component of successful online teaching involves effective communication. When face-to-face contact is lost between a student and a teacher more emphasis is placed upon making the connection through text-based conversation. Findings indicated that it is a fairly common practice for students to work with relatively little contact with their peers and their teachers. Furthermore, online teachers are not happy with this outcome. The teachers felt as if they were failing somehow in teaching methods if students could not be motivated to interact. Almost all participants spoke to the frustration felt because of the inability to engage students in conversation. Developing communication methods that worked was seen as a triumph and when that event happened, the teacher celebrated by letting other teachers know of his or her success. 122

How Have New Skills Been Acquired? Overall, what emerged from data is that online teachers acquire new skills, not through professional development or tutorials provided by the school, but through trial and error, learning on the job, and collaborating with their peers. This finding clearly corroborates past research in which studies have found that there is a distinct lack of training given to new online teachers (Kosak et al., 2004; McKenzie et al., 2000; Torrisi & Davis, 2000). A significant amount of tension was experienced when teachers felt unprepared to teach courses online because they did not necessarily have the skills needed to do so effectively. However, a more significant finding is that, although the participants did not feel prepared, the teachers found ways to create a truly innovative learning environment on their own. Flexibility was a key characteristic found in all the teachers who participated in the study. The teachers basically came to grips with their reality, i.e. no training, and individually and collectively challenged themselves to transform their practice by finding and using teaching practices that worked in their courses. Overall Transformational Experience Study findings did indicate that online teachers were able to transform their teaching through the integration of new information, perspectives, and practices while they engaged in teaching. King (2004) states that “It is within these experiences of developing new understanding and experiencing shifts in deeply rooted frames of reference that transformative learning emerges” (p. 155). Emerging data cited examples of experiences that included a development of reflective thinking, finding a better


understanding of the students being taught, and of becoming more open-minded by examining experiences from multiple perspectives. Mezirow (1991) indicated that barriers can both impede and assist transformation. Study findings agree with his research, in that external and internal barriers were identified and examined by participants. An external barrier identified included an abrupt change in the learning management system in the first days of the school year. Internal barriers were seen in all participants as each one struggled with what it meant to be an online teacher. The transformational learning of each online teacher was found in overcoming the barriers identified. What Further Training is Needed? Study participants expressed the need to continue training in areas that are congruent with all Four Pillars of online teaching (Berge, 1995). This involves the need to improve in the pedagogical, managerial, social, and technical roles. Feelings of unpreparedness emerged from data that was also identified in other studies (Bennett & Lockyer, 2004; Cowham & Duggleby, 2005; Davis & Rose, 2007). Emerging online pedagogy included technology proficiency, organization, collaboration, and instructional design. In addition, flexibility in pacing, providing better feedback, and using communication tools more effectively were also identified through data. In all these areas study participants felt a lack of experience and a desire to improve. Participants however, felt quite organized and efficient and thus the managerial role was seen as being mastered. The social role throughout continued to hinder how each participant felt in regards to his or her transformation. Although teachers attempted to build rapport and community in the online classroom, indications from students were that the social role 124

was not as important. The technological role seemed to be the one area in which participants either felt a need for further training or did not. Data did not project any middle ground. Those participants who considered themselves proficient were able to find new ways to incorporate Web tools into the online course without help from training or tutorials. However, participants who considered themselves to not be as tech-savvy expressed the need for further training. What Characteristics are Needed to be Fully Prepared? From study findings, the following characteristics were identified: (a) drive and passion to teach, (b) motivated and dedicated, (c) determined and confident, (d) attentive to detail and organized, (e) creative and flexible, and (f) a willingness to collaborate with peers. These characteristics mirror many of the pedagogical roles previously identified; i.e. communicator, anticipator, motivator, and collaborator. According to Thompson et al. (2006) good teaching can be conceptualized through teacher characteristics. Through the Thompson et al. study, fairness, preparedness, willingness to admit mistakes, and high expectations were also identified as effective teacher characteristics. Although study participants did not specifically state the terms outlined by Thompson et al., through their descriptions of experiences it is clear that the online teachers in this study also embodied many of the characteristics found in the Thompson, Greer and Greer study. Implications for Practice and Research Findings from this study can help to improve professional development and teacher education programs that focus on online teaching. The teacher plays an integral role within the structure and outcomes of school. Teaching online may be more 125

challenging than in the traditional classroom. Those that may consider a teaching position in a cyberschool need to do so equipped with knowledge of best practices that ensure the greatest outcome for online students. Being prepared to teach online includes not only technology proficiency but also the ability to adapt and modify traditional teaching methods to Web-based instruction. Following are implications identified from the study to improve teaching practice and to add to the body of research. The Online Teacher From Research Question 1, a very important distinction can be made through the findings of this study in that an online high school teacher employs different teaching strategies than an instructor teaching a distance learning course at the post-secondary level. Two such factors were identified by study participants: (1) the definition of teacher vs. facilitator and (2) strategies needed to build community differ for adolescents and adults. The teaching role identifier used in higher education is consistently that of a facilitator (Anderson, Rourke, Garrison, & Archer, 2001; Conceição, 2006; Easton, 2003). The facilitator is described as a faculty member who moves from being the center of instruction to a sideline coach. Although pedagogy stresses that the teacher should foster inquiry skills in lessons, high school students still remain, for the most part, at a level where they expect to be “taught.” Therefore, following the argument presented by Derrick and Pilling-Cormick (2003), in order to change pedagogy to a more focused online pedagogy, teachers need to develop the skills and teaching strategies that foster self-reliance in high school students. This is an area of instruction where the online high school teacher still struggles and where K-12 online teaching veers significantly onto a


different path than the adult learner travels. Future research could benefit from the examination of the divergent role of the high school online teacher. The other significant difference was found in the development of relationships between the online high school teacher and his or her students. Again, the ability to define the social role of the online high school teacher depends highly upon the maturation of the adolescent students that the teacher is teaching. Research has indicated that the successful adult online student exhibits certain characteristics that can include open-mindedness, not being hindered by a lack of visual cues, self-motivated, selfdisciplined, willing to commit time to studies, critical thinkers, and able to reflect upon self-learning (Palloff & Pratt, 2003). Due to the newness of online learning for high school students, and the development continuum for adolescents, an assumption can be made that not many students who enroll in a cyberschool are developmentally ready to become successful online learners. The inability of high school students to adapt to the online learning environment means the online teacher struggles to find a middle ground; where he or she can connect and build a personal relationship thus motivating the student to engage in the learning process. Findings from this study where teachers identified their struggles with a student’s lack of preparedness to learn online give credence to the model employed by Florida Virtual School, where all students new to online learning complete and pass an introductory course before beginning content based courses. This study shows that two prominent issues related to perceived teaching practices have emerged because of teaching online and could have significant implications for online high school education. What this study suggests, and is corroborated in other K-12 research (Cavanaugh et al., 2004) is that the high school 127

online experience cannot be compared in totality to that of the adult online experience and adjustments to online teaching practice should be made to reference the developmental age and readiness skills of the students being taught. In addition, in order for online schools to maintain fidelity to a program of Web-based instruction, cyberschools should require that students who enroll successfully complete a preparation course that includes the use of communication and technical tools that are available in the course. Ensuring student success by developing independent, self-directed, autonomous learning behaviors should be placed high on the list for the planning and management of all virtual schools. Transforming Teaching Practice In the examination of Research Question 2, findings show that through a progression of practice, online teachers became more proficient in teaching their online courses. Effective teaching as outlined by Chickering and Erhmann (1987) and Graham et al. (2001) was evident in the explanations provided by participants about their transformation. However, this study highlighted some key challenges that online teachers face in feeling prepared to teach online and modifying traditional teaching methods to the online environment. These challenges are congruent with research where online instructors felt ill-prepared to teach because they lacked an understanding of the nature of teaching online (Care & Scanlan, 2001; Lichtenberg, 2001). Since there is a lack of physical presence in the online classroom, participants identified new tasks based on the new types of interactions they were experiencing. All of the participants expressed the desire to have a learner-centered classroom and their course design reflected this. However, this meant that the online teacher had to change the process of teaching. The 128

managerial role (Berge, 1995) involved spending an inordinate amount of time gathering and organizing course materials while the pedagogical role (Berge, 1995) focused on delivering instruction in ways that would meet the learning needs of students. Online teaching tasks seemed to present themselves in a more varied way to unprepared teachers. Tasks start during the inception stages of course development and proceed through course delivery. Tasks that can impede a successful transition to online teaching could include method design, creating a variety of student activities, responding to questions, regularly reading and responding to student postings to encourage social presence, confirming understanding through explanatory feedback, or even responding to technical concerns (Anderson et al., 2001). Creating, maintaining, and improving these different approaches to online teaching requires a significant effort on the part of the teacher. This study indicates that teachers gain perspective on their own practices through the recognition of levels of preparedness and ability to modify teaching methods to meet the needs of their students. Looking at the findings of this study participants are both instructional designer and subject matter expert. An implication for practice could be the potential to deconstruct the online teaching role by allocating the design of the course to instructional design personnel. This could afford the teacher more time to develop stronger academic (pedagogical role) and personal relationships (social role) with students thereby potentially increasing student outcomes. Further study is needed in how course design and development meets the needs of students and teachers in the cyberschool setting.


Preparing Online Teachers Literature reveals the new skills necessary for success in the 21st century (Project Tomorrow, 2007). One of these key skills is that students need to become self-directed learners. One key factor in developing self-direction is through communication. Findings from Research Question 3 indicate that in the online high school, being self-directed remains illusive even though teachers are providing some opportunities for students to practice this new role within a low-risk learning environment. Students do not want to explore the vast knowledge available on the Internet to answer questions. Instead students still prefer the teacher to provide all the information needed. Corresponding to opinions from the Picciano and Seaman (2007) study, where changing the paradigm will take time and effort, an implication for practice is that online educators and the administrators of cyberschools need to be challenged to explore ways to ease this dissonance and to change the culture of teaching and learning. Another implication for practice in creating a revolutionary educational alternative within the confines of a conventional school structure remains the challenge of online teachers and cyberschool administrators. This study recommends that all stakeholders find ways to cope with change. Teachers can find new ways to help students change their perceptions of self-learning by supporting new strategies and techniques that could ease the change from the traditional, teacher-centered model in the face-to-face class to a more autonomous student-centered community in the online classroom. Further research is warranted to find out what could ease the student transition and findings could present to online teachers an easier and more productive transition as well.


At the crux of online teaching practice, online educators should question values, beliefs, and even assumptions about teaching. Becoming an online teacher is integrated into the professional life of each teacher who chooses to make the transition from brick and mortar to online. Online teachers can be challenged to identify and examine new perspectives and reexamine long held assumptions and prior understandings as they move along the continuum of transformation. Changing how teachers view themselves as teachers would further impact the importance of adult transformational learning theory. Furthermore, teachers would benefit from pre-service education in online teaching methodologies before entering the online classroom. In addition, once hired to teach online, cyberschools and their teachers would reap the benefits of a structured and systematic professional development program that provides training for both a novice teacher and supporting a more experienced teacher. Additional Research Three areas of further research were discussed in reference to each research question in the previous section. Findings from Research Question 1 indicate that further research should include the examination of the divergent role of the high school online teacher. Findings from Research Question 2 indicate the need to study how course design and development meets the needs of teachers and students in the online setting. Lastly, findings from Research Question 3 indicate that further study should explore what could ease student transition to online learning hoping to correlate a more productive teacher transition. To further the understanding of K-12 online teaching, in addition to research already suggested the following are recommendations for future studies in areas of K-12 online teaching: 131

1. Much of the existing research about online teaching is applicable to postsecondary faculty and adult students, thus further research is indicated where the knowledge of higher education online teaching practices is applied to a K12 online classroom to confirm validity of results. 2. It is difficult to ascertain how a K-12 teacher measures a successful online teaching experience. Is success measured through student outcomes, teacher perception, or other stake holder’s opinions? Studying more teacher experiences can shed light on the distinction. 3. Many K-12 online teaching and learning models employ few opportunities for students to interact with their peers. Further study is needed to develop an understanding of how educators can design online courses that promote learning community development and social interactions. 4. Some participants expressed concerns about their transition and competency of skills. In order for the K-12 online educational environment to be deemed a success more data is needed to both assess and then prepare teachers to more effectively manage the transition. 5. A barrier to online teaching identified by study participants was that teaching practices change as new technology emerges. As such, understanding how the online teacher remains current in practice could inform opportunities in professional development. Further research is needed in understanding the transition where barriers to a successful transformation are examined and solutions are found to the identified problems. 6. Participants in this study were unclear about the teaching role in regards to online pedagogy. The argument that online pedagogy differs from the traditional, face-to-face pedagogy needs further exploration. The question of whether it is the actual philosophical framework of pedagogy that changes or the components of teaching (i.e. methods, strategies, skills, etc.) that changes needs further qualification. 7. As the number of cyberschools continues to expand, an increasing number of teachers will be required to make the transition to teach online instead of teach face to face. These teachers will need teaching programs and training opportunities to support their transformation. Further research concerning best practices in K-12 online teaching would result in more information available on the topic of online teaching. There are almost 200 cyberschools throughout the United States that are managed through a variety of program models. Replicating this study to include a wider array of


cyberschool models, possibly through the use of a survey instead of interviews and other document analyses, would provide the online teaching profession with a bounty of information that could potentially be generalized. The new knowledge could then be used to inform best practices at cyberschools or to influence future decision making at universities and colleges regarding the inclusion of online teaching components in teacher education programs. Limitations There are a number of reports in the literature that describe how teaching online is different than face-to-face instruction (Anderson, 2004; Ball, 2000; Cavanaugh et al., 2004; Hinson & LaPrairie, 2005; Kosak et al., 2004, National Education Association, 2006; Rice, 2006), but minimal amounts of research relating to the transformation process of learning how to teach a high school online course were found. The results from this study correlated to the themes of teacher roles, characteristics, and skills needed to teach online and can contribute to the growing body of literature and knowledge related to K-12 online teaching through transferability and confirmability (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). However, several limitations in this study were recognized. First, data findings involved only one cyberschool and may not easily transfer to other models of online education. Future research could be accomplished with other models of online teaching environments to determine the credibility and dependability of data. Second, the sample size was small. Had the sample been larger and more diverse, other themes of dissonance or ease of transformation may have been identified. Third, documented experiences were limited in that the study began after the school year had ended. Conducting the study at the beginning of a school year would capture more timely events 133

that may shape the transformation process. Finally, participants did not have a firm knowledge of transformational learning theory. Not understanding what encompasses “transformation” made it more difficult for participants to determine if their teaching practiced had been transformed through the lived experiences of learning to teach online. Conducting the study face to face instead of via the Internet and forming focus groups that allowed for more in-depth discussions may have made the idea of transformation easier to explore. Conclusion The problem of being a qualified teacher in a traditional setting and transitioning into teaching online without any type of additional training caused in many cases, a high degree of frustration and challenge. This finding is compatible with prior research (King, 2002b; Tripp, 2002). The purpose of this study was to examine and understand the experiences of high school online teachers who are learning to teach online. Through the experiences of online high school teachers in this study, additional findings prove that traditional pedagogy transforms and develops into online pedagogy, where the emphasis is placed more on course design, content preparation, knowledge construction, and engaging students in a virtual environment. However, this transformation did not happen quickly or without thought and effort on the part of the teacher. Online teachers struggle to find the role that in effect exacts the most change in their students. Is the struggle necessary for the transformation remains a question for further study? On the other hand, when the challenges are removed, could the online teacher focus more on the development of online pedagogy in a more constructive and less time-consuming way?


Wood (2005) maintained that training and professional development before and during the transition are crucial to a successful transformation. Furthermore, DarlingHammond (2005) stated that offering professional development and ongoing support in the first year of a novice online teacher is crucial if a successful transition is desired. Most teachers in this study would have agreed; that their transformational experience would have been less stressful and accomplished more quickly had additional training been offered at the beginning of their employ. In addition, having continued support through timely and appropriate professional development may have also enacted an easier and more successful transition. The findings of this study provided new information about learning to teach online from the perspective of a high school teacher. Through the sharing of experiences about teaching online an awareness of pedagogical issues can be raised to both individual online teachers and the schools at which they work. Based on the findings of this study a systematic program of professional development aimed at developing new skills and teaching new ways to adapt methods to changing technology could be designed both in pre-service teaching programs in higher education and at the cyberschool level. It is paramount to a successful transformation of the online teacher to continue research about the K-12 online teaching phenomenon to build the body of knowledge, influence stakeholders to better support online teaching staff, and encourage novice online teachers to continue the journey.


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Journal articles and discussion questions for each. Discussion 1: Aligns with Research Question 1 Greenway, R. & Vanourek, G. (2006, February). The virtual revolution: Understanding online schools. Education Next, Spring(06), pp.35-41. What prompted you to apply to teach in an online school? Do you think your teaching has been effective? Why or why not? Discussion 2: Aligns with Research Question 2 Anderson, T. (2004). Teaching in an online learning context. In T. Anderson & F. Elloumi (Eds.), in Theory and practice of online learning (chap. 11). Explain how teaching online may be different than teaching in a face-to-face classroom? Discussion 3: Aligns with Research Question 3 Southern Regional Education Board. (2003). Essential principles of high-quality online teaching: Guidelines for evaluating K-12 online teachers. Atlanta, GA: SREB. After completing the questionnaire from the article, how does your online teaching rate according to the principles outlined in the article? Elaborate with examples from your own teaching experiences. Discussion 4: Aligns with Research Questions 1, 2, and 3 Thompson, S., Greer, J. G., & Greer, B. B. (2006). Highly qualified for successful teaching: Characteristics every teacher should possess. Twelve characteristics of effective teaching are listed in the article. Provide examples of how you have applied each characteristic to your online course.



1. What is it like to be a teacher in a new context (online teaching)? 2. Describe the experiences that may have transformed your teaching. 3. How did these experiences change the way your teaching occurred? 4. What preparation (educational or training) do you have to teach? 5. How well prepared did you feel when you first started teaching online? 6. What about that preparation do you feel has prepared/not prepared you to teach online? 7. How have you modified face-to-face teaching methods to your online course? 8. Through your experiences, what skills are most important in order to be fully prepared to teach online courses? 9. Describe how you acquired these skills to teach online. 10. How do you feel about your overall experiences when transitioning into the role of online teacher? 11. What further training do you think you still need? 12. Through your experiences, what characteristics are most important for a teacher to possess in order to be fully prepared to teach online courses? 150

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