Researchers strive to improve online education

February 23, 2009

Education researchers know that interaction increases learning, but the challenge is to find a way to prompt that interaction as online education continues to expand.

Among the many goals and desired outcomes of Arizona State University’s vision of the New American University is to enroll 100,000 students in online courses by 2012. To accomplish this lofty goal, researchers, such as ASU professor James Klein are trying to find the most effective way to present instruction via the World Wide Web. Download Full Image

“It’s a very exciting time. Learning can be as effective online as it can be face to face,” said Klein, a professor of educational technology with the Mary Lou Fulton College of Education, who is investigating the use of collaborative learning in various settings, including computer-based, classroom and online. Klein noted that a number of his studies have examined the effects of collaboration in those settings with many types of students in public schools, community colleges, universities and corporate training settings geared for working adults.

One series of studies conducted with Jeremy Tutty during his doctoral work at ASU examined how to teach teachers online and help them integrate technology into their classrooms. Tutty, now an assistant professor at Boise State University, compared the effectiveness of working online collaboratively versus individually. Another graduate student, Christy Alarcon, now an instructional designer in ASU's W. P. Carey School of Business, later built upon Tutty’s research by adding computer-based cues that prompted interaction online as well as interaction between students working side by side on computers. 

“Jim Klein is one of the preeminent instructional design scholars in the United States, and his work has significance for practitioners and researchers alike,” said Rita Richey, Professor and Program Coordinator in Instructional Technology for the College of Education at Wayne State University, who with Klein on co-authored the book, Design & Development Research: Methods, Strategies and Issues.

“His recent research in online learning holds great promise of providing a comprehensive empirical basis for the design and development of these programs. This is especially important today given the many pressures on universities to quickly launch programs and enter the online marketplace,” Richey said.

Tutty and Alarcon’s doctoral dissertations, chaired by Klein, were the basis of a paper recently honored as the Outstanding Featured Research Paper by the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT). The paper titled "Effects of Instructional Setting and Interaction cues in Collaborative computer-based instruction,” also has been submitted to the Journal of Computing and Higher Education.  The research team also hopes to present their study results at the next meeting of the European Association for Research and Learning and Instruction (EARLI) in Amsterdam.

Klein said the growing availability of online courses is an educational movement that warrants further study. “The continued proliferation of online courses means we must continue to do research in this area. What we know is that interaction increases learning. How do we get people to be actively involved online when we require students to collaborate?”

Klein, Tutty and Alarcon’s work revealed that people who worked face to face had higher positive attitudes than those who worked online, though online students learned as much as the students in a classroom.  When comparing collaborative learning to individual study, students preferred working together, but they didn’t necessarily learn better than those who studied alone. However, the team also discovered that forced online interaction led to lower student motivation.

“We do know that interaction increases learning. Not only interaction with people but interaction with materials,” Klein said. “The key is to get folks actively involved. There is a growing body of literature on the development of online learning that lends itself to that.”

Because of the potential impact of online courses in higher education, Klein said it is important to develop well-designed tools, strategies and interaction because effective instruction is as important online as it is in the classroom.

Klein said ASU is one of many public and private sector organizations that have identified innovations in online instruction as a top-level goal.  He said he currently is working on a project with the U.S. Army to design effective military instruction, and indicated that private sector companies, such as Intel, are using online tools for business training and development at higher rates than ever before.

Professor takes loving look at life of Virginia Galvin Piper

February 23, 2009

The names "Piper" and "Galvin" are familiar to anyone who walks across ASU's Tempe campus, or reads a listing of the campus buildings: the Paul V. Galvin Playhouse. The Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. The Piper Writers House.

Who were Paul Galvin and Virginia Galvin Piper? Download Full Image

Of the two, Paul Galvin is, perhaps, the better known. He was the first to design radios for cars, and he founded Motorola, which had a large and looming presence in the Phoenix area in the 1950s through the 1970s.

Virginia Piper was Galvin’s widow – and a woman who would leave her own mark on society as a philanthropist and inspiration to many.

Her story has been lovingly told in a new biography by Melissa Pritchard, ASU professor of creative writing, titled “Devotedly, Virginia: The Life of Virginia Galvin Piper.”

Virginia was married to Paul for only 14 years when he died, leaving her as a co-trustee of the Paul V. Galvin Charitable Trust.

She later married Kenneth M. Piper, a vice president of Motorola, and, after the Galvin Trust expired, established a trust in her own name. The Piper Charitable Trust, inaugurated 10 years ago, supports programs that support healthcare and medical research, children, older adults, arts and culture, education and religious organizations and has given $240 million in grants to date.

Pritchard, an award-winning author who has had who has had three novels and three collections of short stories published, was invited to write the book by the Piper Charitable Trust board. It was Pritchard's first biography.

"I primarily write novels and short stories, non-fiction essays and the occasional journalism piece," Pritchard said in an interview for a Piper newsletter. "The most surprising constraint I found myself working under after the research was done was being accountable for precise facts.

"In fiction, imagination reigns. One paradoxically works to make things up in order to get at emotional truths. With a biography facts reign, and suppositions, and interpretations serve those facts.

"I knew this, going into the project, but still, when I sat down to write the first pages, I was jarred by the imperative to hold to the known facts of Virginia Piper’s life, that any imaginative elaboration on my part would have to be based on a foundation of biographic truths. It was nothing I was used to."

Pritchard spent three years on the project -- the first doing research, the second writing, and the third editing and fact-checking.

She was given a list of more than 100 people who had known or worked with Virginia, who died in 1999 at the age of 87.

She interviewed most of them in person, and followed clues they gave her about where more information might be found.

Pritchard said family members, particularly Virginia's nephew Paul Critchfield, were helpful in providing photographs and other materials from their records.

During Pritchard’s year of research, the "Cinderella story" of Virginia Galvin Piper began to emerge for her.

It started with a chance meeting in a doctor's office:

“When forty-nine-year-old Paul V. Galvin walked into Dr. Greenwood’s office in the Pittsfield Building on Wabash and Washington in Chicago in the fall of 1944, the medical receptionist who greeted him could never have guessed that this man would transform her future,” Pritchard wrote.

"Nor could Paul have guessed the happiness Virginia would bring him after years of hard-won public success and a steady accumulation of personal sorrows.”

Not surprisingly, Pritchard formed a bond with Virginia as her research and writing began and continued.

Pritchard is often asked which of the stories about Virginia is her favorite. Pritchard has two.

"One is the story of Virginia Piper surprising her first husband, Paul Galvin, on Christmas Eve, 1948. She had quietly undergone conversion to the Catholic faith without him knowing, and in church that night, her Christmas gift to him was to stand up and walk beside him to receive communion, whispering, 'Happy Christmas, Darling,'" Pritchard noted in the Piper newsletter.

"The second story concerns a young medical student Virginia took a CPR class from, after her second husband, Ken Piper died. The student instructor failed her in the course, yet they became friends, and she financed his years of medical school. In her final illness, Dr. Jim Dearing, her friend, was her attending physician. The young man she had believed in and helped through medical school, was with her at the end."

Pritchard also is asked what she learned from the life of Virginia Galvin Piper. She says, "I’ve learned what a tremendous impact Virginia Piper had and still has upon people, both personally and philanthropically.

"I learned by her example that one person saying an active 'yes' to God can uplift and inspire countless others, that what you choose to do with the gift of your own life matters a great deal.

"And I learned that joy, a spirit of fun, does not contradict a life of faith or good works, that in fact true joy and cheerfulness spring from these."