Archive for May, 2011

Arbaugh (2001) reports on research about the effect of immediacy behaviors in online learning.  She begins by defining immediacy behaviors as “communication behaviors that reduce social and psychological distance between people” (p. 43).  In a face-to-face setting, this might include nonverbal actions such as eye contact, smiling, movement around classroom, body position; and verbal acts such as including personal examples, using humor, providing and inviting feedback, and addressing and being addressed by name.  Past research has found that both verbal and nonverbal immediacy behaviors are associated with student motivation and learning.

In a virtual setting, however, nonverbal immediacy behaviors are “severely limited” (p. 44), but verbal immediacy behaviors are still possible.  Arbaugh uses Gorham’s (1988) verbal immediacy scale, which looks at two components:

  1. “classroom” demeanor: “instructor’s use of personal examples, humor, and openness toward and encouragement of student ideas and discussion” (p. 45), and
  2. “name recognition, referring to the extent to which the instructor was addressed by name by students and vice versa” (p. 45).

This list made me reflect on how I can improve my “immediacy behaviors” when teaching, whether face-to-face or online.  And I liked this argument from Arbaugh, which points to some of the transformative potential in blended and distance learning, if the pedagogy is creative and sound:

The online learning environment can in fact reduce the traditional social distance between instructor and student…because the online environment may be more dependent upon the collective effort of all class participants rather than primarily the instructor to assure a successful course…. (48)


Arbaugh, J.B. (2001). How Instructor Immediacy Behaviors Affect Student Satisfaction and Learning in Web-Based Courses. Business Communication Quarterly, 64(4): 42-54. doi:10.1177/108056990106400405. http://bcq.sagepub.com/cgi/doi/10.1177/108056990106400405.


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Chapter 12

Question 2: Why do you think it is important to understand the context of the object being evaluated?

This connects to the Situational Analysis competency which I wrote about previously.  I was struck by the emphasis on flexibility, realizing just how much a good evaluator must be able to roll with the punches.  Moreover, the practices of Situational Analysis also focus on the uniqueness of every client, program, and site.  This is the context asked about in this question.  It is easy to want to apply a certain mold to all, but this shows us the importance of focusing on what makes each client unique.

I’m reading The Homemaker by Dorothy Canfeld Fisher right now.  (My old book group in Palo Alto read it, piquing my interest.)  This novel was written in the 1920s, but is very timely, dealing with roles in marriage, women working outside the home, care of children, etc.  Its timeliness is probably the reason that a new edition of it is due to come out in July.  In any case, the copy I am reading includes, before the novel starts, an article that the author wrote.  She says that often she is asked for her opinion on various issues having to do with marriage: Should women marry young or old?  Should children be cared for by their parents or by competent professionals?  Should women work outside the home?  She says that her response is: What size is a house?  People are a bit bewildered, asking: Which house?  Canfeld says: Which couple?  Which marriage?  Which woman, and which children?

I do think there are some eternal principles, and with the Gospel we have strong opinions about women’s role as nurturer of children.  However, I think the specific context matters.  I might go a little crazy if I didn’t have an intellectual outlet besides the education of my children.  Also, because I married a little later (having already established a career) and then found I was infertile (never knowing, with adoption, till the relinquishment papers are signed and you are walking away with your child, whether you really need those diapers, crib, carseat, clothes, etc etc.), I haven’t been able to bank on children.  I’ve made decisions to find happiness as a working woman, too.  These contextual factors need to be considered when one evaluates the choices my husband and I have made (that I will continue to work or attend school part-time even while our children are young).

So let me now come back to evaluation.  If context is so important in our everyday lives, it makes sense that it would be equally important in evaluation.  If it weren’t for context, there might be, say, 30 possible evaluands.  Programs would just replicate the best model out there.  In fact, in such a case, once the initial kinks were worked out, there wouldn’t be the need to evaluate because the model would be perfected.  Context creates evaluation.  With each client, site and project being unique, having different contexts, evaluation becomes necessary.


Fitzpatrick, J., Sanders, J., & Worthen, B.  (2011). Program Evaluation: Alternative Approaches and Practical Guidelines.  4th edition.  New Jersey: Pearson Education.

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I read another article by Kim McShane reporting case studies of five “early adopters” of technology who combined face-to-face with online teaching methods. McShane is particularly interested in how the use of ICT affects academics’ identity and on their subjective experiences with teaching with new technologies.

McShane reports these themes emerging from the case studies:

  1. Enhanced relationships with students: The professors “came to know their students better-as individuals, as colleagues or in a mentoring relationship–through CMC-mediated learning” (p. 8).  My experience teaching online echoes this, too.
  2. Planning and teaching become very conscious tasks, necessitating some very careful thought and decision-making (p. 9).
  3. Expansion, extension, augmentation (time and space): “The introduction of ICT has expanded the time demands, teaching workloads and ‘reach’ or influence of the five academics in this study” (p. 10). This is not the first study to find this, and I would agree based on my experience teaching online. McShane writes that there is “an interpersonal-spatial dimension to this theme of expansion…. Hilary[one of the academics] finds that online discussions and e-mail enable her to communicate better with her students across a metaphorical gap she feels exists between herself and them” (p. 10).
  4.  Increased scrutiny and reflexivity as compared to the spontaneity and freedom afforded in face-to-face lectures.
  5.  The centrality of lecturing: All five professors still saw lecturing as primary to their instruction:
  •  “For Zhang, real teaching is live and face-to-face” (p. 13).
  •  “For Ron and Seb, lecturing is performance…. Seb values the immediacy and physical proximity (speech, body language, engagement of senses) of face-to-face teaching” (p. 13).
  • Paul says he uses lectures to “talk with” rather than “talk at” his students (p. 13)


McShane, K. (2004). Integrating face-to-face and online teaching: academicsʼ role concept and teaching choices. Teaching in Higher Education, 9(1): 3-16. doi:10.1080/1356251032000155795. http://www.informaworld.com/openurl?genre=article&doi=10.1080/1356251032000155795&magic=crossref||D404A21C5BB053405B1A640AFFD44AE3.


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This article by Dean Spitzer (2001) argued that online learning needs to have a “high touch” or human interaction component, especially if the learning is more advanced cognitively.  Here are some quotations that caught my eye and fit with some of my thinking about blended learning:

Is the purpose of DL [distance learning] just to cover material? Of course, it depends on what kind of learning we are referring to. Knowledge can be acquired through access to information. However, as we progress up the cognitive domain and deal with affective learning, interaction becomes increasingly important. “If all we had to do was read information about a particular skill, then just send the students to a book” (Miller, 2000, p. 2). (p. 51)

“Lacking a dynamic instructor, powerful incentives, links to the job and fixed schedules, Web learning is at a dramatic disadvantage in capturing and holding attention…. Yes, everyone can learn from the Web. But my experience makes me wonder how many will.” (Rossett, 2000, p. 99). (p. 55)

a human mediator who could provide the things that technology could not: relevance, personalization, responsiveness, and flexibility. (p. 52)

[commenting on an online course which the author designed, which had only 5% dropout:] It certainly wasn’t the technology…. It wasn’t glitzy courseware…. The factor that made the difference was the amount of personal attention and online interaction…. I have found that good human facilitation can compensate for most other deficiencies, while state-of-the-art technology and fancy graphics along cannot sustain student interest and motivation for long. (p. 52)

The constraint has always been with software and “peopleware.” (p. 52)

So according to Spitzer, relevance, personalization, responsiveness, and flexibility are critical “human” components.  Graham and I talked about “reciprocity,” which fits with “responsiveness,” I believe.  We wavered on the term “reciprocity” because computers can be reciprocal, to an extent.  I’m not sure “responsive” overcomes anything, since a computer can be “responsive,” too.  Does one term sound more human than the other?

In any case, now I have more articles to look up (Miller, 2000; Rossett, 2000; etc.) to try to gain my specific support for the arguments he makes here.


Spitzer, D. R. (2001). Donʼt forget the high-touch with the high-tech in distance learning. Educational Technology, 41(2): 51-55. http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=uXA-xCItrc4C&oi=fnd&pg=PA165&dq=Don%27t+Forget+the+High-Touch+with+the+High-Tech+in+Distance+Learning&ots=1etqeMaEgU&sig=0Np_lBknaJ-kixUQmjp7BS0MWAQ.

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This particular article wasn’t very useful, and, sensing that from the start, I skimmed it.  It focuses on whether or not community-based organizations that serve senior citizens are using information technology (databases, in particular) as well as they could.  This article came up in an EBSCO search for “high touch,” but somehow the description made me think it might get theoretical.  I did not.

However, I found one aspect interesting.  They listed four main “principles of care” which technology can facilitate in the health care industry.  Those were:

  1. patient empowerment: making information more readily and fully available to patients
  2. reliability & safety: centralized repositories of patient data can improve physician understanding of patient history and needs
  3. maintaining continuous care relationships: here they mentioned patient-physician electronic messaging, and
  4. public accountability for quality: allowing the public access to hospital safety records, physician malpractice claims, etc.

I wondered whether these “principles of care” somehow connected to in education in general and blended learning environments in particular.  Just a few thoughts, which are incomplete:

  1. student empowerment: do students have more access to information when IT or BL is employed?  Definitely Dr Google opens up tons of information.  But how else are student empowered by blended learning strategies or by the use of IT in the classroom?
  2. reliability & safety — what are the parallel concerns in education?
  3. relationships: definitely important in education, and we believe especially in learning that intends a becoming result
  4. public accountability — definitely the public expects accountability in education, though I’m not sure how implementing IT improves this.


Renold, C., Meronk, C. & Kelly, C. (2005). Technology in Community-Based Organizations That Serve Older People: High Tech Meets High Touch. Educational Gerontology, 31(3): 235-245. doi:10.1080/03601270590900972. http://www.informaworld.com/openurl?genre=article&doi=10.1080/03601270590900972&magic=crossref||D404A21C5BB053405B1A640AFFD44AE3.

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This article was extremely qualitative, describing a case study of one professor in particular (with references to a couple others who were not the “highlight”).  It was interesting, however, to read this discussion of online teaching as “the ultimate disorienting dilemma in higher education (Campbell-Gibson, 2000)” (p. 89).

The featured professor is referred to by the pseudonym “Seb.”  He is a professor who sees himself as “The Performer.” As McShane explains, “In Seb’s view, physical proximity in teaching and learning is natural, normal and real; online teaching is mechanical, text-based, and emotionless” (p. 93). The “fidelity” which Graham describes as one of four dimensions in face-to-face versus distributed learning environments, is critical for Seb, for whom “the physicality–indeed the sensuality–of face-to-face teaching” (p. 94) is important.

In addition to teaching “local” students face-to-face, Seb also teaches distance students.  He wrote:

[before we meet f2f]…they could be sending telegrams to the Queen, almost, y’know?…It’s almost as if you’re an entity but you’re not necessarily human like they are; I mean they could be just sending messages to a machine. (p. 94)

This article references Dreyfus (2001), which I have downloaded to read.  Here is McShane’s description of Dreyfus’s argument:

Dreyfus (2001) has drawn attention to the spontaneity and risk involved in physical proximity. Like Seb, he privileges face-to-face learning, arguing that learning as expertise is best developed with a teacher and best acquired in proximate contexts where teachers and students speak, share moods and take risks – including the risk of being challenged, asked a question, being ‘put on the spot’ … (p. 95)

It is interesting that Dreyfus apparently argues that “learning as expertise is best developed with a teacher and best acquired in proximate contexts.”  This is similar to our thoughts, though I would say “learning as becoming is best developed with a teacher and best acquired in proximate contexts.”  I would guess that “learning as expertise” is more about knowledge and skills than about becoming.


McShane, K. (2006). ‘Sending Messages to a Machine’: articulating ethe-real selves in blended teaching (and learning). E-Learning and Digital Media, 3(1): 88–99. http://www.wwwords.co.uk/pdf/validate.asp?j=elea&vol=3&issue=1&year=2006&article=9_McShane_ELEA_3_1_web.

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Just a few thoughts to share from this article.  Hakkinen & Jarvela are interested in the quality and nature of virtual interaction in the higher ed context. They wanted to know whether students’ sharing and constructing of perspectives improved with pedagogical changes (it did, though the pedagogy they describe wasn’t super innovative).

The authors state that “reciprocal understanding is an important factor for reaching educationally high-level discussion” (p.  443).  However, they also claim that it is especially challenging to reach “reciprocal understanding, shared values and goals between participants in networked environment” (p. 435).  I would like to see more research about how this reciprocity is best fostered in online settings.

The courses they studied were “blended,” though they never use that term.  There were face-to-face sessions in addition to the asynchronous, online discussions.  They did not give a lot of detail about what the F2F sessions comprised; it would be interesting to know how the activities facilitated reciprocal understanding.


Hakkinen, P. & Jarvela, S. (2006). Sharing and constructing perspectives in web-based conferencing. Computers & Education, 47(4): 433-447. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2004.10.015. http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S036013150400171X.

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