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Do Virtual Professors Dream of Electric Students? University Faculty Experiences with Online Distance Education


by Claire Howell Major — 2010

Background: Faculty acceptance of distance learning plays an important role in its success or failure in higher education. Information about faculty experiences of teaching online can improve understanding about this delivery mode’s potential longevity in academe. Exploratory qualitative research has begun to uncover and unpack faculty experiences with online learning. Such studies provide a focused and detailed picture of faculty perceptions of teaching online; however, they have not been considered for what they add to cumulative knowledge.

Purpose: The purpose of this research was to employ a rigorous and systematic approach to make meaning of individual studies that investigated faculty experiences of teaching online by considering the studies in aggregate.

Research Design: This study drew upon qualitative synthesis methods to investigate faculty experiences with online teaching. In particular, the study used metaethnography, an interpretive approach, to synthesize findings from nine original studies conducted by 23 researchers involving interviews with 117 faculty members with online teaching experience.

Data Collection and Analysis: This study involved searching electronic databases and tables of contents of key journals to gather relevant articles. It relied upon analysis techniques common to metaethnographic approaches, including reciprocal translation analysis (translating themes into each other), refutations synthesis (attempts to explain variations and contradictions), and lines-of-argument analysis (building a general interpretation from findings of separate studies through reliance on qualitative analysis such as constant comparison).

Findings: This article presents findings from a qualitative synthesis of university faculty experiences with online distance education. Results show that faculty members believe teaching online changes the way they approach and think about teaching, course design, time, instruction, and students.

Conclusions: Finding new ways to understand existing literature was one of the chief goals of this study. These results represent a starting place for improving current practice as well as for guiding future research.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 112 Number 8, 2010, p. 2154-2208
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15946, Date Accessed: 10/24/2014 9:31:43 AM

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About the Author
  • Claire Major
    The University of Alabama
    E-mail Author
    CLAIRE MAJOR is Associate Professor at the College of Education at The University of Alabama. Her research interests include college faculty’s use of innovative instructional approaches. Her recent publications include, “Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Resource for College Faculty,” with Elizabeth Barkley and Pat Cross (Jossey-Bass, 2005) and “Foundations of Problem-based Learning” with Maggi Savin-Baden (Open University Press/Society for Research in Higher Education, 2004).
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