Change in university teachers' elearning beliefs and practice

Year: 2012

Author: Scott, Karen M.

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


In seeking to meet the pressures placed upon them, many universities are increasing their use of elearning. Research is being undertaken to improve the quality of learning and teaching using elearning, including lesson design, teachers' conceptions of and approaches to elearning, teacher identity, the transition from face-to-face teaching to elearning, and teachers' experiences of their first year of teaching using elearning. However, little research has looked at change over time in these areas. The research reported here focuses in depth on six university teachers and examines change in their elearning beliefs and practice over two years.

A multiple case study was used to delve into the elearning beliefs and practice of the six teachers at The University of Sydney, Australia. Ethnographic, longitudinal case study research using qualitative methods enabled the researcher to gather a rich level of data, contributing to a deep understanding of the research participants, the issues they faced in their working lives and the ways in which they were supported and challenged by their context over time. This provided the researcher with the basis to identify and understand changes in elearning beliefs and practice of the teachers as they transitioned from the face-to-face to the elearning context through implementing an elearning resource over two non-consecutive semesters. The research questions examined the changes the teachers made to their elearning resources during the study and, more importantly, whether the teachers' reflections on any changes provided an opportunity and stimulus for change in their elearning beliefs and practice.

Changes in the participants' elearning beliefs usually occurred following a critical incident, which often involved the challenge of engendering online communication and communities of learners, and meeting the learning preferences of students with a strategic approach to learning. In most cases changes in belief involved an elaboration of a participant's existing belief, while at other times it involved adoption of a new belief. Sometimes the participants changed their beliefs before they changed their practice; at other times the participants changed their beliefs after they changed their practice, in contrast to previous research, as the teachers experimented with their elearning resources. In these cases there appeared to be contradictions amongst the participants' different sets of elearning beliefs, illustrating the complexity of teachers' beliefs. Most commonly, the participants were trying to accommodate their beliefs with their students' learning preferences, the educational outcomes they wished to achieve and the elearning context.