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Blog Assignment #5: Article Review

Mandernach, Jean B., Amber Dailey-Herbert, and Emily Donnelli-Sallee. “Frequency and Time Investment of Instructors’ Participation in Threaded Discussions in the Online Classroom.” Journal of Interactive Online Learning 6.1 (2007). 1-9. Google Scholar. Web. 9 Jun. 2014.

The authors of this study acknowledge the significant investment of time initially required to prepare a course for online delivery; however, they are interested in the time demands on faculty in facilitating an established online course. This study aims to establish some “empirical information to guide the frequency and nature” of faculty involvement in asynchronous discussions; evidence-supported information the authors note as underrepresented in the literature (2). They argue that with students’ increased expectations for instructor availability, greater quantitative data about the investment of time is needed. This quantitative study evaluated a random sample of ten undergraduate courses that students rated as highly effective in promoting understanding of course material. The authors analyzed the course management archives for each course. The results indicate that faculty time spent facilitating discussions is highly variable: each week faculty responses ranged from 0-22 posts, their time logged in ranged from 22-450 minutes, and they logged in on 4-6.8 days. The authors conclude that facilitating discussions in “online courses may not take any more time than facilitating discussion in face-to-face courses, but that “the time investment is distributed differently throughout the week” with greater time spent working on the weekends being “one of the biggest shifts in online faculty workloads” (6). The authors caution that the study is limited in that it does not measure other means of facilitation that cumulatively require greater time demands. I find this study helpful in that it begins to measure the amount of time needed to complete the various functions of the online instructor. Anecdotally, teachers in online courses report that they are making a significant investment of time, but studies like this can provide the kind of administratively valued quantitative data needed when arguing for limiting online class size or reduction of teaching loads. As courses are encouraged to be moved online, considerations must be made for the workload inequity between online and face-to-face courses. The collation of previous studies of the increased demands on time and the value of discussion threads in the literature review are especially useful for building an evidence-based case for reasonable online faculty course loads and class sizes and for the pedagogical value of incorporating discussion when designing courses. I think that although the authors are not willing to suggest guidelines based on this study, it is useful as a starting point for new instructors wondering how much time to spend responding to students. The mean time spent in discussion boards was 187 minutes per week over a mean of five days each week. I think this is valuable because the students reported that these courses were highly effective, and with this in mind, instructors can remind themselves that daily, extensive involvement in discussion boards is not necessary: a little more than three hours over five days can be enough. This is obviously not the only responsibility of the online instructor, and more time will be spent in other ways, but it can help to find at least one boundary.