Online Course Criticism Blog

Friday, August 19, 2005

Overview of Online Course Criticism

Online courses are complex, human-driven contexts for formal learning. We might want to study them in order to learn more about:

  • Essential components of online courses
  • Effectiveness of online courses relative to other modes of instruction
  • Best practices in instructional and management strategies of online courses

Studying online courses is fraught with challenges. This difficulty is exacerbated, however, by the fact that “online course” means different things in different contexts. The label is routinely applied to situations as varied as a traffic school course taken to avoid increased insurance premiums, a skill improvement tutorial available to U.S. Army tank drivers while deployed abroad, a certification course offered by a professional association to real estate agents, and an English course taken to complete a university’s degree program.

Online course criticism (Thompson, 2005), is a mode of inquiry that provides practicing online course professionals (e.g., instructors, administrators, instructional designers, etc.) with an approach that they can use to study online courses from a variety of contexts. A form of educational criticism in the tradition of Stanford curriculum scholar Elliot Eisner (1985, 1991), online course criticism depends upon the heightened perceptions of an expert practitioner and a rigorous qualitative research case study methodology as the bases for portrayal and appraisal of individual online courses. This rendering progresses in a narrowing spiral fashion. That is, the actual course is represented in a rich but limited description followed by progressively narrower treatments of interpretation, evaluation, and a few overarching themes. From the themes presented, readers may choose to generalize to other courses.

Individual online course criticisms are valuable in that they reveal some of the nuance and complexity that a connoisseur sees in specific online courses (what Stake, 2000, refers to as intrinsic case study). This is useful in that readers of criticisms who are not experienced with online courses (especially those whose opinions about online learning are influential) may become better informed. However, even greater value may be found in larger collections of online course criticisms from which more general patterns begin to emerge (comparable to Stake's conceptualization of instrumental case studies).

The Online Course Criticism Model includes:

  1. A conceptual framework for the rationale underlying online course criticisms
  2. Procedural guidelines for practitioners to follow in creating online course criticisms
  3. Required elements to be contained in the final written criticism
Eisner, E. (1985). The Educational Imagination: On the Design and Evaluation of School Programs. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company.
Eisner, E. (1991). The Enlightened Eye: Qualitative Inquiry and the Enhancement of Educational Practice. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company. Stake, R. (2000). Case studies. In Denzin, N. and Lincoln, Y. (Eds). Handbook of Qualitative Research. Sage Publications: Thousand Oaks, CA. Thompson, K. (2005). Constructing Educational Criticism of Online Courses: A Model for Implementation by Practitioners. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. University of Central Florida: Orlando, FL.


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