5 July 02004

Online tutor workload and poor research publishing

The paper Faculty self-study research project: examining the online workload ought to tell us more about the pressures on online tutors than it does. The gist is that, based on six university staff keeping records of their online teaching time, they found that the total time taken was marginally less than the offline equivalent, but that its impact was potentially more disruptive since the tasks are spread through a day rather than being concentrated in dedicated teaching sessions.

It takes quite a lot of work to extract that unsurprising result from the paper, and I'll be impressed if anyone can get much more substance of it. There's no insight, for example, into the relative time taken by different kinds of tutoring tasks or how to manage online tutors to make best use of their time.

It's unfair to pick on just one example, and I have no beef with the writer of the paper, who seems simply to be following a style template laid down for academic publishing. But look at the Results section, for instance. It begins:

"The two project objectives were met. In relation to Objective 1, both the end-of-project reports submitted by the faculty researchers and an end-of-project survey conducted by the project coordinator indicated that..."

Exactly whose purposes are served by this enormous amount of padding, which buries the punchline that:

"all of the research participants gained a better understanding of their workload in the online environment"?

And if you were wondering what that better understanding was, you'll have to dig a lot harder through more verbiage, and even then you may still be as disappointed as I was. For example:

"...identification of the factors and interplay of factors that contribute to the perception of greater workload has provided useful information on which to base institutional support of and expectations for faculty members teaching online."

But what were those factors and what was the useful information? The paper isn't telling us.

What the paper does tell is that "[t]his knowledge also has been shared" and "researchers have disseminated their findings". If the sharing and dissemination were as revealing as this paper, then that's not much to write home about. Nevertheless, the project has apparently won two awards.

Perhaps I'm missing the point of this kind of publication, but the home page of the Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks suggests I am entitled to expect more, stating "Papers emphasizing results, backed by data are the norm" and "[t]he Journal is now a major resource for knowledge about online learning".

The most substantial and best presented part of the paper is the list of references, and I wonder, cynically, if that is the real point here: for authors to boost the number of citations to their own and their colleagues' work, while providing only 'teaser' information about hard results, so that readers will be prompted to follow up the references to get the full story.

Posted by David Jennings in section(s) E-learning, Teaching on 5 July 02004 | TrackBack
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