A Delphi Method Study on Triggering Transactional Distance to Improve Students’ Learning: The Instructor’s Rubric 1.0

Author Information
Dr. Heidi L. Maston
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
Fielding Graduate University
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
Unnamed insitutes of Higher Education (Delphi Method is a blind study)
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

The 21st century ushered in change with the increased use of technology in educational delivery methods and opened doors for a new generation of students. While the debate over pedagogy, content design and overall effectiveness of this delivery format continues, scholars have not attended to the lessons of earlier theorists. This study examined a foundational theory of distance education, transactional distance (TD) and the potential to increase academic learning via sets of parameters instigated by the instructor. These sets of variables are described in the Instructor‟s Engagement Rubric 1.0, which was created through this study following a three-round investigation of current and anticipated behaviors discovered in this study and accomplished in accordance with the research methodologies of the Delphi Method. The responses to this Delphi study produced the following results. Three themes emerged: a) The technological tools in the transactional distance classroom are being used in a variety of manners and with little consistency as to desired outcome, b) There is inconsistency with the identification of the role of the instructor in a TD classroom, c) The data also indicated that there are certain combinations of tools and purposeful interactions that can create an improved learning environment for the student. These data produced the Instructor‟s Engagement Rubric 1.0 (IER 1.0), which is now available for use.

Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 

The initial findings of this study are complex. In addition to answering the original research question which was the focus of this investigation, the unanticipated secondary findings are worthy of their own mention and brief discussion. The primary findings directly answering the original research topic, although in line with the secondary findings, are divergent at best. The primary findings indicate that the instructors experienced different levels of ¡°success¡± (as they perceived their experience with their individual students) based on which technologies are chosen for each role the instructor inhabits during the interaction. The similarities of replies suggest that there does appear to be a consensus to the implementation of how to align the approach with instructional technologies. However, what seems to be lacking in this consensus is the why and when. This indicates that the technology is not an obstacle in and of itself in the transactional distance classroom, and that there is a fundamental understanding of its potential overall usefulness among the participants surveyed. However, the results show an overwhelming variance of the specifics of why and when the components of implementation and utilization are executed in order to meet a specific and targeted need. There was no general consensus for either of these issues. Major findings that were a product of the questions, but were wholly unanticipated, included the apparent discovery that technologies currently in the higher education system are being mostly ignored, and at best underutilized, by both the faculty and the students. These technologies come as part of prepackaged Learning Management Systems (LMS) or Course Management Systems (CMS) and are often sold in multiyear, and extremely high cost, packages. Examples of these systems include: Blackboard, Wimba, Elluminate, Angel, and a wide variety of in-house systems created by individual universities. While this comes as little to no surprise to many faculty and administrative members in the survey, what does seem to distinguish this from random personal preference issues is high (72%) preference of both faculty and students who prefer using the telephone. However, when examining the population range of 32 to 81 years, with an average age of 49, it becomes apparent that the majority of the participants fall within the age demographic of a digital immigrant, which may account for the technology preference. I anticipate that the results of the study done on the students for SER 2.0, defined as digital natives, will result in an entirely different outcome regarding technology preferences. The findings indicate that although the LMS and CMS.s include a variety of options for synchronous and asynchronous communication, there is not full implementation or mandated (whether implied or inferred) usage of these tools by the administrators. Additionally, there is not a mandatory or voluntary implementation of these tools in the classroom by the faculty, nor is there an apparent outcry for usage by the students. What this initially indicates is that although these tools are being purchased at great cost, and there is a wide pool from which to choose the means of communication, their usage is minimal. The secondary unanticipated findings of this research involve the impact of certain technology utilizations that are dependent solely upon the role of the instructor in the immediate time and space of communication interaction. The technologies that appeared to have the greatest impact in connection with various roles were: the telephone, e-mail, chat, and bulletin boards. As shown in the IER 1.0, the technology shown as most impactful with each role that the instructor inhabits is instrumental in the self-efficaciousness of the student. Although the title of the instructor remains constant in the transactional distance environment, the role that the singular instructor executes is fluid but dependent upon the varying situation at any given time. Each of these roles has been shown to have specific, and varying, impacts on the academic success of the student in direct relation to that instructional delivery methodology. Several supplementary findings to the original research question became apparent by Rounds 2 and 3 of the Delphi Survey. During Round 2, findings demonstrated that the definitions of the various components of transactional distance were beyond the scope of the majority of the participants. Although every effort was made to provide clarification, supplemental materials for examination, and working definitions, the feedback received (both during and after the study) indicated that the research concept was beyond the scope of some of the participants. experiences and expertise. This is noteworthy for the primary reason that the criteria for study participation was stringent and the pool of individuals invited to participate were all regarded as highly educated and area specific experts in the field of distance education. This disconnect demonstrated an apparent lack of a common knowledge base within the field of experts. The supplementary findings of Round 3 were somewhat unusual as well. Round 3of this study focused on the roles of the faculty in the transactional distance classroom and how those roles are, and could be, utilized to develop and meet the self-effacious behaviors of the student. Again, there appeared to be little consensus on this topic as the results were wide and scattered. What did appear to be overwhelming in this round was a general belief that the instructor is not responsible for structuring the transactional classroom to meet such needs. Although the desire for a rubric was acknowledged by over 78% of the participants, only 46% indicated that they would potentially implement such a rubric into their classroom. These data was in close alignment with the 70% and 40% dropout rates found by Keane and Irvin in 2010. This suggests that while there is broad acknowledgment of need, there is little interest or understanding of the steps towards implementation. With regard to transactional distance, there appears to be a uniform strength in the utilization of chosen technology tools employed by each participant in the study there also appears to be no consensus of best practices that address the needs of the learner. The gap that appeared in the data collection, via data and/or comment feedback (Appendix G ) and indicated that there was an apparent knowledge and awareness disconnect occurring at the administrative level of program development. This leads to questions regarding both the concept of transactional distance in an operational capacity as well as questions surrounding the need to recognize the foundational necessity for such understanding. Therefore, it appears that although tools are being selected, and randomly implemented, there is not an overwhelming sense of coordination and direction regarding the basics (much less the needs) of transactional distance methodologies in this environment. This then brings forth the questions of the student.s ability to become self-effacious in these environments as follows: 1) Do the experts believe they are already doing what is being proposed by the study? 2) Are the experts unaware of such concepts in their transactional classrooms? 3) Is the resistance to such a rubric an exhaustive reflex to change? 4) What other tools besides a rubric might better match the participants needs? These questions will be explored during the greater discussion of findings and a post research literature analysis.

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

The intent of this study was to collect data from highly qualified participants in order to create a rubric to address the original topic. Following a three round series of inquiry, that data were obtained, analyzed, and the IER 1.0 was created (Appendix A). Although the analysis of the literature revealed additional information and exploration of the literature involved with this study (transactional distance, self-efficacy, and identity) there appears to be no other English study that combined the three components of this study. This study also appeared to be among the first of its kind not only by its examination of the potential relationship between the components of its root question, but how it also gives guidance as to how to trigger behaviors in students. The implications of this combined research are twofold. First, this is the first tool that provides a directional approach for instigating the self-efficacy traits within the framework of transactional distance environments. The IER 1.0 focuses on the needs of the student by providing communication direction starting at the instructor‟s point of interaction. Second, this is the first English theory combination study that utilizes the Delphi Method to merge the multiple points of inquiry into a single product of outcome. While there remains question as to the participant‟s conceptual understanding of transactional distance, this does in no way diminish the need for such a tool in this environment. The final recommendations of this study are clear. First, as mentioned throughout the study, the need for a SER 2.0 is clearly evident. Although the IER 1.0 has been created with the intent of mapping a triggering pattern from the instructor‟s perspective, the need for a student activated rubric is also warranted. The placement of the control mechanism into the hands of the student allows for the power of increased self-efficaciousness in the academic realm, increases across the boundaries of a single classroom and into a pattern of life-long success. Second, the introduction and utilization of the IER 1.0 will provide a road map for the successful development of transactional distance classrooms. Although much focus and energy has gone into the creation of the technologies that deliver these classrooms, little focus has been aimed at utilizing these technologies appropriately, with thought and with a strong research protocol. This study has changed that.

How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

Access: This research based practice is tailored to the individual student and instructor and allows/encourages/facilitates the personalization and 1:1 needs of all students. This provides for and encourages individualized access for all students dependent upon their individual needs.

Faculty Satisfaction: This research based practice increases faculty satisfaction by providing a clear and direct navigation pathway for benchmark parameters within the field of distance learning as the parameters relate to transactiona distance and increased self-efficatious learning patterns of the student.

Learning Effectiveness: This researched based practice increases learning effictiveness, and prompts increased learning outcomes, by triggering and utilizing current modes of distance education communication theory in a tangible and quantifiable manner. This practice also allows for extended learning gains in the educational venue post the orginal implementation of the rubric's identification onsets.

Scale: The IER 1.0 can be implemented in both large and small scale environments.

Student Satisfaction: Post doctoral studies, and the creation of the SER 2.0, will provide quantifiable data on student satisfaction. It is projected that as students increase their abilities to further develop their self-efficaciousness, their learning satisfaction will increase.

Equipment necessary to implement Effective Practice: 

No specialized equipment is necessary to implement Effective Practice beyond what is located in/with the distance education (chat, bulletin boards, voip, ftp, email, phone).

Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

Zero cost. beyond standard faculty development workshops.

References, supporting documents: 

Please see the full study, and supporting reesearch documentation, in the attached document:: Dissertation Heidi Maston Fielding Graduate University.

Other Comments: 

My specialization in communication and distance education is well documented at http://www.drheidimaston.com . Please visit my site for additional background, relevant works and contributions to the field that have culminated in this research.

Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Dr. Heidi Maston
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Effective Practice Contact 2: 
Dr. Joyce Germaine Watts
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Effective Practice Contact 3: 
Dr. Lee Mahon
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