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A study of the nature of instruction and community in a virtual high school

, The University of Saskatchewan , Canada

The University of Saskatchewan . Awarded


The two-fold purposes of this study were: to determine the nature of instruction required in the virtual school context and student responses to that instruction; and, to determine the nature and parameters of community that develop in the virtual school context. A case study in one Western-Canadian virtual high school was conducted in two phases. Phase I focussed on the perceptions of faculty and included interviews with four administrators, seven teacher/developers, and four developers. Phase II focussed on the perceptions of students and included an on-line survey and four focus group interviews.

Phase I data were analysed using content analysis procedures. Phase II textual data were analysed using content analysis while the descriptive statistics from the survey data were obtained using SPSS. The conceptual framework for analysis was derived from Mitchell and Sackney's (2001) model of the learning community in which they suggested that a learning community must build capacity in three arenas: interpersonal, personal, and organisational.

This study surfaced key implications for theory such as: in the initial stages, an on-line course will look much like a typical face-to-face course unless adequate course development time and sufficient pedagogical and technological training for teachers are provided, the traditional bureaucratic management style does not fit well with a cyberschool project, and the cyberschool appears to have a positive impact on student learning. In addition, implications for practise included the need to address the high student drop out and disengagement rates as well as the students' desire for more structured community and course procedures. Implications for further research included the need to develop an effective screening process for prospective on-line students, a further examination of the administrative structures necessary for effective management of on-line schools, and a longitudinal study of virtual school operation to develop a set of correlates of virtual school effectiveness. A reconceptualisation of the theoretical framework was offered indicating that the metaphor of a learning community was an apt description of an on-line school but, the traditional models of learning communities did not go far enough. The learning community, for the on-line school context, needs to account for greater student input and must reframe the student-teacher relationship in terms of being co-learners. Finally, the potential future directions of on-line learning such as the proliferation of on-line learning objects and hybrid schools were explored. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)


Tunison, S.D. A study of the nature of instruction and community in a virtual high school. Ph.D. thesis, The University of Saskatchewan. Retrieved April 24, 2019 from .

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