What can teachers learn about equity online? How do they
What do they do with what they learn?
What role does the online facilitator play in the learning?
These are some of the questions that GEMS is in the process
of answering. GEMS
is a three-year project to determine what middle school teachers
learn about equity in mathematics and science in an online
course. GEMS research is supported by a grant from NSF's Program
The course, "Engaging Middle School Girls in Mathematics
and Science," is a seven-week asynchronous, online course
for which teachers can receive either college credit or professional
development points. Teachers complete readings and activities
for each of seven sessions, participate in a discussion board,
and post a final project.
The GEMS project has two major components in its research.
One is use of a case study methodology. Project staff is tracking
the experience of eight teachers in this online course. Each
research subject provides a profile of demographic data, takes
the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory, and evaluates the course.
In addition, a GEMS staff member visits the teacher's classroom
to conduct an observation using the "Protocol for Assessing
Classroom Equity in Mathematics and Science." The teacher
participates in a lengthy interview regarding her/his experience
in the course.
From analysis of these case studies, GEMS staff will be
able to determine the characteristics of teachers who enroll
in the online course, what factors led them to enroll, and
their level of knowledge regarding equity before and after
the course. Staff should also know the fit between their learning
style and the learning environment of the course, what they
found helpful and not helpful about the course, and the extent
to which their classroom is equitable.
The other component of the research is an analysis of the
discourse, which involves a larger number of the teachers.
Participants must post a minimum of three messages for each
session. GEMS staff is looking at the postings of both the
course facilitator and the participants. Factors such a frequency
of postings, the content of the posting, time of posting (for
teachers), and the effect of a posting on subsequent postings
is all being examined.
Staff is also interested in the group dynamics of the online
course: who talks to whom, is there a person who dominates
the discussion, what happens when someone posts but isn't
responded to, and are there "hot topics" that the participants
Analysis of these data should reveal the dynamics of interaction
in an asynchronous, online environment.
In addition to several reports presenting and analyzing
the data described above, there are three spin-off products
planned for the project. They are:
"What Is an Equitable Online Course?" Similar to the guidelines
developed over the past 25 years describing an equitable classroom
in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, language, and disability,
these guidelines will address these same issues for an online
"Keeping to the Point" Facilitating Online Courses that
Have Equity as an Instructional Component or Other Material
of a Highly Affective Nature Facilitating a virtual course
is very different from teaching a class of live students.
There are various models of online facilitation, some of which
work better, depending on the course objectives, content,
and environment. This document will explore such questions
as what to do if participants are avoiding key subjects or
what to do if participants get in an argument.
"Should I Do This or Not? A Self-Assessment for Enrolling
in an Online Course" The dropout rate for online courses is
significantly higher than for face-to-face courses. Online
courses require a greater level of discipline and motivation
on the part of the enrollee. This self-assessment will help
prospective enrollees decide whether starting an online course
is an appropriate action that will likely bring them success
at this point in their lives.