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Research Agenda

My own research interests are rooted in my own personal experiences as a K-12 student, and as a K-12 teacher. Growing up I had the opportunity to attend one of the largest, urban high schools in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, providing me with all of the curricular opportunities that I was interested in and that was required of my for university enrollment. Less than a decade later, I worked as a social studies teacher in a regional, rural high school. Even though this regional school was still one of the larger schools in the province, the educational opportunities available to my own students were quite limited; particularly in comparison to the opportunities that I had as a student. For example, in order for my students to be able to take Advanced Placement courses they had to enroll in distance education programs. In several of the rural schools in adjacent communities the students had to take their courses at a distance simply to complete a curriculum that would make them eligible to attend university. These experiences peaked my interest in the use of distance education in K-12 environments.

While distance education has been used with K-12 students for more than a century, the use of the Internet to provide distance education within the K-12 environment was first introduced in the early 1990s. This form of educational delivery is known by many labels (e.g., web-based learning, virtual schooling, cyber schooling, etc.); however, the term K-12 online learning has begun to emerge as the general term that encompasses all forms of Internet-based distance education in the K-12 environment. K-12 online learning is an important sub-field of study. Just over a decade ago, Clark (2001) estimated there were between 40,000 and 50,000 K-12 students enrolled in one or more distance education courses. More recently, Ambient Insights (2011) reported that there were approximately four million K-12 students learning online during the 2010-11 school year. This exponential growth has led to predictions that over half of all K-12 education will be delivered online by the year 2020 (Christensen, Horn & Johnson, 2008). In 2006, Michigan became the first state in the United States to require students to learn online in order to graduate from high school (followed by New Mexico, Alabama, Florida, and others).

My Own Scholarship

As a relatively new area of scholarship within the field of instructional technology, much of the early research into K-12 online learning – including my own scholarship – examined how this form of educational delivery differed from traditional classroom based instruction and comparing how students performed in this innovative delivery model with students in the traditional classroom. In recent years, studies in the field have focused on factors influencing the effective design, delivery and support of K-12 online learning; and my own work has tended to have a focus on students in rural jurisdictions (although not an exclusive emphasis). Over the past decade, my research into K-12 online learning has had three primary emphases.

Understanding K-12 Online Learning.

Similar to many researchers in K-12 online learning, and researchers in most technology-related fields, my early studies described the nature of K-12 online learning and exploring its effectiveness in comparison to traditional face-to-face classroom learning. As a relatively new innovation, one of the first questions researchers often examine is whether students learn better with or without the innovation. However, most of the research conducted on K-12 online learning has focused on a selective population of students. Haughey and Muirhead (1999) described the preferred characteristics of students engaged in K-12 online learning as including the highly motivated, self-directed, self-disciplined, independent learner who could read and write well, and who also had a strong interest in or ability with technology (see also Cavanaugh, Gillan, Bosnick, Hess, & Scott, 2005; Espinoza, Dove, Zucker, & Kozma, 1999; McLeod, Hughes, Brown, Choi, & Maeda, 2005; Roblyer & Elbaum, 2000).

In an attempt to address the limitation of student selectivity, my initial work in this area focused on comparing student performance on Advanced Placement (AP) exam based on whether students were enrolled in online or traditional face-to-face versions of the course in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador (Barbour & Mulcahy, 2006). I selected the AP program because it was a university-level curriculum offered to high school students, as the nature of students in both the online and face-to-face cohorts tend to be the higher academically achieving students. I followed-up this study with a comparison of the population of students on standardized, provincial public examinations in Newfoundland and Labrador from the 2001-02 school year until the 2006-07 school year, again comparing K-12 students in the online version of the course with their face-to-face counterparts (Barbour & Mulcahy, 2008; 2009a).

In addition to exploring the effectiveness of K-12 online learning, an important aspect of understanding the nature of K-12 online learning was to systematically examine the experiences described in the K-12 online learning literature – most of which was “based upon the personal experience of those involved in the practice of K-12 online learning” (Cavanaugh, Barbour, & Clark, 2009, ¶ 5). As such, I conducted a series of studies designed to use the data to describe what occurred in the K-12 online learning environment (Barbour, 2005a; 2007a), and how students perceived these experience (Barbour, 2008; Barbour, McLaren, & Zhang, 2012; Barbour, Siko, Sumara, & Simuel-Everage, 2012). My dissertation research examined a case study of 12 students in one rural high school who were taking one or more online courses in addition to their schedule simultaneous and not real time in their unsupervised distance education room, as well as the process the students undertook when they needed content-based assistance (Barbour & Hill, 2012). As I have matured as a researcher and as my understanding of the field has broadened through these initial studies, my research began to shift to examine the conditions under which online learning can be effective in the K-12 environment.

Identifying Effective Design, Delivery and Support of K-12 Online Learning.

As the research into K-12 online learning began to develop, and an increasing number of jurisdictions were offering and even beginning to require online learning, the importance of understanding the factors that allowed online learning to be successful with different types of K-12 students has become important. My own research has focused on the improving the design of online learning content, the delivery of that content, and the support provided to K-12 students – many of whom have yet to develop the learning skills needed for success in this largely independent environment. My exploration of these conditions began with examining the characteristics of effective online course design for adolescent learners. This line of inquiry led me to study the correlation between a students’ individual learning style, the nature of the online course content, and student performance (Barbour & Cooze, 2004; Cooze & Barbour, 2005a; 2007). This continued with an exploration of the perceptions of online course developers, online teachers, and online students on characteristics of effective online course design (Barbour, 2005b; 2005c; 2007b), also an examination into the online course development process (Barbour, 2005d).

With respect to the delivery or teaching of online content, my research has focused on the use of specific tools or pedagogical strategies designed to increase student engagement and sense of community in the K-12 online environment. For example, I have examined the use of instant messaging tools by online teachers with their supplemental students (i.e., students physically on a brick-and-mortar school who are also enrolled in one or more online courses) as a way to build rapport with their students (Cooze & Barbour, 2003). For full-time online students (i.e., those who do not attend a physical school, but learn completely online), I examined the potential of a social network site available only to students and teachers as an online space where the co-curricular and extra-curricular activities we typically associate with school could be replicated (Barbour & Plough, 2009; 2012). Pedagogically, I have explored the nature of interaction between online teachers and their students in an attempt to identify the best practices of those online teachers that had high completion rates (Hawkins, Barbour, & Graham, 2011; 2012).

The final condition related to effective K-12 online learning was support provided to the online students at the load school level. Of the three conditions, this area has been the least studied. My own research into this condition has included two studies that examine the types of support these local teachers provided to the online students in their schools and the amount of time these teachers invested in these responsibilities; often on a voluntary basis (Barbour & Mulcahy, 2004; 2009b). In addition to my research, I have also developed an online orientation for the remediation of independent study skills with K-12 online students based on the validated Educational Success Prediction Instrument (Roblyer, Davis, Mills, Marshall, & Pape, 2008; Roblyer & Marshall, 2002-2003). Research into the effectiveness of this orientation has been the focus of several funding proposals that I have submitted to the National Science Foundation.

Creating Environments to Allow Effective K-12 Online Learning.

The conditions for effective K-12 online learning is only one part of the challenge to ensuring all students can be successful. The other part of that challenge is to ensure that the regulations in a particular jurisdiction, as well as the teacher education programs preparing those professionals, are suitable to allow these conditions to be achieved. Over the past eight years, John Watson and a variety of co-authors have produced an annual examination of the policies related to and the level of activity of K-12 online learning in each of the 50 states, and the District of Columbia (see http://www.kpk12.com). Five years ago, I began an annual Canadian version of that study. The State of the Nation: K-12 Online Learning in Canada examined legislation, policies, and regulations governing the use of K-12 distance education in each province and territory (Barbour, 2009; 2010; 2011; Barbour & Stewart, 2008). It also included a comprehensive survey of all of the K-12 online learning programs currently in operation in Canada. This study has received funding from nine different organizations in Canada and the United States.

Additionally, universities need to be able to prepare teachers for K-12 online learning. In a study of 522 universities in the United States, Kennedy and Archambault (2012) found that only 1.3% had teacher education programs that included elements of K-12 online learning at the undergraduate or graduate level. The IT6230 – Internet in the Classroom course at Wayne State University is one example of a course focused on K-12 online learning. For the past five years I have used this course to develop a variety of instructional tools to introduce in-service teachers to K-12 online learning and provide them with strategies for its effective design delivery and support; as well as conduct research into the effectiveness of these tools. For example, using a model developed at Iowa State University, I partnered with the Michigan Virtual School to create a series of web-based case studies to highlight effective online teaching strategies in English language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies (see http://itlab2.coe.wayne.edu/it6230/casestudies/). Using the “Teacher Education Goes into Virtual Schooling” initiative as a model, I also partnered with several Michigan-based high schools to develop a series of multimedia scenarios designed to explore the online learning graduation requirement and provide teachers with strategies to support their online students (see http://itlab2.coe.wayne.edu/it6230/michigan/). The creation of both of these projects was supported through internal funding programs at Wayne State University. Data have been collected from six of the seven semesters that IT6230 have been offered, and substantial revisions to both the course and how these tools are used has occurred as a result of this research (Barbour, 2011b; 2011c; Barbour & Unger, 2009, 2010; accepted; Unger & Barbour, 2010).


Ambient Insight. (2011). 2011 Learning technology research taxonomy: Research methodology, buyer segmentation, product definitions, and licensing model. Monroe, WA: Author. Retrieved from http://www.ambientinsight.com/Resources/Documents/AmbientInsight_Learning_Technology_Taxonomy.pdf

Barbour, M. K. (2005a). From telematics to web-based: The progression of distance education in Newfoundland and Labrador. British Journal of Educational Technology, 36(6), 1055-1058.

Barbour, M. K. (2005b). The design of web-based courses for secondary students. Journal of Distance Learning, 9(1), 27-36.

Barbour, M. K. (2005c). Perceptions of effective web-based design for secondary school students: A narrative analysis of previously collected data. The Morning Watch, 32(3-4). Retrieved from http://www.mun.ca/educ/faculty/mwatch/win05/Barbour.htm

Barbour, M. K. (2005). Evaluation of the Illinois Virtual High School course development process. Aurora, IL: Illinois Virtual High School. Retrieved from http://www.imsa.edu/programs/ivhs/pdfs/course_development_eval_2005-10.pdf

Barbour, M. K. (2007a). Portrait of rural virtual schooling. Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, (59). Retrieved from http://www.umanitoba.ca/publications/cjeap/articles/barbour.html

Barbour, M. K. (2007b). Teacher and developer perceptions of effective web-based design for secondary school students. Journal of Distance Education, 21(3), 93-114. Retrieved from http://www.jofde.ca/index.php/jde/article/view/30

Barbour, M. K. (2009). State of the nation study: K-12 online learning in Canada. Vienna, VA: International Council for K-12 Online Learning. Retrieved from http://www.inacol.org/research/docs/iNACOL_CanadaStudy_200911.pdf

Barbour, M. K. (2010). State of the nation study: K-12 online learning in Canada. Vienna, VA: International Council for K-12 Online Learning. Retrieved from http://www.inacol.org/research/docs/iNACOL_CanadaStudy10-finalweb.pdf

Barbour, M. K. (2011a). State of the nation study: K-12 online learning in Canada. Vienna, VA: International Council for K-12 Online Learning. Retrieved from http://www.inacol.org/research/docs/iNACOL_CanadaStudy_201111.pdf

Barbour, M. K. (2011b). Introducing in-service teachers to virtual schooling through the lens of the three teacher roles. In M. Koehler & P. Mishra (eds.), Proceedings of the annual conference of the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (pp. 3425-3432). Norfolk, VA: AACE.

Barbour, M. K. (2011c). Primary and secondary teacher preparation for designing, delivering and supporting online learning. In Proceedings of the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference. London, U.K.: Institute of Education, University of London. Retrieved from http://www.leeds.ac.uk/educol/documents/205719.pdf

Barbour, M. K. (accepted). The landscape of K-12 online learning: Examining what is known. In M. G. Moore (Eds.), Handbook of distance education (3rd ed.). New York: Routledge.

Barbour, M. K., & Cooze, M. (2004). All for one and one for all: Designing web-based courses for students based upon individual learning styles. Staff and Educational Development International, 8(2/3), 95-108.

Barbour, M. K., & Hill, J. R. (2011). What are they doing and how are they doing it? Rural student experiences in virtual schooling. Journal of Distance Education, 25(1). Retrieved from http://www.jofde.ca/index.php/jde/article/view/725

Barbour, M. K., & Mulcahy, D. (2004). The role of mediating teachers in Newfoundland’s new model of distance education. The Morning Watch, 32(1-2). Retrieved from http://www.mun.ca/educ/faculty/mwatch/fall4/barbourmulcahy.htm

Barbour, M. K., & Mulcahy, D. (2006). An inquiry into retention and achievement differences in campus based and web based AP courses. Rural Educator, 27(3), 8-12.

Barbour, M. K., & Mulcahy, D. (2008). How are they doing? Examining student achievement in virtual schooling. Education in Rural Australia, 18(2), 63-74.

Barbour, M. K., & Mulcahy, D. (2009a). Student performance in virtual schooling: Looking beyond the numbers. ERS Spectrum, 27(1), 23-30.

Barbour, M. K., & Mulcahy, D. (2009b). Beyond volunteerism and good will: Examining the commitment of school-based teachers to distance education. In I. Gibson et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (779-784). Norfolk, VA: AACE.

Barbour, M. K. & Plough, C. (2009). Social networking in cyberschooling: Helping to make online learning less isolating. Tech Trends, 53(4), 56-60.

Barbour, M. K. & Plough, C. (2012). Putting the social into online learning: Social networking in a cyber school. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 13(3), 1-18. Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1154/2148

Barbour, M. K., & Reeves, T. C. (2009). The reality of virtual schools: A review of the literature. Computers and Education, 52(2), 402–416.

Barbour, M. K., & Stewart, R. (2008). A snapshot state of the nation study: K-12 online learning in Canada. Vienna, VA: North American Council for Online Learning. Retrieved from http://inacol.org/resources/docs/NACOL_CanadaStudy-lr.pdf

Barbour, M. K., & Unger, K. (2009). Challenging teachers’ preconceptions, misconceptions, and concerns of virtual schooling. In I. Gibson et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (pp. 785-790). Norfolk, VA: AACE.

Barbour, M. K. & Unger, K. (2010). The impact of the virtual schooling curriculum on preparing in-service teachers for the roles as virtual school facilitators. In D. Gibson & B. Dodge (Eds.), Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference (pp. 2905-2912). Chesapeake, VA: AACE.

Barbour, M. K., & Unger, K. (accepted). K-12 online teaching case studies. In A. P. Mizell & A. A. Piña (Eds.), Real life distance education: Case studies in research and practice. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.

Cavanaugh, C., Barbour, M. K., & Clark, T. (2009). Research and practice in K-12 online learning: A review of literature. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10(1). Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/607

Cavanaugh, C., Gillan, K. J., Bosnick, J., Hess, M., & Scott, H. (2005). Succeeding at the gateway: Secondary algebra learning in the virtual school. Jacksonville, FL: University of North Florida.

Christensen, C. M., Horn, M. B., & Johnson, C. W. (2008). Disrupting class: How disruptive innovation will change the way the world learns. New York : McGraw-Hill.

Clark, T. (2001). Virtual schools: Trends and issues - A study of virtual schools in the United States. San Francisco, CA: Western Regional Educational Laboratories. Retrieved from http://www.wested.org/online_pubs/virtualschools.pdf

Cooze, M., & Barbour, M. K. (2003, June). Usage of instant messaging as a means of community building in eLearning environments. A paper presented at the annual Canadian Association for Distance Education conference, St. John’s, NL.

Cooze, M., & Barbour, M. K. (2005). Learning styles: A focus upon e- learning practices and pedagogy and their implications for success in secondary high school students in Newfoundland and Labrador. Malaysian Online Journal of Instructional Technology, 2(1). Retrieved from http://pppjj.usm.my/mojit/articles/pdf/April05/02-Michael%20Barbour.pdf

Cooze, M., & Barbour, M. K. (2007). Learning styles: A focus upon e-learning practices and pedagogy and their implications for successful instructional design. Journal of Applied Educational Technology, 4(1). Retrieved from http://www.eduquery.com/jaet/JAET4-1_Cooze.pdf

Espinoza, C., Dove, T., Zucker, A., & Kozma, R. (1999). An evaluation of the Virtual High School after two years in operation. Arlington, VA: SRI International. Retrieved from http://ctl.sri.com/publications/downloads/evalvhs2yrs.pdf

Haughey, M., & Muirhead, W. (1999). On-line learning: Best practices for Alberta school jurisdictions. Edmonton, AB: Government of Alberta. Retrieved from http://www.phrd.ab.ca/technology/best_practices/on-line-learning.pdf

Hawkins, A., Barbour, M. K., & Graham, C. (2011). Strictly business: Teacher perceptions of interaction in virtual schooling. Journal of Distance Education, 25(2). Retrieved from http://www.jofde.ca/index.php/jde/article/view/726

Hawkins, A., Barbour, M. K., & Graham, C. (2012). “Everybody is their own island”: Teacher disconnection in a virtual school. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 13(2). Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/967

Kennedy, K., & Archambault, L. (2012). Offering preservice teachers field experiences in K-12 online learning: A national survey of teacher education programs. Journal of Teacher Education, 63(3), 185-200.

McLeod, S., Hughes, J. E., Brown, R., Choi, J., & Maeda, Y. (2005). Algebra achievement in virtual and traditional schools. Naperville, IL: Learning Point Associates.

Roblyer, M. D., Davis, L., Mills, S. C., Marshall, J., & Pape, L. (2008) Toward practical procedures for predicting and promoting success in virtual school students. American Journal of Distance Education, 22(2), 90–109.

Roblyer, M. D., & Elbaum, B. (2000). Virtual learning? Research on virtual high schools Learning & Leading with Technology, 27(4), 58-61.

Roblyer, M. D., & Marshall, J. C. (2002-2003). Predicting success of virtual high school students: Preliminary results from an educational success prediction instrument. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 35(2), 241-255.

Unger, K. & Barbour, M. K. (2010). Web 2.0 tools for instructing in-service teachers on virtual schooling in K-12 educational settings. In Proceedings of World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications (pp. 3939-3947). Chesapeake, VA: AACE.