Online courses at Valencia College

Online courses at Valencia College

Online courses are increasing at Valencia College.  These courses are designed by a faculty member and are developed independently of each other.  The researcher is interested in understanding the experience of learning for students taking online Java programming courses.  The learning experiences are essential to the researcher because of the lack of consistency in how the courses are developed and designed may impact learning when students take online courses at Valencia College.  The college administrators have the same concerns and have tasked an internal committee to learn more about how online courses impact learning experiences.

The purpose of this applied phenomenological study is to examine the experiences of learning in online courses at Valencia College in Orlando, Florida. This qualitative research will answer the following research questions:

  1. What is the experience of learning for online students at Valencia College?
  2. What is the meaning of learning for online students at Valencia College?

A phenomenological approach is appropriate to examine these research questions because the study involves the personal experiences of students in the online courses at Valencia College.  Lived experiences will be shared with the researcher to understand how learning is implemented in online courses and what challenges face in learning in an online environment.

In this chapter, five sections exist.  In the Research Design and Rationale section, the type of research will be explained and why it was chosen.  The details of the researcher’s role will be stated in the Role of the Researcher section.  In the Research Procedures section, a step by step process on how the research will be performed as well as population and sample size, what instruments are being used and how the data is going to be collected.  The handling of data after collection and analyzation of collected data will be presented in the Data Analysis section.  The Reliability and Validity section will address the credibility, transferability, dependability, and confirmability of the study.  The Ethical Procedures section of the study will address ethical concerns that relate to participants, the researcher, and how data is handled and analyzed.

Research Design and Rationale

In this study, phenomenology will be used as a specific type of qualitative research design.  Phenomenological findings are based on learned experiences in a particular setting (Moustakas, 1994).  The setting involves students taking online courses at Valencia College.  Experiences will be examined through interviews and observations (Giorgi, 2012).

According to Moustakas (1994), phenomenological research is used to understand and find meaning in the essence of an experience.  The experience gained through learning cannot be compared to the outcomes explained in this study.  In phenomenology, a researcher uses the concept of bracketing (epoche), horizonalization, and imaginative variation to reject any preconceived beliefs (Giorgi, 2012).  Epoche requires a researcher to group words or ideas with similar meanings. The researcher will use horizonalization.  Horizonalization is the process of being open to the significance of the phenomenon without judgment (Giorgi, 2012).  Following horizonalization, the researcher will use imaginative variation to view the data from different points of view to create a structural description of experience (Moustakas, 1994).  In online education, there are many preconceived beliefs about the quality of learning in online courses (Kuo et al., 2013). Preconceived beliefs corrupt data with bias.

This research will directly affect future online courses.  Course designers will benefit from the understanding of student learning experiences because these insights are a form of feedback on materials and educational techniques used in online courses.  Data will be gathered to determine the students’ definition of learning experiences to create a baseline for a comprehensive study. With phenomenology, scholars use analysis to create a picture of the experiences from the participants in the study (Giorgi, 2012).  Understanding students’ interpretation of learning experiences will help educators recognize how students learn in an online environment and the meaning of student learning (Kuo, Walker, Belland & Schroder, 2013).

Interview questions implemented by the researcher produce responses based on experiences (Park & Park, 2016).  Since learning is subjective to the student, the researcher will analyze the answers to the interview questions to find similar connections and disregard meanings without similar connections (Creswell & Creswell, 2018).  This study will add to the research of online education by helping other researchers and educators better understand the diverse levels of the learning experience of students in online courses.  Online course designers will benefit from the understanding of what learning means to students and why online learning contributes to different educational experiences, such as feedback during live lecture (Giorgi, 2012).

Role of the Researcher

The role is to interpret the meaning of data through analysis using the qualitative phenomenological methodology as collected from students taking online courses at Valencia College.  The participants’ data will be analyzed based on a wide range of aspects to establish the connection between online education and learning experience among student taking the courses.  The researcher is in the same department in which the online courses are taught. It is unknown if any of the participants know the researcher because they may have taken other courses in the department that the researcher was participating in; this problem may result in biasness.  The researcher will interact with the students participating in the study through the learning management system (LMS) called Canvas. If the researcher allows students to take part in the study freely there will be no effects on the grades in the online courses; this is because of voluntary participation. As a result, ethical issues concerning grading and participation will not be experienced throughout the study.  Students asked to participate in the study will have to explain why they want to be part of the research. See Appendix C).  This evaluation will help identify students’ intentions and will help eliminate anyone who might want to undermine the study.

Ethical challenges may still occur because the study is being conducted in the same place where the researcher works. Checks and balances are essential for keeping the researcher focused and ethical throughout the study. These may include obtaining IRB permission, participant permission, and using effective qualitative research procedures.

Research Procedures

Population and Sample Selection

The population will be students from Valencia College in Orlando, Florida.  The Java online courses available has a total population of approximately 100 students.  The sample selection will be from two online Java courses.  According to Corbin, Strauss, and Strauss (2014), an abundance of participants in a qualitative study may produce superficial volumes of data.  The sample size will contain 10 – 15 members.  The sample group selected is appropriate because online experiences are different from course to course.

Snowball sampling will be applied to the sample size.  Snowball sampling allows studies to take place where population might be unknown, small, or have a lack of high volume participants in the participation (Emerson, 2015).  The students enrolled in the online course will be contacted by the researcher by email to recruit them to participate in the study.  The email will contain the informed consent (See Appendix A & B).  The researcher hopes that participants will encourage others they know in the online Java courses to participate.

Students will be asked to participate in the study through the LMS (See Appendix A).  The researcher will ensure that students are enrolled in an online Java course by using the LMS people link.  The researcher will explain the study through the LMS to participants by sending an email through the LMS (See Appendix A).  Students willing to participate will be screened to ensure that undermining does not occur.  To address undermining, the participants will answer a question (See Appendix C) about why they want to be a part of the study in the LMS.  The researcher will review these responses in the screening of participants.  Once students volunteer to be in the study, the students will have to complete the informed consent that was attached to the email (See Appendix B).  The first 10-15 students responding to the inquiry and meet the standards evaluated by the researcher not to influence the study will be selected for the study.


There will be four instruments created by the researcher. The instruments include the initial email, informed consent, screening question, the open-ended interview questions, and the exit email.  The open-ended interview questions were created by the researcher to study the participants’ experiences (phenomenon) in an online course at Valencia College (See Appendix D).  Questions will address if the student has experienced any online courses which are collaborative and how learning impacted (See Appendix D).  The interview questions will be reviewed by research experts to ensure validity.  The research experts will be colleagues with a background in qualitative research.  Any modifications made to the interview questions will be completed before the study starts.

To ensure that data will not be manipulated, an initial questionnaire will be sent by email sent to the potential participants (See Appendix C).  The response to the survey will describe why the participant wants to volunteer to be part of the study.  The researcher will evaluate these responses by interpreting the answers to find evidence of an attempt to skew the data (See Appendix C).  Any participants who show they have an agenda to use tactics to manipulate the data will be removed from participating in the study.

The informed consent will inform the participants that they are participating voluntarily and will not receive any credit for participating in the study (See Appendix B).  The data collected from the discussion questions in the Google Form will be stored on a newly-created Google Drive that is separate from a personal drive.  The new drive will ensure that data is not mixed with personal documents.  Google Drive is password protected.  All documents and data collection related to the study will be stored on Google Drive.

Data Collection

The study will take place during a semester in 2019.  The researcher will send the participants an email through the LMS (Canvas) to explain the research that is being conducted (See Appendix A).  It will clarify the obligations of the researcher and students participating in the study.  Students will always have the opportunity to opt out of the research because they are not required to attend.  After acknowledgment of the informed consent, the students will be asked to keep all study information confidential.  The researcher will answer any questions for the participants but will not guide them in any manner.  The participants will have an option to ask for clarification on any discussion question.

Online Java courses at Valencia College use an LMS called Canvas.  In Canvas, there is a navigation link that displays everyone in the course.  Using the people link provided by Canvas helps select participants who are enrolled in the Java courses.  Students will log into the Java programming course and find the discussion link for the study.  The discussion link in the LMS will conduct the questionnaire.  The participants will have one discussion post encompassing one paragraph or more response requirement which will be administered after the first assessment.  The participants will type the responses to the discussion posts through the Google Forms link provided by the researcher in the LMS.  Participants will have a two-week due date to respond. Only the researcher will have access to Google Forms.

The data collection is implemented after the due date for the discussion post.  The researcher will read all responses of discussion posts from Google Forms two times to ensure that only lived experiences are presented.  Transcripts will be created from the interview.  These transcripts for each participant will be sent to the responder through email to ensure that the data is accurate to the participant’s knowledge.  The participant will have the opportunity to clarify or change anything contained in the interview transcript by responding to the researcher by email.  The email will notify the participant that, if a response is not received after one week, then it is assumed to be accurate.  Once the participants verify the interview transcripts, the data will be ready for analysis.

All data collected will be stored in a password-protected Google Drive.  Google Drive will be created with a new account to ensure that the data is not mixed with personal use.  The researcher will be the only one with access to Google Drive.  The researcher will use Google Docs to transcribe the discussion responses.  According to IRB standards, the data in the drive will be destroyed after 10 years.

Each participant will be assigned a number to protect identity.  The researcher will simplify the interview transcripts by focusing on lived experiences.  The researcher will review the transcripts twice to remove any experiences not related to online education.

The researcher will then verify if all consent by the participants is collected and that the participants also validate all interview transcripts.  Before the analysis process, participants will have the opportunity to be removed from the study by replying to an email that will be sent out by the researcher.  Participants will have a one-week deadline to respond to the email.  If any participants want to be removed, the researcher will remove the participants’ data from all transcripts and delete the Google Form that includes the participant.  The participants will be sent a letter when they exit the study.  The message will be sent via email thanking them for participating in the survey (See Appendix E).

Data Analysis

The researcher will review the interview transcripts to ensure that the data based on lived experiences, otherwise known as phenomenological research, are highlighted and focused.  Bracketing will be used to ensure that bias did not occur.  Bracketing is the process in which the researcher sets aside any personal experiences or biases related to the research topic (Moustakas, 1994).  Setting aside any previous research that was done on the research topic is also part of bracketing (Moustakas, 1994).  Bracketing will take place in three phases.

The first part is to talk to other researchers about the discussion questions to review any biases that might have been included.  The second part is to create a journal stored in Google Docs on the password-protected Google Drive.  This journal will document any biases or preconceived notations that the researcher encountered during the research process for reflection.  The third and final part of bracketing will be a final report that will be included in the study to make the reader aware of any potential biases that the researcher had during the process (Groenewald, 2004). Direct questions will be used to ensure that assumptions do not occur

to delineate units of meaning (Moustakas, 1994).  The researcher will gather similar lived experiences to create clustered groups of meaning for the phenomenon (Moustakas, 1994).  The interviews will be transcribed and given to each participant to ensure accuracy in what he or she had previously written.

In the data, the researcher might encounter that the participants might not have any similar lived experiences.  The data analysis will reflect if there is not any similarity of lived experiences.  The data will be organized by separating the data into two groups.  Each group represents one Java online course.  The participants write raw data.  Coding the data will follow the existing proven qualitative practice to ensure validity.  This current process uses NVIVO.  The coding process will be broken into three parts.   In the pre-coding stage, the researcher will look for the most common phrases and themes.  These common phrases and ideas will be grouped in the second phase whereby the second phase will also consolidate differences in phrases and themes.  NVIVO will color-code similar groups.  The second phase allows the researcher to interpret meaning among relationships with the groups that were obtained in the pre-coding stage.  The third phase includes presenting the study findings.  The third phase comprises using maps, concept maps, and cluster trees to show generalized relationships in the coding of the data (Edwards-Jones, 2014).

Reliability and Validity

The research has to be executed according to standards of phenomenology that have been validated o determine the validity of the data(Groenewald, 2004).  The guidelines will include participant consent, participant review of all interviews, and the ability for participants to withdraw from the research.  These procedures are common among valid phenomenological qualitative research (Groenewald, 2004).  Validating the preparation and the analysis with bracketing to combine similar lived experiences will authenticate this study in learning experiences at Valencia College (Moustakas, 1994).

The credibility of the data will be reinforced by using triangulation.  Triangulation will establish a balanced picture of the data.  The specific triangulation used in the study will be data triangulation. Data triangulation uses different sources, such as stakeholders, to increase validity (Carter, Bryant-Lukosius, DiCenso, Blythe & Neville, 2014).  The participants are from two separate Java courses.  Participants will perform member checks on themselves.  Member checking includes checking transcripts to ensure that interpreted data reflects what was meant.

The participants will establish Transferability.  The participants are students in an online course at Valencia College.  Generalization of the data will relate to other collegiate students taking online programming courses because it is related to developing and improving online college courses.

Dependability will be established by relating to research in online education.  Data triangulation and member checking have been used in existing qualitative research for phenomenology (Carter, Bryant-Lukosius, DiCenso, Blythe & Neville, 2014).  The researcher will compare findings from similar research.  Confirmability will be established by sharing each transcript of data collected from interviews with their corresponding participant.  The participants will validate the interpreted data (Naano, 2014).

Ethical Procedures

The researcher will have to eliminate bias and follow the rules for studies with Valencia College students with the approval of the IRB.  This study will have the support of the IRB to meet standard research practices with ethical research guidelines.  Participants will have to give consent to be included in the phenomenological research study.  The description of the research and any information about the survey will be available for the participants to review by contacting the researcher and included in the informed consent.  The participants will remain anonymous throughout the phenomenological qualitative research study.  The data will be collected and transcribed.

Those transcripts will include a number replacing the participants’ name.  All interviews will be stored, but not shared with other participants.  No one outside of the researcher will have access to the discussions.  The transcripts of the interviews with the fictitious names will be used for sharing and documentation.  After ten years the raw data will be destroyed.

Ethical procedures in the study will follow the “no harm” rule (Borders, 2017).  The idea of “no harm” rule will adhere to the principles of the Belmont Report (Miracle, 2016).  The researcher will have respect for the participants by ensuring all data collected will be shared with the participant, and the participant will be allowed to leave the study at any time.  The researcher will also protect the identity of the participant.  The researcher will obtain informed consent from the participant to be included in the study.   Any psychological issue related to fear of grade retaliation will be reduced because the researcher is not the instructor for the course and the researcher has informed the participants through the informed consent that all data will be kept confidential (See Appendix B).

Justice for the participants is established because they will have the ability to ask any questions about the study at any time.  Participants will also have the right to leave the review at any point with no retaliatory action.

According to Creswell and Creswell (2018), participants will be open about a research topic through the use of electronic data systems.  Treatment of data storage will be secured.  The data from the research will be stored in a password-protected Google Drive in the cloud.  The researcher will be the only one that has access to the drive.  The Google Forms used to collect the data will be stored in Google Drive.  The Google Forms are also password protected.  Data that was collected in the LMS for the online courses will be destroyed after data is stored in Google Drive.

Google Drive will be created with a new account to ensure that personal content is not mixed with research data.  Using IRB requirements, the data in the drive will be destroyed after 10 years.  Participants were notified through the informed consent that all data collected will not be shared with anyone else but the researcher.  The participants will exit the study with a letter sent via email thanking them for participating in the study (See Appendix E).  The letter will also include the researchers’ contact information for any questions the participants might have.  The exit letter will re-state that student participation will not affect grades in any course taken or will be considered.

Chapter Summary

Phenomenological qualitative research is appropriate because the study focuses on the experiences of students taking an online course.  The sample population is appropriate because participants are students in an online programming course and because they have experience with Valencia College courses.  Protections for the participants are established with the approval of the IRB (Groenewald, 2004).  Chapter 4 will include an analysis of the data.


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