Graduate Student Spotlight

The Research/Project Spotlight initiative features emerging research and projects conducted by CERA’s graduate students. The spotlight initiative further the mission and goals of the association by providing a structured means to enhance the visibility of the association, support the work of its members, and support knowledge mobilization efforts to better communicate research efforts and findings to the broader education community.

Zulay Diaz Caceres (University of Calgary)

viewprofileimage - Zulay Dìaz

Title of Project: Student Engagement in Online English Language Courses for Vocational Education in Colombia

Research Questions: The overarching question of my study is: How do online English language courses in vocational education promote student engagement? Specifically, the following questions are asked: (1) To promote student engagement in learning, what design features of the curriculum and assessment should online English language courses consider; (2) How do instructors’ teaching presence and pedagogical strategies contribute to student engagement in online English language courses; and (3) What other factors facilitate or hinder students’ engagement in online English language learning?

Project Description:Considerable numbers of people worldwide have benefited from easy access to online learning in education and the number continues to grow. Ease of access and lower costs for online education have been particularly attractive, and the quality that comes with traditional face-to-face learning is similar. Despite the importance of online education, the attrition rate in this educational mode is higher than the traditional face-to-face delivery mode. The high attrition rate is reportedly attributed to low levels of student engagement. Student engagement is fundamental to students’ persistence in online courses and their successful learning. The purpose of my study is to examine student engagement in online English language courses in a vocational education institution in Colombia to understand the extent to which the current curriculum and assessment and instructor teaching presence and pedagogical strategies contribute to student engagement in learning. In addition, I intend to identify the factors beyond the curriculum, assessment, and pedagogy employed in the institution’s online English courses, which have facilitated or hindered student engagement. Following an explanatory sequential mixed-methods design, I will administer online surveys to students enrolled in the online English language courses and their instructors to measure their perceptions on how instructor teaching presence and pedagogical strategies contribute to learning engagement in those courses. Then, I will supplement the online survey data with one-on-one student and instructor interviews. Finally, I will do document analysis to the curriculum and assessment of online English language courses.
As a result of the study, I will propose an effective course design framework to engage students in online English language learning. Similarly, I will provide guidelines to enhance the quality of training for online language instructors. Finally, my study will contribute with supported guidelines for policy makers to rule on standards for online courses that address the characteristics of their local contexts.

Next steps for this project: After a successful candidacy oral exam, the Conjoint Faculties Research Board of the University of Calgary is revising my project ethics application. I am currently refining instruments, so both the student and instructor online surveys are being reviewed by an expert panel, which consists of English language instructors, curriculum designers, and assessment specialists to establish face and content validity of the survey data. I am looking forward to heading to Colombia to recruit participants, doing a piloting study, administering the online surveys to about 600 students and 200 instructors, and having one-on-one interviews with 30 students and 15 instructors.

CERA’s impact on Zulay Diaz Caceres’ work: As an emergent scholar, being a CERA member has given me the opportunity to feel part of an outstanding community which leads cutting-edge scholarship and research in education. Both as a presenter and reviewer of CSSE/CERA, I have experienced the quality these associations demand in their processes to achieve their current leadership. It has encouraged me to be rigorous in my research, specifically in developing survey instruments to measure students’ and instructors’ perceptions of teaching presence and pedagogical strategies in an online learning environment. In adherence to the guidelines of the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing and the Principles for Fair Student Assessment Practices for Education in Canada, I wish to establish the construct validity of my survey data. I also hope that as part of this research community, my study can contribute to psychometrically sound survey instruments for measuring students’ and instructors’ perceptions of teaching presence and pedagogical strategies for promoting online engagement.