Monday, April 19, 2010

Essential Components Of Curricular Learning Communities In Higher Education

The purpose of this study was to identify the essential components of curricular learning communities in higher education. A panel of experts participated in a four-round Delphi process designed to identify these essential features. The writer used a modified Delphi process to first elicit and then rate the importance of characteristics of curricular learning communities in higher education.

Delphi Advantages:
-The Delphi technique offers the advantage of group response without the attendant disadvantages sometimes experienced with group problem solving or decision-making.
-Expert participants are more likely to generate reasoned, independent, and well-considered opinions in the absence of exposure to the "persuasively stated opinions of others". Because the experts do not ever participate in a face-to-face discussion, there is no danger of one or more individuals’ opinions being swayed by a more dominant or more experienced individual.
-Efficiency and flexibility, especially in light of modern communication technologies such as e-mail and the Internet. Experts may be drawn from a wide geographic area, and the participants’ commitment in terms of time and money invested is minimal.
-Delphi method has been shown to be an effective way to conduct research when the responses being sought are value judgments rather than factual information. Although it is more difficult to assess the "correctness" of value judgments, it is generally agreed upon that value judgments are not all equal but can in fact be more "right" or more "wrong."

Delphi Limitations:-Delphi should not be used when any of the following three critical conditions are not present: adequate time, participant skill in written communication, and high participant motivation. It is estimated that a minimum of 45 days is required to carry out a Delphi study.
-Participants must be knowledgeable and able to clearly communicate their ideas. A high degree of motivation is needed to offset the tendency for participant dropout as the study progresses. Because there is no direct contact between participants, those who are not highly motivated and interested in the subject at hand may feel isolated or detached from the process.
-Another is the problem of bias in Delphi studies that can occur from poorly worded or leading questions or selective interpretation of the results.

Instrument Design and Implementation
Round One: Initial Survey:
The first round in the current study consisted of a brief survey, designed to collect some demographic data on the participants, and one open-ended question.

Round Two: Questionnaire One:
A list of 79 features was compiled from the information obtained in the initial survey. Obvious repetitions were eliminated, though items that were similar but not exactly the same were maintained. Items were sorted into four categories: Curricular Features, Pedagogical Features, Structural Features, and Environmental Features. Participants were asked to rate each feature on a Likert-type scale, identifying each feature as an "essential" (5), "very important" (4), "moderately important" (3), "slightly important" (2), or "not important"(1) characteristic of a curricular learning community.

Round Three: Questionnaire Two:
Questionnaire Two listed only the features that had received a mean rating of 4.0 or higher in the previous round. Once again the items were placed into the four categories of Curricular, Pedagogical, Structural, and Environmental.

Round Four: Questionnaire Three:
The third and final questionnaire listed the forty features that received the highest rating (determined by mean and mode) on the previous questionnaire. Panelists were given the following information: ranking of the items from first and second questionnaire, mean score of the items from both rounds, and the number of times each item was selected as one of the three to five most important items.

In this round, panelists were asked to assign a total of 100 value points to the forty items. At the end of this questionnaire, participants were asked to answer the another open-ended question.

Summary of Data Collection and Analysis Procedures:

The following table outlines the four-round Delphi procedure that was followed in this study: (see link for table)


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