My Research

Are you ready to teach online?
An action research project on the development of new technologies to enable Adjunct Faculty to teach online classes in Christian education.

1. Research Question:
How can I develop new technologies that enable Faculty to teach online classes in Christian education?

2. Background of the researcher and Moody Bible Institute Distance Learning (referred to as MBI-DL)
I have worked in distance education for the past four years with Moody Distance Learning (MBI-DL) in Chicago, IL. I have held different positions within MBI-DL, currently serving as the Assistant Dean of Teaching and Learning, and also a professor. I oversee curriculum and program development, the Instructional Quality team, and close to 150 online instructors. I am also an online Professor, teaching in multiple venues at the undergraduate and graduate level. I have worked in Web Development and Consulting for more than ten years prior to working with MBI-DL.
Moody Bible Institute was founded in 1886 and is a well-known Bible college in the United States of America. While the school’s great legacy and history extends worldwide, not as many are familiar with the role Moody Bible Institute has played in the area of distance education. The Brighton School of Business and Management places Moody Bible Institute on the timeline of distance education in the world with an important role in developing the correspondence model.
The Moody Correspondence School was established in 1901, at the time offering only two courses: Bible Doctrine and Practical Christian Work. Between 1901 and 1945, Moody Correspondence School grew from two courses to 17 courses. Moody Correspondence School was later renamed Moody Distance Learning, which continues to offer correspondence education. Moving fast forward to the year 2000, Moody Distance Learning pioneered a Bachelor of Science in Biblical Studies degree available completely online. Since 2000, an online Associate of Biblical Studies degree and an online Certificate of Biblical Studies for graduate and undergraduate students have also been offered. In 2012, Moody Distance Learning launched the completely online Master of Arts in Applied Biblical Studies.
Currently, Moody Distance Learning has close to 2500 students registered, with roughly 1500 students active in all learning venues. There are four, completely online Bachelor of Science programs; three, completely online Graduate programs; one Associate of Biblical Studies; and two Certificate programs and Continuing Education courses for personal enrichment. To offer these programs, Moody Distance Learning has six learning venues: Online Studies, Modular Courses, Independent Studies, First Year Online Program (FYOP), Extension Sites, and Continuing Education. MBI-DL employs close to 150 Adjunct Faculty to teach in all these venues. In addition to the expansion of program offerings, Moody Distance Learning also shifted from a service entity providing support and expertise to the Undergraduate School and Seminary concerning online and nontraditional education to a unique academic unit. This shift, which occurred in 2012, allowed Moody Distance Learning oversight of curricula and programs, as well as instruction and faculty. Since that time, Moody Distance Learning has been making revisions to curriculum and instructional policies to improve student learning and student satisfaction in online instruction. In 2013, Moody Distance Learning was renamed Moody Bible Institute-Distance Learning (MBI-DL).
In addition to teaching six hours per semester, I am responsible as the Assistant Dean of Teaching and Learning for developing and leading the MBI-DL faculty community in professional development and classroom delivery that supports the ethos of Moody Standards for Instructors. Toward this end, I initiate leadership and development programs; lead, supervise, support, and evaluate MBI-DL faculty, including related retention/promotion processes, compensation determination, and course load/scheduling; enhance the faculty evaluation system; develop, implement, and monitor the new faculty mentoring program; oversee the development of ongoing training/professional development opportunities; create and maintain an online faculty development site; collaborate with appropriate offices to develop a faculty database and digital records storage system. Finally, I work collaboratively with appropriate Deans, Associate Deans, and Faculty Chairs to meet the strategic objectives aligned with teaching and learning experience goals.
As an Assistant Dean of MBI-DL, I have the support of the Vice-President and Dean of Moody Distance Learning and the Provost of Moody Bible Institute to engage in an action research project on the development and potential role of technology in assessing Faculty Readiness for online teaching.
All parties involved are committed to supplying the necessary resources that will bring this action research project to fruition.

3. Methodology
I intend to engage in Action Research to explore and develop new technologies assessing faculty readiness for online teaching at MBI-DL. My role in this research is both practitioner and researcher.
Kurt Lewin, noted 20th century psychologist, is credited with being one of the originators of Action Research in the mid-1940s. Lewin framed the theory of Action Research and defined it as ‘proceeding in a spiral of steps, each of which is composed of planning, action and the evaluation of the result of action’ (Kemmis and McTaggert 1990:8). Lewin proposed that in order to ‘understand and change certain social practices, social scientists have to include practitioners from the real social world in all phases of inquiry’ (McKernan 1991:10). Although Lewin is credited with coining the term Action Research, it was Lawrence Stenhouse who ‘advocated and worked towards enabling teachers to take an active role in teacher research’ (Cunningham, 1999). Stenhouse played an essential role in using Action Research as a form of teacher development. However, Stenhouse continued Lewin’s legacy of divided roles between the practitioner and the researcher. It was not until John Elliot, another Action Researcher and a recognized curricularist, that the concept of teacher-researcher was introduced. Insights will be drawn from Lewin’s action theory, Stenhouse’s teacher development approach, and Elliot’s action research for professional development.
Reason and Bradbury define Action Research as ‘a participatory, democratic process concerned with developing practical knowing in the pursuit of worthwhile human purposes’. Therefore, the reason that this mode of research seems appropriate for this particular inquiry is because Action Research ‘seeks to bring together action and reflection, theory and practice, in participation with others, in the pursuit of practical solutions to issues of pressing concern to people, and more generally the flourishing of individual persons and their communities’ (Reason and Bradbury, 2008). This is consistent with the purpose of my inquiry. Action research is considered an appropriate approach for this inquiry due to several reasons: the practical nature of this type of inquiry (Gilmore et al., 1986); the importance given to reflection on practice (Schon, 1983); and the collaborative elements that are involved in an action inquiry and are essential to this research (Levin, 1993).
This inquiry will focus first on establishing a collaborative process for data collection, decision making, and planning between the researcher and all the stakeholders involved from MBI-DL. The result of this active participation by all stakeholders will be to ‘produce knowledge which is meaningful and useful both for academic purposes and to the people in the setting being studied’ (Levin, 1993, p 331).
Additionally, there is an emphasis placed on the difference between collaboration and cooperation. Little (1981), Oja and Pine (1983) help us understand the difference between cooperation and collaboration. They echo Smulyan (1984, p.13) who emphasizes that in ‘collaboration, teachers and researchers set common goals and mutually plan the research design, collect and analyze data, and report results’. These authors all suggest that if both the researcher and the stakeholders are actively involved in every stage of this research, development, and the application process, it facilitates the ‘connection of theory and practice throughout the project, and provides both teachers and researchers with the opportunity for reflection and for unexpected insight into situational realities’ (Little, 1981, p. 4). There will be further inquiry into the concept of intercultural collaboration.
Although there is disagreement on the specific structure of cycles in action research, most action researchers agree ‘that action research consists of cycles of planning, acting, reflecting or evaluating, and then taking further action’ (Dickens and Watkins, 1999, p.133). Initial action cycles proposed for this research follow Lewin’s action research model: analysis (fact finding), planning, acting (taking action), observing, reflecting and acting again.
Inquiry will be made into faculty readiness assessment models for Online Learning as well as Christian Online Education, and also the current practices at MBI-DL to determine faculty readiness. Action Research will take place around the development of one centralized web-based solution for assessing faculty readiness and aligning curriculum development together with pedagogy and assessment (McLoughlin, 2001, p. 1).
This action research will use first-, second-, and third-person inquiry, and single-, double-, and triple-loop feedback among them.
First-person inquiry will be used to engage in reflective practices and increase awareness (Schon, 1983). Attention will be given to the four territories of experience: 1) the outside world, 2) one’s own sense behavior and feeling, 3) the realm of thought, 4) the realm of vision/attention/intention (Torbert et al., 2004). As an online instructor, I will be reflecting on my own practice when teaching online, and will be collecting data in a research journal on my experiences, behavior and feelings, thoughts and understanding of online teaching.
Second-person inquiry will be used to establish collaboration and the analytical tool facilitated by the four parts of speech: framing, advocating, illustrating, and inquiring (Torbert and Taylor, 2008). This collaboration will be between myself, a select group of people at MBI-DL, including the Instructional Quality team and select Faculty and Adjunct Faculty who are directly involved with this, and a group of web developers. This collaboration will ensure data triangulation.
First- and second-person inquiry can be complemented in this inquiry by third-person research in order to design the distance learning program within MBI-DL. The concept of developmental action logic will be further explored within third-person inquiry (Kegan, 1982, 1994; Torbert, 1976, 1987; Torbert et al., 2004; Wilber, 1999). Using this approach will ensure that all voices will be heard.
Since Action Research is ‘more of a holistic approach to problem-solving, rather than a single method for collecting and analyzing data’, multiple methods that are consistent with the action research approach have been considered (O’Brien, 1998). One such method that was designed specifically for action research is the Search Conference. The concept was designed by Eric Trist and Fred Emery at the Tavistock Institute in 1959, but has taken on multiple forms in practice since then. Eric Trist explains the concept of Search Conference: ‘Searching…is carried out in groups which are composed of the relevant stakeholders. The group meets under social island conditions for 2-3 days, sometimes as long as five. The opening sessions are concerned with elucidating the factors operating in the wider contextual environment – those producing the meta-problems and likely to affect the future. The content for the Search Conference is contributed entirely by the members. The staff are facilitators only. Items are listed in the first instance without criticism in the plenary session and displayed on flip charts which surround the room. The material is discussed in greater depth in small groups and the composite picture checked out in plenary. The group next examines its own organizational setting or settings against this wider background and then proceeds to construct a picture of a desirable future.’ (Trist, 1979, p. 23-24).
A modified version of Trist and Emery’s Search Conference will be used in the initial stages of this inquiry using Adobe Connect, a web platform designed specifically for web meetings. The purpose of this Hybrid (on-ground and online) Search Conference is to bring together MBI-DL Instructional Quality staff, Adjunct Faculty, HR representatives, web developers, online education professionals, some online students, and other voices to learn from one another about an assessment environment that would reveal faculty readiness for teaching online and identify areas of improvement. The format and structure of the Hybrid Search Conference will be established in collaboration with MBI-DL.

4. Action Research Cycles / Research Plan
My action research project will run from Spring 2015 to Autumn 2018 and will be accomplished on a part-time basis.

4.1 Cycle One (Estimated 1 year): Assess, Build, and Launch
Discover, design, build, and launch the new platform.

Spring 2015
Identify potential participants in this project from MBI-DL as well as outside participants.
Establish the Hybrid Search Conference with the purpose of developing an overall general design of the faculty readiness assessment tool.
Design and use several surveys instruments to collect general data from Adjunct faculty on various aspects of online learning and their readiness assessment knowledge, preferences and input.
Perform an in-depth search for primary and secondary sources and a survey of other options available on the market for faculty assessment to online learning.
Survey available literature on principles of readiness assessment and the integration of technology into Christian Higher Education and Distance Education.
Perform inquiry into the models of faculty readiness assessment technology: what has worked and what has not.
Use Nvivo, Evernote, and/or other qualitative data analysis sofware to collect, store, and analyze the data collected from all meetings and interactions.
Maintain a descriptive and interpretative research journal to capture my own practice as an online professor.
Conduct regular meetings with my two research supervisors. Based on the findings, write a detailed plan of action for the summer, including roles and responsibilities for all the participants and a clear design of the web-based platform for readiness assessment.

Summer 2015
(At this point there should be enough data and a design of the web-based platform to be able to start building it, while working closely with the web development team as well as MBI-DL staff).
Make decisions about any organizational change or any of the items mentioned earlier together with MBI-DL stakeholders and the people dedicated to the creation of the readiness assessment.
Continue reviewing related literature and incorporate primary data into the building of the web-based platform.
Maintain a development progress log in an electronic format to show the steps needed to build the platform and the time invested in it.
Collect primary and secondary data throughout the building phase of the project.
Maintain a descriptive and interpretative research journal to capture my own experience throughout the building process.
Present findings and step-by-step development progress to the MBI-DL Instructional Quality Team.

Fall 2015
Perform a pre-launch of the Faculty readiness assessment platform together with staff of MBI-DL and Adjunct Faculty.
Collect all data from the pre-launch and work with the web developers to adjust and implement all necessary changes. Data will be collected and analyzed.
Launch the application using a smaller number of participants. Recruit participants from MBI-DL as well as outside the organization for the purpose of triangulating the data.
Data will be collected on the participants from the reports generated by the web-based platform and by communicating directly with the participants through interviews and surveys.
Maintain a descriptive and interpretative research journal. Conduct regular meetings and communication with my two research supervisors.
Based on the findings, write a detailed plan of action for the fall, including roles and responsibilities for all the participants in the new cycle. Also, write a Cycle One report.

4.2 Cycle Two (Estimated 1 year): Collect data, Analyze, and Improve
Launch the Readiness Assessment, track results, and prepare to implement changes

Spring 2016
Run the Faculty Assessment Module and collect more data. Establish performance criteria to assess the success of the program. Collect and analyze data and make necessary adjustments to the method of delivery, instruction, content or assessments based on the established performance criteria.
Interview participants and staff in order to generate primary data. Continue to improve the platform and consider adding different web modules and components to the platform.
Perform inquiry into building a mobile platform for students to be able to take the readiness assessment on mobile devices.
At this point, develop training modules to be offered after the readiness assessment is completed by participants. The training modules would be offered depending on the assessment results.
Develop a tracking system for participants in the program and how they performed as online faculty after completing the readiness assessment and training module.
Maintain a descriptive and interpretative research journal. Conduct regular meetings with my research supervisors.

Summer & Fall 2016
Run the Faculty Assessment Module again and collect more data, analyzing and making necessary adjustments to the method of delivery, instruction, content or assessments based on the established performance criteria.
Perform inquiry into the improvements implemented in Spring 2016, as well as comparison analysis between the web-based and mobile platform introduced in Spring 2016.
Assess and analyze the training modules and the feedback from participants.
Generate more data on faculty performance after completing the assessment and training modules.
Maintain a descriptive and interpretative research journal. Conduct regular meetings and research supervisors.
Based on the findings so far, prepare a plan to revise and improve the program in Cycle three and implement a change.
Write a detailed report for Cycle Two.

4.3. Cycle Three (Estimated 1 year): Grow the program
Implement changes based on the data collected in Cycle Two.

Spring – Summer 2017
Run the Faculty Assessment Module again and collect more data. Present findings to MBI-DL Instructional Quality team.
Perform more interviews with participants, faculty mentors as well as online students to search for evidence on the impact of the readiness assessment and training module.
Collect and analyze data and make necessary adjustments to the method of delivery, instruction, content or assessments based on the established performance criteria.
Maintain a descriptive and interpretative research journal. Conduct regular meetings with research supervisors. Based on the findings so far, prepare and write a detailed report of the research findings and implications.
If necessary, the program will run another cycle in order to generate more data.

4.4. 2017 – 2018, PhD Stage.
Writing up the Action Research Thesis: follow the appropriate steps determined by
OCMS to get to submission and Viva.

5. Issues of Ethics
Because my research involves more than minimal risk, I will work with my mentor before I commence my research and data gathering to make sure I am in full compliance with Oxford Centre for Mission Study’s research ethics and risk assessment standard.

6. Why do I want to do this research?
First of all, there is a personal aspect related to this research. I first began teaching online four years ago. Due to an unforeseen series of events, I was given access to my class only two weeks before its start date. I had never taught online up to that point. In fact, I had never even taken an online class as student. Although I was qualified and vetted to teach in my field of expertise, I carried with me little understanding of what online classes are all about. Yet I was excited and welcomed the opportunity to be teaching online. My extensive experience working with different technologies, and my background in computer science and web design allowed me to figure out the technology part fairly quickly, and this helped me stay alive. What I was not expecting was everything else that followed – including facing my students. Teaching online is a world within itself, a world of complexities that only adds to an already multi-faceted issue. That is, teaching online in a Christian education environment is complex in a manner that makes it difficult to estimate faculty readiness. I wish there would have been some way to assess how ready I was to teach online, as well as a series of resources to improve in the areas where I was lacking.
After four years of teaching online, with two out of those four as an Assistant Dean, I came to the conclusion that there is a gap in knowledge on the aspect of faculty readiness assessment and training as well as a gap in practice. At this point, I am not aware of any platform that can be customized to give potential online faculty a fairly good idea about the intricacies involved with teaching online, and on the other hand to provide the hiring institution with a fairly complex report on the readiness and training needs of that particular applicant. This need provides a unique opportunity to develop such a platform.
Secondly, this research is presented with real challenges that require real and practical solutions. I believe that as a practitioner, I have the expertise to contribute and answer to some of these important questions together with MBI-DL. How can we use technology to assess faculty readiness? What platform would be appropriate for this type of assessment? What are some complexities and limitation in building such a platform? Are there any theological implications in using technology to assess pedagogy and faculty readiness? These questions and other similar questions lead to the third point, the academic discourse.
There are vast differences between online education and traditional education. Distance Education is by nature learner-centered (Duffy and Kirkley, 2004). By engaging faculty that move from one environment to another (traditional education to distance learning), this research will look to explore the divide between these paradigms as well as contribute to the academic discourse between traditional and non-traditional education and readiness assessment. Inquiry will be made into distance learning methods, progressive pedagogies, distance education vs traditional education, role of technology in distance education, theological distance education, and curriculum development. Insights will be drawn from Richard Yellen’s work on the differences between traditional education and distance learning (Yellen, 1998). Also, Michael Moore’s view on distance education or ‘transactional distance’ will provide a theoretical framework for this research, both into the development of the readiness assessment and in engaging in the distance learning discourse.
Although many authors have written about Distance Learning and faculty readiness assessments, (Anderson, 2012; Dominguez, McMinn and Moon 2009; Marangos, 2003; Rasmussen, 2011; Erna 2014), there seems to be a gap in the literature when it comes to this specific model of assessment, using a virtual classroom for readiness assessment. The gap is both in literature and in practice, creating the space for contribution to the body of knowledge.
Rather than remaining in the debate about the two paradigms of education, there is an interest in creating a new model for developing readiness for online teaching according to insights drawn from Bernstein’s ‘beyond objectivism and relativism’ (Bernstein, 1983). Also, insights will be drawn from Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy of Freedom and Pedagogy of the Oppressed to challenge the traditional understanding of the professor-student relationship.

7. Why is this research important?
This research looks to contribute to the general body of knowledge in the area of faculty readiness assessment using advanced technology. When MBI-DL wants to hire a new Adjunct Faculty member to teach online, there is a risk involved with hiring this person. How can we know if this prospective hire is ready to teach online and how willing would we, as an organization, be to invest in this new hire’s mentoring and training? Putting this new faculty into a live classroom could have negative implications for all parties involved: the students, the faculty, as well as MBI-DL. What can be done to sidestep this risk?
There are multiple readiness assessment instruments available on the internet and the market place. Most of them are self-assessments, and an overwhelming majority are in a survey format. This inquiry is going to bring a considerable contribution to distance education and distance theological education. Instead of having the prospective faculty take a survey or even a self-assessment survey to assess technical skills and pedagogy, this research will look to create an environment that mimics everything that happens in the life of an online professor in the span of two weeks or more. The prospective professor will be logged in to a course for which they will be responsible to teach. This course will be entitled, ‘How To Teach Online’ and all the materials in class are on the subject of teaching online. There will be some prep time allowed for the instructor to read through all the materials, and a timer will start when the participant is ready to begin teaching this course. Using virtual student profiles, the web-based platform will function with the look and feel of a Learning Management System, providing the participant with authentic, real-time experiences related to teaching online.
This research will help generate new knowledge in the area of online education and faculty readiness, and it has potential to be a very useful tool for individual prospective faculty, MBI-DL, and other hiring institutions. It is meant to be a safe buffer for the prospective faculty as well as MBI-DL. The faculty readiness assessment tool will generate readiness reports and provide a series of resources for the individual in areas of improvement.
I strongly believe this project will bring a great contribution to practice as well as the academic discourse.

8. Bibliography

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