Exploratory qualitative case study of lab-type activity interactions in an online graduate geoscience course

Open Access
Ciavarella, Veronica Charlotte
Graduate Program:
Adult Education
Doctor of Education
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 19, 2014
Committee Members:
  • Gary Kuhne, Dissertation Advisor/Co-Advisor
  • Gary Kuhne, Committee Chair/Co-Chair
  • Melody M Thompson, Committee Member
  • Scott P Mcdonald, Committee Member
  • Jonathan P Mathews, Committee Member
  • geoscience
  • online
  • interaction
  • case study
  • qualitative
  • lab-type activity
This exploratory qualitative case study investigated the use of lab-type activities in an online graduate geoscience course. Constructivism is the theoretical framework used to explain how learning happens in lab-type activity, and provided the goals to which successful learning in lab-type activity is compared. This study focused on the learner-instructor, learner-learner, and perceptions of the learner-content interactions that occurred related to lab-type activities in an online graduate geoscience course to determine: if the instructor appeared as a facilitator of the learning process in the interactions over the activities; if students engaged in discussion and reflection about the activities; if students perceived the activities as meaningful and authentic; and if students perceived using higher order thinking and prior knowledge while interacting with the content. Ten graduate students from three offerings of the course participated in this study, as well as the instructor and designer of the course content and lab-type activities. Data were collected through interviews, and observation and analysis of the lab-type activities, instructor feedback to students in their graded activities, and discussion that occurred between the instructor and students and among students about the lab-type activities in discussion forums. The nature of the instructor’s interactions in discussion forums, in feedback to students on graded activities, and reported by students’ in interviews supported that, in the learner-instructor interactions, the instructor of this course was a facilitator who guided and scaffolded the students towards successfully completing the activities. Students engaged in discussion and reflected on the activities, but most learner-learner interactions in discussion forums about the lab-type activities appeared to occur for the purpose of comparison of results, support, and empathy. Students’ success at higher order thinking type questions in lab-type activities and their perceptions reported in interviews of using higher order thinking in their interactions with the lab-type activities supported that the learner-content interactions involved higher order thinking. Students also reported finding the activities realistic, meaningful and authentic, and this increased their interest with the activities, and the activities aided their understanding of the content.