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Study of a Sense of Classroom Community in Distance Education Classrooms of Dental Hygiene Schools in the US by I. Smilyanski, RDH, MS
Sense of classroom community as a critical aspect of students’ academic success and overall satisfaction with their learning process
The literature review presented some very important points regarding distance learning process in higher education in general, healthcare education, and dental hygiene education in particular. It is apparent that DE is one of the fastest growing fields in higher education, dental hygiene including.(reference from previous lit synth) This method of delivery is cost effective, efficient, and doesn’t appear to affect students’ academic performance to any significant extent.(reference from previous lit synth) However, there is a common thread that emerges in literature regarding students‘ negative perception of their learning experience and their overall lower satisfaction associated with DE.(reference from previous lit synth)
Ever since the modern communication technology was introduced in a classroom, the debate is taking place about how important is the community spirit for students’ progress in their learning.1 At the turn of the 21st century, multiple seminal research papers presented the idea of a “spiritual learning community”1, a college classroom where community spirit is the main contributing factor for students’ graduation success1. A group of scientists attempted to look deeper into phenomenon of a sense of community in a college classroom. McKinney et al1 in their 2006 research made an effort to measure a sense of classroom community to see how it affects students’ satisfaction level. They also examined how the changes in students’ performance in a classroom can be correlated to the changes in their sense of classroom community.1 In their controlled study of 40 psychology students the authors used both qualitative and quantitative research methodologies.1 Sense of Classroom Community (SCC) was measured with the “Sense of Community Questionnaire” adopted from J. Schweitzer’s “the Sense of Community in Neighborhoods” assessment instrument.1 The authors made significant effort to eliminate potential bias, the data was made fully anonymous through the coding process.1 The results proved to be quite impressive. The Pearson correlation statistical analysis showed highly positive (p<.005, p<.015) relationships between the SCC and how students feel about their course and whether they perceive their learning experience to be successful.1 Another important observation made during this study: the higher examination grades were also correlated (p = .029) to the increase in the SCC.1 Unfortunately, the experiment was limited to psychology students. It is important to see if similar conclusions can be made from a study of a different course or a program so the findings can be fully generalized.
The next study looked into the importance of a sense of classroom community in increasing learners’ satisfaction and decreasing their feeling of isolation.4 The study was performed on the group of 412 medical students located in multiple remote campuses in Arizona.4 The researchers used Rovai’s Classroom Community Scale as a measuring instrument.4 The results showed that the longer time students spent in their remote locations, the higher their feeling of isolation became.4 Their sense of classroom community and academic satisfaction has been decreased over that time as well.4 ANOVA data analysis showed that there is statistically significant (p<.01) negative relationship between the amount of years spent on remote locations and students’ feeling of connectedness and learning satisfaction.4 It is important to point out that this research was done in the medical field, with the use of distance education modality in remote campuses, and it had large sample size and anonymous data collection. This makes the study’s findings even more valuable.4
To further this literature review into the area of distance education, it is essential to look into the Rovai and Lucking’s3 research of a “Sense of Community in a Higher Education Television-Based Distance Education Program” published in 2003.3 This important controlled study used a convenience sample of 120 adult learners. The research objective was to measure the sense of classroom community (SCC) in conventional and distance- interactive television based courses to see if there are any variations depending on which route is used.3 The study employed the Sense of Classroom Community Index (SCCI) which is a previous version of the Rovai’s Classroom Community Scale (CCS) described above.3 Reliability analysis of this scale was also performed with N = 511 and Cronbach’s alpha coefficient of .96.3 The data from the pre-test and the post-test administered to the students was analyzed using the ANOVA and ANCOVA techniques. The results proved that the sense of classroom community was significantly lower among television based course students at the end of intervention (one college semester) than it was at the time of the pre-test.3 The control group, students from conventional classroom, didn’t show similar trend.3
All the studies described above show similarities in their evaluations of the community spirit in higher education classrooms.1,3,4 They prove that the sense of classroom community (SCC) is the critical component when evaluating outcome of a higher education, whether it is conventional or DE method of delivery. 1,3,4 All the studies correlate a lower SCC to a lower students’ satisfaction, and potentially lower academic outcomes. 1,3,4 They also use various scales to measure the SCC with different levels of reliability. 1,3,4 The final study that is presented here developed the device to be used as a measurement tool for the SCC and determined how reliable this tool is.2 In his 2002 study Rovai2 assessed data collected through the post-test from a random sample of 375 students enrolled in 28 various college courses to analyze validity and reliability of the scale that is based on the 20-questions survey.2 With the extensive use of inferential statistical analysis the author proved with the high degree of consistency that the Classroom Community Scale (CCS) can be fully relied on when measuring a SCC in higher education classroom.2 A. Rovai concluded that his 20-item questionnaire is a valid and reliable instrument to be used in research.2
To conclude this literature review, there are very important questions that need to be answered about DE modality in dental hygiene education. Research is very limited in this specific field, however other areas show the trend of a lower sense of classroom community, lesser feeling of belonging, and lack of feeling of connectdeness.1-4 These are very important parameters to consider because they have large influence on how students perceive their learning experience and because they can potentially affect students’ outcomes.(references to be added) Rovai’s Classroom Community Scale appears to be a reliable tool that can be used when studying these factors.2 Although research in dental hygiene education and other fields didn’t establish that the DL is directly related to lower academic performance, some authors found a sense of community to be very important for overall learning experience.1 The following research will attempt to measure the SCC among remote campus based students of multiple dental hygiene programs in the US and compare with control groups of students located within the host campuses.
1. McKinney JP, McKinney KG, Franiuk R, Schweitzer J. The college classroom as a community: Impact on student attitudes and learning. College Teaching. 2006;54(3):281-284.
2. Rovai AP. Development of an instrument to measure classroom community. The Internet and Higher Education. 2002;5(3):197-211.
3. Rovai AP, Lucking R. Sense of community in a higher education television-based distance education program. Educational Technology Research and Development. 2003;51(2):5-16.
4. Vora RS, Kinney MN. Connectedness, sense of community, and academic satisfaction in a novel community campus medical education model. Acad Med. 2013.
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