The internets effect on classroom teaching

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"If we forget the 800 years of university tradition that legitimises them, and imagine starting afresh with the problem of how best to enable a large percentage of the population to understand difficult and complex ideas, I doubt that lectures will immediately spring to mind as the obvious solution." (Laurillard, 2005)

John Dewey, an American educator and philosopher, once described the most effective education possible as "a great teacher and a student sitting side by side on a log". This may well be, but he was probably assessing the effectiveness of a one-to-one individual tuition, as opposed to that of mass instruction (lecture), in which case he was definitely right. But, would he be of the same opinion had the Internet been invented during his lifetime? Well, if we note his observation that "the teacher is not in the school to impose certain ideas or to form certain habits in the child, but is there as a member of the community to select the influences which shall affect the child and to assist him in properly responding to these influences" and that "the teacher becomes a partner in the learning process, guiding students to independently discover meaning within the subject area", than it could be argued that he would most probably not only accept e-Learning as a useful tool, but would embrace it fully.

E-Learning is here to stay. It has become an integral part of modern teaching practices and it is widely used in educational establishments worldwide. The 21st century teacher faces a challenge of continuously updating of their knowledge in order to make effective use of constantly evolving Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). This study will seek to explore teachers' attitudes and willingness to adapt to the 21st century teaching/learning. Data will be collected through a variety of mostly qualitative research methods including questionnaires, interviews, participative observation and relevant document reviews. Safeguards will be put in place to ensure reliability and validity of those methods. Following the data collection, the study will seek to identify and categorize forces driving e-Learning as well as obstacles to the successful delivery of e-Learning relevant to enhanced learning in the modern classroom.

Nature of the Problem

It has been long assumed that, for any teaching and learning to take place, the teacher and learner must be in the same place at the same time. Few millennia ago, Plato has written about this approach, where the learner gains understanding and knowledge through the "mechanism of illuminating conversations or dialogues" between teacher and learner (Taylor, 1955). Modern day teaching still rests on that premise, but few colleges and universities have the resources necessary for one-to-one tuition. Instead, the method has evolved into a combination of lectures, seminars and tutorials, all of which involve some form of face-to-face instruction, such as dialogue, debate and discussion. In recent years and with the widespread use of technology, those lectures were routinely supplemented by the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). Most modern academic staff frequently use presentation software (PowerPoint) to enhance their lectures by the use of visual stimulus. Email communication seems to be the preferred method of correspondence by both learners and teachers. In the recent study, Heywood et al. (2004) suggest that most students entering higher education are already ICT literate, own a PC with the Internet access and that they already use ICT for various different activities (e-mail, media downloads, shopping, socialising). As a result, their expectations of ICT usage at university are very high. While more conclusive studies are still to be done, there is plenty of evidence that e-Learning can enhance learner engagement, achievement and experience even further than it already does. Terms to describe learning that uses ICT as a vehicle to deliver education include distance learning, virtual learning, flexible learning, online learning, but the most common term used is e-Learning (Sloman and Rolph, 2003). The Dearing Report (1997) sums up the benefits of e-Learning as:

"…we believe that the innovative exploitation of Communications and Information Technology (C&IT) holds out much promise for improving the quality, flexibility and effectiveness of higher education. The potential benefits will extend to, and affect the practice of, learning and teaching and research." (13.1)

Another notable quote to mention is offered by DFES (2003):

"e-Learning exploits interactive technologies and communication systems to improve the learning experience. It has the potential to transform the way we teach and learn across the board. It can raise standards and widen participation in lifelong learning. It cannot replace teachers and lecturers, but alongside existing methods it can enhance the quality and reach in their teaching"

Tearle et al. (1999: 14) argue that "it is no longer possible to opt out" of embracing e-Learning and using ICT in higher education. Some notable examples of universities developing e-Learning initiatives are Trinity College Dublin in Ireland and James Cook University in Australia. Therefore, it is fairly safe to argue that e-Learning provides teachers with tools which enable them to provide more personalised learning, thus ensuring their own satisfaction and positive attitude towards their work.

Despite all this, there are few rather large issues that prevent most educational institutions in the UK to take the full advantage of these technological developments. According to Laurillard (2002), technology and its use in education presents a serious challenge to the traditional teaching and learning model. The role of the teacher has been transformed from a lecturer and a main source of knowledge to an online guide and facilitator. Salmon (2000) outlines that this transformation requires a whole new set of skills and competencies, such as the ability to monitor the learning process online and to change and adapt teaching methods to meet the needs of e-Learning students. A study by Jones et al. (2004) found that e-Learning students expect their teachers to respond to their online enquiries within 48 hours. Laurillard (2002) also highlights the importance of acquiring new skills to deal with new pedagogy. More than a decade ago, Dearing Report (1997) warned that "many academics have had no training and little experience in the use of communication and information technology as an educational tool". One of the common criticisms is the lack of training and support to teachers who are unable and therefore not willing to incorporate e-Learning in their delivery. The mistake many institutions make is to assume that teachers who deliver effectively in the traditional classroom can be transformed into effective educators in an online education without proper training or experience. Though teachers cannot be expected to become experts in online delivery overnight, they can become better skilled and more confident through mentoring, coaching or other support models and frameworks provided by their institutions. The problem that this study will address is how to develop effective support mechanisms, which will prepare teachers to better cope with these recent and sudden changes to education.

Research Focus

Benefits of e-Learning aren't so clear for everyone and there is still some confusion involved with regards to its effectiveness. Various issues are being raised concerning obstacles to the successful adoption of e-Learning. Notably, there are concerns with the stability of IT infrastructure, student drop-out rates and the inclusion issues regarding students with disabilities (Flood, 2002). But, perhaps more importantly, academic staff support is crucial for the successful implementation of e-Learning and, in order for the aforementioned obstacles to be overcome, we must understand how academic staff are being prepared for this major shift in educational practice. Understanding the type of support academic staff require is also an area worthy of research. Therefore, the major area of research in this study will be on staff preparation issues relative to e-Learning, with an emphasis on obstacles to successful implementation of e-Learning.

Research Focus: An investigation into how academic staff are being prepared to cope with the challenge of e-Learning in the HE environment; a case study of an FE college.

Research Aim: The overall aim of this research is to advance an understanding of the impact of e-Learning in the HE environment in relation to academic staff training preparation.

Specifically, within the context of an FE college, the objectives of this research are to:

Identify the drivers for e-Learning and the obstacles to the successful delivery of e-Learning programmes.

Explore academic staff and other stakeholder views and experiences related to e-Learning preparation, including drivers and obstacles to e-Learning.

Formulate recommendations on staff preparation issues.

Chapter 2: Literature Review

Recent literature provides abundant evidence of innovative uses of e-Learning to enhance learning. There is a multitude of other reasons educational institutions have identified for establishing and integrating e-Learning programs and curriculum into their educational structure; the appeal of offering anytime, anywhere access to learning, the ability to adapt learning to individual needs, the ability to increase collaboration, the opportunity to offer flexibility to meet student schedules, and the resulting cost-savings are often cited as primary goals for embarking on and implementing e-Learning technology (Zhang and Nunamaker, 2003). A study into the benefits of e-Learning by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) in 2004 identified that benefits can be classed in six key dimensions:

Connectivity - access to information is available on a global scale

Flexibility - learning can take place any time, any place

Interactivity - assessment of learning can be immediate and autonomous

Collaboration - use of discussion tools can support collaborative learning beyond the classroom

Extended opportunities - e-content can reinforce and extend classroom-based learning

Motivation - multimedia resources can make learning fun

They also outlined benefits to practitioners (teachers and lecturers) in the "increased efficiency of tracking and monitoring learner progress". But they observed that "despite these potential benefits, e-Learning is still not uniformly adopted across the sectors, or even within individual institutions". So why has it not been adopted, even at the institutional level? Transformation towards new teaching approaches and pedagogies brought by advances in technologies challenges teachers with a complex set of issues. These are neatly summed by JISC (2004) as "the need to develop new skills, embrace changes in the nature of their role and then reassess the pedagogies they employ".

This lead to research being undertaken into the obstacles to e-Learning, which highlighted different problems and obstacles in implementing e-Learning and making it an integral part of modern teaching. Weller (2004) indicated that the major dilemma for most institutions is the cost of e-Learning technology. On the other hand, other studies (Bonk et al. 2004; Gaud 1999) suggested that more teacher training and support is needed to make the smooth transition from traditional to online teaching. Perhaps this is the prime reason that some HE teachers in the UK have serious reservations and negative attitude towards the implementation of e-Learning (Pegler, 2005). In order to make the e-Learning experience an enjoyable one to students and teachers alike, one must look into the emotional obstacles to e-Learning (Juutinen & Saariluoma 2006). Early researchers into the effect of technology have coined terms technophobia and technostress. Rosen and Weil (1995) assessed the impact of the failure to provide the effective training and appropriate support for teachers. Their findings concluded that this would leave technophobic teachers with 2 choices: they can avoid using e-Learning as a tool to deliver (covert technophobia) or they can pass their own anxiety and negative attitudes to their students (overt technophobia). Worryingly, a study by the same authors in 1997 provided evidence that between 30 and 40 percent of teachers are "uncomfortable, nervous, frustrated, hesitant, upset and overwhelmed" by technology (technophobic). (Rosen & Weil, 1997; 21)

The case for using the e-Learning education is already won: by providing a means of communication and hence interaction between tutors and other students a "virtual classroom" can be created and access to up to date course materials can be facilitated (Garfoot, 1998). Whilst being in support of and acknowledging that there are many potential benefits in using the Internet as a teaching and learning resource, this paper will focus on finding solutions to eliminating or, at least, weakening the obstacles in the full and thorough implementation of e-Learning within the HE. As highlighted by the Dearing Report (1997), support from IT literate managers is crucial to the successful implementation of information technology in education. Staff at all levels need education in the potential of the Internet for teaching and learning. It is often the case that educational institutions decide to implement e-Learning without fully understanding the implication on students or teachers. McPherson (2003) suggested that the introduction of e-Learning within HE represents a significant change in teaching practice, which needs to be carefully managed using appropriate organisational strategies. Teachers are expected to embrace this sudden change based on the assumption that it will benefit them. Teacher's role has moved from being the 'source of all knowledge' to being the 'facilitator of learning'. Some are naturally reluctant to change and must be convinced that this is the best way forward. However, Hannon and D'Netto (2007) and Goodfellow (2007) state that "IT fails to enable the achievement of significantly different learning outcomes". They also suggest that "organisational and logistical problems combined with technical difficulties mean that the IT cannot always be used to its full potential". Thus, in order to work more effectively, learning technologies must be fully embedded in a course and both teachers and students must be provided with the adequate skills and support (Falconer, 2006; Turban et al., 2000).

Literature Review Conclusion

One of the first conclusions to be drawn from the Literature Review is that e-Learning is a very complex phenomenon with an unclear definition. It is also obvious that, despite the perceived benefits of e-Learning (cost reduction, globalization, access to foreign markets, increased learner numbers), there are also many obstacles impacting on a decision by academic staff and HE institutions to implement e-Learning in their programmes. These include academic staff resistance to change, learner inability to cope with independent learning, lack of facilities and support infrastructure and, perhaps most importantly, lack of academic staff preparation to deal with this new challenge. The review also highlighted that one of the crucial prerequisites for successful implementation of e-Learning is to have in place an infrastructure to support academic staff. This was mainly the provision of pedagogical and ICT skills training to teachers engaging with e-Learning so they can provide the adequate support and meet the needs of e-Learning learners. But the emphasis of these frameworks and models tended to focus on the needs of learners, while the issues of preparation of academic staff for coping with e-Learning was either very vaguely mentioned or completely neglected. Even though there are fears that universities and colleges will fail to provide support and training to academic staff, very little research that is based on academic staff opinions and experiences is currently available. Empirical data on approaches to academic staff training is rather limited. Clearly, supporting academic staff is crucial for the success of e-Learning, and it widely seen as one of the most important factors in gaining academic support. Putting support systems and frameworks in place to train, motivate and prepare academic staff to be able to meet the challenge of e-Learning must be the priority (Gerrard, 2002). There is plenty of other evidence that research in the area of staff preparation for e-Learning is important - the value and logic of the research in this study is justified by the complaint that "too little research of staff experiences in e-Learning and that much commentary is anecdotal in nature" (Vermeer, 2000). Coppola et al. (2001: 96) urge that "there is a critical need for study of faculty experiences". The questions that this study aims to explore are whether academic staff feel that they are being adequately supported to make this transition and are they being trained on the pedagogic skills outlined in the literature review. It also aims to explore the academic staff understanding of the perceived benefits of e-Learning, as well as their motivation (or lack of thereof) to embrace e-Learning. To put all this into a context, views, opinions and experiences of non-academic staff (management) will be collected, so that better, deeper understanding is gained with regards to enablers and obstacles to e-Learning and how colleges and universities are responding to the challenge of e-Learning. The next chapter of this study will outline and justify the research methods to be used in collecting the empirical data needed to make valid conclusions and meaningful recommendations.

Chapter 3: Research Methods

As previously outlined, the objectives of this research study are to:

Identify the drivers for e-Learning and the obstacles to the successful delivery of e-Learning programmes.

Explore academic staff and other stakeholder views and experiences related to e-Learning preparation, including drivers and obstacles to e-Learning.

Formulate recommendations on staff preparation issues.

Chapter 2 ('Literature Review') has dealt with the Objective 1 by clearly identifying the drivers for e-Learning as well as obstacles for its successful implementation and integration into HE programmes. It has also identified gaps in existing research and provided sufficient evidence on the need for academic staff to be adequately trained on how to prepare for and how to cope with the challenge of e-Learning. The researcher's main challenge and the main objective of this study is to compare the theory and practice - what the literature on the subject says versus the 'real world' findings. The researcher aims to gain better understanding of the issues regarding the successful adoption of e-Learning practices in order to use the knowledge gained to make helpful recommendations relative to e-Learning in the HE environment. Objective 2 (explore academic staff and other stakeholder views and experiences related to e-Learning preparation, including drivers and obstacles to e-Learning) will take this further through the collection and analysis of empirical data obtained from a college setting. A focus of the research will be to collect empirical data on academic staff training to cope with e-Learning. Just as importantly, data will also be collected from other stakeholders (senior management) views on perceived enablers and obstacles to e-Learning within a college setting. Collecting both sets of data will provide the researcher with the opportunity to explore why a college is becoming involved in e-Learning and what a variety of college stakeholders consider to be obstructions to e-Learning. By comparing theory with practice - i.e. comparing the Literature Review findings with the 'real world' - the researcher will gain a richer and fuller understanding of the issues surrounding the implementation of e-Learning and so be better placed to make valid conclusions and meaningful recommendations in relation to e-Learning in the college environment. This section - Research Methods - will outline the details of the research method adopted to address the issues identified above. Various methods for collecting data for analysis will be considered and most reliable and valid analysis approach will be justified and adopted. In addition, potential limitations and problems with the chosen research strategy and its implementation will also be discussed.

Research Methodology

Saunders et al. (2000: 92) offer valuable advice on the use of research strategies: "what matters is not the label that is attached to a particular strategy, but whether it is appropriate for your particular research". Objective 2 of this research is to 'explore academic staff and other stakeholder views and experiences related to e-Learning preparation, including drivers and obstacles to e-Learning'. This will be achieved through the collection empirical data on academic staff training to cope with e-Learning as well as other stakeholder (management) views on perceived enablers and obstacles to e-Learning within a college setting.

The study will be conducted within a real college environment, and there will be several inter-related objectives. Firstly, to answer the question of how are academic staff being prepared for e-Learning, staff views on their college's approach to e-Learning (including training, drivers, obstacles, existing/planned IT support infrastructure, levels of motivation) will be collected and analysed. Secondly, and to help place academic staff views in a wider context, the views of senior management staff on the same issues will be gathered. Therefore the primary focus will be a small research unit, a Business programme team of academic staff currently involved in preparing for e-Learning. Senior management staff perspectives will then be collected and analysed, to gain a fuller understanding and to place e-Learning within the college in context. The challenge is to choose the most effective type of research strategy to facilitate an in-depth study of a contemporary issue (e-Learning), paying particular attention to the importance of obtaining different stakeholder perspectives on an issue (e-Learning) in a very complex setting (a college environment).

Experimental research concentrates on causal relationships and, in order to achieve objectivity, separates phenomena from its context. This empirical research focuses on e-Learning within the context of a college environment and experimental research is therefore inappropriate. Similarly, as this research is interested in a contemporary phenomenon (e-Learning), historical research, as a strategy, is not appropriate as it is normally associated with looking at non-contemporary (historical) phenomena. Survey-based research, using printed or e-mail surveys, fails to address the study's aim of dealing with a range of e-Learning issues (training, drivers, obstacles, existing/planned IT support infrastructure, level of motivation) in depth. Action research involves in-depth analysis of a problem that is current and can best be solved by close collaboration between the researcher and those involved in the problem area. In using such an approach, data is collected, analysed, the problem is revisited, more data is collected, analysed further, the problem is revisited again, and so on, until a satisfactory solution is achieved and agreed. However, this case study is not concerned with one specific practical problem that can be solved in this way. As previously mentioned, this study is focused on exploring a number of e-Learning issues related to preparation, not in solving a clearly defined practical problem. That is why the emphasis is placed on securing a variety of stakeholder perspectives and not on merely testing a theory to find a solution to a specific problem.

In essence, research needed to achieve objectives of this case study is primarily qualitative in nature, not quantitative. The former relates to studying "things in their natural settings, attempting to make sense of, or interpret, phenomena in terms of the meanings people bring to them" (Denzin and Lincoln 1994: 2). The latter tends to be used in the natural sciences to study natural phenomena, using methods such as laboratory experiments and mathematical modeling. However, quantitative research can often employ survey techniques within social settings and be used in conjunction with qualitative methods (Myers, 1997). Mertens (1998) states that a researcher's philosophical views of the world will impact on the type of qualitative research strategy that he/she will adopt for his/her research. Orlikowski and Baroudi (1991) underlined three categories of qualitative research epistemology: positivist, critical and interpretive. A researcher with a positivist view of the world, i.e. someone who believes that reality is objective and independent of the observer and so can be measured and predicted, would be interested in testing theories and drawing inferences from a tested sample. However, this study is not trying to test theories and make generalizations from a sample population. A researcher with a critical perspective of the world, views that reality is historically based and that people are influenced consciously and subconsciously by social, cultural and political circumstances, and that it is the researcher's task to focus on such constraining conflicts and so assist in removing the 'causes of alienation and domination' (Myers, 1997). Although it can be accepted that the world has much conflict and restricting forces that are historically based, and that aspects of this research work may overlap with such sentiments (e.g. drivers and obstacles to e-Learning), but that the main focus of this research is not on freeing staff from any feeling of alienation or domination, so that they become better citizens, but instead to understand better e-Learning and contribute knowledge in this field to the e-Learning community.

Interpretative researchers believe that an understanding of the world can only be accessed through social interaction, and that such interaction in turn is understood in terms of the context of the interaction (time and place).

If a researcher chooses to accept "the ontological assumption associated with interpretative/constructivism that multiple realities exist that are time and context dependent, they will choose to carry out the study using qualitative methods so that they can gain an understanding of the constructions held by people in that context" (Mertens, 1998: 161). The interpretative perspective of the world fits in with this study and the aim of gathering different stakeholder perspectives to gain an understanding of the constructions held by people related to e-Learning in the context of a college environment.

The research strategy that will be used to implement the empirical research is a case study. Cohen and Manion (1995: 106) observe thus: "the case study researcher typically observes the characteristics of an individual unit - a child, a class, a school or a community. The purpose of such observation is to probe deeply and to analyse intensively the multifarious phenomena that constitute the life cycle of the unit".

According to this definition, a case study is therefore concerned with close observation of how a particular population group behaves in a particular context. A case study approach facilitates this study's aim to probe deeply into a college's response to e-Learning by concentrating on specific aspects of e-Learning in one education institution.

Another angle on a case study is offered by Yin (2003: 13), who defines a case study in a different way:

"A case study is an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context, especially when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident".

Yin (2003) also maintains that surveys can investigate phenomena and context together, but lack the in-depth investigation of a case study approach.

The use of a case study in this research exploits the concept of relatability, where other institutions in relating to situational aspects of the case study and recognizing similar issues and problems described in this research work can learn from the findings. The contribution of this case study to the e-Learning knowledge pool will be developed from a comparing and contrasting of the case study analysis and the findings of the Literature Review. It is not expected that the findings of this research will be representative of similar or other colleges implementing e-Learning in their curriculum, but it can be expected that, in time, other case studies will add more contribution to the e-learning academic community, which will help e-Learning amend and develop accordingly. This is highlighted by Nunes and McPherson (2002: 24) who accept that it is difficult to make generalizations from one case study - "it is important to reflect whether theory can be generalized from a single case study" - but who also believe that such a view does not minimize their findings or their contribution to knowledge. The results of this case study are related to a large body of work and the contribution to knowledge can is meaningful and worthwhile to the wider research community.

Data collection

Selecting the means by which to collect empirical data is just as important as choosing an appropriate research strategy. This case study is focused on gathering qualitative data. The use of e-mail questionnaires was considered, but would not satisfy the study's aim for detailed input from staff on their experience of and views on e-Learning. That would make it difficult for the researcher to compare and contrast his findings in any meaningful way with the findings from the literature review. Qualitative data will therefore be collected through the vehicle of interviews. This will provide the researcher the opportunity to discuss e-Learning issues in depth. The interviews will be structured with questions prepared beforehand, but the interviewer will be open to new issues and leads depending on the responses and willingness of the interviewee. Qualitative interviewing, using structured questions, makes use of open-ended questions - such as, for example, 'What do you consider to be the benefits, if any, of e-Learning?' - to encourage meaningful responses (Patton, 1990).

Interviewing different staff (e.g. Principal, academic staff, member of UCU, etc.) will allow for cross-comparisons of responses, encouraging different perspectives of similar e-Learning issues to emerge (e.g. rationale for involvement, perceived obstacles, staff support required, etc.). For example, the Principal will be questioned mainly on strategic issues related to e-Learning, whereas the Head of Division, although receiving questions on strategic issues, will be questioned mainly on implementation issues linked to strategic objectives, including support for staff training. The interviews will be recorded, where possible. This is done to ensure that the analysis of data is based upon an accurate record (e.g. transcript) and to allow the interviewer to concentrate on the interview.

The following staff will be interviewed:

Principal of EHWLC

Member of UCU

Head of E-Learning and Innovation Team

The Head of the Business Division

Member of E-Learning and Innovation Team

Academic Staff from Business Division: module teaching team involved in development of teaching and learning material, using VLE (Centime), for the delivery of an FDA Business Programme.

By selecting a variety of e-Learning stakeholders, from those involved in strategic decision-making, those charged with providing training to academic staff, those involved in providing IT Support, and by selecting a Division that has recent experience of implementing e-learning strategy, it is expected that an enriched understanding of e-Learning will emerge, as well as the improved guidance to support those faced with implementing e-Learning: academic staff.

Secondary data, in the form of college documents and academic staff teaching and learning material, will also be collected to form part of the analysis.

The secondary data will come from a variety of documented sources:

College Strategic Plan

Business Division's Strategic Plan

The secondary data, coupled with the interview data, will assist in providing a rich picture of e-Learning in the college by facilitating a comparison of the college's and Divisional objectives against staff perceptions, at various levels within the college.

Data analysis

An important part of this research is to analyse the case study data, comparing and contrasting different stakeholder perspectives and to reflect on the Case Study results with respect to the findings in the Literature Review. The analysis will be conducted in two stages: first, academic staff case study findings will be described and analysed; second, management and support staff case study findings will be described and analysed. In the second phase, as well as comparing the management staff findings against academic staff findings, relevant literature review findings will also be compared and contrasted against the case study findings. This approach reflects accepted practice in dealing with qualitative data, and is described by Bogdan and Biklen (1982:145) as "working with data, organizing it, breaking it into manageable units, synthesizing it, searching for patterns, discovering what is important and what is to be learned, and deciding what you will tell others".

Qualitative data analysis process for EHWLC case study (source: Inverclyde University)

Potential problems and limitations

There are limitations to this research, as well as issues related to implementing a case study in an environment where one is employed. The results of this study cannot be generalized to the wider research community. Indeed, the results of this research cannot even be generalized to represent the college under study: although key elite staff will be interviewed, and strategic documentation will be referred to, the study of a different programme team in the institution, preparing for e-Learning, may lead to different results. The question of the validity of case study research, in the sense that generalizations cannot normally be made, has already been discussed and addressed. This case study is using the concept of relatability rather than generalizability, although it was also argued that generalization, although not immediate, can take place over a period of time - incremental generalizability - as more empirical research case studies are implemented. There is also the question of the reliability of using such a strategy, particularly when interviews are used as the main means of data collection. Interviews rely on personal opinion, and as such are open to bias and inaccuracy. It will also be quite difficult for the researcher to maintain objectivity when he interviews colleagues in an environment where he works!

Yin (2003: 38) states that the way to deal with reliability in a case study is to "make as many steps as operational as possible and to conduct the research as if someone were looking over your shoulder". Reliability will therefore be achieved through a highly structured, transparent and detailed approach to this study, using a research strategy and data collection techniques that have validity in the research community.

The issue of depending on interviews as the main source of data, when interviewees can exhibit bias, was dealt with by ensuring that the study results do not depend on the results from one or two respondents, but on a number of sources. Firstly, a team of academic staff preparing for a new range of e-Learning programmes will be interviewed. A number of views will be collected on the same issues, from staff working on those programmes. Secondly, senior management staff will be interviewed, further removing the dependence on opinion that may be factually wrong and to place academic staff views in a wider context, eliminating the opportunity for bias. Third, the interview questions are extensive and detailed, where some of the same issues are tackled in different themes (e.g. obstacles to e-Learning), which presents an opportunity for staff to consider some topics in different contexts. Fourth, official documentation will be used as a means of understanding the college's e-Learning objectives and implementation issues, and also used to compare against interview answers. Nonetheless, interviewing one's colleagues raises the issue of objectivity. Implementing a case study within one's place of employment has the advantage of access to subjects, but such a scenario brings some problems. It may hinder the research and endanger relationships between the researcher and the participants in the research project. To minimize such an influence, staff transcriptions will be edited to remove identifying comments. This may help weaken any concerns that staff may have concerning their transcriptions, with the added benefit that they may speak more freely.

This chapter has provided the rationale and operational details of the research strategy used in this research. It has also addressed the limitations of this research and illustrated the approaches used to minimize potential criticisms. The next chapter discusses and analyses the results of the case study.

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