Dissertation topic decided – update 3

I have spent the last four weeks defining my dissertation topic.  I knew from the outset that I wanted it to be something about K-12 online learning.   My starting point was a previous blog post.  Since then, I have emailed with researchers, talked on the phone with several of them, met with my dissertation chair, and then, talked with a statistics professor.   Michael Barbour over at Virtual Schooling responded via his blog.   I believe I now have a topic.  However, my next step is to find out if I can find the statistics I need for this topic.  Otherwise, it won’t do me any good to pursue this topic.

My dissertation research questions are:
1. Are there a disproportionate number of at risk students attending online charter schools as compared to comprehensive high schools?

2. Are at risk students being more successful in online schools?
I would compare full time online students  with students in a comprehensive high school.  I was advised to start small.  At this point in  time, I’m hoping to find an online school in one region/county in California who will provide me with their student statistics regarding demographics, test scores, grades, etc.  And, then find a corresponding comprehensive high school in the same region with the same statistics.
I would first define “at risk” using some of the drop out data/studies I have read.  It could be the number of previously failed courses or low achievement or previous grade retention.   Then, based on that definition, pull out the students and run some statistics.
Then, I will need to define what success is in online school, etc. and compare the at risk students in both settings.
What do you think?

7 Responses to “Dissertation topic decided – update 3”

  1. 1 JackieS June 14, 2009 at 8:41 pm

    FYI. I once heard that those seeking a teaching credential through the online CalTeach program actually learned better (had a better grounding in educational issues and strategies) than those teachers that sat in a class to learn. That makes sense, since there would be no variation due to teaching styles of different instructors.

    With that in mind, would you want to measure how students do on tests — are online students getting similar grades while the grades of non-online students are less consistent or vary more widely? Just a thought.

    Best wishes.

  2. 2 Tom Nixon June 14, 2009 at 10:08 pm

    With regards to #2, I wonder if it would be possible to quantify what is it about online learning that is beneficial to at-risk students in order to duplicate that elsewhere. I read Mike Barbour’s response to your research topic and I wonder if that would meet his criteria.

  3. 3 Cybrscrybe June 19, 2009 at 1:33 am


    Good idea to check with Michael Barbour. He’s been at the root of the virtual school movement for several years.

    Your topic, and Tom’s reply, gives me hope that my current topic – “The effects of asynchronous Web 2.0 tools on reading comprehension in middle school students” may be a success. I’ve approached the virtual school scenario in the past, and was told it was too much of a “phenomena” to be dissertation material. I’ve since taught at several different virtual schools and higher ed online programs during the last couple of years, as well as brick and mortar middle schools, and know that when we can find ways to use online learning to help all students, we’ll be on the way to making some positive changes in education.

    Therefore, I’m hoping to add to the research base by studying the effects that using Wikki’s, online chats, discussion boards, and blogs with face to face students has on reading comprehension. Of course, my problem statement is that reading comprehesion in middle school students needs improvement, and I’m hoping that I can have several classes of students with the same teachers using online asynchronous tools with traditional students, and the same teachers using online tools with similar students. Then I’ll run the numbers, and see what effects (hopefully positive) it has on their comprehension scores.

    Now I just have to find a professor in my institution willing to back my topic. Then find a way to state the goal of the dissertation so that it’s worthy of being “dissertation material”.

    Best wishes for success with your topic!

  4. 4 Niyoka McCoy September 27, 2009 at 4:35 am

    I am also working on my dissertation topic and I am looking for some guidance. I have decided to do the successful characteristics of full time middle school virtual students. You sound like you are well on your way and I am hoping that we can connect and share ideas.


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  1. 1 Final Stages of Rob’s Dissertation Topic Journey « Virtual High School Meanderings Trackback on June 14, 2009 at 8:01 pm
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