Characteristics of successful e-partnering in an online distance education course for English as a Foreign Language (EFL) educators
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Online distance education is increasing in use for professional development with English as a Foreign Language (EFL) educators worldwide. It creates training opportunities that would not otherwise exist in developing countries and among populations that face geographical, socio-political, and temporal barriers. Persistence and methods for supporting success in online distance learning remain significant challenges for institutions that develop and offer such programs and courses. The use of e-partnering has emerged as a successful method for helping to reduce attrition rates in online training. However, there has been little research to explain how and why e-partnering works. The purpose of this research study was to seek a deeper understanding of how and why the e-partnering system works, in order to inform instructional design, teaching, and learning practices in future online distance education teacher training courses. I addressed three research questions. What were the characteristics (types) of e-partnerships "dyads" in this online distance education course for English as a Foreign Language (EFL) educators? What were the learning outcomes for the different types of e-partnerships? What were the communication patterns for the different types of e-partnerships? How did their communication patterns develop during the course? This was a case study of an online distance education course offered Fall 2006 at University of Oregon (U0) where 22 successful pairs or "dyads" of EFL educators in predominantly Muslim countries were studied. I used multiple methods of analysis on multiple data sources: Self-directed Learning Readiness-Adult Basic Education (SDLRS-ABE) and Distance Learning Readiness (DLRA) pre vs. post inventory scores; pre vs. post scores from weekly multiple-choice knowledge tests; pre vs. post survey of e-partners' perceptions; analysis of text from asynchronous course discussions and other sources; and review and analysis of three action plan projects completed by the e-partners. Data analysis revealed trust, partner accessibility, regular and consistent communication, and mutual support/accountability as common themes in defining successful e-partner relationships. Successful dyads were comprised of participants who perceived themselves to be in peer-peer or mentor-mentee roles. Communication patterns varied. Recommendations are made for changes in practice and for future research on this topic.