Imagery of Regent people and campus

Dissertation Abstract

Exploring Constructivist Leadership Resistance to Online Learning in a Liberal Arts Institute of Undergraduate Higher— Education

Katherine A. Buvoltz
April 2008

Research indicates that online education is rapidly becoming the teaching and learning method of choice in higher education (Allen & Seaman, 2005, 2006; Stokes, 2006). Research also reveals that the small baccalaureate college is the least likely to agree that online education should be part of its long-term strategy (Allen & Seaman, 2005). This study sought to understand why this is so by focusing on a single liberal arts college. Insights were gathered from individual faculty members, i.e., constructivist leaders who were identified as the most resistant to online learning. Faculty members and constructivist leaders are synonymous in this study. Although Lambert (2003a) suggested many education administrators find teacher leadership difficult to find, liberal arts faculty members are fundamental to the leadership of their respective institutions. With an increased understanding of liberal arts faculty leadership roles, it is plausible to contend that faculty members are constructivist leaders. To determine resistance, the researcher used the Online Learning Attitude Assessment (Buvoltz, 2006). Included was a subset of the Higher Education Research Institute Faculty Survey (“The HERI Faculty Survey,” 2007) that measured levels of commitment to the liberal arts. Constructivist leaders exhibiting the strongest resistance received an invitation to participate in a semistructured interview. The interviews sought to uncover online learning perceptions and discover the meaning attached to those perceptions. Themes that emerged from a qualitative analysis on interview transcripts include limited online learning experience and knowledge along with the value of the classroom experience, the residential experience, and the liberal arts mission. The researcher hypothesized that a significant percentage of constructivist leaders are resistant to online learning and that one source of the resistance is the liberal arts culture. Results indicated that resistance does exist, but not at anticipated levels. Liberal arts culture did not predict resistance even though this study’s respondents were highly bound by the liberal arts culture.