Online learning perspectives of Native American students

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Hunt, Brittany D., and Beth Oyarzun. “Online learning perspectives of Native American students.” Journal of Educational Technology Studies, published online August 2019.


This article describes a research study with a population of “two Native American students enrolled in an online course at a large 4-year University in the southeast” [abstract]. One of the students is Lumbee; the other is Coharie.

The study’s research questions were:
1. How do Native American students experience online courses?
2. Are online courses tailored to the learning needs of Native American students? [p. 3]

The study used as its theoretical framework the “four R’s” of higher education for people of First Nations (V. Kirkness and R. Barnhardt, 2016): Respect, Relevance, Reciprocity, and Responsibility [p. 4].

In this qualitative, ethnographic case study, the authors collected data from each of the two participants through one interview and three journal entries, spaced throughout one semester.

The results of the data analysis included the following, categorized according to Kirkness and Barnhardt’s themes:

Respect: Participants wanted a more supportive online learning community, which would include more help as the course became more difficult; more feedback from the professor on students’ responses to course discussion questions; and more feedback from the professor when the respondent wrote on a topic related to American Indian issues.

Relevance: Participants wanted more Native American focus in their college courses (both online and face-to-face). They also wanted their courses to give them more opportunities to express their Native American identity.

Reciprocity: Participants wanted more opportunities to interact, and build relationships, with both their professor and the other students in the online course. They also wanted the online interactions to be more conversational, involving the students in the course, as well as the professor, in back-and-forth exchanges.

Responsibility: Participants wanted more collaboration with other students and the professor on projects and assignments, allowing them to express, and build upon, their own background and experiences.

The authors acknowledge the following limitations of their study: the small Native American population at the university where the study was conducted; the small number of Native American students enrolled in online courses (leading to the small sample size of two participants); and a small amount of published research on the topic of their study.

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