G. Cicco

St. John's University (UNITED STATES)
This paper discusses the recent controversy among graduate counseling faculty as to the appropriateness of offering counseling skills and techniques courses online. The convenience and economic advantages that online courses allow students and faculty are undeniable and virtual classrooms are growing in popularity worldwide (Meyers, 2008). This change in the delivery of instruction calls upon educational researchers to seek empirical evidence that determines the power of online courses to produce learning outcomes that are comparable to those of in-class courses (Cicco, 2009; Yang & Chou, 2008). Educational researchers are particularly challenged to document the learning outcomes of online courses that teach counselors-in-training to practice interpersonal skills and counseling techniques within the context of face-to-face sessions with student-clients. These types of skills courses, when taught traditionally in the classroom setting, involve frequent and intensive work among faculty, students, and clinical associates. Required activities in such classroom courses typically include modeling, role-playing, reviewing video presentations, and didactic and triadic mock counseling sessions (Trepal et al., 2007). This paper examines the possibility of engaging students in similar activities within the virtual classroom setting through the use of audio and video technology and live Webcam media, such as Skype, to provide them with ongoing and immediate feedback. It will be necessary to measure student learning outcomes in online skills and techniques courses when such innovations are employed to enhance the learning experience, as they transform online courses from completely asynchronous to incorporate valuable synchronous interactions (Ash, 2011; Scheuermann, 2010). It is questionable as to whether utilizing such enhancements will actually improve learning outcomes, or simply make the virtual classroom more accommodating to students of diverse learning-style preferences (Blackmore, Tantam, & van Deurzen, 2008; Fearing & Riley, 2005). This paper concludes with suggestions for faculty on creating evaluation criteria and methods, and for selecting valid and reliable assessments, for online counseling skills courses.