G. Cicco

St. John's University (UNITED STATES)
The global expansion of online programs and course offerings in graduate education points to the need for researchers to examine the effectiveness of diverse pedagogical methods in the virtual learning environment as well as the corresponding assessment practices employed to confirm students’ mastery of learning objectives (Glassmeyer, Dibbs, & Jensen, 2011; Meyers, 2008). Various studies have been conducted to measure the levels of student engagement and relationship-building within the virtual classroom and to identify the student learning styles that are most frequently accommodated in this setting (Cicco, 2009; Trepal, Haberstroh, Duffey, & Evans, 2007). This paper summarizes the findings based on a recent research investigation of the online learning experiences and perceptions of graduate students enrolled in a counselor preparation program in New York. The study design and methodology will be described, with an emphasis on the specific recommendations provided by the 53 student participants for improvement of online counseling courses. The instruction and assessment of counseling skills and techniques within the context of online courses continue to raise questions and concerns for counselor educators as they recognize the inherent differences between the in-class and online instructional environments. The emphasis on the practice, development, and evaluation of basic and complex interpersonal skills within counselor education programs has traditionally been experienced through live interaction among faculty, students, site supervisors, and clinical associates. Converting this rigorous communication experience to the virtual classroom may pose special challenges for counselor educators, particularly in appropriately planning experiences that allow students to participate in live practice exercises and to receive immediate feedback and opportunities for self- and peer-evaluation. Examples of such activities include role-playing, mock counseling sessions, and reflective journal writing (Ivey, Ivey, & Zalaquett, 2010). Instructional designers have provided several recommendations for the enhancement of online instruction, such as integration of synchronous methods and media, yet the ethical concerns of accurately assessing the preparedness of counseling professionals who will serve at times the most vulnerable client populations remain an issue of concern and controversy (Cicco, 2011; Scheuermann, 2010). This paper will elaborate on specific student reflections of their online learning experiences and the corresponding indications for online course design, planning, and instruction that allow students to receive rich and diverse counselor preparation exercises. Recommendations for the provision of formative and summative assessment throughout online courses will be discussed (Reiner & Arnold, 2010). In conclusion, the implications of this exploratory study for future empirical investigation on this important area of research will be addressed.