Dennis Mulcahy

The primary context of my research is rural education and schooling in Newfoundland and Labrador. The driving force behind my research and development work is a commitment to improve the quality of education provided to the children and youth who live in the province's rural communities and schools. The scope of my work is quite broad and includes school-based issues as well as rural education policy analysis.

My first rural research project focused on learning and teaching in multi-grade and multiage classrooms. This project lead to continuing work on the viability and value of small community schools, school closure and consolidation, distance education, long distance bussing, teacher education, recruitment and retention and policy development for sustaining and developing rural communities.

Small rural schools are continually under siege by urban-based educational authorities. My hope is that my work helps rural communities in their constant battle to preserve their communities and their schools.

Although my work is rooted in the rural context of Newfoundland and Labrador, the dissemination of that work has lead to contacts, connections and collaborations with rural educators, researchers and scholars nationally and internationally. I continue to look for opportunities to work with rural educators and scholars internationally.

Publications and Presentations

Current and Continuing Research Projects

My research work includes both funded and unfunded projects and involves both qualitative and quantitative methodologies. The rural educators I work with in my graduate courses are very important sources of data for my research. Over the years these hard working and generous individuals have greatly enhanced this townie's understanding of rural issues.

Some of my continuing and recently completed projects are briefly described below:

Small School Pedagogy

One of my ongoing research projects is small school pedagogy. I am very interested in how learning and teaching occurs in small rural schools and the strategies that rural teachers use in their classrooms. At the k-9 levels most small schools have multi-grade or multiage classrooms. At the high school level many rural teachers have to work with several grade levels, courses and subjects in a single instructional period.

E learning

Web-based distance education has the potential providing access to rural students programs and courses that their community school may not be able to offer. The size and location of the school becomes irrelevant as far as the programming that may be provided. However, distance learning requires a set of learner attributes that all adolescents may not possess. My research interest in this area is the kinds of onsite support and guidance young learners n eed to be successful online learners.

Rural Education Policy

If rural schools are going to be successful in providing their students with quality education, governments and school districts must create policies that not only recognize and accept the existence of rural schools but also provide direction and support for their sustainability and growth. For most of the twentieth century the dominant rural schools policy in most jurisdictions was one that saw closure and consolidation as the path to educational improvement. More recently there has been a recognition, at least in some quarters, that the small schools that remain will have to stay in place as long as the communities they serve exist. I am interested in the kinds o policy initiatives that would support these existing small schools.

Egypt's One Classroom Schools for Girls

United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Ministry of Higher Education in Egypt

In this project I spend the month of August in Egypt working with university professors from several Egyptian Universities review and revising the One Classroom School Teacher Preparation Program and developing program standards for that program. The One Classroom Schools of Egypt are designed specifically for girls living in rural villages whose exposure to formal education is limited in many cases. While in Egypt, I began the process of initiating a program of research that will focus the issues and challenges that are associated with providing education for girls in rural Egypt, a context not totally accepting or supporting this educational initiative.

The Post-Internship School Placement Program: Pre-service Teachers' Perceptions and Experiences, Vice-President Research Grant, Office of Research, MUN

In this study, Drs. Goodnough and Mulcahy explored pre-service teachers' perceptions of teaching and living in a rural community. Twelve pre-service teachers shared their beliefs, insights, and experiences related to living in a rural community (opportunities and challenges), as well as the development of new knowledge as it relates to professional knowledge and practice. For example, students developed practical knowledge about how schools structure programs and support learning in multi-age classrooms; they developed insight into how small schools utilize distance education and the challenges associated with this delivery; and they became more attuned to both the opportunities and challenges associated with living and teaching in a rural community. Data analysis and interpretation is ongoing and has become the basis for the research proposed here.

2007/08: An investigation into the nature of education in remote regions of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador: The Straits (Associate Investigator: Dr. David Dibbon)

Harris Centre, Memorial University Research Grant

In this project, a team of researchers from Memorial University traveled to Labrador Straits and spend one week interacting with parents, teachers, students and members of the local communities. Through a series of interviews and focus group sessions data was collected that provided a comprehensive picture of the challenges local stakeholders perceive as impeding the delivery of a quality education for their children and youth. Concerns were expressed in particular about the increased reliance on distance education to provide basic high school programming to students. Many parents and teachers are very concerned that the existing model of distance delivery does not have adequate supports for the average student. There is a fear that unless more adequate human supports are put in place, many of these students will fall through the cracks. The final report for this project has been produced and may be downloaded at the Harris Center web site.

2007 Investigating what pre-service teachers know about multi-age pedagogy. Co-Investigator: Dr. Nita Lester, Griffiths University, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Multiage Association of Queensland Research Grant

The purpose of this project was to assess and compare the knowledge of multi-age pedagogy of pre-service teachers in Canada and Australia. Data was collected via a short questionnaire from first year education students at Griffith University in Brisbane and Memorial University in Newfoundland and Labrador. Findings from the two groups of students were remarkable similar. The majority of students had very little prior knowledge of multi-age pedagogy the exceptions being those who attended a small rural school as part of their early education experiences.

2003/7: An ongoing investigation into online student learning and achievement in rural high schools in Newfoundland and Labrador. Co-investigator: Dr. Michael Barbour, Wayne State, Detroit.

A decade ago the Advanced Placement (AP) program was introduced into the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Initially, schools embraced this opportunity to provide their students with opportunities that were previous unavailable. However, it only took a few years before the AP program was relegated to urban and large regional high schools. Very few smaller and particularly rural schools were able to offer AP courses. In some schools students were able to supplement their traditional curriculum with independent study; however, this was usually only the brightest one or two students. In 1997-98, schools began to delivery AP courses in a web-based method.

In 2000, the provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador decided to expand the provision of distance education in rural schools. In addition to AP courses, students in rural high schools would be able to take an increasing number of regular programs and courses through online distance education. In some of the smaller and more remote schools distance learning has become the only way for these students to complete an academic high school program.

Drs. Mulcahy and Barbour have been engaged in a continuous study investigating various aspects of how distance education is working for rural students. The first project investigated differences in retention rates between students taking AP courses online versus face to face. Subsequent projects have continued to monitor student achievement and performance as the use of distance has expanded in rural schools and an increasing number of students have to take online courses. Results of these students have been presented at AERA (2004,2005,2006, 2007, 2008) and published the Rural Educator (2006) and Education in Rural Australia (2007)

2004: Instructor Presence, Interactivity, and Learner Satisfaction in Web-Based Distance Education Courses at the Graduate Level. Co-investigators: Albert Johnson and Jennifer Webb, DELT Memorial University

This project investigated how the degree of instructor presence and interactivity in online distance education impacted on learning satisfaction with such courses. Data was obtained via an online questionnaire. Results clearly demonstrated a high degree of learner satisfaction was linked to the sense that students had that the instructor was there and participating in the online environment. Most important from the students' point of view was the timeliness of instructor response to students questions posted via email or the discussion forum.

Results of study presented at CADE Annual Conference, St. John's, NL, June 7.

2002 Enabling a Wider Range of Students to be Successful in Web-based Distance Education Courses. Co-investigator: Dr. Dennis Sharpe, Memorial University

Centre for Distance Learning and Innovation, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador

This project investigated the possible changes and modifications that might be made to the existing CDLI model of distance delivery in Newfoundland and Labrador so as a wider range of students may experience success with online learning. Interviews and focus group sessions were conducted in several rural regions of the province and the views of parents, teachers, and students were obtained. Data analysis revealed a number of issues ranging from the lack of school based support for students, inadequate equipment and infrastructure, and conflicts in school based schedules and distance learning schedules.


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Faculty of Education

230 Elizabeth Ave, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1B 3X9

Postal Address: P.O. Box 4200, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1C 5S7

Tel: (709) 864-8000