NCAT Monograph Case Studies

Innovations in Online Learning: Moving Beyond No Significant Difference

By Carol A. Twigg

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Case: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Master of Science Degree: LEEP3
Case: University of Central Florida, Reactive Behavior Patterns: Implications for Web-based Teaching & Learning
Case: Rio Salado College, A Systems Approach to Online Learning
Case: Cardean University, Problem-centered Pedagogy
Case: Ohio State University, A Buffet of Learning Opportunities
Case: University of Phoenix, A Focus on the Customer
Case: Rio Salado College, Online Human Anatomy
Case: Excelsior College, What You Know Is More Important than Where or How You Learned It
Case: Drexel University, Modularizing Computer Programming
Case: The British Open University Approach to Online Learning
Case: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, The Spanish Project
Case: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, The Math Emporium: Student-paced Mathematics 24x7
Case: Michigan State University, CAPA: Computer-assisted Personalized Assignment System

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Master of Science Degree: LEEP3

Leigh S. Estabrook, Dean
Library and Information Science

Now in its fifth year, LEEP3 is a site-independent, distance education scheduling option for the Master of Science degree offered by the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). All LEEP3 students must meet the same standards for admission and satisfy the same degree requirements as on-campus students. To date, 110 students have graduated, representing forty states and seven countries. The retention rate exceeds 95 percent. Most students enroll in two courses per semester. Students range in age from their early twenties to late fifties.

Students begin the program with a twelve-day stay on campus in the summer, during which they complete a half-unit required course ("Libraries, Information & Society") and a noncredit technology workshop, while developing a sense of community. Thereafter, each course in which they enroll includes one on-campus session. Since the courses emphasize group work and projects, it is important that students have built relationships that enable them to work effectively together electronically. Courses may have up to two hours per week of synchronous interaction at a regularly scheduled time, with the rest of the communication accomplished asynchronously.

All full-time GSLIS faculty teach in LEEP3 on a regular basis. They are given released time to prepare their courses for delivery via LEEP3 as well as a reduced course load the first semester they teach in LEEP3. On-campus faculty receive extraordinary support because we are committed to keeping their research efforts uncompromised. LEEP3 courses have been taught by seventeen GSLIS faculty and twenty-four adjuncts (from a variety of professional positions and geographic locations).

Technologies currently in use support the following activities: asynchronous discussions; live-session interactivity (e.g., class presentations by faculty, students, and guest lecturers; group Web browsing; text chatting; desktop sharing; breakout rooms for small group discussions); archives of live sessions (including all class components—audio, images, text—with events synchronized for seamless playback); collaborative document creation and editing (create, edit, and share documents online without leaving one’s Web browser). Students in our program are learning about uses of technology in ways we cannot teach by traditional instruction. They are learning to work on virtual teams, they are learning about the effects of technology on individuals and organizations, and they are learning to work independently with technological problems. They build an understanding of the sociotechnical dimensions of work, when technology moves from being an object of study to an embedded pedagogy.

Various approaches are used to make LEEP3 students feel more connected with events on campus. Special on-campus lectures are recorded and made available using Real Audio through the LEEP3 Web pages. Live sessions with the dean are scheduled once a semester to discuss students’ experiences with the program. Students have an opportunity to learn about different career options through live sessions, interacting with professionals with varied careers.

The goal of the LEEP3 program is to create a significant difference in the way students participate in a rapidly changing profession. Librarians must entirely change the notion of who they are. One important way of helping them do that is to create a community of practice—that is, practice in the new environment. Many of these students work in old-fashioned library positions. If left alone to work more independently, they would not have the opportunity to develop a network of new library and information science professionals. Consequently, we believe that some face-to-face components are essential to a student’s retention, success, and sense of professional community.

Even with the requirement for on-campus visits, the program has strong demand from around the world and from U.S. locations, like Alaska, that do not have easy access to library and information science instruction. At the same time, UIUC acknowledges the limitations of the approach, since the on-campus components create additional costs and logistical problems for students. A second limitation is the requirement for stable Internet access that supports synchronous activities. Students from South America and the rural United States have had difficulties and, in some cases, have been unable to continue in the program.
University of Central Florida
Reactive Behavior Patterns: Implications for Web-based Teaching & Learning

Chuck Dziuban, Director and Patsy Moskal, Research Associate
UCF Research Initiative for Teaching Effectiveness

At the University of Central Florida (UCF), we are investigating the learning-style patterns of students taking Web-based courses. We base our measurement protocol on the theory of William A. Long of the University of Mississippi Medical School. Long theorizes that students most accurately exhibit their preferences for knowledge acquisition and concept formation when they encounter ambivalence—the pull from dependence to independence that reflects counterpoised feelings toward a set of stimuli (e.g., interacting with parents and teachers, leaving home for college, forming expectations of academic and social life on campus, or taking an online course for the first time).

According to Long, individuals have an affinity for one behavior type. The intersection of energy level and of the need for approval yields four basic Long types, defined by two dimensions (aggressive-versus-passive and independent-versus-dependent). These types may be augmented by four ancillary traits. Aggressiveness denotes the energy level that students bring to the learning environment. Aggressive types are high-energy students; passive types are low in energy. Dependency identifies the level of approval that students need from others, with dependent types thriving on approval and independent types having little need for it. Long argues that the teacher’s major role is to remove (or at least be aware of) obstacles that impair students’ normal progression.

The following gives a brief overview of the Long types:

  • Aggressive Independent (AI). These students possess high energy levels, are action-oriented, and have little need for peer or teacher approval. They lack judgment, express their thoughts and feelings impulsively, and tend to be disorganized and nonlinear, preferring to work independently. They resolve conflict through confrontation. They are challenging students, preventing teacher complacency. Often in leadership positions, AI students can develop into fresh and direct individuals who deal with situations as they are encountered. Teaching strategies for working with AIs include offering them choices, having clearly defined behavioral expectations, using independent activities, and assigning them leadership roles.
  • Aggressive Dependent (AD). Like AI students, AD students possess high energy levels and are action-oriented, but they need peer and/or teacher approval. They are nonconfrontational and eager to please, rarely expressing negative feelings like anger or disapproval. They participate in class, often seek out the instructor outside of class, and maintain harmony within group situations. They perform at or above their ability. AD students are high achievers found in honors courses, student government, service organizations, and athletic programs. Teaching strategies for working with ADs include providing ample opportunities for instructor approval, supplying guidelines so that they do not take on more than they can handle, and creating opportunities to mentor other students.
  • Passive Independent (PI). Passive Independent students can be stubborn, nonparticipatory, or withdrawn, presenting formidable challenges to both parents and teachers. They resist pressure from authority and are not concerned with approval. They are at great risk in academic settings because they resist the "system" continuously (e.g., they don’t meet deadlines). PIs prefer to work alone. They are particularly baffling when manifesting superior ability yet behaving in ways contrary to their own best interests. They may present a poor academic self-concept from long-term underachievement patterns. Teaching strategies for working with PIs include establishing short-term goals and offering as much flexibility as possible.
  • Passive Dependent (PD). These students are gentle, sensitive, nonconfrontational, and very compliant. The PD’s need for approval dominates parental, peer, and teacher relationships. They are highly sensitive to the feelings of others, and they perceive disagreement and criticism as personal rejection. They are always at risk (e.g., if you tell them to tie the right shoe, they will tie only the right shoe and not the left because you didn’t tell them to do so). As PDs mature, their excessive need for approval becomes the mark of a gentle, caring human being. Teaching strategies for working with PDs include establishing clear and complete directions for accomplishing tasks and providing a great deal of encouragement.

Upon examining the distribution of Long Types in UCF’s courses, we discovered that all Long types are evenly represented in face-to-face general education courses but not in comparable Web-based classes.

Aggressive Dependent
Aggressive Independent
Passive Independent
Passive Dependent

Furthermore, we discovered differences among Long types regarding attitudes toward fully online courses. Fifty eight percent of ADs and 65 percent of PDs indicated that they missed face-to-face interaction in a traditional classroom. AIs and PIs indicated less need for face-to-face interaction: only 16 percent of AIs and 10 percent of PIs indicated lack of face-to-face interaction as a negative.

How learning styles pertain to issues such as achievement, retention, and withdrawal should be further examined. Clearly, the online environment provides the flexibility to develop individualized strategies to address differences in learning styles. We are examining the possibility of providing advance organizers for our students that advise them about expectations, role changes, and instructional challenges in online learning as compared with their on-campus, face-to-face courses.

Rio Salado College
A Systems Approach to Online Learning

Carol Scarafiotti, Dean of Instruction

Rio Salado College’s twenty-two years of experience with distance learning, along with its extensive use of adjunct faculty and its belief in systems thinking, have shaped its online program. Currently, Rio’s online program offers students more than two hundred unique courses, 90 percent of which are available for students to enroll in every two weeks (twenty-six start times per year), with the remainder usually available for enrollment six to eight times per year. We never cancel a class that is offered online. If only one student enrolls, we can accommodate that student. When we survey students about what they like most about our distance program, they always give high ratings to the convenience factor of having access to education when they need and want it.

Technology provides the management system that enables faculty members to handle several starts at one time. The technology also allows for more timely interaction between faculty members and students, thus keeping everyone on track. Payment to adjunct faculty is adjusted according to the number of starts and the number of weeks the course will run—for example, thirteen weeks with two starts versus nineteen weeks with three starts. Because faculty at Rio are facilitators of student learning rather than presenters of information, it is easy to respond to students individually.

Courses are created through a course-development process that ensures that each course aligns with the "Rio brand" of distance learning. All courses are asynchronous (testing is the only face-to-face requirement) and include a consistent navigational template and a focus on developing independent learners. The course-development process produces one version of each course, and adjunct faculty members teach/facilitate the majority of Rio’s courses.

All students and faculty are supported by a full range of online services. At Rio, you will not find a distance or online learning department. Rio’s philosophy is that the entire college must work as a system to support its distance/online program. Six areas of the college form the system that supports Rio’s online students and faculty members:

  • The course development and support department is a cross-college group that makes decisions regarding format, delivery, and emerging technologies. The department links a content expert (usually a faculty member) with a team of specialists, each of whom plays a part in the creation of an online course. Depending on the complexity of the course, the team can include a faculty member who has extensive expertise in the development of online courses and the use of online technology, a Web technician, a programmer, an editor, someone to handle copyright issues, and someone to coordinate initial testing of the course. The team also ensures that the course aligns with Rio’s brand of distance learning.
  • The faculty services department recruits adjunct faculty and works with the full-time faculty and support team to provide new adjunct faculty with training. Adjunct faculty members learn to use the technology, become familiar with online pedagogy, and are made aware of Rio Salado College’s expectation for providing timely student feedback.
  • The student services department provides a full range of support services via phone and/or online. Services include tutoring (our "Beep a Tutor" program uses pagers to provide a student with a tutor within one to two hours of the page, seven days a week, fourteen hours a day); advising and counseling (advisors call at-risk students as determined by survey); library services (including a reference librarian available seven days a week); testing (proctors are offered at six Phoenix locations six days a week or through an approved proctor at educational institutions or military bases); and an online bookstore.
  • The information services department provides a technology help desk available seven days a week, fourteen hours a day, to all faculty members and students. In addition, it provides other support technology such as voice-mailboxes for all faculty members and for students in language courses.
  • The admissions and records department provides a variety of rosters and grade reports every two weeks to accommodate Rio’s twenty-six rolling enrollment periods. Every start date is assigned a unique section number.
  • The marketing department provides course schedules and brochures and also manages a call center that provides prospective students with information about distance learning options.

At Rio Salado College we believe that if all the parts of the system work well together, most students can succeed in the online classroom, so rather than screening out "at risk" students, we try to identify them and provide assistance. Our retention data tell us that 80 percent of students who are active in the second week of the course will successfully complete the course.

Cardean University
Problem-centered Pedagogy

Thomas M. Duffy, Provost

UNext’s Cardean University offers graduate-level business courses and a DETC-accredited MBA degree via the Web. We employ a business-to-business model in which we sell directly to companies, who then provide the courses to their employees. We are in the process of beginning to sell directly to students. We are also developing academic partnership models—that is, our courses will be used to enrich the offerings and extend the reach of traditional colleges and universities.

Key features of our model include permitting students to start a course at any time and to progress at their own rate; providing high-quality learning experiences; providing a "high-touch" experience; and ensuring access through 28.8 connection speeds to accommodate home and on-the-road access.

We offer two types of courses. Mastery courses, which are one credit each and lead to an MBA, require about twenty-five hours of effort to complete. These courses follow a problem-centered pedagogy and are facilitated by an instructor. Quantum courses, which are noncredit, executive education courses and take two to five hours to complete, focus on current business issues. The design of Quantum courses follows a direct instruction model in which students are provided key concepts, elaboration on those concepts, guided practice with application of the concepts, an assessment of understanding, and finally, a consideration of applying the concept in other contexts.

Cardean seeks to distinguish itself in terms of the quality of the courses offered. High quality is achieved in four ways:

  • Quality content partners. We have partnered with Columbia, Carnegie Mellon, the University of Chicago, the London School of Economics, and Stanford for our content. Requiring final approval by the university partner, courses are co-branded with that partner.
  • Quality pedagogy. We do not "put the faculty member’s course online." Rather, we use the faculty member’s expertise to define the learning outcomes, the applications of that learning, the content, and the potential difficulties that students may encounter. In the Mastery courses, we use that information to create a problem-centered learning environment. Students begin with a real business problem; all learning centers around working on that problem and understanding the concepts and skills associated with working on the problem. In Quantum courses, the focus is on ensuring that the course is oriented toward the application of concepts.
  • Quality assurance. All of our courses are reviewed by our Learning Instruction unit at Cardean and by the university partner to ensure that all dimensions are of high quality. Further, all courses undergo formative evaluation by current students, who provide feedback on problems they encounter. Finally, we monitor our courses after they are released to identify and provide any "fixes" that are required.
  • Highly interactive environments. In Mastery courses, up to twenty-five students are grouped into a "class" based on a reasonably common start time. These students share a common discussion environment and an instructor. The instructor’s role is to build community and to facilitate students’ discussion of the concepts and problems in the course and the application of those concepts to their work environment. Instructors who work for Cardean have at least a master’s degree and complete a six-week Cardean certification program. In Quantum courses, there is no instructor facilitation, but there is also a community environment to support students’ ongoing discussion of the concepts and skills.

To elaborate our problem-centered approach, the key goal is to engage students in active "doing" in the learning process—that is, to move students beyond merely reading text. Courses are designed around real-world business problems. Rather than reading chapters and studying for a test, students use learning resources to work on real-world business problems. Students may be placed in the role of "analyst" and assigned to evaluate several investment options in order to provide a rationale for recommended action. Each course ends with a reflective or debriefing activity: what was learned, what is needed to get a better understanding, where else do these concepts apply, and how can the process for working on problems like these be improved? This reflective activity is critical to students’ abstracting and indexing the learning that has occurred. Finally, performance outcomes for each course assess students’ ability to apply the concepts learned to real-world situations.

Ohio State University
A Buffet of Learning Opportunities

Department of Statistics

Under the auspices of the Pew Grant Program in Course Redesign, Ohio State University (OSU) is redesigning "Introductory Statistical Concepts," a five-credit course enrolling 3,250 students each year. OSU’s redesign will implement a "buffet" strategy, offering students an assortment of interchangeable paths that match their individual learning styles, abilities, and tastes to approach each stage of the course and learn each course objective. Like the "emporium" metaphor used by Virginia Tech, a buffet suggests a large variety of offerings that can be customized to fit the needs of the individual learner.

OSU develops the metaphor as follows. Research in learning theory tells us that students are more likely to comprehend and retain the concepts under study when they have (1) a real, vivid, and familiar example to anchor the concept, (2) a second, less-familiar example to demonstrate wide applicability to alternate contexts, (3) a means to discover the general principle, and (4) practice working with the concept. These four stages are the appetizer, salad, entrée, and dessert of a full meal. Since students learn in different ways, the best "fixed menu" of teaching strategies will nevertheless fail for some students, even if those strategies offer the "full meal" of these four learning stages for every course goal.

In contrast, OSU’s buffet of learning opportunities will include lectures, individual discovery laboratories (in-class and Web-based), team/group discovery laboratories, individual and group review (live and remote), small-group study sessions, videos, remedial/prerequisite/procedure training modules, contacts for study groups, oral and written presentations, active large-group problem-solving, homework assignments (graded by teaching assistants or self-graded), and individual and group projects. Thus, for a specific objective, students may choose to hear and discuss a familiar vivid example in lecture, view and read about a real example in an annotated video presentation, encounter an example in a group problem-solving session, or generate an example through a group project. Students may elect to practice working with a concept in a data analysis laboratory, in an individual Web-based activity, or in a facilitated study session or by explaining it to others in a jigsaw-formatted review.

The buffet strategy can also accommodate choice in the sequence in which these four stages are presented. For example, it will match the learning style of students who learn better by starting with the big picture and moving to specific examples, as well as students who learn by starting with specifics and moving to the general principle.

To promote commitment to follow-through and to enable efficient tracking of their progress, students will enter into an online "contract" that captures their choice of learning modes at the beginning of each of four units of study. Students will receive an initial in-class orientation that provides information about the buffet structure, the course content, the learning contract, the purpose of the learning styles and study skills assessments, and the various ways that they might choose to learn the material. Out of class, they will complete online learning styles and study skills instruments and receive a report of their results, as well as directions on how to use this information to build the online course contract.

Each student will initially be given a set of default study options generated by software to match their learning styles and study skills; this set of options can be changed according to a student’s preferences. The finished contract will give the student a detailed listing of what needs to be accomplished, how it relates to the learning objectives of the unit, and when each part of the assignment must be completed, leading up to the unit test three weeks later. Based on their own experiences in the initial unit and on other students’ testimonials from earlier quarters, students may decide to make changes in their contracts for subsequent units.

The course software will monitor students’ progress on an individualized basis throughout each unit, providing a variety of learning activities and suggesting alternate learning strategies. For example, if a student shows a deficiency in a low-stakes quiz, the software will suggest an alternate approach to learning the objective involved. In one case, a student may be directed to a study session covering the topic involved. In a second case, a student may be directed to an applet activity that was not included in the original assignment.

Teaching styles and capabilities also vary, and the buffet approach allows OSU to better match the teaching assistants who support the course with the delivery options for which they have a talent. Teaching assistants who do well in one-on-one help but have not yet mastered the management of whole class discussions can facilitate study sessions or provide individual help during problem-solving sessions. Teaching assistants who have a talent for facilitating small-group discussions and managing the dynamics of a hands-on laboratory experiment should utilize these skills and not be overburdened with grading duties. This supply-side match, coupled with the student demand-side match, will greatly individualize the instructional process even though a course may have a very large enrollment.

Using technology to manage course administration and monitor weekly progress reports and diagnostics will also allow OSU to move to a modular course format. Students will be able to earn from one to five credits based on successful module completion. By requiring students to demonstrate a passing-level proficiency in one unit before proceeding to the next, OSU can identify severe deficiencies and address them early, resulting in a lower failure/withdrawal rate. Thus, the several hundred students who now fall behind and feel compelled to withdraw will have the option of demonstrating proficiency without having to drop all five credits. Analysis of previous data on drops shows that OSU will be able to eliminate one-fourth of the course repetitions, thereby opening slots for an additional 150 students per year.

University of Phoenix
A Focus on the Customer

Jorge Klor De Alva, President and Kurt A. Slobodzian, Vice President, Instructional Technology

To understand the University of Phoenix Online educational model, one must first understand the mission and purpose of the University of Phoenix. University of Phoenix is a regionally accredited postsecondary institution committed to the needs of working adults. The typical University of Phoenix student is thirty-five years old (in the United States, University of Phoenix students must be over twenty-three) and is employed full-time, typically in a middle-management role. To meet the needs of that population, the University of Phoenix has developed a teaching/learning model that is respectful of the knowledge and experience that our students bring with them to class and that is attentive to their need for efficient and professional customer service.

From its inception, the University of Phoenix has focused on helping students achieve life and career goals by delivering degree programs in a cohesive and comprehensive manner. All University of Phoenix instruction is organized around a collaborative model that positions the instructor as a learning "facilitator." University of Phoenix programs are developed by faculty teams to ensure that course objectives and outcomes are presented in a sequence that builds both knowledge and confidence.

This learner-centric approach is complemented by a customer orientation that places high value on all aspects of customer service. The University of Phoenix "unbundles" critical student services and provides each student with a team of specialized counselors who work together from their respective areas of expertise to ensure accurate and timely assistance with enrollment, financial services, and academic advisement. Every time another institution takes four weeks to send a catalog, we gain a student. Everything we do is tracked and logged to ensure that we are providing the best customer service possible.

The same clear vision that has made the university successful as a campus-based institution has helped to build the University of Phoenix Online into a premier distance learning organization. Founded in 1989, the University of Phoenix Online was among the first to provide complete college-degree programs entirely online. Unlike other programs, which are partially delivered via mail, telephone, or videotape or require some on-campus attendance, the University of Phoenix Online allows completion of 100 percent of the curriculum via the Internet. This includes all administration, registration, and the acquisition of course materials.

Students enter the program as a cohort and take one course at a time. Students register only once. They know exactly what they will take at the beginning of their career and know exactly when they will graduate. Class participation is mandatory. Class instruction is conducted asynchronously, through threaded discussions that, like the discussions in our classroom-based model, place a high emphasis on student participation and interaction. The course completion rate is 97 percent; the graduation rate is 65 percent.

Curriculum is outcomes-based and workplace-oriented. All faculty must be employed in the area in which they teach (e.g., a faculty member must be an accountant in order to teach accounting). Every student works in a study group or team to develop workplace skills such as critical thinking, teamwork, and so on. In all courses, what must be covered on a week-to-week basis is scripted and linked to outcomes that students must reach at the end of each class. Testing takes place to make sure both that the students are learning and that the faculty are teaching what they are supposed to. Curriculum is professionally developed on a master curriculum calendar and is assessed every year, ensuring that courses are kept up-to-date.

The University of Phoenix is an outcomes-driven institution that measures its success through a heavy emphasis on student assessment. Because each program’s outcomes are specified by the faculty developers who designed it, we are able to maintain a high level of content consistency within each program. That consistency enables us to benchmark and assess students’ progress both in the core competencies of their area of study and in those broader areas (such as critical thinking) that form the bigger picture of our educational programs. These competencies are assessed through matched pre- and post-tests administered to students as they enter and exit their major course of study.

Understanding that the success of our students is predicated on effective customer service, we place an equal emphasis on ensuring the quality of the customer service component of our institution. The university annually administers more than 600,000 student end-of-course surveys, as well as conducting periodic alumni surveys. Faculty too are surveyed after each class to ensure that course materials are current and effective and that students are achieving the outcomes needed for the rest of the sequence of study.

Through these measures and surveys, we can assert with confidence that our online students are achieving at levels equal to or exceeding those of our classroom-based students. Furthermore, our high level of accountability serves us well in demonstrating our effectiveness to corporate customers.

Our teaching and learning model has always put a high value on small class size, which encourages active student participation. Consequently, a typical class size at our physical campuses is fifteen students. At Online, we recognize that facilitating class discussions requires additional faculty involvement, and we have typically kept class sizes 20 to 25 percent smaller (about nine students per class) than for our campus-based instruction. For that reason, current costs for Online instruction are actually higher at University of Phoenix Online than at any of our campus facilities. Although we believe that technological advances will likely result in a long-term cost reduction for our distance delivery, we are cautious to balance these "efficiencies" against our desire to ensure student achievement and our need to guarantee the highest-possible level of customer service.

Rio Salado College
Online Human Anatomy

John Arle, Faculty Chair of Sciences

In 1995, Rio Salado made a commitment to moving our entire program online to take advantage of the emerging possibilities of the Internet. After nineteen years of award-winning classroom teaching, I was, once again, a beginner. My first online efforts were lessons heavy with information presentation. Eventually, I evolved to a format that guides student research and engages students in active learning.

Each online lesson is divided into four sections: introduction, instruction, self-assessment, and student summary of learning:

  • The introduction provides a brief overview of the new lesson content, linking previous learning with the new content and actively engaging students in a review of that learning.
  • Lesson instruction begins with a list of learning objectives that describes exactly what students need to master. Objectives are then subdivided into individual research focus points and questions, indicating the topics that students need to research from course resources. Resources may include the textbook, CD-ROMs, Web sites, online PowerPoint shows, audio files, video files, PDFs, and so on. Within a particular lesson, conceptual instruction is integrated with lab instruction.
  • The self-assessment section interactively exercises the students’ new learning, using online resources such as interactive tutorials, tests, puzzles, practice lab practicals, games, and written assignments. With online media, materials available for this component are nearly unlimited.
  • The student summary section requires students to respond to probing essay questions that ask them to explain specifics learned from the lesson.

Human interaction is concurrent with technology-mediated instruction and self-assessment. Online discussions interconnect teacher and students, providing further interaction between students and the content as well as a needed "high-touch" component. Without this contact, many students will fail in their efforts to work independently through an entire class.

I have discovered that the online format of instruction and the immediate access to technology have expanded my ability to teach specific scientific topics and have increased my effectiveness. I can engage students in anatomical study in ways that cannot be done in a face-to-face class. I now teach human anatomy and physiology courses with interactive virtual human dissection, as opposed to using a cat in a tray. Some skeptics may point out the two-dimensional versus three-dimensional compromise of virtual dissection. My reply is, "At least I’m using the right species."

To create the virtual human dissection lab, I use two CD products from (Animated Dissection and Anatomy Modeling): ADAM Interactive Anatomy (AIA) and ADAM Interactive Physiology (AIP). The AIA program allows me to construct a series of interactive slides linked to the AIP CDs that guide the students’ observations. The AIP CDs are structured by body system: nervous, muscular, urinary, respiratory, fluids and electrolytes, and cardiovascular. Together, these interactions are extremely detailed, allowing students to identify structures, dissect further, or move in any direction. They provide students with both a highly interactive environment and an incredibly rich self-assessment program. Seeing how these systems work is far more compelling than reading or hearing my descriptions.

For all microscope work, I replace microscope observations of body tissues with online views and links to medical schools. Histological (microscopic tissue) examination is possible through online photomicrograph libraries. I use two Web sites, one at the Loyola University Medical Education Network (, the other at the University of Kansas (

Grades are based on homework (10 percent), two take-home tests (30 percent), and midterm and final exams (60 percent). I use a national standardized test generated by the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society. The national achievement average is 51 percent on this test, and the sample base is entirely from the traditional classroom. My students (entirely online) score an average of 63 percent on these same items.

Excelsior College
What You Know Is More Important than Where or How You Learned It

Paula E. Peinovich, Vice President for Academic Affairs

With a mission of access, excellence, and diversity, Excelsior College (formerly Regents College) has served experienced adult learners exclusively at a distance since 1970. Approximately 90,000 graduates and 25,000 learners a year take advantage of the institution’s self-paced, portable programs.

At Excelsior College, "being virtual" means recognizing collegiate-level learning virtually wherever it occurs and ensuring quality through rigorous assessment. One corollary to our principal premise that "What you know is more important than where or how you learned it" is that there are a variety of equally valid and reliable ways to measure and validate learning. A second corollary is that learners themselves are responsible for their own learning. Thus, the institution’s role is to support and facilitate students’ learning in the many settings in which it occurs and to assess that learning using methods so rigorous that outcomes equivalent to those achieved in traditional institutions can be clearly demonstrated. The phrase "many avenues, one goal: a college degree" captures the essence of the institution.

The college requires neither academic nor geographic residency. Its philosophy is manifested in an undergraduate academic program based on an outcomes model. Its institutional core functions include the direct assessment of student learning, the evaluation of students’ prior learning that has been validated by recognized quality-assurance frameworks, academic advising at a distance, educational brokering, and learning support services.

Excelsior College is the only institution in the United States that is both a degree-granting institution and a nationally recognized assessment organization. Excelsior Examinations (formerly Regents College Examinations) is the standardized credit-by-examination program the college provides not only to its own students but to any student who wants to validate learning and have it recorded on a college transcript. Students study independently, schedule an appointment at a Prometric testing center when they are prepared to sit for the examination, and present themselves to be tested.

Quality-assurance frameworks that the college recognizes to validate students’ prior learning include regional accreditation, accreditation by the New York State Board of Regents, programs evaluated by the American Council on Education (military training, business/industry training, national examination programs), programs evaluated by the New York Program on Non-Collegiate Instruction, international credentials evaluated by Educational Credential Evaluators, and special programs that have been evaluated by Excelsior’s own faculty. Learners send in over 70,000 transcripts and educational records per year for the institution to validate, evaluate, and apply to their educational status reports based in the Excelsior College student system. This student system equates to an educational credit bank, or "passport," where all prior learning is integrated into a single academic record.

The Excelsior College academic advising program is carried out both online and on the telephone. Academic advisors work in teams to serve students. Services include educational program planning, values clarification, decision-making, and career planning. Advisors are available to respond to students’ requests and needs, and they provide various outreach programs to learners who do not appear to be making academic progress. A suite of online inquiry services allows students to take care of purely administrative tasks such as ordering materials and scheduling their examinations.

Academic advisors also coordinate the evaluation of students’ prior learning and the application of that learning to the requirements of the students’ chosen degree programs, and they assist students in deciding how to complete degrees. Students may take courses from regionally accredited colleges (both on campus and at a distance) and sit for additional examinations. The college maintains DistanceLearn, an extensive database of distance learning courses from regionally accredited colleges, to aid advisors in their roles as educational brokers. With over 20,000 courses, DistanceLearn serves as the backbone of the Peterson Web site ( and also provides the raw data for ongoing research that the institution conducts on trends in distance learning.

In addition to academic advising, Excelsior provides an array of support services from which students may select, based on their educational needs and interests, learning preferences, personal circumstances, and time constraints. These services include multi-media guided-learning packages for Excelsior Examinations, the Regents College Virtual Library (in conjunction with Johns Hopkins University), the Regents College Bookstore (in conjunction with Specialty Books), a book exchange (for students to buy and sell used books), and the Electronic Peer Network (EPN).

The EPN provides a constellation of online learning support services, both synchronous and asynchronous. A schedule of weekly "chats" is published for students to come online to chat with advisors and each other about a variety of relevant topics. A writing center allows students to submit papers to be critiqued for any course or examination for which they may be preparing. Each of the Excelsior Examinations has a "room" where students can study together, and there is a "study buddy" locator to assist individuals in finding study partners. In addition to the online study groups, Excelsior College also offers workshops for independent learners preparing for examinations via individual and group teleconferences, and in-person workshops are offered around the country.

Drexel University
Modularizing Computer Programming

Department of Information Sciences

Drexel University is redesigning the "Introductory Computer Programming" course by combining two courses, "Computer Programming I," the primary entry point for computer science majors, and "Computer Programming B," a less technical version of the course. Taken together, the two courses are required for 33 percent of all freshmen. Since the computing backgrounds of entering students vary widely, the traditional lecture-based format that treats all students as if they are the same has substantial limitations. To accommodate student diversity, a mixture of presentations and hands-on participatory learning experiences using interactive, Web-based modules will replace the traditional model. In addition, course credit will be variable: it will depend on the number of modules successfully mastered and the level of skill mastery that the student attains.

To accommodate students’ different learning goals, the modules will cover particular aspects of computer programming at different levels of knowledge and skill. Students will be assigned workfrom the module at a level appropriate to the objectives of the long-term goals of their major, allowing those in different majors to acquire the appropriate skill level for each technique and concept. Thus, information systems majors will need to master one subset of the material; computer engineering majors will need to master additional material beyond that; and computer science majors will need to master the entire module. Students may access all levels of each module, allowing those in less technical majors to learn additional material if they desire.

The redesigned course modules will be organized according to Bloom’s Taxonomy, which delineates levels of subject mastery as follows:

  • First level. Students know the terminology and specific facts about a subject.
  • Second level. Students gain increased comprehension of the material and are able to explain the material and interpret what they have learned.
  • Third level. Students can apply their knowledge in new situations to solve relatively simple problems.
  • Fourth level. Students can analyze problems to discover component parts and interactions.
  • Fifth level. Students can apply prior knowledge in original ways to produce things that are new and different and can evaluate the methods used.

Each student must complete the level designated for his or her major, including passing the final assessment quiz. Level three is the minimum level of mastery for all students to attain. Both computer science and computer engineering students need to reach the fifth level of mastery to some degree, since they will face highly technical problems that must be solved in original ways. Because they will need to implement highly technical programming solutions to complex problems, computer science students must develop a deeper knowledge of computing than the other majors, including the fifth level of Bloom’s Taxonomy–-the ability to judge the methods used—particularly when problems are complex and may not have a single well-defined solution.

The modules will also be designed so that three modules encompass material equivalent to one credit. If a student successfully completes nine modules, it will be the equivalent of completing a traditional three-credit course. Students will receive course credit based on the number of modules they complete and the module level they master. Students who have difficulty with the higher levels will be able to change majors and still receive course credit without having to drop the course and repeat modules already mastered. This aspect of the course design addresses a significant resource problem at Drexel, since many students enroll in computer science without understanding the nature of the work. Once in the course, they may find other computing majors more appealing. The redesigned course will enable them to change majors without losing the work they have invested in a programming course for their now-abandoned major.

Students will also be able to enter the course in one of three cohorts based on their performance on a knowledge and skills placement test. The modular approach will allow Drexel to place advanced students more accurately so that they will not need to cover material they already know. Those with little or no programming experience will enter at module one and earn three credits for successfully completing all nine modules. Those with some skills and knowledge will enter at module four and earn two credits for successfully completing the remaining six modules. Those with moderate skills and knowledge will enter at module seven and earn one credit for successfully completing the remaining three modules. Students will also be able to review earlier modules if they want to make sure their knowledge is complete, and they will be able to do so at their own pace without being held back by students for whom this knowledge is new.

Drexel’s goal is to create modules that provide a complete instructional program for the student, including online access to digitally recorded lecture presentations; reading materials developed by the instructors or in the assigned textbook; examples and exercises in the student’s field of interest; links to other online materials of interest; individual and group laboratory assignments; and self-assessment material to provide feedback on the skills being learned. The new organization of the course and the variety of materials and activities will allow for greater flexibility in catering to diverse learning styles: students can rely on the textbook, lectures, group work, or individual coaching to master a module. In addition, students will be able to seek help from a variety of different people—the faculty member, graduate teaching assistants, and peer mentors—again allowing flexibility in interacting with the person who can provide the best help for each particular problem.

The British Open University
Approach to Online Learning

Joel Greenberg
Director, Interactive Media

Over 150,000 students register with the British Open University each year, including 5 percent non-U.K. EU students and 10 percent outside the EU. The university is considered by many to be the world’s leading distance learning institution. The quality and effectiveness of the university’s teaching is monitored through the collection, analysis, and dissemination of data about the strengths and weaknesses of the materials and services provided and the quality of the student’s experience and learning outcomes.

All students of the university are offered a comprehensive advice, guidance, and learning support service, starting from the initial point of inquiry through to completion. A full range of media has traditionally been used to support students, including a strong telephone-based advice and guidance service, student toolkits on study skills, TV programs, group and individual face-to-face support from course tutors, and residential and day schools. Learning and teaching materials have been sent to students in a number of ways including print, broadcast television and radio, videocassettes, audiocassettes, home experiment kits, and CD-ROM. Web-based advice and guidance, e-mail as an advisory medium, and the use of computer-media conferencing for teaching and learner support are expanding across all services.

CD-ROM use has grown dramatically in the last few years as the primary distribution media for computer-based learning and teaching materials. Driven by the rapid growth of the Internet and prospective students’ expectation that courses will be available online, the Open University aims to establish the critical baseline of IT elements for all courses and programs by 2002 and build IT elements into courses to achieve compulsory IT elements for all university degrees by 2005.

The university is now working with software tools that take advantage of the immediacy of the Internet and the large data-storage capacities and versatility of DVD technology. Hybrid developments of this kind are referred to as "Connected DVD," and the university is developing Web-based student learning environments, using DVD-ROM discs to store data-intensive media that form part of the student’s learning and teaching materials. The versatility of DVD technology allows the disc-based material to be used online or offline in a variety of ways. The development of connected DVD learning environments challenges distance educators to develop new authoring styles and new ways of creating and managing content and to recognize that there is a blurring of distinction between the development and the delivery of online learning and teaching material.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The Spanish Project

Diane Musumeci
Associate Professor of Italian, Spanish, and Portugese

In 1989, the UIUC University Senate mandated a graduation requirement of three semesters of foreign language, but excess demand for Spanish prevented its implementation. Beginning in fall 1998, we revised the basic language sequence in Spanish to allow technology to deliver part of the instruction. We based the innovation on successes that we had already achieved using instructional technology in first-year Italian (fall 1996) and in a fifth-semester Spanish grammar course (fall 1997).

We began with the course with the highest student demand, Spanish 122, an intensive course that covers the first two semesters in one. This course is for "false beginners": students who have had two or more years of Spanish in high school but who need review before they can move to the third-semester level.

The technology-enhanced format allowed us to reduce the number of weekly class meetings by half, from four to two. During the class meetings, students work only on communication skills. The rest of the course is done online. Online work in vocabulary, grammar, and reading is presented using Mallard, a Web-based tool that provides automatic grading and feedback, maintains deadlines for completion of the material, and automatically sends students’ scores to the instructors and course coordinators. Asynchronous conferencing is done through WebBoard, in which students post twice-weekly messages in Spanish, with one message being a reply to other students’ posts.

Graduate teaching assistants provide the in-class instruction. In the conventional format, they met with one group of twenty-four students four times per week. In the technology-enhanced format, they meet with two groups of twenty students two times per week each. Although teaching assistants are teaching almost twice as many students, they are responsible for much less instruction. Preparations are eliminated because the teaching assistants are given daily lesson plans. Grading has been almost eliminated. The only grading that instructors do is partial grading of the midterm and final exams (over 50 percent of the exams are scantron-graded) and providing comments on (but not correcting) the students’ online writing.

Through the introduction of technology, we have been able to almost double the enrollment in Spanish 122, as well as in two additional courses, with no increase in staffing. The table below represents actual enrollment figures and staff FTEs for fall 1999.

Course Conventional Format Tech-Enhanced Format
Spanish 122 387 (2.1) 599 (2.0)
Spanish 103 423 (2.4) 658 (2.1)
Spanish 210 172 (1.1) 278 (0.9)

We looked at students’ performance on both the university’s placement exam and departmental exams. Students’ pre- and post-scores were compared under both instructional formats for Spanish 122. Students in the technology-enhanced format made significantly greater gains in scores on the placement exam (a more robust measure than departmental exams) than did students in the conventional format. We also compared students’ scores on departmental exams. There were no significant differences in their scores on listening comprehension, the midterm exam, written skills, or final grades for the course. (Because we had no valid data on speaking skills in the conventional format, we could not compare abilities on that variable.)

Our model was specifically designed to allow greater access to Spanish-language instruction, impossible within the conventional framework. Through the use of instructional technology, we have been able to teach almost twice as many students without increasing FTEs. Moreover, we are using our human resources more efficiently, asking them to provide the kind of instruction that requires human interaction and not to spend their time on things that are better managed by technology (e.g., presentation of basic material, routine grading, and record-keeping). The success of the Spanish Project permitted the implementation of the university graduation requirement by fall 2000.

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
The Math Emporium: Student-paced Mathematics 24x7

Robert F. Olin
Professor and Chairman, Department of Mathematics

When I became department chair in 1994, the math department was teaching math the "Baskin-Robbins" way: if there was any way of teaching math, somebody was doing it in the department. First, I issued the edict that every freshman and sophomore course would have a common final exam. I was hearing all different views about how technology should be used, so I decided that we needed to have some way of judging what students are learning. I hired an assessment coordinator in the department to help us. Now each course has a list of goals and objectives that were approved by the Undergraduate Program Committee, and each question on every common exam is coded against those goals and objectives.

We had begun using Mathematica in two of our first-year calculus courses in the spring of 1993. Assessments showed that students in this new information technology initiative were performing at or above the level of students taking the traditional course. The "IT" students’ final grades were half a grade higher that the "traditional" students, and later longitudinal assessments showed that IT students taking other mathematics or engineering courses were doing better than students who had taken traditional math classes.

The core idea behind the Math Emporium was that the best time to teach mathematics is when the student wants to do it. The Math Emporium is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The facility holds five hundred workstations as well as other specialized spaces and equipment. Instructors are available twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week.

The redesign of the linear algebra course eliminates all class meetings and replaces them with Web-based resources developed by experienced faculty, such as interactive tutorials, computational exercises, an electronic hypertextbook, practice exercises with video solutions to frequently asked questions, applications, and online quizzes. Multiple sections are treated as one course. Course material is organized into units that students cover at the rate of one or two per week, each unit ending with a short, electronically graded quiz. Faculty point students toward appropriate resources and strategies. Students communicate on a completely flexible time schedule through e-mail or in person with faculty, graduate teaching assistants, and peer tutors in the Emporium. The redesigned course allows students to choose when to access course materials, what types of learning materials to use depending on their needs, and how quickly to work through them.

Students can still move through the course in the traditional way; there’s a lecture hall and an area for traditional tutors. Students can go to lectures, do their exercises, go to a tutor lab, and take tests. Although some students start with the lecture format because that’s the way they were taught, very few continue that way. They see their peers having successes and they say, "Why am I going to lectures when I can do it another way?"

We spend the first two weeks holding students’ hands. We tell them, "The most important thing you can do at Tech is become an active learner and know how you learn." Then we have them do all kinds of exercises so they become familiar with all the resources in the building. At first the students are not particularly impressed. Some are excited about being on their own, but others feel that we are abandoning them to a sea of computers. By the end of the semester, after they have had successes, their attitudes begin to change.

We can demonstrate in a variety of very concrete ways that our students achieve a high level of consistent outcomes that are equivalent to those in traditional methods. These measures include

  • direct measures of students’ knowledge, skills, and abilities on assessment instruments designed by faculty panels and subjected to the most rigorous test-development procedures and psychometric analysis;
  • direct measures of students’ general education outcomes benchmarked against other similarly positioned institutions; and
  • longitudinal graduate follow-up studies including self-reported outcomes and evaluations by students’ employers and graduate school advisors.

Although changes and adjustments are being made each semester, we expect the long-term configuration to involve only two faculty members for the entire 1,520-student enrollment. One instructor and one tenure-track faculty member will share duties in approximately a 2:1 ratio of hours. The instructor will handle most of the day-to-day activities in course delivery, and the tenure-track faculty member will take the lead in planning and preparation. The new cost structure associated with the redesigned course also includes the graduate and undergraduate Math Emporium helpers, as well as two technical support people for database management and software upkeep.

Virginia Tech has produced savings of about $53 per student (from $77 to $24), or $79,730 for the heavily enrolled fall semester. Annual savings for all sections of Math 1114 are $97,400. Increased success rates are yielding additional savings by reducing the average number of course attempts per student.

The Math Emporium has been so successful that many institutions are building these facilities now. Funded by the Pew Grant Program in Course Redesign, the Universities of Alabama and Idaho are each building one, and a couple of other projects are in the works around the country. Math departments are catching on to this cost-effective way of solving the "math problem."

Michigan State University
CAPA: Computer-assisted Personalized Assignment System

Michael R. Thoennessen
Professor, Physics and Astronomy

At Michigan State University, the Computer-Assisted Personalized Approach (CAPA) has been used for homework, quizzes, and exams in large face-to-face lecture courses since 1992.

Currently, more than sixty colleges and universities around the world have implemented CAPA. CAPA is an integrated software system that has been used (1) to prepare, deliver, and grade personalized homework, quizzes, and examinations, (2) to provide feedback to students and instructors, (3) to communicate with students in a class and provide a discussion forum for students, (4) to provide links for student help via the Internet, and (5) to handle course management. The most significant difference between CAPA and most other homework-delivery systems such as Mallard at the University of Illinois is its ability to handle sophisticated conceptual problems as well as highly randomized qualitative questions.

With CAPA, an instructor can create and/or assemble personalized assignments with a large variety of conceptual questions and quantitative problems. These can include pictures, animations, graphics, tables, links, etc. The writing and development of questions and problems is facilitated by numerous templates, which encourage students to collaborate and discuss concepts and also ensure that problems differ for each student, thus inhibiting rote copying. Students work offline and then enter their answers online for grading. Students are given instant feedback and relevant hints via the Internet and may correct errors without penalty before an assignment’s due date. The system keeps track of students’ participation and performance, and records are available in real time both to the instructor and to the individual student. Statistical tools and graphical displays facilitate assessment and course administration.

For homework assignments, students have an infinite number of opportunities to submit their answers. Knowing that they have the chance to get 100 percent correct is a strong incentive for students to do the work; most students strive to get all the work done correctly. We have been able to increase students’ success rates while maintaining high standards. The time that students spend working on assignments and other course requirements has nearly doubled and approaches the recommended two hours outside of class per lecture hour. More time on task means better performance. Tests are now more difficult than they used to be because students are better prepared and more able to complete them. Scores on examinations show a substantial increase, even with higher standards and harder problems.

Most of the development has been done in physics and chemistry, but CAPA is not limited to natural science courses. It has been applied, for example, to human nutrition and business. The use of CAPA also allows us to implement more of an active-learning environment in the classroom, eliminate teaching assistants (grading of homework is done automatically), and increase the personal interaction with students, both face-to-face and online. With the computer doing the grading, students view the instructor as more of a mentor than a judge.

Our current goals are to study the cost-effectiveness of using technology to improve traditional on-campus courses and to expand the methods and techniques to fully online courses.

Innovations in Online Learning: Moving Beyond No Significant Difference, by Carol A. Twigg

© The Pew Learning and Technology Program 2001
Sponsored by a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

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