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Improving the Quality of Student Learning

University of Dayton

Based on available data about learning outcomes from the course pilot, what were the impacts of re-design on learning and student development?

In the course pilot, the students were randomly assigned to either a re-designed, online section of the class or to a traditional lecture-oriented section of the class. Both groups had full access to the class Web site. There were no statistically reliable differences between the two groups on the scores of any of the five exams or the total number of points in the class. Several questions on an end-of-semester questionnaire addressed attitudes toward the class. The mean responses to the questions were not reliably different across groups.

Several characteristics of the students were measured at the start of the semester. These included the standard five dimensions of personality (neuroticism, extraversion, openness to new experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness), using the NEO Five-Factor Inventory (From S, a well-respected personality measure; learning style, using the Learning Style Inventory (Version 3), an instrument that identifies preferred learning style; and GPA.

A measure of dilatory behaviors for accessing the class Web site was calculated at the end of the semester. These variables were used in a stepwise regression as predictors of the total number of points earned in the class. GPA was the only variable that entered the regression equation for the lecture students, accounting for 34% of the variability in the total number of points. GPA, the procrastination measure, conscientiousness, and active experimentation vs. reflective observation (one of the learning style dimensions) entered the regression equation for the online students. Collectively, the variables accounted for 86% of the variability in the total number of points. Success in the online section appears to be associated with the following characteristics: high GPA, low levels of procrastination, high levels of conscientiousness and a preference to learn by reflecting (e.g. viewing issues from different perspectives, looking for the meaning of things.)

The end-of-the-semester questionnaire addressed which parts of the course the students liked and disliked. Relative to online students, lecture students reported greater appreciation for opportunities to interact with the instructor. The online students were more likely than in-class students to indicate that they appreciated the ability to study when and where convenient. The online students were more likely than lecture students to report that it was easy to get behind in the course. The lecture students were more likely to report that they disliked the classroom than the online students. However, how much the students liked the course content such as online quizzes, activities, lecture notes, group activities, or the textbook did not differ reliably across the two groups.

The online students appear to be learning as much and liking the class as much as their lecture counterparts. The online course also allows the benefits of anytime-anywhere access and cost savings. Part of the cost savings can be re-invested into the course to improve the educational efficacy of the course. This has been done by adding small group assignments, writing assignments, and interactive activities to the course.

December 2001 Update: Data from the winter 2001 pilot indicated that online students learned as much, and liked the class as much, as their lecture counterparts. The online course also allowed the benefits of anytime, anywhere access and cost savings. Success in the online section appeared to be associated with the following characteristics: high GPA, low levels of procrastination, high levels of conscientiousness and a preference for learning by reflecting (e.g. viewing issues from different perspectives, looking for the meaning of things.)

During the fall 2001 semester, the online course was implemented in all sections of Introductory Psychology (N = 500), precluding any comparison with concurrent traditional sections. Although the full implementation was not approached as an empirical study, archival data was collected (e.g., server logs, drop rate). A comprehensive student evaluation was administered at the end of the semester and a survey of the students who dropped the course is currently underway. Although we are still in the process of analyzing these data, some preliminary observations can be presented. Comparing the fall 2001 semester with previous semesters, the average percentage of total points in the class (81%) was higher than in previous sections of the same course taught by the same instructor. Although this may indicate enhanced learning, the finding should be interpreted cautiously in light of the fact that the drop rate was slightly higher than in previous semesters. Thus, there were probably fewer poor performers in this sample than in previous semesters.

As we did not administer measures of learning style or personality, we cannot explore the related findings from the pilot. However, there was some indication that students with attention deficits had difficulty with the online course. This may be part of a larger procrastination issue. On the student evaluation, a mean of 3.65 (SD = 1.23) was obtained on the item, “I procrastinated more in this course than I do normally,” and a mean of 3.91 (SD = 1.09) was obtained on the item, “It was easy for me to forget about or put off studying for this course” (1 = Strongly Disagree and 5 = Strongly Agree). Interestingly, these ratings did not correlate with how well the students actually performed in the course. This may indicate that procrastination does not influence performance as much as attitudes. There was a significant negative correlation between students’ perception that they procrastinated in the course and both their overall evaluation of the course, r(460) = -.21, p < .001, and the perceived likelihood that they would take another online course in the future, r(461) = -.22, p < .001.

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