Thursday, July 9, 2009

Online Instruction Better than Traditional Classes?

The Evidence on Online Education - Inside Higher Ed: "Online learning has definite advantages over face-to-face instruction when it comes to teaching and learning, according to a new meta-analysis released Friday by the U.S. Department of Education. The study found that students who took all or part of their instruction online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through face-to-face instruction. Further, those who took 'blended' courses -- those that combine elements of online learning and face-to-face instruction -- appeared to do best of all. That finding could be significant as many colleges report that blended instruction is among the fastest-growing types of enrollment."

(Here is the DOE Press release and here is the full report.)

I will have to read through the full report to see how they measure things, but the results sound right to me. My online students have typically done much better than my classroom students, scoring on average a full point higher on identical finals. (Or as I usually spin it, I have statistical proof that contact with me makes students dumber.)

Photo of AKAT-1, "a 1960s vintage Polish-designed analog computer"via Wikipedia.


Kelly in Kansas said...

My experience with online teaching is similar to yours, Professor Cebula. No one can sit in the back and disappear and/or just wing it on the tests and stay alive in an online class.

However, I do have to take you to task for citing wikipedia for the pictures in your entry instead of posting the original source of the picture. While students can consult wikipedia, I don't let them cite it as an original source. . . . and I expect the same of colleagues . . . ;-)

Larry Cebula said...

Exactly, Kelly. I used to teach 120 to 160 students online every semester and they all participated in class with half-a-dozen thoughtful comments a week. Try that in a lecture hall!

I never did enjoy teaching online as much as I do in the classroom. I missed the personal contact, by which I mean I missed hearing people laugh at my jokes. But it isn't about me, it is about the students, and they were well served.

As to the picture, it is a Wikimedia Commons image provided by Wikimedia member Topory.

Jeff Pasley said...

Do you have models of "blended" instruction that you can share? I can see some benefits but I don't quite how that would work in terms of converting from an all-lecture format and when teaching in a largely not-online setting (a physical university, in other words). I would also like to think this trend could be something other than a way to increase class sizes with the same number of faculty.

Also, how much of the improvement in the online students' performance has to do with access to their course materials while they are taking the test? Or do you use some sort of testing center?

Larry Cebula said...

Hi Jeff!

Hybrid courses are difficult to define--the term is used for everything from a classroom course that incorporates some webby stuff (blogging, discussion boards, etc.) to an online class with a single face-to-face meeting.

Here is one model: My wife is the director of Mastering American History a Teaching American History grant in Missouri that uses a hybrid format to provide an MA for a cohort of 20 teachers from around the state. The spring and fall courses are online but involve an "immersive weekend" where the teachers come together for face-to-face meetings including lectures, tours of historic sites, workshops, etc. In the summer the teachers gather for a week, much of which is devoted to archival research.

But that is not what you are looking for is it?

My #1 piece of advice for any online teaching activity is that you should not start out trying to replicate a classroom course. Don't type out your lectures--assign a book. Or assign a book and podcast your lectures. Put the students in charge of the discussions. Favor idiosyncratic (hard to plagiarize) written assignments over tests. Don't try to create a bunch of online content yourself, find it and link to it.

As for the difference in performance, I am comparing the same proctored final exam. I do use regular MC quizzes in online instruction, but they are to force students to keep up with the reading and don't comprise very much of the grade.