On-line Education vs. Real education

I was particularly intrigued to come across this paper describing an experiment comparing student performance in distance education and regular education.  I teach PS 31o Public Policy and my lectures are recorded to be streamed on-line for distance education students.  To make up for the in-class aspect, I supplement the on-line version with a forum to discuss current events and major policy issues from the class.  My sense has been that the most motivated and disciplined students can have a nearly equal educational experience to those sitting in the classroom with me (though I would argue that an important part of the college experience is the relationships formed between faculty and student, which really doesn’t happen in an on-line course).  Anyway, the researchers randomly placed students in an on-line or “live” version of the class and compared performance.  Here’s the summary:

This paper presents the first experimental evidence on the effects of live versus internet media of instruction. Students in a large introductory microeconomics course at a major research university were randomly assigned to live lectures versus watching these same lectures in an internet setting, where all other factors (e.g., instruction, supplemental materials) were the same. Counter to the conclusions drawn by a recent U.S. Department of Education meta-analysis of non-experimental analyses of internet instruction in higher education, we find modest evidence that live-only instruction dominates internet instruction. These results are particularly strong for Hispanic students, male students, and lower-achieving students. We also provide suggestions for future experimentation in other settings.

Overall, the findings are not actually that robust, rather it is the interactions– i.e., certain sub-groups seem to suffer disproportionately in Distance Ed.  From the paper:

That said, our strongest findings in favor of live instruction are for the relatively low-achieving students, male students, and Hispanic students. These are precisely the students who are more likely to populate the less selective universities and community colleges. These students may well be disadvantaged by the movement to online education and, to the extent that it is the less selective institutions and community colleges that are most fully embracing online education, inadvertently they may be harming a significant portion of their student body.

That’s obviously a very real concern.  In my experience, strong students do just as well in the class, and students who are prone to struggle, struggle all the more without the regular structure of a “live” class.  Not sure if this means I should do anything different as an instructor, but I do think colleges, including NC State, really need to think hard about just how far they expand on-line education.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

2 Responses to On-line Education vs. Real education

  1. saideman says:

    You are close but not quite–most important part of college is not faculty-student relationships but student-student interaction. Hard to simulate random interactions or continued class conversations outside of the classroom.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: