On-Line Instruction: Are the Outcomes the Same?

Article excerpt

Institutions of higher education are offering more and more on-line courses to students. Do students receive the same quality of instruction with an on-line class as an on-campus class? Specifically, is there a difference in students' outcomes between a face-to-face class and on-line class? This study addresses that question by collecting and assessing data between students enrolled in the same course as it is delivered to one section face-to-face and another section on-line. The results of this study reveal that there are no significant differences in the students' outcomes between the two sections. These results support that the quality of on-line instruction is equal to face-to-face instruction. However, more research is needed to address issues related to on-line instruction.

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Technology has made a significant impact on how instruction is delivered in higher education (Teh, 1999). The majority of colleges and universities offer some form of web-based education (Palloff & Pratt, 2001). Each year, the number of courses being delivered over the internet is increasing. The teaching methodology of higher education faculty has changed as the result of teaching online (Greenwood, 2000). The important question to address in this movement of online course delivery is students' outcomes. Is the achievement level of students who take classes online equal to classes that are taught face-to-face? That is the question addressed in this study.

Online instruction is housed under the auspice of distance education. Distance education began in the 19th century to provide students who could not attend traditional classes the chance to learn. The evolution of various instructional delivery methods of distance education has included such mediums as correspondence courses, radio, television, and videotapes (Fender, 1999). Then in the 1990s, many higher education distance education programs adopted internet-based delivery as the new mode to deliver courses (Khan, 1997; Moore & Kearsley, 1996; Porter, 1997).

Today, the internet and its prevalence allow almost anyone to become a distance learner through online course offerings. This ease of use has been supplemented by the development of course management software with the purpose of making online courses easy to development and manage from the instructors' perspective and easy to undertake from the students' perspective.

There are several Computer Management System (CMS) program being used for online classes with Blackboard being the most popular (Olsen, 2001; Young, 2002). These CMS such as Blackboard is a structured format that allows instructors to post announcements, assignments, course documents, faculty credentials, and lecture notes that can be easily accessed by students. Blackboard also is structured so small groups can be formed and group work can be an integral part of the how the course is taught. It allows the opportunity for direct communication between instructor and students and between students through e-mail, discussion boards, and the virtual chat room.

So all the variables were in place (availability, convenience, ease of implementing, etc) to take distance learning to levels it has never experienced in its path. There has been an accelerate rate of course offerings through online delivery and it appears to be growing exponentially (Bennett, 2001; Boettcher, 1996; Hiltz; 1997; Lewis, Snow, Farris, Levin, & Greene, 1999; National Center for Education Statistics, 2002).

Interestingly, with the increasing acceptance of online classes (Owston,1997; Rossman, 1992) few studies have examined the effectiveness of online courses and whether the achievement levels of meeting the courses competencies and objectives were met (Navarro & Shoemaker, 1999; Schulman & Sims, 1999; Sener & Stover, 2000; Smeaton & Keogh, 1999; Russell, 1999; Spooner, Jordan, Algozzine, and Spooner, 1999). …