An Empirical Comparison of Traditional and Web-Enhanced Classrooms

Article excerpt

Students in a 200-level Psychology course were enrolled in either a traditionally taught section or a web-enhanced section taught by the same instructor. Both sections were identical in content and format except for the addition of a learning management software package (PageOut[C]; McGraw-Hill Companies, 2002) in the web-enhanced section. PageOut was primarily used to administer on-line reading quizzes. Students in the web-enhanced section had significantly higher exam scores than the traditional section. Students also held favorable attitudes about the course and the web site.

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Discussions of the use of technology in teaching have received quite a bit of attention in academic journals in recent years. The majority of these articles, however, consist of philosophical discussions of the merits of technology (e.g., O'Donoghue, Singh, & Dorward, 2001), descriptions of courses taught entirely over the Internet (e.g., Graham, 2001; Lawson, 2000), examples of how instructors can use technology to enhance their on-campus classes (e.g., Leon & Parr, 2000; Sherman, 1998), or assessments of students' attitudes regarding the use of the Internet (e.g., Basile & D'Aquila, 2002; Jason, Kennedy, & Taylor, 2001). There is a noticeable lack of articles, especially in the Psychology literature, that empirically evaluate the learning outcomes for students using the Internet in their classes. The purpose of the present study was to answer the question of whether or not there is an academic performance benefit to the use of technology in face-to-face classroom settings.

With the rapid growth of access to the Internet and its use in higher education settings, there is a need for educators to consider the merits of technology as a pedagogical tool in both traditional classroom and distance learning settings. It is reasonable to argue that there are multiple advantages to the use of technology in higher education (O'Donoghue, et al, 2001). For example, researchers have been able to demonstrate how web-based courses (Newlin & Wang, 2002) and web-enhanced courses (Ritter & Lemke, 2000) can successfully address the American Association of Higher Education's (1987) seven principles of good higher education practices.

In addition to these theoretical pedagogical merits, students frequently report positive experiences with both web-based courses (Jason, Kennedy, & Taylor, 2001; Lawson, 2000) and web-enhanced courses (Goldstein, 1998; Pychyl, Clarke, & Abarbanel, 1999; Varnhagen, Drake, & Finley, 1997). For example, students in Goldstein's (1998) introductory Social Psychology course found her use of an Internet activity on implicit personality theories to be both enjoyable and helpful in solidifying their understanding of that concept.

The above research, however, does not address whether students' academic performance is improved by the use of technology. These technological advances are still relatively novel for many students and they may simply be responding favorably to this novelty and not necessarily to their superior performance in the course. Anecdotally, Graham (2001) reported that students in her web-based Child Development class seemed to grasp concepts more quickly than those in her traditionally taught classes, but she presented no data to support this assertion. Using a more empirical approach, Wang, Newlin, and Tucker (2001) found that students in a web-based statistical methods in Psychology course had comparable end of course grades to students in a traditional statistics course. Hurlburt (2001) also found comparable course grades and course completion rates between students taking his course in a traditional or distance-learning section.

These two studies address the possible academic achievement benefits for web-based education, though, and don't address the use of technology in face-to-face classroom settings. The majority of Psychology faculty are not likely to be engaged in purely web-based instruction and instead try to incorporate technology, such as the Internet, in more traditional instruction (Vodanovich & Piotrowski, 2001). …