Assessing Academic Performance between Traditional and Distance Education Course Formats

By Urtel, Mark G. | Educational Technology & Society, January 2008 | Go to article overview

Assessing Academic Performance between Traditional and Distance Education Course Formats


Urtel, Mark G., Educational Technology & Society


ABSTRACT

The goal of this study was to explore whether differences in student academic indicators exist between taking a course face-to-face (F2F) and taking a course via distance education (DE). Three hundred and eighty five students were enrolled in a course offered, both, as F2F (n = 116) and as DE (n = 269). Course content, instructor, textbook adopted, and assessment methods were consistent between the two course delivery formats. Final grades, DFW rates, and end of term course and instructor evaluations were used as the outcome indicators. In addition, student demographic information was factored into data analyses. Results indicated that there was a statistically significant difference in final grade, DFW rates, and end of term course evaluation response rates between the course offerings. Further analysis suggested that freshman grade performance was significantly different between course offerings. Implications and policy suggestions regarding distance education will be discussed.

Keywords

Distance education, Freshmen performance, DFW rates, Academic indicators

Introduction

It is difficult for the scholarship of distance education to keep pace with the delivery of distance education. This is especially true given the vast increase and technological developments in (a) the definition of distance education (b) the formats of instruction and interaction (c) the entities who deliver it and (d) the demographics of who receive it. In fact, Phipps and Merisotis (1999) cautioned that the overall quality of the distance education research was suspect and the ability to predict success or explain interactions (basically generalize the findings) would be difficult, if not impossible. The focus of their argument was that most of the articles published dealt with opinion and the how-to of delivering distance education, absent subjects, controls, or an experimental design. As a result, it would be hard to duplicate much of the research in hopes of validating these early findings. Since Phipps and Merisotis first published those words in 1999 the amount of research on distance education has increased and improved; this is evidenced by the newly formed and peer reviewed journals of distance education which foster a decidedly international conversation regarding this topic. However, distance education practice is still outpacing the accompanying research and there still exists 'quality' of research concerns in distance education today (Moore, 2004).

Moore (2004) shares his concern using recently submitted distance education manuscripts as evidence. Specifically, Moore highlights the trend of case study research in distance education. Case study research in distance education is popular (Kozma, 2003; Poole, 2000; Zhang, 1998) but, Moore reminds the scholars of distance education that case study research too often cannot be generalized to a wider audience and, at times, the studies depend on the use of anecdotal 'evidence'. Both of which, greatly compress the ability to widely apply research findings to the policies and practices of delivering distance education in higher education.

The chasm between generalizeable research and best practice in distance education can be seen explicitly when focusing on student outcomes. It was assumed, as the early research indicated, that distance education had a neutral or favorable impact on student outcomes as compared to traditional or face to face course work (Martin and Rainey, 1993; Souder, 1993; Verduin and Clark, 1991). Yet upon closer review, the research, according to Phipps and Merisotis (1999), lacked in a few areas. First, many of the studies published did not provide the proper controls needed in the experimental design. In addition, the sample size or number of subjects studied was too small to draw definitive conclusions (Ritchie and Newby, 1989). Moreover, some of the studies grouped the students who took courses as distance education as one type; without taking into account race, gender or age and their possible interactions on distance education success. …

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