Evaluation of Instructional Technologies in Cyberspace Economics Teaching: Does Hyperlink Really Matter?

Article excerpt

Introduction

The number of U.S. students enrolling in postsecondary online education courses has been significantly increasing. Allen and Seaman (2009) reported in the fall of 2008 that over 4.6 million students took at least one online course at U.S. degreegranting institutions-- an increase of 17 percent over the previous year. Among all fields in higher education, economics is one of the best represented online disciplines, particularly at principles and MBA levels. Supported by numerous empirical studies (e.g., Vachris 1999; Neuhauser 2002; Coates et al. 2004), there is no significant difference of student performances between online environment and traditional face-to-face courses. (1) Nowadays, the continuously improving course delivery platforms such as WebCT and Blackboard, are equipped with various forms of instructional technology such as multimedia (video and audio), hyperlinks, blogs, and Web 2.0 social network. (2) Online instructors choose the most efficient instructional technology rather than just posting the material used in traditional classes to enhance opportunities and achievement for web-based learners. As a result, to the school administrators, the core policy question for online pedagogy has shifted to what kind of instructional technologies should be included to maximize the learning outcome rather than how to develop a face-to-face-equivalent course. The evaluation of instructional technology on teaching effectiveness has become one of the most important issues in online course development.

As suggested by Navarro and Shoemaker (2000) and Johnson and Aragon (2002), any new cyberlearning venture launched on a university should be conducted as a research experiment to empirically test the effectiveness of different instructional techniques. However, there have been at least three obstacles limiting the conduct of comparative experiments. First, an online instructor is neither motivated nor permitted to apply different instructional technologies over multi-sessions for the same course. Although school administrators may encourage instructors to apply new instructional technologies semester by semester for continuous improvement, an instructor is not allowed to discriminate sessions of the same course by different instructional designs for comparison unless it is for research purposes. Second, the methodology of previous empirical studies exploring online learning behavior was based solely upon questionnaires answered by the students rather than the direct online access log data. Some emotional responses in questionnaires cannot scientifically verify the impact of a particular instructional technology on the learning outcome. Finally, it is very unlikely to have a sufficient sample size to evaluate the impacts of an instructional technology on learning outcomes over different sessions, given the same teaching materials, particularly in the graduate level online teaching. Most accredited universities require instructors to update the textbook and course design at least annually. As a result, although numerous studies highlighted the importance of instructional technologies, there is still lack of comparative studies to evaluate the impacts of a particular instructional technology on teaching effectiveness. Without the evaluation of accurate usage, implementation of instructional technologies may only create information overload and detract students' attention from course materials. (3)

The purpose of this paper is to provide an evaluation of appropriate usage for other researchers and school administrators who would like to assess the effectiveness of an online course instructional technology for decision making in pedagogy. In the case, we explore the impacts from one of the most commonly used online instructional technologies, hyperlinks, which voluntarily take students from the current course page to another website for a simulation tool or reference article, on the learning outcome of various course assessments. …