One-hundred seventy-five students enrolled in either a traditional classroom lecture section of General Psychology or in an online section of the same course were compared on exam performance. When covariates of high school grade point average and SAT composite scores were entered into the analysis, students enrolled in the classroom based lecture course fared significantly better than the online course students. These results are contradictory to prior investigations of online and classroom based courses.
While distance learning is not a new concept, the delivery of content through a dynamic and interactive media is fairly recent. The delivery of a distance course over the world wide web has existed since about the mid-1990s when the availability of high speed internet connections, html editing tools, and personal computers of sufficient power made an online course practical. While some will argue with the utility of online courses, most would agree that they, are here to stay. Either the demand for services from students or the perceived cost effectiveness of online courses has made them a mainstay in academia. Virtually every academic institution offers some form of an online course, and in most cases offers dozens (Newman & Scurry, 2001). What is less clearly understood is how these online courses compare to the traditional classroom based sections.
The conclusions comparing online and classroom sections of courses are ambiguous. Some studies have reported an exam outcome advantage for the online course students (Maki, Maki, Patterson & Whittaker, 2000: Poirier and Feldman 2004). Another researcher reported no differences between online and classroom sections when students self selected themselves into sections or were randomly assigned to sections (Waschull, 2001). In a hedge to the contradictory outcomes already noted, Kinney (2001) found no differences in exam performance between online and classroom based students on four of five exams. The remaining exam score favored students in the online course section. And finally, Wang and Newlin (2000) report that students in a traditional classroom setting performed better than online peers on a course final exam and had overall higher course grades. To further cloud the issue, the conclusions from these studies are suspect with small sample sizes, in some cases as small as n = 9. failure of random assignment or failing to control for non-random assignment, and/or failure to proctor the examinations. What will be described here is one paradigm for an online course delivery system, and how students fared compared to a traditional classroom section of the same course. Furthermore, the previously identified design flaws will be remedied.
The classroom section of General Psychology consisted of a fifteen week semester with traditional topics covered, usually one chapter or topic per week. Students received vocabulary sheets ("Terms & Concepts") to guide their studying and to identify critical concepts to know for exams. Course delivery consisted of textbook readings, instructor lead lectures and some discussion as appropriate and as student interest dictated. Assessment in the course included three modular examinations over the immediately presented one-third of the course. The last exam was not comprehensive. All exams were proctored in the classroom by the instructor.
The online section of General Psychology was also conducted over fifteen weeks, and run concurrently with the traditional semester calendar. Instead of a lecture for each topic, students received a series of Question and Answer (Q&A) html links derived from the classroom lecture. One page listed all of the question links for a topic, and after posing the particular question, students could follow the link to see the answer. For example, one question link was, "What are some professional areas of psychology?" The answer page would include names and descriptions of clinical, counseling, developmental, cognitive, social, physiological, and human factors psychology. …