Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

An Experimental Comparison of Conventional and Web-Based Instructional Formats

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

An Experimental Comparison of Conventional and Web-Based Instructional Formats

Article excerpt

In this experiment, college students were randomly assigned to one of three instructional formats presenting the same lecture material: conventional lecture, synchronous web-based, and asynchronous web-based. Subsequent analysis indicated that there were no group differences in the amount of information learned. However, attitudinal measures revealed that students in both web-based conditions were more positive in their reactions to this instructional format when compared to students experiencing the conventional lecture format. This pattern of results is noteworthy in that it represents an experimental analysis relevant to the "no significant difference" phenomenon for web-based instruction.

"Physician, first do no harm."----Hippocrates

Hippocrates' injunction for physicians to avoid the iatrogenic effects of ill-conceived medical treatment is also good advice to educators who develop and implement new technologies in the service of education. The issue of whether a new technology has pedagogical benefits, or does more harm than good, is particularly compelling as increasing numbers of colleges and universities explore the educational applications of the Internet.

With the recent development of the Internet and Internet technologies, there has been a rapid expansion of Web-enhanced and Web-based course offerings by institutions of higher education. In 1997, almost 400 colleges reported augmenting or supplanting conventional courses with online instruction (Velsmid, 1997). In addition, more than 150 colleges and universities provide entire bachelor's degree programs to students who rarely, if ever, visit campus (Herther, 1997). Generally, those involved with Web-based instruction have advocated the benefits of this approach based on issues such as increased access for students, better accommodation for the disabled, increased flexibility for students and faculty, and a reduction in classroom space requirements. However, the possible pedagogical merits of Web-based instruction have not been adequately documented by empirical research. This lack of empirical confirmation is unfortunate because effective design of learning environments in a technologically rich medium is hampered without an understanding of how the medium interacts with learner characteristics (Smith, 1997). The consequence is that course design may be driven by technological rather than pedagogical issues (Trapp, Hammond, & Bray, 1996).

Indeed, despite the dramatic growth in the number of Web-based courses and programs, questions have been raised concerning the quality of Web-based instruction. Some educational and political leaders suggest that Web-based instruction may be harmful to distance learners. For instance, Fungaroli (2000) advises students not to enroll in virtual classes and cautions educators to carefully consider jumping on the virtual bandwagon. Her advice stems largely from anecdotal evidence from two years of interviews involving one hundred nontraditional students. Recently, the Chronicle of Higher Education (Carnevale, May, 2000) reported that the chairman of the House of Representatives science subcommittee on basic research (Rep. Nick Smith) expressed deep concerns about the quality of online courses during a hearing that year. Representative Smith claimed "students who take courses online don't interact as much as their peers in traditional courses, and that they may walk away with knowledge but not with an understanding of how to think for themselves." (p. 51). However, Representative Smith cited no evidence for his claim.

Many faculty members remain skeptical regarding the pedagogical merits of web-based instruction. This skepticism was evident in the report "Teaching at an Internet Distance," prepared in 1999 by the faculty at the University of Illinois. This report described the "promise and peril" of online instruction, and concluded that before history answers the question of whether quality web-based instruction is possible, "we think that a rigorous comparison of learning competence with traditional classrooms can and should be done. …

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