Academic journal article Journal of Economics and Economic Education Research

The Benefits of Asynchronous Discussion in a Hybrid Course: Evidence from a Large Enrollment Economics Course

Academic journal article Journal of Economics and Economic Education Research

The Benefits of Asynchronous Discussion in a Hybrid Course: Evidence from a Large Enrollment Economics Course

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND

The prestigious ivory towers that come to mind when one thinks of taking and attending college classes are slowly being replaced by their digital counterparts. While there is still a place for the time-honored tradition of lecturing and conventional face-to-face teaching methods, pedagogical research has begun to highlight the very interesting world of technology in the classroom. Blended learning, as it is often referred to, is the conscientious integration of online learning experiences with established face-to-face practices. Garrison and Kanuka (2004) conclude their article on the transformative potential of blended learning by saying that, "blended learning can begin the necessary process of redefining higher education institutions as being learning centered and facilitating a higher learning experience" (Garrison & Kanuka, 2004). Blended learning has a special connection to economics education because of the ease at which economic principles can be applied to news from around the world. As many economists have taken to the internet to write blogs for both their classrooms and the public, more classes have started to tend towards the "hybrid" course format; perhaps without even meaning to do so. Despite the volume of literature focusing on the pedagogical potential of online learning in a blended or "hybrid class", little has been done to test the efficacy of these practices. This paper contributes to the literature by testing whether or not online asynchronous discussion of current events truly furthers student learning of core concepts. This is achieved by considering data on 311 students enrolled in principles of microeconomics across two semesters and testing whether or not contributing to an online discussion improved performance on a standard subject test. The data show that asynchronous learning has in fact improved student cognition when test grades are considered as the dependent variable, while controlling for other factors that may affect student performance.

The term "hybrid course" has been used by many authors to distinguish courses that use both face-to-face and distributed (distance) learning tactics. For the purpose of this paper a hybrid course is one which combines face-to-face instruction with computer-mediated instruction (Graham, 2006; Reay, 2001; Rooney, 2003; Sands, 2002; Young, 2002). The practice of using technology in the classroom has been the study of many authors (Lin, 2007; Martyn, 2003; Massoud, et al., 2011). In fact, many have found that in a technology-rich learning environment, learner-centered and active-learning techniques are more commonly used (Graham, 2006; Hartman, Dziuban, and Moskal, 1999). The increased use of active-learning due to technology is a boon to cognitive development a la Bloom (1956) because blended learning environments are able to foster interaction and allow students to connect with the learning materials and each other. In Bloom's seminal work, which has since sparked entire areas of educational research, the cognitive domain is separated into six tiers--knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Active-learning activities and exercises are easily able to target the upper tiers of Bloom's taxonomy because they compel students to become active participants and apply knowledge they have learned and evaluate outcomes. Yamarik (2007) studied the use of active learning in the economics classroom and found that students who were exposed to an active-learning environment performed better on tests than those who did not. Active-learning does not need to be confined to classroom instruction; it can easily be utilized in an online environment. For instance, many authors have found that when asynchronous textbased discussion is used, students can carefully reflect on and provide evidence for their claims. The resulting discussion contribution allows for deeper, more thoughtful reflections on the part of the learner (Graham, 2006; Mikulecky, 1998; Benbunan-Fich & Hiltz, 1999). …

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