Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Online Courses Not For Everyone-New Results from Indiana University

From Indiana University News

Online courses aren't for everyone, particularly college freshmen. Freshman taking distance learning classes were twice as likely to receive grades of D or F or to withdraw from the course compared to their counterparts in face-to-face classes, according to research at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. Older students fared much better in the online courses. "Freshmen really stood out," said Mark Urtel, assistant professor in the Department of Physical Education in IUPUI's School of Physical Education and Tourism Management. "It's counterintuitive -- people say younger students are the ones who grasp technology, use it most, and know it the best, but it's my opinion that they grasp the technology and use it on their terms, not necessarily ours." Urtel's study is based on students' grades in a course he taught both online and face-to-face. Initially, he noticed patterns in students' grades so he sought funding for further study because of the growing popularity of online courses. Freshmen, he said, are generally under-represented in research involving online courses. And he said online courses also enjoy the perception that they must be better, appropriate or even easy because they involve high-tech approaches. Urtel said distance education courses work well for some students, but freshmen need to be aware of the pitfalls and challenges involved. In his study, 60 percent of freshmen received either a D, F or withdrew from the class. "Given the rapid growth of distance education and on-line learning, some people may assume that it involves technology, it's got to be better," he said. "Our findings, as they relate to freshmen students in particular, suggest otherwise."

Distance education experts at Indiana University offer the following suggestions and considerations:

* First semester freshmen, in general, should not take online courses, Urtel said.
* A student needs to be an organized, disciplined type of person to do well in an online course, said Lesa Lorenzen-Huber, a clinical assistant professor in IU Bloomington's Department of Applied Health Science and Department of Counseling and Educational Psychology. Usually older students do better, although older students with jobs and families can sometimes get easily overwhelmed. If a child is ill and work is demanding, the online course is the easiest thing to let go or procrastinate about because there is not a required time to attend or work on the course.
* A good online course should also be well organized, Lorenzen-Huber said. If you can't easily find your way around after a day or two, it may be the fault of the course design. Or, you may not have the technological expertise necessary for that particular course. There should be good opportunities for student-student and student-professor interaction.
* Investigate what kind of experience an online course is offering, said Elizabeth Boling, chair of the Department of Instructional Systems Technology in the IU School of Education. Online experiences run the gamut from the simplest self-paced study course that feels a lot like going through a workbook on your own and at your own pace, to courses like those in her department's master's degree program that may require students to carry out collaborative project work with peers (who may be located in another state or country), learn and use new media, make frequent contributions to discussions, meet deadlines for assignments and maintain a certain grade point average.
* Think carefully about what you want out of an online course and ask questions about it--or check details online--before enrolling, Bolin said. The highest quality course will not seem like a high quality course if it does not match students' interests or learning style, yet a less-than-polished online tutorial on the students' obscure hobby might be just right.


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