Online and Traditional Computer Applications Classes

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With working adults occupying an increasingly large percentage of our college population and with greater numbers of students having computer and Internet experience prior to entering college, opportunities are being made to better meet their needs, interests and work schedules through online classes. In fact, according to International Data, "the e-learning market, which includes Internet and Intranet courses, will grow from $4 billion to $15 billion worldwide [between 1998 and 2002]" (Del 2000).

Although students who enroll in online classes generally like the flexibility and convenience they offer, "there continues to be concern about instructional quality" (Terry 2000). Many question whether students in online classes learn as much or receive the same quality of instruction as students in the traditional classroom.

This study compares online instruction and traditional or in-class instruction in terms of both student perceptions and student performance, as measured by grade distribution. The survey groups for this study consist of 94 students from the traditional classes and 37 students from the online classes. A breakdown of groups by gender, age and employment status, as shown in Tables 1-3, reveals that of the three factors, the biggest difference between the two groups during the 1999-2000 academic year was in employment status.

Background

Since it was first offered in summer quarter 1998, approximately 200 students have completed The Division of Business Administration's online Fundamentals of Computer Applications course (CISM 2201) at Macon State College. The course includes basic computer concepts and terminology, as well as instruction using Microsoft Office application software.

Enrollment in the online course requires students to have a 2.5 grade point average, Internet access, and a computer with MS Office software. Online students attend an initial class meeting or orientation session during which they meet the instructor and each other and have the opportunity to ask questions. They are also told about hardware and software requirements, informed of course expectations and the importance of being self-directed, and are provided software training to become familiar with the online course materials and operational mechanics. In addition, they receive information typically provided on the first day of traditional classes, such as a syllabus, overview of the textbook, instructor office hours, testing procedures, etc.

In the traditional classes, students are informed during their first session that online classes are available should they qualify and prefer that instructional format.

Course Evaluations

In an effort to assess student perceptions of CISM 2201 instruction, as well as increase course effectiveness and student learning, students are asked to evaluate their class experience. At the end of each semester during the 1999-2000 academic year, on-campus surveys were administered in class and the online surveys were administered via e-mail.

As on the traditional class evaluation form, online students are asked to evaluate the course contents, availability of the instructor, their understanding of the class organization and the grading process. Unlike the traditional form, however, the online evaluation form also asks students to compare the quality of learning in an online class versus that in the traditional class, as well as their reasons for taking the online course.

All students in both the online and traditional classes agreed that the class met their expectations; however, a larger percentage of students in the traditional class "strongly agreed" with this statement. Students in the traditional class also "strongly agreed" more often than online students with positive statements relating to teacher organization, pace of instruction, and understanding of course layout and grading process.

Interestingly, when asked to rate the statement, "I was given the opportunity to ask questions," 80% of online students "strongly agreed," compared to 74% of traditional classroom students. Although small, the difference in responses is most probably attributable to online students' greater need to ask questions, as well as their ability to ask questions anonymously. (Their primary mode of communication is e-mail.)

Understandably, 89% of online students stated that the course schedule was useful, compared to 54% of traditional classroom students. Because online students do not receive frequent oral reminders about test dates or assignments from the instructor, their primary source of information concerning class activities and due dates is the course schedule or calendar.

A comparison between traditional and online student perceptions of overall class instruction is shown in Table 4.

When asked to compare the quality of online instruction with traditional instruction, 38% of online students stated that learning was approximately the same. However, 31% of online students responded that they learned more in a traditional class, and 12.5% responded that they learned more in the online class; 19% had no opinion.

When asked to comment on the advantages of online classes or the "most helpful feature of online instruction," over 80% of the students stated that online classes enabled them to better manage work and school, and they liked being able to learn at a self-directed pace. As shown in Table 6, the primary reasons they chose to take CISM 2201 online were "convenience" and "flexibility."

Many students commented that online instruction enabled them to be personally responsible for their own learning and determine for themselves the amount of time they needed to achieve expected outcomes and meet course requirements. In fact, a majority of students who enrolled in the online class stated that they use computers frequently and did not want to be held back by the pace of traditional class instruction.

Not having to spend time commuting, finding babysitters, or actually sitting in class were other significant advantages noted by a number of online students who described themselves as full-time employees or stay-at-home mothers who wanted a college degree but found it difficult to attend classes at a fixed time.

When asked if MSC should continue to offer online classes, all of the online students responded that it should; however, the traditional class format should be offered as well. As seen in Table 7, 81% of online students stated that they would like to take additional online classes at MSC.

An additional comparison made between the two classes was that of student performance as measured by grade distribution. The same tests were administered to both the online and traditional classes, and students enrolled in online classes came to campus to take the software application exams.

Although a much higher percentage of students made A's in the online class, a greater number of students in the traditional classes made the grade of B, and there was little difference in the remaining grade distributions. An interesting statistic is the low percentage of students receiving "W" in the online class, as this is not always typical of online classes. In fact, when this online class was first offered in 1998, the dropout rate was as high as 50%.

Factors that most probably attributed to the declining withdrawal rate include a newly required 2.5 grade point average for enrollment, increased student familiarity with the subject matter (computers), better explanation during the orientation session of student expectations and course requirements - and luck.

Conclusion

Online instruction can offer new challenges and opportunities to both students and instructors. Most students do not view online instruction as a replacement for traditional classroom instruction. However, with the right subject matter, with the right instructor or facilitator, and for the right student, Internet or online classes can provide an effective educational environment and offer a viable alternative to traditional classroom instruction.

Although the results of the online class evaluation reveal an overall satisfaction of students taking the online CISM 2201, additional research is needed to further assess the effectiveness of online instruction in this and other classes.

Linda Cooper is a professor in the Division of Business Administration at Macon State College and has been teaching Computer Foundations courses for nine years. She was the first to offer an online course at MSC and has written numerous articles and made several presentations on the topic of online courses. She earned her doctorate degree at the University of Tennessee in Adult and Technological Education.

E-mail: lcooper@mail.maconstate.edu


References

Denigris, John and Witchel, Arnie 2000. Teaching the Learning Organization with Tomorrow's Tools Today. MA: Pearson Custom Publishing.

Jones, Del. "Will Business Schools Go Out of Business? E-Learning, Corporate Academies Change the Rules." USA Today, May 23, 2000.

Terry, Neil. "MBA Student Perceptions about the Effectiveness of Internet Instruction." Business Education Forum, April 2000: 42-44.

With working adults occupying an increasingly large percentage of our college population and with greater numbers of students having computer and Internet experience prior to entering college, opportunities are being made to better meet their needs, interests and work schedules through online classes. In fact, according to International Data, "the e-learning market, which includes Internet and Intranet courses, will grow from $4 billion to $15 billion worldwide [between 1998 and 2002]" (Del 2000).

Although students who enroll in online classes generally like the flexibility and convenience they offer, "there continues to be concern about instructional quality" (Terry 2000). Many question whether students in online classes learn as much or receive the same quality of instruction as students in the traditional classroom.

This study compares online instruction and traditional or in-class instruction in terms of both student perceptions and student performance, as measured by grade distribution. The survey groups for this study consist of 94 students from the traditional classes and 37 students from the online classes. A breakdown of groups by gender, age and employment status, as shown in Tables 1-3, reveals that of the three factors, the biggest difference between the two groups during the 1999-2000 academic year was in employment status.

X@XOpenTag000Background

X@XCloseTag000Since it was first offered in summer quarter 1998, approximately 200 students have completed The Division of Business Administration's online Fundamentals of Computer Applications course (CISM 2201) at Macon State College. The course includes basic computer concepts and terminology, as well as instruction using Microsoft Office application software.

Enrollment in the online course requires students to have a 2.5 grade point average, Internet access, and a computer with MS Office software. Online students attend an initial class meeting or orientation session during which they meet the instructor and each other and have the opportunity to ask questions. They are also told about hardware and software requirements, informed of course expectations and the importance of being self-directed, and are provided software training to become familiar with the online course materials and operational mechanics. In addition, they receive information typically provided on the first day of traditional classes, such as a syllabus, overview of the textbook, instructor office hours, testing procedures, etc.

In the traditional classes, students are informed during their first session that online classes are available should they qualify and prefer that instructional format.

Course Evaluations

In an effort to assess student perceptions of CISM 2201 instruction, as well as increase course effectiveness and student learning, students are asked to evaluate their class experience. At the end of each semester during the 1999-2000 academic year, on-campus surveys were administered in class and the online surveys were administered via e-mail.

As on the traditional class evaluation form, online students are asked to evaluate the course contents, availability of the instructor, their understanding of the class organization and the grading process. Unlike the traditional form, however, the online evaluation form also asks students to compare the quality of learning in an online class versus that in the traditional class, as well as their reasons for taking the online course.

All students in both the online and traditional classes agreed that the class met their expectations; however, a larger percentage of students in the traditional class "strongly agreed" with this statement. Students in the traditional class also "strongly agreed" more often than online students with positive statements relating to teacher organization, pace of instruction, and understanding of course layout and grading process.

Interestingly, when asked to rate the statement, "I was given the opportunity to ask questions," 80% of online students "strongly agreed," compared to 74% of traditional classroom students. Although small, the difference in responses is most probably attributable to online students' greater need to ask questions, as well as their ability to ask questions anonymously. (Their primary mode of communication is e-mail.)

Understandably, 89% of online students stated that the course schedule was useful, compared to 54% of traditional classroom students. Because online students do not receive frequent oral reminders about test dates or assignments from the instructor, their primary source of information concerning class activities and due dates is the course schedule or calendar.

A comparison between traditional and online student perceptions of overall class instruction is shown in Table 4.

When asked to compare the quality of online instruction with traditional instruction, 38% of online students stated that learning was approximately the same. However, 31% of online students responded that they learned more in a traditional class, and 12.5% responded that they learned more in the online class; 19% had no opinion.

When asked to comment on the advantages of online classes or the "most helpful feature of online instruction," over 80% of the students stated that online classes enabled them to better manage work and school, and they liked being able to learn at a self-directed pace. As shown in Table 6, the primary reasons they chose to take CISM 2201 online were "convenience" and "flexibility."

Many students commented that online instruction enabled them to be personally responsible for their own learning and determine for themselves the amount of time they needed to achieve expected outcomes and meet course requirements. In fact, a majority of students who enrolled in the online class stated that they use computers frequently and did not want to be held back by the pace of traditional class instruction.

Not having to spend time commuting, finding babysitters, or actually sitting in class were other significant advantages noted by a number of online students who described themselves as full-time employees or stay-at-home mothers who wanted a college degree but found it difficult to attend classes at a fixed time.

When asked if MSC should continue to offer online classes, all of the online students responded that it should; however, the traditional class format should be offered as well. As seen in Table 7, 81% of online students stated that they would like to take additional online classes at MSC.

An additional comparison made between the two classes was that of student performance as measured by grade distribution. The same tests were administered to both the online and traditional classes, and students enrolled in online classes came to campus to take the software application exams.

Although a much higher percentage of students made A's in the online class, a greater number of students in the traditional classes made the grade of B, and there was little difference in the remaining grade distributions. An interesting statistic is the low percentage of students receiving "W" in the online class, as this is not always typical of online classes. In fact, when this online class was first offered in 1998, the dropout rate was as high as 50%.

Factors that most probably attributed to the declining withdrawal rate include a newly required 2.5 grade point average for enrollment, increased student familiarity with the subject matter (computers), better explanation during the orientation session of student expectations and course requirements - and luck.

X@XOpenTag002Conclusion

X@XCloseTag002Online instruction can offer new challenges and opportunities to both students and instructors. Most students do not view online instruction as a replacement for traditional classroom instruction. However, with the right subject matter, with the right instructor or facilitator, and for the right student, Internet or online classes can provide an effective educational environment and offer a viable alternative to traditional classroom instruction.

Although the results of the online class evaluation reveal an overall satisfaction of students taking the online CISM 2201, additional research is needed to further assess the effectiveness of online instruction in this and other classes.

X@XOpenTag001X@XCloseTag001

Linda Cooper is a professor in the Division of Business Administration at Macon State College and has been teaching Computer Foundations courses for nine years. She was the first to offer an online course at MSC and has written numerous articles and made several presentations on the topic of online courses. She earned her doctorate degree at the University of Tennessee in Adult and Technological Education.

E-mail: lcooper@mail.maconstate.edu


X@XOpenTag003References

X@XCloseTag003Denigris, John and Witchel, Arnie 2000. Teaching the Learning Organization with Tomorrow's Tools Today. MA: Pearson Custom Publishing.

Jones, Del. "Will Business Schools Go Out of Business? E-Learning, Corporate Academies Change the Rules." USA Today, May 23, 2000.

Terry, Neil. "MBA Student Perceptions about the Effectiveness of Internet Instruction." Business Education Forum, April 2000: 42-44.

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2001 issue of THE Journal.

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