Speaking of James V. Koch (see previous post), the former Old Dominion University president-turned-economics professor has posted on his website a research paper he is publishing about the efficacy of online learning. Many studies have found “no significant difference” between students learning online and in bricks-and-mortar environments, Koch says. But the finding of those studies has been called into question, he notes, for a lack of valid control groups.
Koch (pronounced Cook, incidentally, not like the Koch brothers) sought to rectify that deficiency in a study conducted during the spring of 2010. ODU offered a course in Managerial Economics, which has the reputation as a difficult course due to its use of regression analysis. The course transmitted live-televised lectures to 147 students around the U.S., some through streaming video (into homes), some to ODU branch campuses, and some to electronic classrooms in community colleges. Another 29 students took the course the old-fashioned way, in a classroom on the ODU campus. Class discussions were open to both in-class and online students.
When the grades were in, Koch accounted for variables such as students’ age, race, grade point average and gender. On a zero-to-one scale, the study revealed:
Students who took the course at one of the University’s higher education centers (branch campuses) achieved a grade .097 lower than students on campus. Those who took the course at a community college achieved a grade .217 higher. Those who took the course via video streaming achieved a grade .220 lower. All of these estimates hold constant all other independent variable values.
The streaming-video students performed the worst, Koch surmises, because they were learning solo, without the support of the academic structure or fellow students who study together and help each other solve assigned problems. Similarly, students taking the course at branch campuses tended to rush home to their families and also tended to learn solo. Concludes Koch:
The results here should inspire caution among those who make strong statements about the efficacy of distance learning. … Like Campbell’s Soups, distance learning now comes in so many varieties that it is increasingly difficult to generalize about it.
Bacon’s bottom line: Fair enough. But I must make two observations. First, ODU’s TeletechNet program might have lacked important elements provided by state-of-the-art online teaching software, such as lecture re-wind capability and student collaborative tools. (I say “might have” because Koch did not say one way or the other, and they are not mentioned in ODU’s online class demo, so I cannot be certain.) Thus, the lower grades might have reflected an outmoded online model.
Also, I find it surprising that Koch did not draw attention to the fact that the students who performed best were based in community colleges — not the ODU campus. Not only did these students demonstrate greater mastery of the material, the course was delivered to a less expensive, community-college teaching setting, thus addressing the issue of higher-ed affordability. Although Koch did not draw this conclusion, his findings could be interpreted to support the “hybrid” model of learning, involving elements of both online and traditional academic elements.