JUNE 11, 2002
CONTACT: Mike Stepanovich, 661/664-2456, mstepanovich@csub.edu

Students make significant gains no matter what delivery method study shows

Students make significant gains whether in a live class, on instructional television or in an online class, a four-year study involving 917 students by a California State University, Bakersfield professor shows.

Using the scores from a pre-test and a post-test to measure student gains, English professor Robert Carlisle examined his students' performance in English 319, The Structure of English, and found that students in all sections of the course made significant gains in the class, the scores more than doubling over a 10-week quarter.

"It doesn't matter whether the class is online, face-to-face or on television, all students are making significant gains regardless of the form of the presentation," Carlisle said.

The assessment began in the spring 1998. As best as Carlisle knows, no one else has done a three-way comparison of face-to-face, instructional television, and online classes. "Many researchers have compared the outcomes of face-to-face with online instruction, usually finding no significant difference between the two," he said. "However, as far as I know this is the first study that has compared students in ITV sections with those in the other two presentations. It may also be the first that has compared pretests and post-tests over such an extended period of time."

Carlisle attributes the significant gains to a number of factors. "First, students do a large number of exercises for English 319, especially the online students, that enable them to learn the material. Second, students know exactly what's expected from them. They have practice exams before all the real exams, and I go over all the exams with them. Last, I have a fairly strict grading policy. Students are not allowed to fail tests. Students who fail a test receive an automatic D+ in the course. So they have a real motivation to learn the material. In addition, if students receive two Ds on exams, they can only receive a D+ in the course. I initiated this grading policy because nearly all my students are going to be elementary school teachers, and they need basic knowledge in English grammar."

In addition to the scores of the pretest and posttest, Carlisle examined the final averages of the students in the three presentations and found that the online students had significantly higher final averages than the face-to-face students or the ITV students. In turn, no significant differences were obtained between the ITV students and the face-to-face students.

"At this point I cannot explain why the online students had significantly higher scores," Carlisle said. "As is true for most educational research, we cannot account for many relevant variables. For example, do differences pre-exist between those students who elect to take online courses and those who do not? Outcomes will also depend on the quality of face-to-face teaching and the quality of the online experience, factors that are very difficult to quantify."

Carlisle first became interested in online teaching in 1997. "I took numerous workshops, many of which were professionally run workshops off campus," he said. "Little by little I learned to put together what I hoped to be effective online courses. From my training experience, I was able to write up a research grant which was funded and which I use to purchase Top Class for the campus. Top Class is the software package that we use to put up online courses.

"Online courses have to be very well planned mostly because the students aren't in front of the instructor listening to every single word that the instructor says," he said. "Courses have to be very well organized. The instructors and students have to be online many hours during the week to be effectively able to communicate with one another. The course must have many learning experiences built into it so that students can learn the information. And the courses must have a means of assessment. The instructors must be able to see that the students are receiving the information. If not, the course has to be redesigned or improved.

"This is also true of a face-to face-courses. No instructor should be completely satisfied by a course. We always have need to improve our manner of instruction."

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