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A COMPARISON OF DIFFERENCES OF GRADE RESULTS FOR VARYING ITEMS OF ASSESSMENT BETWEEN IN-CLASS AND DISTANCE STUDENTS OVER AN EIGHT-YEAR PERIOD

R. Saunders

Carleton University (CANADA)
There has been considerable work done in the last number of years on the learning outcomes of students enrolled in online courses versus those enrolled in traditional classroom courses. Some of this work has suffered due to small sample sizes while other work has been problematic in regard to the nature of the differences in the groups of students being compared, whether those differences were in comparing classes of different subject matter or sizes, or were related to classroom behaviours and delivery. This study has the advantage of examining the outcomes for a very large number of students (more than 2300) over an eight-year period taking one subject (criminal justice) at the undergraduate level from one instructor and who in each term all received the same material and were tested in the same way. In each case, the lecture-style class (with little professor-student interaction) was taped in front of an in-class group of students and broadcast on cable television, made available via DVD (formerly) and/or delivered online to another section of students enrolled in the same course. The material was therefore identical and the major if not sole important difference was that one group of students watched live in class while the other group watched via television or online. The other factors which traditionally might affect student outcomes, such as class interaction and group discussion did not play a significant role. The two “experiences” were as close to the same (except for the watching environment) as possible, and the basis for good comparisons between learning outcomes as measured by grades was excellent given that the students in each section over the years were tested using the same exams and assignments. As a result, there is a large set of results (from 11 offerings beginning in 2004) available for direct comparison as to the success of one group versus the other. These comparisons can be made not only in regard to overall results for each class, but also in regard to particular methods and items of assessment, and the corresponding success of the traditional versus online class in each category of testing. In these particular classes, there were three types of testing employed: multiple choice questions on an exam, analytical essay questions on an exam, and an analytical essay assignment. Given that each class offering (consisting of traditional and online sections) yielded two sets of multiple choice results per section as well as two sets of exam essay questions, the data set is large and informative, yielding, for example, results from over 4500 scores (for each delivery method) for the multiple choice item alone. Claims are often made around the issue of learning outcomes for online classes, and this study provides a widely and longitudinally informed analysis of the issue and of those claims.