I. Yanovitzky

Rutgers University (UNITED STATES)
eLearning technologies provide an exciting venue for the delivery of educational content to diverse groups of learners but questions remain regarding how it should be incorporated into the college curriculum. This study examined this question empirically in the context of a natural experiment.

Undergraduate students (N = 105) enrolled in the same advanced undergraduate communication course at a large public university at the northeastern U.S. were equally split into three sections: traditional classroom delivery mode (n = 35), Internet course delivery (n = 35), and hybrid course delivery (n = 35). There were no statically significant differences in the demographic composition of these groups and none of the students had previous experience with online or hybrid classes. The three sections were taught by the same instructor using the same set of learning goals, instructional materials, individual and group assignments, and assessment rubrics. Each section was structured such that students first attended (in class) or viewed (online) a lecture by the instructor on the topic of each week with an opportunity for synchronous interactions and then broke into small groups of (4-5 students) randomly created by the instructor to collaborate on completing a related task. Students in the traditional and hybrid sections completed the group tasks in class. Pedagogical outcomes were assessed through students’ performance on a differentiated set of assignments as well as students’ course evaluations.

On average, students participating in the traditional course section performed better on the individual research project compared to students in the online and hybrid sections and their distribution of scores was more homogenous. In contrast, students participating in the online course section scored better on the three reflection paper assignments than their traditional and hybrid counterparts, the difference between was not statically significant. However, students in the hybrid course section were more likely to report and on having a productive group interaction and also had the highest total weighted score on average.

The online environment appears to have been most conducive to encouraging students’ deeper reflection on the ideas and information provided through the readings and lectures, possibly because of fewer distractions from peers. However, students in this group were the least likely on average to indicate having had strong interest in the material covered or having been stimulated to think about the topics discussed. In contrast, students participating in the traditional and hybrid course sections were more likely to rate their class experiences favorably and to comment positively about their group collaborations experience, although students in the hybrid group were the most positive overall and also had the highest total score across all assessments. This suggests that spending face-to-face class time having students engage with their peers while giving students online access to lecture materials can be particularly conducive for high-quality learning.