Virtual School Meanderings

March 19, 2013

[DEANZ] DEANZ Members Mailing List E-learning Achievement Report

An item for my Kiwi friends from yesterday’s inbox…

Hello DEANZ members

This latest e-learning report from the Ministry of Education might be of interest as it focuses on the thorny question of achievement from 2004 to 2009. See…

http://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/publications/ict/108103

It needs to be noted that the report draws on data from the “Internet Category” collected through SDR (Standard Data Return) data—that is, the old web categories of Web-Supported, Web-Enhanced and Web-Based collected from each tertiary provider.

Also of note is that for the purposes of the analysis the three categories were combined to form a single delivery mode – referred to as ‘e-learning’. In the past I know some DEANZ members have expressed unease about the trustworthiness of data collected under the SDR web categories and of course the analysis isn’t able to distinguish between different pedagogical applications of e-learning. We know that e-learning isn’t a single entity as it ranges from online multi-choice tests to collaborative projects where students produce their own rich-media artefacts.

Key messages from the report include:

• Face-to-face courses had higher completion rates than e-learning courses overall.

• But in some groups – full-time students, intramural students, university students and Asian students – there was little difference in the completion rates of e-learning and courses delivered by traditional methods.

When interpreting these messages it is important for DEANZ members to remember that the report does NOT claim these factors are causal. This is a key point! Otherwise it could be wrongly concluded from the report that face-to-face is better than online! The concept of ‘better’ in this sense is being measured by completion rates which importantly is not the only measure of student achievement. And when it comes to retention and completion rates the student motivation and demographic background are important variables along with a myriad of hard and soft factors that inter-play to influence achievement. Put another way, although face-to-face courses are reported to have higher completion rates, the goal of improved retention and completion rates will not be solved by dropping e-learning from as many courses as possible.    This is flawed logic.

In my own institution, for example, many internal face-to-face courses with low enrolment numbers would have been categorised as ‘no Internet’ as there was little need to provide an online learning environment for such a handful of students. The point is that high completion rates in these courses may be influenced by class size, level of study, and so on, rather than any lack of e-learning component. The other point to consider when interpreting the results is to what extent has the e-learning environment changed since the period (2004–2009) of data collection. Also to what extent can we generalise some of the conclusions to a wider sample of tertiary learners in 2013 based on these findings.

Other key findings (claimed) include:

* In polytechnics, face-to-face courses had higher completion rates than e-learning courses.  In universities the rates were comparable.

* For intramural students the rates were comparable. But traditional paper-based distance delivery has slightly higher completion rates than e-learning for extramural students.

* If we look just at part-time students face-to-face courses had higher completion rates than e-learning.  But for full-time students the rates were comparable.

* Maori and Pasifika performance was better in face-to-face courses than in e-learning courses while for Asians and Europeans the rates were comparable.

* This finding challenges much of the evidence from the wider research literature which finds that Asians do badly in e-learning because they are thought to favour more directive teaching styles.

* Older students did better in face-to-face courses while among younger students the rates were comparable.

* Much of the research literature indicates that women do better than men in e-learning because e-learning requires greater self-management. But we find evidence for women doing better in face to face courses.

Do read glance through the report as it provides useful data for further discussion about what we should be measuring in the context of performance indicators for effective of open, flexible and distance learning.

Enjoy!

Mark

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