Monday, August 09, 2010

Study of Internet Versus Classroom Learning

In "Rushing Too Fast to Online Learning? Outcomes of Internet Versus Face-to-Face Instruction" Science Daily reports on some research comparing online to face to face lectures (8 August 2010). The conclusion reached is that a "live" microeconomics class is slightly better than watching the lecture online. The original research is reported in "Is it Live or is it Internet? Experimental Estimates of the Effects of Online Instruction on Student Learning" (D Figlio, M Rush, L Yin, 2009).

The research seems to be well designed and the conclusions reasonably drawn from the evidence. However, the authors' understanding of what online learning is appears to be flawed. Online videos of lectures are not the same as online education.

Giving students a choice between sitting in a room passively watching a live lecture or sitting in front of a computer passively watching a video of a lecture seems a dismal choice to me. Both are a poor way to learn and neither are how education is done at quality universities.

Online learning is not about providing videos of lectures. I don't use any videoed lecturers for my Green ICT course. It is collaborative and mentored learning: that is the students work together online and then receive individual advice on how they are going from the teacher.

The ANU Engineering Hubs and Spokes Project is using video conferencing, virtual classrooms, remote labs, quizzes and on-line assessment. For example, a one hour lecture might be replaced with a 20 minute audio slide show. . But the student doesn't just sit there passively watching the slides for 20 minutes. They are prompted to do an exercise to apply what they are learning and then come back again to think about the results, later they will discuss it with other students. You can read the details in "The Engineering Hubs and Spokes Project–Institutional Cooperation in Educational Design and Delivery" (K Blackmore, P Compston, L Kane, D Quinn,2010).

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