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Normally I don't share things that I find USELESS - but since this study is clearly going to get a lot of attention, I want to share my views about it and why it is useless.
The study asks whether "online classes" are better or worse than "face to face classes" - and it does so simply by examining the grade transcripts of all these students. Was the class online? Check this box. Not online? Check this box. Tote up results.
Results: online classes are not as good as face-to-face classes.
But... we know NOTHING about what was going on in those online classes that could/should/must be improved... and, for that matter, we know nothing about what is going on in those face to face classes that could/should/must be improved.
So, this study is a perfect example of comparing things simply because the data is available, not because the results will be useful.
Does this study tell us anything that is useful in improving a curriculum? Not really - unless people want to use the study to attack online learning, as they no doubt will do. But we need more than a blunt instrument like that (Online courses BAD) to improve a curriculum.
More importantly, does this study tell us anything that is useful in improving a course, online or face to face...?
Nope. Nothing.
Did I already know that ALL courses need to be improved, online or face to face? Yes, I knew that already.
Do we need help, lots of it, in order to improve our classes? Yep, we do.
Does this study provide us any help of any kind in doing that?
No. It does not.
So, for me at least, waste of time, waste of effort. If only they had chosen at least two or three parameters of the online courses (types of student activities, types of assessment, software tools utilized) to actually study instead. With zero information provided about "the online environment" as it VARIES from one class to another, we get zero use out of the study as far as I can tell.
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Justin Scoggin's profile photoRoz Hussin's profile photoGeorge Station's profile photoLaura Gibbs's profile photo
40 comments
 
Human beings have always been social creatures.  I think virtual training/education is a great supplement to the long standing real (face to face) training/education.   Both are useful in different settings.

But bottom line - we learn by doing, imo....  
 
It seems ironic that you would invoke face to face as the "real" education when we are carrying on our mutual self-education here at Google+.
As someone who has taught online now for more years than I taught in the classroom (10 years online, v. 5 years classroom), online feels just as or more real to me. You can do things in person, you can do things online. There are a lot of things you can do online that can never happen in a face to face classroom.
 
Mutual education - I like that.  Sadly, we sometimes discredit informal channels of education as being less worthy as formal channels.  I don't know why....

I agree, there are some things one can do online that one can't do in person - but it can also be said there are some things one can do in person what can't be done online.

It really depends on topic and setting, imo - and in both cases - people.   
 
+John Prim For me, the flexibility and accessibility of the online world (compared to limitations of space/time in the classroom) make it an unbeatable learning space, at least for me - both as a teacher AND as a learner.
Long live mutual self-education and social learning! :-)
 
I like both, personally.  There's just something about the close personal interaction in demonstrating a process with someone (whether it be drawing to baking cookies) ....

And seeing their face light up and run with it.

At the same time, i do enjoy working with online mentors, and feel both self satisfaction and appreciation when I'm taught something new and I run with it.

:)
 
I can see the opening jpg - but not the presentation.
Would love to view the rest of it, Roz....
 
Oh sorry... I only posted ONE slide...
Really? You would be interested to see the whole thing??
 
Sure - I like discovering and learning new ideas.
:) 
 
Grades are the ultimate measure of import to the outside world, other than perhaps the institution's name/reputation... Admit that, and the rest might not be as troublesome. Yet, the downside does seem to be stated in the study: Outside of student perceptions of "difficult" and "easy" courses and perceptions of those subjects "poorly suited to the online context,"

...the field has no information regarding which subject areas may be more or less effectively taught online.

The other issue for me, unless it's covered by the 2012 Jaggars paper, is the same unexamined gap we have for face-to-face: What is a "higher-quality" online course?
 
+George Station The only measure for online courses that has gotten scrutinized at my school is completion rates - but our completion rates are high for online courses (more as a result of class size I imagine that anything else, since the classes are 25-30 students), so scrutiny has stopped there. In fact, I don't think they are even scrutinizing the completion rates as they once did.
Data would be available from student evaluations if someone wanted to mine that data, but given the poor quality of the instrument and highly variable participation rates, I don't think mining that data would even be that valuable. Fully online courses are labeled with a 995 section number so it is easy to pull them out - but, of course, there is no telling how much or how little online activity goes on in non-995 sections - it just means that if something is not a 995 it does have the requisite contact hours (face time); 995 just means no face time contact hours. I think they are about to start using some designated section numbers for blended courses which do involve a reduced number of contact hours, but I haven't followed the details on that; it's very new.
What I would love to see in terms of "research" at my school is a system that will allow for (well, be honest: require, since it will not happen otherwise) the sharing of syllabuses and additional course information in a schematized form for public and private (faculty-only, student-and-faculty only) consumption.
That would then provide a basis on which to design further research, as well as having ENORMOUS benefits right off the bat (i.e. students might actually choose courses based on... OMG dare I say it? ... the actual course activities...???!)
 
Ooh, excellent tangent opportunity: Within our 23-campus system, there's a range of what is called "hybrid" or "blended"— the system has a code for hybrid and a code for fully online while blended is pretty much what you say it is. One class meeting in a semester makes a class hybrid. Half-and-half is still hybrid. So you can see the inherent difficulty for a campus, for a department trying to plan, for faculty designing a course, for anyone except the person who okayed the code designation.
 
Hi George,

"Grades are the ultimate measure of import to the outside world, other than perhaps the institution's name/reputation... Admit that, and the rest might not be as troublesome."

I wonder - does have it have to be that way?  Formal education channels only?  I not so sure....

There's been a big push for M.E.S.T. (math, engineering, science, and technology) classes.  But the application where those courses converge is what we used to call "Industrial Arts" - from the head to the hands and from the hands back to the head again....

And what of OJT (on job training)?  It's somewhat 'informal' - but surely their is a practical way to measure it - and somehow match it to some standard (universal??) grade. (Include it in an eval?)  Again - i don't know....

I think you hit in on the nail - no matter the setting - what is a quality education?  What works - and what doesn't?  We know now that pre-K is important - because we measured it.  Can more 'best practices' be measured to create some guiding principles in education/training....

I just wonder - I'll have to give this a lot of thought.   
 
+George Station EXACTLY - we are struggling with that, just the beginning stages. If you guys have not found a good solution, I despair for our own efforts. Personally, I was really glad that, from the start, we had a special section number for the fully online courses - even if it does, admittedly, foster the kind of mindless number-crunching in the article cited above.
 
John, I'm not sure how this works (as +Laura Gibbs will tell you, I'm a "new-ex-virgin" in this whole G+ business... LOL!) So, pardon me if my posts are all over the place and "messy! But FYI, I just posted the link to the whole presentation.... somewhere... but now I can't find it... so here it is again:
http://i12lol.wordpress.com/2013/02/23/90/
 
Thank you!  Just shared it to my stream and going to check it out! 
 
+Laura Gibbs And just as close to home for me, as a lecturer who teaches basic tech among other things: Computer labs are officially designated labs so we do weird in-house and out-house :-) accounting to explain the hours we spend with a mix of traditional lecture, hands-on, and other activities that all take place in a computer lab that is no different from a chem lab to our Chancellor's Office. "Wait... You want 4 hours in the computer lab but 2 hours are lecture and 2 are lab? Or you want this to be a 4-hour lecture class but it MUST be scheduled in a lab?" Combine hybrid/blended issues with lecture/lab issues when coding a course, and hilarity ensues.
 
+John Prim You're starting to ask the greater question for the #MOOC  & education reform debates. What counts?

If it's the learning, some curated form of what we are doing here should count, but we'd have to document/certify it— where's my G+ badge? If it's the credential, there are 50 ways to combine competencies from multiple sources, as soon as the multiple pathways are approved. Imagine achieving different competencies through all kinds of different sources and documenting it at (through) the college whose name you want on your degree. How much should that cost? Is it "worth" the same as going to Stanford on campus for 4 years?

+Doug Belshaw I certainly thought of you today. :-)
 
+George Station Your quote: "but it MUST be scheduled in a lab?" Combine hybrid/blended issues with lecture/lab issues when coding a course, and hilarity ensues"

My reply: I totally agree... the bureaucracy that is shoved down our throats daily is stifling.

I recall the days when I used to teach (FYI, I crossed the administrative/management line long ago, and still regret it). It was always a double edged sword, balancing the declaration of hours between lab-versus-lecture, and having to comply to those darned accreditation requirements that are tied so closely to credit hour calculations... The irony (today) is that even Carnegie, the founder of the credit hour system, recently renounced its own rigid rules, in the wake of the new online learning / Connectivist / MOOC landscape.... http://chronicle.com/article/Carnegie-the-Founder-of-the/136137/
 
+Roz Hussin I have to credit (pun intended) +George Station for having been the person who raised my consciousness about Carnegie credit hours. I had never really thought about it that much one way or the other, but I've now come to realize what a pernicious thing that system is.
 
+George Station I just noticed one of your earlier posts... you mentioned section codes for hybrid/blended? So, has your institution officially adopted blended course-codes yet? FYI, I'm fighting to get that established where I am, because it has become quite a PROBLEM when blended classes do not have a designated section code...

Where I work, instructional design support is ONLY funded for FULLY-online courses. The (archaic) assumption is that F2F instructors do not "need" instructional design support (yeah, right!)... I suppose if F2F instructors continue to (only) do the traditional chalk-and-talk, then OK.... instructional design support is not needed.

However, when F2F classes morph to become blended, students and faculty alike come running for help. So, when the budget only accommodates sufficient instructional design support for X numbers of fully online courses, it becomes quite a nightmare when increasing numbers of F2F courses become blended.

For example, a year ago, I would have 10-15 courses a semester to support... now, the number is triple...
 
+Roz Morris Let me back off and clarify. On our campus the official scheduling term is hybrid, strictly about holding class sessions in an assigned campus space or not, regardless of pedagogy. The "not" can be synchronous, as in virtual meetings on a particular day/time, or asynchronous, as in: here's the work that is deemed equivalent to an f2f session, see you next week. The terms are hybrid and online, the latter being fully online with no class meetings during the semester. The question of the mix allowed in hybrid varies across our 23-campus system, as best as I can tell. As I said above, even one required intro f2f meeting makes it officially hybrid for my campus.

I do not know whether blended has a code anywhere in the system and we just don't use it locally because it's too hard. ;-)

I am sure you know how blended gets bandied about. It's not a scheduling term locally for us, but faculty & our tech support use the term when talking about the pedagogy. Well, almost all our faculty could benefit from ID support of some kind these days if they don't have the background (and most don't have it). They need it to make sense of our LMS and they really need it if they want the students to use a range of technologies in and out of class.
 
+George Station Just FYI, doesn't matter where you teach right now, even from the moon, it is blended.  The COST SAVINGS are in fully online courses for obvious reasons.  
 
+Meg Tufano  +George Station  Agreed... I think there is massive dispute on these terminologies... I say tomato you say tomato...  you know...
 
+George Station, your question, What is a "higher-quality" online course? intrigues me exceedingly. I have written two full papers on this very subject although they are still are waiting to be published sigh.

There are design principles that promote and ultimately define quality learning and positive student experiences. If they are present but the tutor is more absent than not, then all the work put into design pretty much goes to the wastebasket. Good courses need good teachers, and all students will benefit.

I just realized that one of the papers I wrote about this is in Spanish, so I won't share it here unless somebody really wants to see it (and help me get it published :)) If people are interested, I would love to share the paper in English and discuss this topic further.
 
+Justin Scoggin I would enjoy reading the English one also. I know that the time I spend interacting with students and the time they spend interacting with each other is important, and I'm constantly trying to figure out the interactions that provide the maximum value, but it's admittedly hard stuff to theorize much less to quantify - it might really help me to see how you tackled that topic so that I could maybe do a better job of theorizing/quantifying my own efforts.
 
+Roz Hussin ok. It is called "Translating Satisfaction Rates to  Graduation Rates in a  TEFL On-line Program". I looked into the matter thoroughly at the time and found zero significant research on Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) online teacher training programs, so I thought this would be an important contribution to the field. If you, or anybody else, would like to add comments directly to the document, feel free!

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ySDaknB7oRN-3C5DbqlQ9p0hmMLZ1uEJJ4_b5EDzQ6U/edit?usp=sharing
 
+Justin Scoggin I'm writing a couple of papers myself now, so parallel reading will be a good mental exercise. Thanks. I'll post my responses after I'm done tomorrow.
 
+Justin Scoggin  I speed-read through your paper. I'll be honest. I'm not really an expert in quantitative research, so I did not look too deeply into the data analysis part.

However, I do have an opinion about your last conclusion paragraph titled: "Research design weaknesses."
I think you should CHANGE the wording of that. I personally do NOT think it is a "weakness". I think you should stand tall and declare it as a mixed-method research.

Have you ever read literature about qualitative ethnographic research? The works of qualitative researchers such as John Creswell and Harry Wolcott have changed the landscape of education research considerably. Check out Creswell's "Mixed Methods" book. Doing "immersion" research, where the observer is a participant in his own intervention experiment is NOT a "weakness" when examined from the lens of an ethnographer.

FYI, this movement began in the field of Anthropology, by fieldwork researchers such as Diane Fossey, who was made famous by the movie "Gorillas in the Mist". Harry Wolcott, who was one of the pioneer ethnographic researchers in the field of education, became famous from his first top selling book "The Man in the Principal’s Office" (but he later became even more famous for his renegade controversial scandalous research experiment which revealed the weaknesses of the education system in dealing with school dropouts).

If you are interested to read more, I posted a short blog about these researchers earlier (somewhere in this G+). But to make it easier for you, I'm posting the link again here:
http://i12lol.wordpress.com/2013/02/22/learning-almanac/

Anyway, in summary, I think you should remove the "weakness" statement, rewrite it as a declaration of ethnographic participant-immersion method, and just submit your paper for publication. Don't worry about rejection. I remember my first publication. It took me 3 years to gather the courage to submit and a year of rejection and re-writing. After awhile, I just learned that it's all part of the process.

Best wishes!
 
+Roz Hussin You deserve way more than one plus, that's for sure!  I also happen to be a novelist and it took me 14 years to have the nerve to publish my novel even after winning a major writing award.  We are always our own worst critics.  Love your advice.  

Reminds me of a publication early in my husband's career (he's a scientist) where he put something in an "Appendix" that was the major point of his article.  We have laughed about it ever since.

Great advice!!!!!
 
Thank you, Meg. Coming from you, it means a lot. I browsed through your journal and your profile. Very interesting indeed.
 
+Roz Hussin thanks a million for your encouraging words. I will look at the reference you provide and find a way to take out the identified weakness. 
 
Since this discussion is happening in two places at once - https://plus.google.com/u/0/117101852493303592733/posts/HMANH5uTamc - here is a long comment I posted at that other discussion:
===========
I went back to Larry press's blog post which prompted this discussion just to see where we stood. I noticed that in the blog post he repeatedly refers to "traditional online courses" - as especially in the rather inflammatory title of the post: Columbia University study slams traditional online classes -- we need to move beyond traditional - but the study never gives any information AT ALL about the online courses in question, so I got curious about that label which Larry used, "traditional online courses." I checked: it is not used anywhere in the study at all.
The only information provided about the specific online courses under consideration are that they "limited the sample to Washington residents enrolled in academic tarnsfer track and to courses offering both online and face-to-face sections" (that's in a footnote). That, to me, is already a warning bell; at my school, the best online courses are the ones that were designed to be online courses - not courses that exist as online offerings of the "same" course offered face to face.
Anyway, aside from that, I could find zero information that characterized the online courses in any way at all. Please correct me if I am wrong! The reason the authors selected the courses this way is a requirement of their statistical modeling; they want to use statistical methods to compare the "same" (i.e. statistically speaking the same) student taking a face-to-face course v. the "same" course online. Such statistical modeling seems to me misguided, but that's a separate discussion (this is the same kind of modeling being used to do the "value added" types of teacher evaluations, for example).
Based on my reading of the article, I'm not sure where Larry's label of "traditional" courses comes from, nor what such a label means - does everybody agree on what a "traditional" online course is? I personally have no idea what that would mean. Larry says: "The study was based on traditional online courses, which typically have about 25 students and are run by professors who often have little interaction with students." I am not sure where that comes from; I did not find it in the study. Usually smaller courses like that do feature a lot of interaction with students - but that varies, of course. If we are talking about a part-time adjunct faculty member who is juggling three different jobs, even in a small class, yes, there might be limited faculty interaction. But if we are talking about full-time instructors with reasonable teaching loads, classes that size are ideal for student interaction. The study, as I've said above, reports no data that helps us assess that directly (levels of interaction) nor indirectly (faculty employment status, faculty course loads, etc.)
The authors of the study would in fact have enrollment data (all they do is count things), but I could find no information about class size in the report anywhere. (Again, correct me if I am wrong).
So, in every way I can see, this study seems to be badly ill-conceived. Even when they had available data (class size), they did not report it. Of course, size is just the first question to ask about an online course - but there are many other questions to ask as well. The failure of the authors of the study to even report the available data on class size suggests to me that the thought about the variability between online courses and the way those variables affect student outcome did not even cross their minds. I wonder: have they ever taught an online course...? Have they ever taught at all?
I did a quick check on the authors.
Di Xu - http://ccrc.tc.columbia.edu/person/di-xu.html - appears to be research staff only, not teaching faculty. She has a Ph.D. from Columbia Teachers College.
Jaggars - http://ccrc.tc.columbia.edu/person/shanna-smith-jaggars.html - has a PhD from UT Austin in Human Development and Family Science and she appears to be an administrator, managing "a suite of studies funded under the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation" as part of the CCRC Community College Research Center at Columbia Teachers College - my guess is that she also does not teach.
And,  Donna Murdoch , it turns out this is a 100% Teachers College production after all. :-)
 
+Roz Hussin I went through your link but its only One slide from the presentation. I would love to get my hands on the entire presentation, if you please. Tnx in advance
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