Vol. 16 : No. 3< >
"The Sky is Falling!" said Chicken Little.
Elizabeth Perrin, Editor, USDLA Journal
Many of you remember the children's fable of Chicken Little in the forest, panicked and hysterical because of loud, unexpected noises. As the tree leaves swayed back and forth, Chicken Little was sure the end of the world approached. She announced to all the other animals that the sky was falling. Fortunately, in the fable, the other creatures were wise enough to do some investigative research and indeed, all was well.
Certainly, leaves are rattling in the trees of the Distance Learning Forests. Doom predictors abound. And, as usual, it behooves those of us in education/learning to do our research and provide coherency to observed phenomena.
The article, Online Students Don't Fare as Well as Classroom Counterparts, Study Finds, by Dan Carnevale, Chronicles of Higher Education, February 25th, 2002, is a case in point. Professors at Michigan State University have found that students who took an economics course online didn't do as well as the students who took the same course in a traditional classroom. There is now great uproar in the Distance Learning Forest. "Students who took the traditional sections on average answered 65.49 percent of the questions correctly, while the students who took the course online got 61.19 percent correct, on average." Thunder and Lightning. The extensive report analyzes the test score results, detailed down to gender. In the online course, female students did as well as male students. In the F2F sections, women's scores averaged about six points lower than the average score for men. Do we hear a chunk of the sky falling in another part of the Forest?
What is really causing the commotion? Should that percentage bring dismay to academic or university administration? As Lev Abramov pointed out (DEOS-L 28 Feb 2002) "Has the 'low' 65 % figure (which is quite correct for a lot of courses people take f2f) ever stopped someone from enrolling? I guess not. Then why would a 4% average drop frighten potential students off so much?" Perhaps the roar is abating. A wise Forest Denizen.
Additional Forest patrols gather. Dr. A. E. Powell (Colorado State University) suggests that perhaps the online course design should be examined, "We know that student achievement can be at least equal in the online course - so the difference must be the design of the online course." Brad Jensen (www.EUFRATES.com) notes, "Preserve…skepticism when the conjectures come clothed in numbers and p values. The significance of the observation should not be confused with the significance of the labeling. A statistical measurement does not contain any meaning in itself." Mr. Jensen adds (perhaps philosophically), "Some people never learn this." Tom Horn (tomhorn@CPROS.COM) asks, "Consider this from the student's viewpoint. What if my choice is between taking an online course or not taking any course?" And, to close, a statement from Dr. Charalambos Vrasidas, Western Illinois University: "I follow with interest the discussion on research in distance education…I think that our quest for certainty has misled us in the study of education." (DEOS-L, 27 and 28 Feb 2002).
The roar in Distance Learning Forest may be somewhat quieter. Where is Chicken Little?
Where are we all?