Faculty Focus


How Do Students Think Online Courses Compare?

In its early days web-based instruction was seen as a solution to a problem: students who were separated from campus either by geography or schedule would be able to take advantage of web-based instruction to get the training or degree they desired.

Dana Tesone, assistant professor in the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida, and Peter Ricci of Barry Kaye College of Business at Florida Atlantic University, set out to learn more about the way that students perceive online education today. Their work shows the equality of student perceptions of online versus face-to-face courses, and it has implications for how we think about these two delivery approaches.

The study
Tesone and Ricci, both professors in the hospitality field, studied a series of 450 students enrolled in a senior-level hospitality management program. These were largely traditional-age students (mostly 20 or 21 years of age), skewing female and non-minority. Some 70 percent were employed in the hospitality industry.

Quantitative results showed that student perception of their courses was similar, regardless of whether courses were delivered face-to-face or online. The areas the survey measured include:

  • feedback concerning student performance in the course,
  • instructor’s interest in student learning, use of class time,
  • instructor’s overall organization of the course,
  • continuity from one class meeting to the next,
  • pace of the course,
  • instructor’s assessment of student progress in the course,
  • text and supplemental learning materials,
  • description of course objectives and assignments,
  • communication of ideas and information,
  • expression of expectations for performance,
  • availability to assist students,
  • respect and concern for students,
  • stipulation of interest in the course,
  • facilitation of learning, and
  • overall assessment of the instructor.

Students were given the option of providing comments, and the comments were also interesting. Students in the asynchronous online course gave favorable comments about convenience regarding time and travel. Also intriguing was the fact that the face-to-face course employed what the authors called a “sage on the stage” learning method, while the online course employed learner-centered methods—but both types of pedagogy were rated equally highly by students.

The implications
The first implication of these findings is the importance of using the more appropriate learner-centered pedagogy in the online classroom. “We have people who just don’t get the change in pedagogy,” says Tesone. “Everyone should be trained in this; it’s a major mental shift. If you aspire to be a sage on the stage, then this is not for you,” he says.

If the online environment presents a challenge for faculty, it also presents a challenge for students, perhaps in part because of misperceptions about the rigor of the courses brought about by experiences with poorly-designed courses. “We teach students who have had other classes that were treated like correspondence courses; that’s what gives us a bad name,” he says.

But today’s students are not taking a correspondence course, locked into distance delivery because it is the only way to complete a course. “Today, students who live 200 yards away take the [online] course because they don’t want to come to the classroom. They took the course out of convenience, not realizing the interaction is more intense than sitting in class.”

Today, technology adds a dimension to education, and students ultimately value both the increased convenience and the experience. “It has allowed us to become closer to students because of the software, and they learn more as a result,” says Ricci.

Excerpted from How Your Students See Your Courses, February 1, 2009, Distance Education Report.