From the “No $hit, Fred,” files: Some Groups May Not Benefit From Online Education, via Inside Higher Ed:
Some of the students most often targeted in the push to use online learning to increase college access are less likely than their peers to benefit from — and may in fact be hurt by — digital as opposed to face-to-face instruction, new data from a long-term study by the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College suggest.
“Adaptability to Online Learning: Differences Across Types of Students and Academic Subject Areas,” by Di Xu and Shanna Smith Jaggars, researchers at the center, examines the performance of nearly 40,000 Washington State community college students who took both online and on-ground courses, and finds significant differences in how various subgroups performed. Students of all types completed fewer courses and achieved lower grades online than they did in face-to-face classes[. M]en, African-Americans, and academically underprepared students had the biggest gaps between the two mediums.
I’ve written here before about my skepticism that the MOOC and online “revolution” is being led by people affiliated with highly selective private universities, when after all they’re producing a product that’s intended for the state uni and community college crowd. Here’s why it’s important to talk to faculty who teach first generation students, working-class returning students, nonwhite students, and students who are financing their own educations through heavy student loan borrowing: we’re already teaching your target “customers,” and we know what they need and why online courses won’t fit the bill.
The Teachers College paper itself goes on to explain why it found different results depending on subject matter: “In particular, students struggled in subject areas such as English and social science (defined rather strangely in this paper as anthropology, philosophy, and psychology), which was due in part to negative peer effects in these online courses.” While overall students got worse grades in online versus face-to-face courses, this relationship was relatively weak in fields like computer science, the natural sciences, and applied professions. On the other hand, students in online English and social science courses earned grades that were significantly worse than their peers in f2f courses. The authors of the paper explain that the results don’t account for how the other students in the class might affect a student’s performance, and theorize that the difference here may result from the fact that English and social science online students are weaker students than those who sign up for computer science, natural science, or applied professional online coursework.
So, in other words, even if your online course doesn’t resort to totally disreputable and ineffective “peer grading,” your peers may matter more than you think in terms of your own personal achievement. This suggests to me as well that professors matter too. We matter not just to the weaker students who appear to benefit more from f2f courses, but even to the strongest students as we have a decisive leadership role in our own classrooms as to what we talk about, how we discuss issues and problems, and in what we decide to do with “teaching moments” in f2f classes that might appear to be purely provocative and/or clueless student comments in an online discussion session. I’m sure all of you faculty types can think back with pride on a moment in which you were challenged in class by a student, or a time when you took what seemed like a profoundly obvious comment and used it as an opportunity for deeper exploration of a subject or problem.
Here’s something none of the scamtastic “geniuses” busy fleecing our least sophisticated, least prepared for college-level work, and least knowledgeable about the process students have ever talked about: how do letters of recommendation (or rather, requests for letters of recommendation) work for online students? I will never teach an online course, so this question is purely philosophical for me, but I don’t think I would ever feel comfortable vouching for a student I had never met. (At present, our university’s online scam has no way to ensure that work submitted online was actually completed by the person under whose name it was submitted, and I’m sure yours doesn’t either.)
So, sucks to your online courses. They’re failing even by their own standards, let alone my considerably higher personal standards.