The purpose of this study was to answer the question: Is the level of achievement of working adult students in an online class directly related to the method of compute-mediated communication used by faculty? The study examined the relationship between the methods of computer-mediated communication utilized, the independent variable; and student outcomes, the dependent variable, among working adult students in online courses. Through an examination of course communication records and student final exam grades, the researcher developed course-based measures of the methods of computer-mediated communication and student outcomes. These measures were used to conduct statistically appropriate tests to determine if there was a statistically significant difference in the student final exam scores between classes that used only basic methods of computer-mediated communication as opposed to courses that employed both basic and advanced methods.
With businesses continuing to increase their expenditures for employee education, there is progressively more focus on maximizing employees’ educational outcomes to effectively leverage corporations’ investment. Dunn (2000) predicts that large corporations will develop their own approval systems for higher education programs similar to the current regional accreditation process.
Bradburn and Zimbler (2002) make the point that the 1999 National Study of Postsecondary Faculty lacked detailed questions about modes of technology, training and instructional practices in individual distance education courses and affirm that further studies in faculty participation in distance education are needed. Northrup (2002) confirms this opinion by stating that future studies should consider variables that may affect the individual learner, the learning environment and instructional strategies that may be most appropriate for specific learning outcomes. Quilter and Chester (2001) emphasize that few formal research studies have been conducted to examine the relationships between online communication technologies and teaching and learning, and reaffirm that research employing empirical documentation of communication technologies is lacking.
The method of computer-mediated communication is important since different technology-supported methods of interaction (e.g., two-way interactive TV, text-based chat, e-mail) have different characteristics in regard to immediacy of feedback, student-student and student-faculty interaction, realism and student user control (Smith & Dillon, 1999). Kearsley (1995) reinforces the belief that the method of computer-mediated communication used is critical to the learning process, as it affects the provision of feedback to the student. Distance learning environments that support synchronous communication can provide immediate feedback to the learners and rapid interaction between learners, a feature that may motivate some learners. In contrast, distance learning environments that support asynchronous communication can provide the student with more control over where and when communication occurs as well as more time to reflect on and respond to course content and communications (Moore & Kearsley, 1995). The modality of communication employed in the course is a significant factor in determining the nature of the learning community that is formed in the course.
Duffy and Kirkley (2004) state that most higher education research relies on survey data; that is, class ratings and specialized surveys like the National Survey of Student Engagement (Kuh, 2001), to infer, based on student report, that learning has occurred. It is this researcher’s opinion that one of the main reasons for a lack of prior studies using quantitative data collected directly from course records has been the difficulty inherent in obtaining such data in an online, distributed learning environment.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Student Outcome: For purposes of this study, student outcome is defined as the level of participation of students in online courses and the final exam grades awarded to students upon completion of an online course.
Methods of Computer-Mediated Communication: The communications options made available to the faculty and students by the software features of the online course management system (eCollege™ used by the university, which was the subject in the study.
Basic Methods of Computer-Mediated Communication: For purposes of this study, basic methods of computer mediated communication included such tools as threaded discussions, gradebooks, class announcements and lecture notes.
Course Management System: A software-based system for managing the development and delivery of online courses and programs and managing student progress over the Internet.
Computer-Mediated Communication: Communication between instructor and student or between students, which discusses some aspect of course content, assignment or student progress in an online course, utilizing the online computing environment for the communication.
Final Exam Grade: For purposes of this study, final exam grade is defined as a student’s percentage score (0-100%) awarded on the last, comprehensive exam, which covers course material of the entire online course.
Synchronous Communication: Online interactive or real-time communication between the student and instructor or among students.
Threaded Discussion: Asynchronous communication between students and instructor or among students, where participants post text-based messages.
Advanced Methods of Software Facilitated Communication: For purposes of this study, advanced methods of software facilitated communication were defined as including features such as interactive chat rooms, whiteboards (live interactive chats), group teleconferences, customized course calendars, interactive simulations and virtual project labs.
Asynchronous Communication: A delayed time communication, typically in text format, between the learner and instructor or among learners.