Development and Assessment
of Students: Attitudes and Achievement in a Business Statistics Course Taught
Candace L. Gunnarsson, Xavier University
About the author...
This paper is a report on the development and assessment of a graduate level statistics course taught in an online setting. Students taking the newly developed statistics course online were compared to students taking the course in a traditional classroom. Achievement along with three mediating variables was investigated. The three mediating variables included: prior computer experience, prior math knowledge and experience, and attitude toward the subject of statistics. The participants were forty-two graduate students in their first year of the MBA program. Students' attitudes toward learning in an online environment were favorable. Differences were found in their attitude toward the subject of statistics and prior computer experience; however, no causal relationship in achievement was detected. Students who learned in an online environment achieved comparably to students learning in a traditional classroom
Web based instruction is becoming a convenient and popular means to higher education. Currently, mainstream institutions of higher learning are taking initiatives to dramatically improve the technological relevance of their curriculum. Course offerings utilizing web-based instruction are multiplying at unprecedented rates.
Although there are many examples of web-based courses, it is now clear that much more is involved than just presenting the components of a conventional course via the Internet (Kahn, 1997). Lectures are not improved by posting them on a web site and discussions do not automatically happen when students are connected to a mailing list or computer bulletin board.
As with any new technology, we are often drawn to the technology itself rather than recognizing technology as a tool to enhance learning. When a course is delivered in an online environment, old roles between student and teacher and student and subject become redefined and new roles emerge. Issues involving equity of access, the needs of the learner, and the role of teacher as tour guide and site facilitator emerge.
With any college course, the mode of delivery and the design of the course content can make the difference between a learning experience that is truly excellent and an experience that is considered fair or even poor. This holds true for online learning as well. As online educators, we cannot simply utilize new technology; we must be sure that it is accessible to all students and that it truly enhances learning.
2. The Statistics Course
Instructivist and constructivist models were utilized to design a Managerial Statistics course for graduate students pursuing their Masters of Business Administration Degree. The course covered principles and applications of descriptive and inferential statistics and was designed to familiarize students with basic techniques for understanding, organizing, describing and computing research data. The course was taught using two different instructional settings. One section of the course was taught once a week in a traditional classroom. The other section was taught in an online environment where a virtual classroom was established utilizing the LearningSpace option of the computer package, Lotus Notes. Both classes viewed the same PowerPoint slideshows, had identical homework problems and examinations and were given the same three collaborative learning projects. Furthermore, both courses had the same instructor.
Figure 1. (~68 KB)
3. The Online Course
Using the Learning Space software, students registered for the online version of statistics were able to access the following databases: a schedule consisting of a syllabus and weekly assignments, a course room for online discussion with faculty and fellow students, a media center which served as a repository for class related materials such as PowerPoint presentations, copies of articles, and data files, and class profiles which displayed background information on fellow students and the instructor. Figure 1 shows a picture of what the students would see from their web browser when they logged into the course.
The schedule database was usually where students would start. Posted in the schedule was the course syllabus and all the assignments and their due dates. Figure 2 shows a picture of what the students would see from their web browser when they logged into the schedule database.
Figure 2. (~41 KB)
From the first day of class forward, the schedule in its entirety along with all of the homework assignments and collaborative group projects were posted in this database. This was provided so that if students wished to work ahead they were able to do so. Figure 3 provides a view of a weekly homework assignment listed in the course schedule. Typically, students would visit the schedule and look at their assignment for each week. The schedule also has a calendar option where students were able to see the dates of when each weekly assignment was due.
Figure 3. (~48 KB)
Three collaborative group projects were given throughout the semester. These projects were developed using a constructivist paradigm. Borrowing heavily from Kearsley and Shneidermans' Engagement Theory (Kearlsey, 1997; Kearlsey & Shneiderman, 1998; Schneiderman, 1994; Schneiderman, Alavi, Norman, & Borkowski, 1995), these projects provided an environment that emphasized meaningful learning and collaboration. The projects were designed to have students work in collaborative teams of three and four. Real world data that a team member brought from his or her job was used by the group in a way that promoted active cognitive processes such as creating, problem solving, reasoning, decision making and evaluation. Throughout the semester, after each examination, collaborative teams would present their project to the entire class in a PowerPoint slideshow lasting no more than five minutes. Figure 4 provides an example of one of the three group projects listed in the course schedule.
Full size image of Figure 4.
Students go to the course room to submit their assignments and to post questions for discussion. Figure 5 shows a picture of what the students would see from their web browser when they logged into the course database. In the course room, students could have asynchronous discussions, submit their homework either for instructional review or for grading, and view their individual progress in the course. However, test grades were not viewed through Learning Space. After each of the three examinations, students received individual emails from me showing the questions they got wrong, the correct solutions and their final grade.
Typically if students had general questions regarding the course or the use of Learning Space, they would either post a discussion topic or add to a discussion thread already in existence. Figure 6 provides a picture of what the students would see from their web browser when posting a discussion.
Full size image of Figure 6. (~45 KB)
Students would use the course room to submit their weekly homework assignments. Learning Space offers two options for students submitting assignments. An assignment can be submitted for instructor's review or it can be submitted for a grade. This feature allowed the students to work on their homework, and if they were able to finish their work without a problem they could submit it for a grade. However, if the student experienced a problem, he or she could submit the unfinished work for instructional review. This would allow the students to receive feedback on their homework, thereby correcting the errors in learning. When the student felt that his or her homework was complete, he or she could then submit it for a grade. Figure 7 displays a view of what the student would see when submitting a homework assignment for either review or a grade.
Figure 7. (~38 KB)
Typically when I would access the course room, I could see what was submitted to me for review and what was submitted for a grade. I was then able to read the assignment and submit a grade, which was delivered simultaneously to the student and to a grade book. I was able to access the virtual grade book under an assessments option that only I had access to from my office personal computer. The assessments option for instructors is a nice feature of Learning Space because I was able to view each student's assignments, my comments to each assignment and the students' grades anytime I needed to throughout the semester.
Students go to the media center to view the slideshow for each week. Figure 8 shows a picture of what the students would see from their web browser when accessing the media center. Students were encouraged to read the chapter in their textbook and then watch the PowerPoint slideshow. The slideshows utilized in this course were a collaboration of slides that accompanied the textbook, Basic Business Statistics Concepts and Applications (Berenson and Levine, 1999) and my slides that I have developed.
Figure 8. (~39 KB)
Student Profiles is a feature of Learning Space that allows students to post personal information about themselves as a way of getting to know each other online. Each student and the instructor can fill out a profile with her/his picture that is posted for all students in the class to visit. The profile option affords students the opportunity to get to know one another. Since my course used collaborative learning, the student profile option would have been a nice way of breaking the ice. Unfortunately due to server glitches, this option was not available to my students. However, Figure 9 provides an example of what the profiles looks like.
Figure 9. (~48 KB)
4. The Participants
Participants for this study were graduate students in their first year of their MBA program enrolled in managerial statistics for the fall semester, 2000 at a private mid-western Jesuit university. Managerial statistics is a prerequisite for many of the courses and is typically one of the first classes taken in the program. A total of forty-seven students initially registered for the course. Fifteen of the students were registered for the online course and thirty-two were registered for the traditional class. However, two of the online students and three of the traditional students chose to drop the class. The students who dropped the class did so within the first three weeks and cited either work-related obligations or an overloaded schedule as the reason for dropping the class. This brought the total participants to forty-two; thirteen online students and twenty-nine traditional students.
5. The Study
A holistic approach incorporating both qualitative and quantitative procedures was utilized in this study. Students' attitudes toward learning statistics in an online environment were analyzed using a qualitative approach, whereby questionnaires were distributed and individual interviews were conducted at the end of the course. All data retrieved from the questionnaires were stored, categorized and coded. Individual interviews were built into analytic files, which were sorted using a simple coding scheme. The purpose of this analysis was to assess attitude and the amount of relevant interaction, not just content.
To examine achievement, a quantitative approach was taken. First, an exploratory analysis was conducted in which classroom setting (online versus traditional) was analyzed on a number of key variables which included prior computer experience, prior math knowledge and/or experience and attitude toward the subject of statistics. To measure attitude, Schau, Dauphinee, & Del Vecchio's (1993) Attitude Toward Statistics test was utilized. Having substantive knowledge in the field of statistics, prior math knowledge and/or experience and a good attitude toward the subject of statistics are known predictors of success. Second, these key variables were used as predictor variables along with classroom setting in a multiple regression analysis in an attempt to uncover any relationships that may have existed among the predictor variables and achievement.
Although these groups were self selected, when the online class was compared to the traditional class, there were no apparent differences in demographics, prior math knowledge/experience and the feeling of value toward the subject of statistics. However, there were significant differences on two variables. These two variables were students' affect toward statistics and their prior computer experience. The online class had a higher average positive affect toward statistics and had more computer experience than the traditional class. The affect score was statistically significant at the .05 level and computer experience was significant at the .10 level.
The significance of affect is consistent with the literature that discusses variables that contribute to success in statistics. This result is to be expected. Students who are feeling the least bit anxious or who have lower affect toward the subject matter would be dubious about trying an online environment. Furthermore, students with less computer experience could find the online environment threatening. Given the differences in affect and prior computer experience, there is no statistically significant causal relationship between class setting and achievement.
Examination of the online students' attitudes toward learning managerial statistics in an online environment shows that, overall, students' attitudes appeared to be favorable. All students were fairly comfortable with computers and had some prior math experience. Therefore, the typical barriers that one would expect when teaching a statistics course online - i.e., lack of computer experience and math anxiety - did not appear to be operational among this group of students. Nevertheless, the students' responses to the open ended questions revealed some patterns. Although all the students agreed that the online asynchronous learning allowed greater flexibility than a traditional classroom, emerging patterns in responses could be identified into three distinct groups: students who enjoyed online learning and wished the entire MBA program was offered in this format; students who were somewhat ambivalent about online learning; and students who did not like the format and would not take an online course again.
The majority of the students' responses fell into the first group. The students enjoyed working in an online environment. They loved the flexibility and they did not feel isolated or detached. Online learning allowed these students the flexibility they needed to keep pace with their career, while at the same time pursing their MBA. Although they reported procrastinating and cramming for the examinations, they found that they learned at least as much as in a traditional course, if not more, because the structure of the course forced them to study hard to avoid falling behind. These students felt that they put in the same effort, if not a little more, than they would have in a traditional class. They found no downside to learning in this type of environment. The technology was not a factor or a frustration. Motivation did not appear to be a problem since these folks needed to understand statistics for their careers
The second category of students were not as excited about online learning; however, they did not view it in a completely negative way. These students made comments similar to those expressed by the first group. They enjoyed the flexibility and they said that they felt motivated. They didn't report feeling isolated, frustrated or detached. However, they were mixed about online learning. If they had to take another course online they would, but they would weigh the decision carefully. Finally, there were three students out of the thirteen that would never take another online class again. These students felt they were missing something by not coming to class each week. They found it difficult to stay focused on the material. They felt somewhat isolated and detached. Although these students did not have technology problems, they just did not like the format. They needed to come to class. They missed the interaction with other students and the instructor in a face to face format. These students felt somewhat cheated by the online environment.
It appears from the quantitative analysis that students who learned in an online environment achieved comparably to students learning in a traditional classroom. From the qualitative analysis, for the majority of the students, online learning is convenient and effective. However, there is a small group of students who need face-to-face interaction with their instructor and their peers to feel that learning is taking place. For these students there is no substitute for the traditional classroom setting. Therefore, as online educators, we need to be mindful of a technologically-driven pedagogy that could have the potential of leaving some students feeling disenfranchised in a virtual learning environment.
Berenson, M. L. & Levine, D. M. (1999). Basic Business Statistics: Concepts and Applications, 7th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
Kahn, B.H. (1997). Web-Based Instruction. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.
Kearlsey,G. & Shneiderman, B. (1998). Engagement theory: A framework for technology-based teaching and learning. Educational Technology, 38(5), 20-23.
Schau, C. T., Dauphinee, T. & Del Vecchio, A. (1993). Evaluation of two surveys measuring students' attitudes towards statistics. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Atlanta, GA.
Shneiderman, B. (1994).
Education by engagement and construction: Can distance education be better than
face-to-face construction? http://www.hitl.washington.edu/scivw/EVE/distance.html.
An external link to the Shneiderman reference
Shneiderman, B., Alavi, M., Norman, K., & Borkowski, E. (1995). Windows of opportunity in electronic classrooms. Communications of the ACM, 38(11), 19-24.
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|IMEJ multimedia team member assigned to this paper||Yue-Ling Wong|