Making the Grade Online

The lives of today’s college students have always included computers and the Internet. That technology now has moved from the ether into instruction.

A technical report from a University of Houston

The lives of today’s college students have always included computers and the Internet. That technology now has moved from the ether into instruction.

A technical report from a University of Houston Department of Health and Human Performance researcher finds that students in a “hybrid class” that incorporated instructional technology with inclass lectures scored a letter-grade higher on average than their counterparts who took the same class in a more traditional format.

Brian McFarlin measured the student involvement and academic performance of a traditional class — Kinesiology 3306 — from fall 2004 to fall 2005. He compared those measurements with those of students in the hybrid class, offered as an alternative from summer 2006 to fall 2007.

“One reason we offered the hybrid class in the first place was because students said they wanted it,” says McFarlin, a researcher and assistant professor. “Their formal evaluations of the class indicated the traditional class didn’t take advantage of instructional technologies available, and that these technologies could give them additional help and access to course material outside of class time.”

Hybrid classes are growing in popularity and practicality for students and professors, at UH and on campuses across the country, because of the presentation of material and the accessibility and flexibility to students. To date, there has been limited literature addressing the effectiveness of such classes, McFarlin says.

The lecture for the second group each week was administered by WebCT, an online venue for students to review course material. An animated character of McFarlin — an interactive SitePal avatar created by OddCast of New York — welcomed students to the site and provided class announcements. In addition, McFarlin narrated material for upcoming lectures using Articulate Studio software, so students could prepare for the next class at their own pace.

“One major advantage of the Articulate software is that it enhances the appearance of standard PowerPoint files by allowing the course designer to add self-test questions, provide a search function and a navigation menu,” McFarlin says. “Once students completed the online lecture, they were required to take a WebCT quiz on the material. The majority of students scored between 90 and 100 percent.

“Final grades in the hybrid class were on average a letter grade higher than those in the traditional format,” McFarlin says.

Future hybrid classes will provide a “frequently asked questions” feature, hosted by an animated SitePal avatar. McFarlin admits there are some shortcomings. Online instruction doesn’t allow the instructor to confirm the identity of a student completing an assignment. He notes that creating the online course material is time-consuming, especially when implementing various technologies. Still, his students’ success prompted him to offer Kinesiology 3306 only in a hybrid format.

For more information on Brian McFarlin’s research, visit http://grants. hhp.coe.uh. edu/brian/ index.htm.

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