Online courses have produced mixed results. They can be good tools for motivated students. But many struggling students use online courses to gain course credit without realizing they aren’t preparing them for college. These negative, unintended consequences may be caused by reduced interaction with teachers for enrolled students. With this in mind, Chad Turley and Charles Graham of Brigham Young University published a recent case study in the Journal of Online Learning Research on the impact of student-teacher interaction on student satisfaction, perception of the course, and completion time for online courses.
The study used an unnamed nonprofit in the western United States sponsored by private, denominationally-affiliated universities with 100,000 annual enrollees that offers 550 online courses from the middle school to college level. They chose two secondary-level courses: math and English language arts, which each offered two models of online education. Model One was more self-directed and had a higher enrollment, while Model Two required teachers to contact five to seven students a week with personalized emails and teach some lessons synchronously with live feedback. Furthermore, the nonprofit sent the researchers student rating data from a twelve-question survey administered at the end of the course to gauge participants’ satisfaction. It used a 1–8 scale, with 8 being the most positive, and had three yes or no questions. Turley and Graham also compiled teacher communication data using a log with eight questions that instructors filled out regarding each interaction with participants. It covered the reason for the interaction, time taken to respond to students, who initiated, and the medium used. The total number of students in the courses were 1,025, and 764 completed the end-of-course survey.
Turley and Graham then analyzed the data to find differences in student satisfaction ratings, completion rates, and teacher time investment between course models and subjects.
In both subjects, participants rated Model Two courses as having more timely and meaningful instructor feedback. And in English, students were more likely to be satisfied with their experience and more likely to recommend the course to a friend.
On completion rates and teacher time investment, Model Two students were 5 percent more likely to complete the course in math and 3 percent more likely in English. But they took longer to complete coursework: five more weeks in math; two more in English. Turley and Graham note that this is probably due to the types of assignments.
Teacher communication in both models was almost entirely through personalized emails, with a few video conference calls and none via phone call. For Model Two, teachers averaged 14.9 hours over four months responding to student emails, but Model One teachers averaged only 2.5 hours. And Model Two teacher-initiated time investments were around 99.1 hours. A large majority of those communications went towards contacting inactive students, while 45.5 and 36.3 percent of student-initiated ones were about grading and course content, respectively. The researchers also note that Model Two teachers weren’t paid more for their extra time.
Turley and Graham’s study makes a good case that some students can work independently at a faster pace, but that teachers make a difference for most students, especially in English courses. Moreover, it presents an important caveat for teachers that their time investment in online courses can end up going towards non-essentials and not be sufficiently compensated. Future studies could shed more light on this issue by looking at student motivation and performance, instead of merely completion.
SOURCE: Chad Turley and Charles Graham, “Interaction, Student Satisfaction, and Teacher Time Investment in Online High School Courses,” Journal of Online Learning Research (2019).