May 17, 1999 -- Newsletter #28

By Joe Burns


Desktop-as-a-Service Designed for Any Cloud ? Nutanix Frame

May 17, 1999 -- Newsletter #28
Please visit http://www.htmlgoodies.com

Greetings, Weekend Silicon Warriors...

Well, the semester for me has come to an end. I have one more get together with students to watch the class's final video projects, but past that... I'm done for the summer. I once saw a plaque that read "The best part of being a teacher is June, July and August." Amen.

Since the semester is over, that also means that my On-Line HTML class is over. I wrote a newsletter about it a good two months back. I wrote that I would let you know the results when they came in. They're in.

Just to refresh your memory, the class was a seven-week course devoted to teaching HTML, some CSS, and a little JavaScript. Page design was intertwined into the program rather than being a topic I specifically devoted time toward. The entire class was on-line. All homework, all tests, all assignments were done on-line. I didn't even know what most of the students looked like until I threw a party at the end of the first seven weeks. It was very weird having strangers show up at your door, then realizing you've been their teacher for the past two months.

The class was set up as an experiment. There were to be an equal amount of students taking the class on-line as students taking the class with me in the traditional, twice- a-week class periods. Of course, some students dropped out and that changed the numbers a bit. Both groups followed the exact same format, took the exact same homework, did the exact same assignments, and followed the exact same deadlines.

I was able to teach two sessions of the class over the course of the traditional 16-week semester.

The first seven weeks had 17 in class and 18 on-line. The in-class students were all traditional college-aged students, while the on-line students were continuing education students. Their lowest age was 27. The highest age was in the 50s. She wouldn't say exactly.

The second seven weeks had 15 in class and 17 on-line. All were traditional college-aged students.

For you quantitative research buffs, the students were not randomly placed but rather chose the class they wished to take. I was not allowed to have them placed due to university policy. Thus, this must be called a "case study" rather than a "controlled experiment."

Here's how the final grades all panned out. Percentages are an average of all the students' final percentages. I know it's not the best measure, but I'm just getting started crunching the data.

First Seven Weeks In-Class: 93%

First Seven Weeks On-Line: 96%

2nd Seven Weeks In-Class: 90%

2nd Seven Weeks On-Line: 89%

The numbers are pretty representative, actually. The grades all plotted pretty close. There was only one real out-lier (an out-lier is a score that differs greatly from the rest of the scores). Say the entire class gets an "A." One kid gets an "F." He's a blatant out-lier and shouldn't be figured into the percentage as that score would give a false impression of the class performance.

So, young grasshopper, what can we tell from just these numbers?

If the grades seem a little high to you, they did to me, too; however, the e-mail I got throughout the semester was very positive and students gave me the impression they really enjoyed working on the class. I enjoyed teaching it, too.

I should also say that I often looked the other way when assignments were late. The school computer system is buggy and sometimes did mess up the students' work. Rather than investigating each case, I allowed a reasonable amount of work to be handed in late.

It appears as if college-aged students do a little better in a class setting. I assumed this would be somewhat the case. There are just too many distractions in the dorm halls. I don't like that the second seven weeks in-class group had a lower score than the first seven-week group. Those were the two groups that remained the same over the two courses. I know it's only three percentage points, but it still bugs me. I also don't like that the percentage went down. It's just the teacher in me, I guess.

The seven-point percentage drop between the two on-line classes is very telling. Maybe the thought of on-line courses should be geared more toward an older group of students, as they might have the self-discipline to make time for the assignments.

I sent out a survey to both on-line classes. I was able to read the results a class period before the semester ended. Now, I'm really just getting started plotting out the responses, but I got a general feeling that many of the college-aged kids took the course so they wouldn't have to attend class. The continuing education group sited reasons like wanting to learn the subject matter or wanting to help themselves in their work.

The college-aged students reported that they did the homework and read the lessons either later at night or "when they had time." Many of them claimed that was the beauty of the class. The continuing education students showed a much more structured time frame.

The continuing education students sought each other out and formed a network. They ran assignments past the group and tried to solve problems within their class. I asked the college-aged kids if they had formed any bonds. Most said they had with one or two others in the class, but nothing like the network the continuing education students set up.

Both groups of students had people reporting that their stress level was higher taking an on-line class. Both groups had students saying their stress level was lower. It looks like stress might change person to person rather than being something you can predict due to age.

I asked if any of the students had cheated by having other students do the work for them, or looking at source codes for homework answers. The answer came back a resounding "No!" I believe them. They all did very well on their final Web pages and deserved the high grades they pulled.

The most interesting thing about the survey was the way the students suggested I better the class. I set the class up, on purpose, so that the only way the student could get to me was through e-mail or by phone. I wanted the student to have the feeling that they were on their own. I knew some of the on-line college kids. I told them they weren't even allowed into my office. They took that very seriously. I think they enjoyed the contest of it as much as I did.

Well, now that the class is over I've started looking at the survey questionnaires where I ask how I could have made the class better. The answers differ, but most basically pointed in the same direction.

"A chat room would have been useful."

"Set up a time when we could be sure you would read and answer our e-mail."

"Set up a newsgroup so we could ask questions and you could answer them."

These answers came from both groups. I think it's pretty straightforward. They want a voice of authority and someone who has all the answers. They want to be able to raise their hands and have a problem solved. They want to be taught.

They want a teacher.

So, is Web-based teaching a winner? Well, I'm only dealing with preliminary results, but I think to the right kind of student, yes. The people obviously learned. They got good grades and most reported to me that they enjoyed the class. Even so, I got the feeling that a teacher would have been a whole lot better than a box that displayed the text.

Maybe more interactivity. Maybe more images. Maybe less information in a longer period of time. Maybe a chat room. Maybe streaming video. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Maybe the classroom ain't broke so I shouldn't be trying to fix it.


And that's that. Again, thank you so much for reading this every week. I really appreciate it.

Joe Burns, Ph.D.

And Remember: Ever heard of Admiral Josephus "Joe" Daniels? He barred the serving of alcohol on Navy ships. The crew had to drink something and coffee was pretty cheap, thus the phrase "Cup of Joe."

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