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Category: Course Design

Course websites now include such things as the course syllabus, PowerPoint slides, study guides, discussion questions, links to online content sources announcements, reminders of due dates, and opportunities for online discussion via e-mail and discussion boards. Most faculty put materials online to help students learn the content and do well in the course. Online materials also give students the freedom and responsibility to exercise more control over their learning. The materials are there when they want and can be used as the student wishes. It may seem obvious that students who access and use these course materials will perform better in the course, but evidence needs to support all the assumptions we make about student learning. And in this case the study referenced below provides some of that evidence. The hypotheses tested in this research are pretty straightforward: 1) the amount of time spent in the online environment will be positively related to students' performance on course exams; 2) the frequency of accessing materials directly connected to the course content presented in lectures and discussions is positively related to exam performance; and 3) the frequency of online interaction by students is related positively to exam performance. The 600 students in this study were sophomores enrolled in an undergraduate accounting course at an Australian university. A regression analysis was used to see if the data supported the hypotheses. The first hypothesis was not proven but cannot be completely rejected. The number of sessions that these students spent online was not significantly related to their performance on the exams, but the number of hours spent did indicate that students who spent less time performed less well on their exams. The researchers suggest that this is “due to the fact that it is not necessarily the number of sessions (frequency) but the quality of time spent within the online environment that has a relationship with exam performance.” (p. 596) The second hypothesis was confirmed. In this case course materials included topic guides and summaries, PowerPoint slides, and tutorial questions and solutions, among other materials. “These files were the main documents used to convey information to students about the topics covered, so it is not surprising that viewing these is related to improved results.” (p. 596) This particular analysis did not differentiate between the kinds of content-related resources online. The researchers go on to point out that materials supporting course content cannot be placed online haphazardly. Students are used to dealing with high-quality websites; if the course material is not organized, easily accessed, and a coherent whole, students are not as likely to use the materials. As far as the third hypothesis was concerned, the number of messages students read was not significantly associated with their exam performance, but the number of messages posted was. To make a positive difference in exam scores, these students needed to be active. They needed to be creating messages, not just passively reading them. Even though these results could be described as less than surprising, they are important. Instructors who place material online should know how often their students are using online resources, which ones they are using, and what they are doing with the materials they access. That information makes it easier to design course materials more likely to have a positive impact on learning outcomes. Reference: Perera, L. and Richardson, P. (2010). Students' use of online academic resources within in a course web site and its relationship with their course performance: An exploratory study. Accounting Education: An International Journal, 19 (6), 587-600.