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Online Versus Face-to-Face Biology: A Comparison of Student Transactional Distance, Approach to Learning, and Knowledge Outcomes

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The University of Southern Mississippi The Aquila Digital Community Dissertations Online Versus Face-to-Face Biology: A Comparison of Student Transactional Distance, Approach to Learning, and Knowledge
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The University of Southern Mississippi The Aquila Digital Community Dissertations Online Versus Face-to-Face Biology: A Comparison of Student Transactional Distance, Approach to Learning, and Knowledge Outcomes Mary Erin Riggins University of Southern Mississippi Follow this and additional works at: Part of the Biology Commons, Higher Education Commons, Online and Distance Education Commons, and the Science and Mathematics Education Commons Recommended Citation Riggins, Mary Erin, Online Versus Face-to-Face Biology: A Comparison of Student Transactional Distance, Approach to Learning, and Knowledge Outcomes (2014). Dissertations. Paper 19. This Dissertation is brought to you for free and open access by The Aquila Digital Community. It has been accepted for inclusion in Dissertations by an authorized administrator of The Aquila Digital Community. For more information, please contact The University of Southern Mississippi ONLINE VERSUS FACE-TO-FACE BIOLOGY: A COMPARISON OF STUDENT TRANSACTIONAL DISTANCE, APPROACH TO LEARNING, AND KNOWLEDGE OUTCOMES by Mary Erin Riggins Abstract of a Dissertation Submitted to the Graduate School of The University of Southern Mississippi in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy December 2014 ABSTRACT ONLINE VERSUS FACE-TO-FACE BIOLOGY: A COMPARISON OF STUDENT TRANSACTIONAL DISTANCE, APPROACH TO LEARNING, AND KNOWLEDGE OUTCOMES by Mary Erin Riggins December 2014 Community colleges are among many other institutions increasing course offerings online, but there is still some concern about the quality of online learning. Educator concerns, a lack of empirical evidence on biology courses offered online, and the need for an equal opportunity for education support the need for clarification of the quality of distance education in biology, especially in the community college setting. Student attitudes, approaches to learning, and performance should all be studied in order to formulate a better evaluation of the quality and effectiveness of online courses (Svirko & Mellanby, 2008). The purpose of this study was to determine whether there were differences in student perceptions of transactional distance, approaches to learning, and student learning outcomes in online versus face-to-face community college introductory biology courses. The results of this investigation indicate that some aspects of transactional distance did affect the participants desires for deep learning approaches. Also, except for perceptions of student interaction and collaboration, the online and face-to-face course experiences and outcomes seemed similar. ii COPYRIGHT BY MARY ERIN RIGGINS DECEMBER 2014 The University of Southern Mississippi ONLINE VERSUS FACE-TO-FACE BIOLOGY: A COMPARISON OF STUDENT TRANSACTIONAL DISTANCE, APPROACH TO LEARNING, AND KNOWLEDGE OUTCOMES by Mary Erin Riggins A Dissertation Submitted to the Graduate School of The University of Southern Mississippi in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy Approved: Dr. Sherry Herron Committee Chair Dr. James T. Johnson Dr. Taralynn Hartsell Dr. Fengwei Bai Dr. Mohamed Elasri Dr. Karen Coats Dean of the Graduate School December 2014 DEDICATION I dedicate this work to the most important educator in my life, my mom, Cathy Gilmore. There is no mother who ever showed her children more love, kindness, patience, dedication, and support as mine. Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on. Thanks, Mom, for being my knot, and for never letting me let go. I am grateful to my family and friends for always cheering me on no matter what the venture. I thank my children, Savannah and Cooper, for allowing me time away from many dinners, soccer practices, school plays, and homework sessions in order to pursue this degree. I thank my husband, Christopher, for stepping up to muffle my absence during these times and for diving into this endeavor with me emotionally and financially, whether he wanted to or not. I thank my parents, Robbie and Cathy Gilmore, for imparting their worth of education and hard work and for their continued love, support, and many, many hours of the best babysitting a mom could ask for. I thank my sisters, Amy Walker and Caitlin Holley, for being the best friends a girl could have. My whole life I have felt that they were proud of me, and that has always been enough drive to keep me going. My friends, Dr. Kelly Rouse and Dr. Angela Bruni, were instrumental in my completion and perseverance during this process. Each of them held a candle for me, waving me through with words of guidance and encouragement. Finally, there is no way I could have done this without my partner in crime, Kathryn Morris. I thank her for the many unforgettable car rides to and from school and for the unforgettable friendship. iii ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I would like to truly thank the members of my committee for all of their contributions: Dr. Sherry Herron, Dr. J.T. Johnson, Dr. Taralynn Hartsell, Dr. Mohamed Elasri, and Dr. Fengwei Bai. Their excellence and superiority in their fields has not only made an impact on my education, but also my profession. They have each made me want to be a better educator because of the efforts they have shown to students. Their commitment to me throughout this process has been invaluable. iv TABLE OF CONTENTS ABSTRACT... ii DEDICATION...iii ACKNOWLEDGMENTS... iv LIST OF TABLES... vii LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS... viii CHAPTER I. INTRODUCTION...1 Community College and Distance Education Demographics Statement of the Problem Research Questions and Hypotheses Definition of Terms Delimitations Limitations and Discussion Assumptions Justification Summary II. REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE...16 Introduction Theoretical Foundation Moore s Transactional Distance Theory Biggs s Student Approach to Learning Theory Conceptual Framework Rationale for the Study Summary III. METHODOLOGY...30 Introduction Research Questions Research Design Participants Instruments Procedures v Summary IV. ANALYSIS OF DATA...49 Findings Ancillary Findings Summary V. DISCUSSION 68 Summary of Study Description of Sample Participants Description of Study Variables Analysis of Research Questions and Hypotheses Implications for Policy and Practice Limitations Recommendations for Future Research APPENDIXES...83 REFERENCES 114 vi LIST OF TABLES Table 1. Factor Loadings for DELES Items Research Design for Experimental Group (Online) and Control Group (Face-toface) Total Participation for the Control Group Total Participation for the Experimental Group Control Group R-LPQ-2F and DELES Descriptives Experimental Group R-LPQ-2F and DELES Descriptives Correlations for R-LPQ-2F and DELES Categories (N = 73) Research Hypothesis Two Descriptive Statistics Beginning of Semester Deep and Surface Scores of Control and Experimental Groups Correlations Between the Difference in the Deep and Surface Approach Scores and DELES Category Scores (N = 73) Descriptives for Control Group Performance on the Unit Pretests and Posttests Descriptives for Experimental Group Performance on the Unit Pretests and Posttests Control Group vs. Experimental Group Posttest Descriptive Statistics Descriptive Statistics for Performance on the Entrance Exam to a Subsequent Science Course Original Approach to Learning (Deep and Surface) Scores for Students When Compared to Academic Major...64 vii LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS Figure 1. Relationship Between A Positive Learning Environment and Transactional Distance Characteristics of Deep and Surface Approaches to Learning Summary of Walker and Fraser (2005) Model for Determining Transactional Distance Relationship Between Instructor Support, Retention, Satisfaction, and Transactional Distance Relationship Between Learner-Learner Interaction, Retention, Satisfaction, and Transactional Distance Comparison of Online and Face-to-Face Learning Environments for Courses Within This Study Comparison of Change of Approach Scores for the Control and Experimental Groups...66 viii 1 CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION Based on current statistics, growth in online coursework is expected to continue and presents a unique challenge to science educators (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2011). Not only does course content need to be taught, but also the true nature of science and science process skills. Because science content and the nature of science are often enhanced through interactions within the lab and online classes are often offered for flexibility, another challenge in online learning is to provide these opportunities, interactivity and flexibility, in the proper amounts. Moore (1993) stated that closing the miscommunication gap and increasing the level of student engagement, often referred to as transactional distance within an online course, are reliant on interaction as well as learner autonomy and course structure. A student s approach to learning (SAL), whether surface or deep, may also affect the ability to be successful in an online course (Biggs, 1987). In order to support the growth of online learning, courses need to be designed to include an appropriate balance between these elements in order for students to obtain deep knowledge of subject matter, grasp the true nature of science, and develop critical thinking skills. Community College and Distance Education Demographics Kadlubowski (2000) stated that today s students are different from traditional students in higher education. Adults are entering or returning to higher education to keep up with societal or economic pressures. These adults are nontraditional students and face obstacles such as working full-time jobs and taking care of families. Due to these obstacles, they are unable to meet the time constraints and commitments of traditional higher education (face-to-face) classes (Kadlubowski, 2000). Distance education, 2 instruction between an instructor and student that are geographically separated, is an answer to this problem (Burgess, 2006). Due to the increased number of nontraditional students entering higher education, institutions are realizing the need for accommodating this population by increasing these distance education opportunities (Kadlubowski, 2000). Increases in technological abilities have allowed the instruction through distance education to be more similar to face-to-face classes (McIsaac & Gunawardena, 1996). This increase in ability to distribute instructional content through online platforms will not only lead to a continued increase of nontraditional students to seek education in this manner, but also other life-long learners that are traditional undergraduate and graduate students, as well as high school students (Kadlubowski, 2000). According to Allen and Seaman (2014), there were 7.1 million people enrolled in at least one online course in This represents 33.5% of higher education students. Although only 9.7% of 2800 colleges surveyed did not believe online education was important for their future plans, less than one-third of the academic leaders of the 2800 colleges believe that there will be no concerns about the quality of online learning in the next five years (Allen & Seaman, 2014). Disparagement about the quality of online learning is mostly due to the fact that online learners are thought to learn passively and may be isolated (Hara & Kling, 2000). Also, there has been a drastic increase in the concerns of academic leaders with online retention rates, 41% of academic leaders with concerns in 2013 versus 28% in 2009 and 27% in While retention rates in online courses are of concern, the reasons for the decreased retention rates seen especially by associate level institutions such as community colleges cannot be easily identified due to the population of nontraditional students enrolled. Whether students drop because of jobrelated or family responsibilities, or whether they drop because of the nature of the 3 student or course is unclear (Allen & Seaman, 2014). Although community colleges and other associate level institutions had a late start in the implementation of online learning, they are currently leading the trend in rising online course enrollments, accounting for at least 50% of the online learning population. This may be due to the idea that online courses may serve as a larger part of this type of institution s mission as more nontraditional students are served. Of all disciplines studied, programs in health-related or other science fields had the fastest growth (Allen & Seaman, 2008). Statement of the Problem Although online course enrollments are so prevalent within community colleges and play an important role in carrying out this type of institution s mission, baccalaureate institutions are still the most negative about the quality of online education (Allen & Seaman, 2012). While many of the students in community colleges will only obtain associates degrees, technical training, or continuing education credits, many will transfer to baccalaureate institutions. Transferability of courses taken online may become a problem if the quality of online instruction remains questionable. Colleges are currently in a position where they need to offer positive learning experiences in order to lure students away from competing institutions. A positive learning experience within a course provides engagement, a student s perceived value of a course, and a deeper learning approach (Floyd, Harrington, & Santiago, 2009). Engagement and the perceived value of a course may be directly related to the transactional distance, or miscommunication gap, that exists between a student and his or her learning environment. The possible relationship between a positive learning experience and transactional distance are summarized in Figure 1. 4 Deeper Learning Approach Positive Learning experience Engagement Perceived course value Decreased Transactional Distance Figure 1. Relationship between positive learning environment and transactional distance based on previous findings (Floyd et al., 2009; Svirko & Mellanby, 2008; Trigwell, Prosser, & Waterhouse, 1999). There is also evidence that the learning environment may influence students approaches to learning (Trigwell et al., 1999). Therefore, student attitudes, approaches to learning, and performance should all be studied in order to formulate a better evaluation of the quality and effectiveness of online courses (Svirko & Mellanby, 2008). The purpose of this study was to identify student perceptions of transactional distance and approaches to learning in online versus face-to-face community college introductory biology courses. Transactional distance was studied based on the perceptions of instructor support, student interaction and collaboration, personal relevance, authentic learning, active learning, and student autonomy. Two categories of student approaches to learning have been studied: deep and surface. Deep approaches to learning include seeking understanding of new knowledge and making connections 5 between new knowledge and existing knowledge. Deep approaches are usually more intrinsically motivated than surface approaches, which are usually more extrinsically motivated. Surface approaches include rote memorization, little effort put forth by the student, and little involvement in making connections between new and existing knowledge (Biggs, 1987). The defining characteristics suggested by Biggs (1987) for each approach are summarized in Figure 2. Figure 2. Characteristics of deep and surface approaches to learning as described by Biggs (1987). This study also attempted to determine whether there was a difference in learning outcomes between the two different course formats, and whether a student s choice of major had a relationship with the approach to learning for a gateway biology course. 6 Research Questions and Hypotheses Based upon the literature and research problem stated, several questions were developed for the purposes of this study. The researcher intended to examine student perceptions toward two different factors concerning online learning and instruction: (a) transactional distance and (b) approach to learning, as well as learning outcomes based on the course format type. The study had one general research question divided into several sub-questions that more directly related to specific factors. The researcher hoped that these questions would facilitate the collection of data to illuminate reasons why one format may be more applicable than another. Overarching Research Question: Do transactional distance, approach to learning, and learning outcomes differ between student populations of online biology courses versus those in face-to-face biology courses? Specific Research Question One: How do students perceptions of transactional distance relate to their preferred approach to learning (deep versus surface)? Research Hypothesis One: It was hypothesized that there would be a significant relationship between the scores for instructor support, student interaction and collaboration, personal relevance, authentic learning, active learning, and student autonomy and the student s score for deep approach to learning. It was also hypothesized that there would be a relationship between the scores for instructor support, student interaction and collaboration, personal relevance, authentic learning, active learning, and student autonomy and the student s score for surface approach to learning. It was expected that this would be true for students online or in face-to-face classes. 7 Specific Research Question Two: Does the transactional distance perceived by students in online biology courses differ from the transactional distance perceived by students in face-to-face biology courses? Research Hypothesis Two: It was hypothesized that there would be a significant difference in the means of each of the following six categories of the Distance Education Learning Environment Survey (DELES) between the online and the face-to-face biology students: instructor support, student interaction and collaboration, personal relevance, authentic learning, active learning, and student autonomy. Specific Research Question Three: Is there a difference between the original approach to learning (deep versus surface) taken by students in online versus face-to-face biology classes? Research Hypothesis Three: It was hypothesized that there would be a significant difference between the approach to learning (deep versus surface) taken by students in online biology courses versus those students in face-to-face biology courses. Specific Research Question Four: Is there a difference in the original approach to learning (deep versus surface) and the approach to learning (deep versus surface) perceived at the end of the course as a function of transactional distance? Research Hypothesis Four: It was hypothesized that there would be a significant relationship between the DELES scores for the categories of instructor support, student interaction and collaboration, personal relevance, authentic learning, active learning, and student autonomy and the difference in deep approach scores for students at the beginning and end of the semester. It was also hypothesized 8 that there would be a significant relationship between the DELES scores for the categories of instructor support, student interaction and collaboration, personal relevance, authentic learning, active learning, and student autonomy and the difference in surface scores for students at the beginning and the end of the semester. Specific Research Question Five: Do online biology students pretest and posttest scores differ from pretest and posttest scores of students in a face-to-face biology course? Research Hypothesis Five: It was hypothesized that a significant difference would be found in the differences of the means of unit posttest scores between the online biology students and
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