The effects of online courses for student success in basic skills mathematics classes at California community colleges
TABLE OF CONTENTS
LIST OF TABLES
CHAPTER ONE: INT RODUCTION TO THE STUDY
The Growth of Distance Education
Basic Skills Mathematics
The Problem of Online Basic Skills Mathematics
Significance of the Study
CHAPTER TWO: REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE
Basic Skills Mathematics in Community Colleges
Learning Management Systems
The Effect of Online Mathematics on Cognition
Online versus F ace - to - Face Education
Student Factors on Success and Persistence
CHAPTER THREE: RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODOLOGY
Data And Data Collection
Data Analysi s
Significance of the Study
CHAPTER FOUR: ANALYSIS OF DATA
Summary of Statistically Significant Findings
CHAPTER FIVE: FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS, AND IMP LICATIONS
Implications and Future Research
LIST OF TABLES
Growth of Distance Education in California’s
Final Database Informat ion and Coding
Online vs Face - to - Face comparison database
Online vs Face - to - Face pass rates including drop/withdraw
Online vs Face - to - Face pass rates excluding drop/withdraw
Elementary Algebra Grades – Disaggregated by online and
face - to - face pre - algebra class and pre - algebra grade earned
OL/F2F – Elementary algebra grades
Controlling for pre - algebra grades
Summary of instructor responses and number of students
Summary of students’ use of components, disaggregated
by pre - algebra grade earned
Summary of students’ use of components, disaggregated
by elementary algebra grade earned
Correlation Matrix – Compone nts with persistence for all
online pre - algebra students
Correlation Matrix – Components with persistence for
online pre - algebra students who passed
Correlation Matrix – Components with pre - algebra grades
Table 4. 11
Correlation Matrix – Components with Elementary
Algebra grades for all students who took pre - algebra at RCCD
Online education is a modality of teaching that has proliferated throughout higher education in such a rapid form and without any guidelines that its quality and merit is largely unknown, hotly debated, and still evolving. Institutions have used online education as a method of reducing costs and increasing enrollments and students have flocked to online classes for their conven ience and often perceived ease. This is very apparent in California’s community colleges were students are filling online course offerings in record numbers.
Many studies and analyses have been done citing the relative equivalence of online education to t raditional face - to - face education and sometimes the relative superior learning outcomes of online courses. This study examined the correlations between taking basic skills mathematics courses online versus face - to - face and student success and persistence. Additionally, five common online course components were identified and analyzed to determine if these components correlated to students success or persistence in of online classes.
Contrary to what much of the literature says, the difficulties associat ed with effective communication of mathematics topics and ideas via the Internet had no noticeable negative correlations with learning outcomes or persistence. Students who began their basic skills mathematics in an online pre - algebra class tended to pers ist at higher rates and earn higher grades than students who began in a traditional face - to - face pre - algebra course. This positive effect of the online classes diminished very quickly and within two classes of the online class has been completely lost. I t seems that the quality
of education gained from online basic skills mathematics courses is relatively equivalent to face - to - face courses.
Five common course components were analyzed in the study and it was found that only the required use of discussion b oards had a significant effect on persistence and success. The use of exclusively multiple - choice examination, mathematics display software, and video lectures for delivering content had no significant effect on either persistence or success. The fifth c omponent, the implementation of proctored examinations, was too new at Riverside Community College District and no longitudinal was available for analysis.
The significance of the required use of discussion boards likely lies in keeping students engaged in the class and not in the discussion board use itself. The medium of delivery is likely to be inconsequential to the quality of education, but the quality of the class is more likely linked to variations in teacher quality.
INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY
Education using the Internet as the primary method of delivering instruction, communication, and assessment (commonly referred to as Online Education) has proven to be arguably the fastest and most disruptive innovation in the history of educa tion. In it s relatively short lifespan (about 20 years), online education has gained a significant foothold in higher education and is proliferating throughout K - 12 systems of education nationwide. The quality of online education is hotly debated with st aunch arguments on both sides. Researchers and laymen alike have offered predictions ranging from online education being nothing more than a fleeting fad that educators and students will soon tire of, to online education so revolutionizing education that all traditional forms (i.e. face - to - face classrooms) will soon become obsolete and irrelevant. A more accurate prediction is likely a balance of the two as students and institutions take advantage of both systems to suit their individual educational needs .
This study consciously avoids the temptation to engage in the debate over the ultimate future of online education instead choosing to accept that both online and traditional face - to - face modalities are sufficiently established within the higher educatio n infrastructure and neither is likely to be eliminated within the foreseeable future. This study makes a comparison of student persistence and success when beginning remedial college mathematics in an online format versus a face - to - face format, then exam ines current online classes in a attempt to tease out successful practices and strategies. Students at Riverside Community College District, located in Southern California, are
tracked from pre - algebra to elementary algebra, these classes are then examine d practices and technologies that correlate to students’ successful learning of and progression through basic skills mathematics.
Growth of Distance Education
Distance education is hardly a new phenomenon in higher education. Rather, it dates back at least one hundred years to the earliest correspondence courses (U.S. Department of Education, 2009), relying on postal mail, and later on fax, television broadcast, and tape/DVD as the content medium. While many have offered slightly differing definition s of distance education, the technologies used have changed, and the medium of delivery changed; the overriding theme is that the students and instructor are separated by distance. Garrison (1985) proposed three generations to describe the evolution of di stance education. Generation 1 (Correspondence) is characterized by slow asynchronous communication between the students and instructor primarily by postal mail. Students generally work independently, there is very little cost to the institution, and cou rses typically have a high attrition rate. Generation 2 (Teleconferencing) provides synchronous communication between students and instructor as well as among students. It requires students and instructors to “attend” class at the same time, typically ha s low attrition rates, and is similar in style and composition to traditional face - to - face instruction. Generation 3 (Microprocessor B ased) is a result of the advent and expansion of the personal computer and widespread access to the Internet; leading to nearly endless opportunities for both synchronous and asynchronous communication, multi - media presentations of concepts, and rapid dissemination of information. Today the vast
majority of all distance education is generation 3 and is growing at a pace fas ter than any other form of education throughout history (Allen & Seaman, 2008).
The form of distance education at institutions of higher education with content delivered primarily via postal mail, fax, television broadcast, telephone, and tape/DVD saw re latively little success or consumer demand in academe (Garrison, 1985; Moore, 1989). Catering primarily to students who had little or no opportunity to attend or to have access to traditional institutions of higher education, distance education existed in
the periphery of higher education rather than as an equivalent option (Simonson & Bauck, 2003). From the mid - 1980’s to the present , the growth and proliferation of personal computers and access to the Internet has provided the platform upon which distanc e education has grown from a fringe element of higher education to a major part of the higher educational infrastructure in the United States. In fact, from Fall 2002 to Fall 2007, U.S. online enrollment grew 146% from about 1.6 million students to about 3.9 million students
(Allen & Seaman, 2008, p.5). During the same time period, overall higher education enrollment grew only 8% from about 16.6 million to 18.0 million students (Allen & Seaman, 2008, p.5). During the Fall 2007 term, online course enrollm ent accounted for nearly 22% of all higher education enrollments in the United States (p.5). A large portion of this growth is attributable to associates institutions (most prominently Community Colleges) which teach about 37% of the U S higher education s tudent body but account for over half of all higher education enrollments (p.6). The 2008 Distance Education Survey shows that nearly 74% of community colleges now offer an entire degree program online, up from 67% the prior year (Lokken, 2009).
The growth of online education is especially evident within California’s Community College System. According to data collected and made available by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office ( http://www.cccco.edu/ ChancellorsOffice/Divisions/TechResearc hInfo/MIS/ DataMartandReports/tabid/282/ Default.aspx ), i n the decade between the 1997 – 1998 and 2007 – 2008 academic years, full - time equivalent student (FTES) enrollment in California’s Community Colleges increased 25.93% overall. During the same time p eriod, distance education FTES enrollment increased 1,362.75% (see table 1), the vast majority of this growth is due directly to the rapid increases in the number of online course offerings. Unfortunately, incompatible record keeping systems among colleges have clouded this data making the difference between hybrid courses (courses taught partially face - to - face and partially online) and online courses virtually indistinguishable. Additionally, the data provides no aggregation between types of distance cour ses (online, tele - courses, courses by postal mail, etc.). Nevertheless, it remains a safe assumption that the vast majority of this growth is due directly to the growth of online course offerings.
Growth of Distance Education in California’s Com munity Colleges
1997 - 1998
2007 - 2008
Distance Ed FTES
Source: California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office (http:/ /www.cccco.edu/ SystemOffice/Divisions/TechResearchInfo/MIS/DataMartandReports/tabid/282/Default.aspx)
This expansion of distance/online education is predicted to continue in the coming years, albeit at a slower pace, and will continue to make online edu cation an ever
increasingly prominent part of the core higher education infrastructure (Johnson, Levine, & Smith, 2009). Johnson et al. further suggest that with the growth in use of mobile technology devices, such as iPhones and Blackberrys, the future o f distance education will see a shift from computer based instruction/learning to mobile learning (2009). The fact that online education has grown so fast and will likely continue to grow should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with today’s college - age youth, a generation of individuals who grew up using the Internet, and who now use it as their primary source of social networking as well as news and information.
In a typical online course, students can log - in to the course site and read content and/ or view videos on the subject matter, communicate with their instructor and fellow students, complete and submit work, and receive their grades. “Anytime - anywhere” (there is an Internet connection) has become the mantra for proponents of online education
opening up access to higher education to individuals whose lives are incompatible with the traditional seat - in - a - classroom - during - business - hours version of higher education. This expanded access perfectly suits the typical online student who,
Deirdre Folk ers (2005) asserts , is female, between the ages twenty - five and forty - nine, and often has a job and familial responsibilities. Interestingly
Allen & Seaman (2008) note just three years later that nearly one in five college students in the United States ar e
enrolled in at least one online course. M any are also enrolled in traditional fa ce - to - face courses as well. The s e studies illustrate the rapidly expanding demographic of students taking advantage of online education.
Many different reasons have been cited for the ex pansion of online education. P rominently administrative pressures on faculty to develop online courses and fringe groups of professors developing online curriculum on their own ( Cox, 2005 ). For community colleges, these pressures are like ly fueled by community colleges’ response to increasingly scarce fiscal resources (Olsen, 2000); competition with for - profit colleges and universi ties (Cox, 2005; Folkers, 2005); the breakdown of geographically protected service areas by the virtually unli mited reach of the Internet (Folkers, 2005); and , more recently , rising unemployment coupled with rising fuel costs (Allen & Seaman, 2008). Community C olleges around the world now find themselves in competition for the same geographically disconnected stu dents as all other colleges with online course offerings , placing them within a new frontier or business model to which they are unaccustomed (Folkers, 2005).
The growth of online education fits Clayton Christensen’s (2008) model of a disruption innovation in education. The innovation first caters to a largely underserved population (students unable to access higher education via traditional face - to - face models), while slowly developing and improving or waiting for technology to emerge. Eventually the mai nstream population adopts the new innovation over the old. According to Christensen’s model, eventually a disruptive innovation (i.e. online education) gains a sufficient foothold in the education market and, as it evolves over time, changes the fundamen tal beliefs on how education is delivered. Levine and Sun (2002) suggest the Internet and online learning will ultimately change the entire landscape of higher education with three types of institutions emerging: brick, click, and
brick and click. The br ick universities will remain the traditional universities delivering face - to - face instruction to students who want the traditional college experience and have the ability to attend. The click universities will be virtual universities delivering instructio n electronically to those who cannot attend traditional universities or who choose to get their higher education via an alternate format. Most universities, however, will fall into a third category that blends face - to - face and electronic delivery of instr uction to their students allowing students to take advantages of the benefits of both: brick and click.
Numerous researchers believe online education is already changing how education is viewed by offering a creditable alternative to the dominant face - t o - face instruction that traditional institutions have employed for centuries (Allen & Seaman, 2008; Cox, 2005; Engelbrecht & Harding, 2005; Trinkle, 2005; Zemsky & Massey, 2004). The growth in popularity of online classes coupled with their growing accept ance and legitimacy (as evidenced by the accreditation and enrollment growth of completely online for - profit institutions like the University of Phoenix Online and Capella University) have forced institutions to examine their educational methods and to eva luate whether their classes are better or as good as their online counterparts. Institutions must realize that students want (or need) the option of online education, and they will enroll in the colleges and universities that provide it. Sixty - one percen t of community college students surveyed in the 2008 Distance Education Survey stated that their college was not offering sufficient online courses to meet demand (Lokken, 2009).
Zemsky and Massey (2004) argue that the promises that fueled the online educa tion explosion have never come to fruition. They believe that short of another technological revolution online education will eventually loose its cool - factor and fade to the background like most other educational fads. What is agreed upon is that online
education currently has expanded access to higher education to many students who are unable to access traditional forms of higher education. Online education provides prospective students with a wealth of alternate opportunities to access courses, progra ms, and colleges and is ultimately forcing a reevaluation of face - to - face educational practices and outcomes (Christensen, 2008). This new modality of education and learning has and will likely continue to have a dramatic effect on how higher education is viewed and provided.
Early developers of online courses (and many still today) used the Internet simply as a means of extending the reach of their traditional methods of teaching (Buschel, 2008; Zemsky & Massey, 2004). No differentiation was made betwee n strategies teaching face - to - face versus teaching online. Lectures, usually in the form of written text, were posted on the Internet for students to review, followed by assignments from the textbook (Allen, 2003). Very little, if any, interaction was av ailable for students to communicate with other students, and students communicated with instructors either via email, telephone, or by visiting the campus.
Online classes, however, provide increased opportunities for meaningful interaction among students, between students and instructor, as well as between students and content beyond the capability of the traditional face - to - face classroom (Bueschel,
2008; Christensen, 2008; Engelbrecht & Harding, 2005; Hughes, McLeod, Brown, Maeda, & Choi, 2007; Pyon, 2008 ; Stary & Totter, 2006; Wolf, 2008). Additionally, the capacity for computers to share in the mundane work of grading, record keeping, even some interaction and feedback (Christensen, 2008; Engelbrecht & Harding, 2005) opens the potential for increases in course size, thus making online education a potentially attractive opportunity for administrators facing increasingly scarce resources (Cox, 2005; Mupinga & Maughan, 2008).
Clayton Christensen (2008) suggests that online education is poised to completely dominate the education industry in the way the personal computer took over the computing industry. Others assert that the promises of online education have not come to fruition, will never gain sufficient support to replace traditional face - to - face educat ion, and will ultimately fade away as another educational fad (Mellon, 1999; Zemsky & Massey, 2004). What is indisputable , however, is that online education has gained a significant foothold in American (and worldwide) higher education and , therefore ,
war rants the same critical attention and improvement efforts as traditional face - to - face education modalities.
Basic Skills Mathematics
In California, basic skills courses are explicitly defined by law in section 55002(b) of Title V as courses in reading, writing, computation, and English as a Second L anguage which are designated by districts as non - degree applicable credit. In addition , in the widely distributed and read Basic Skills as a Foundation for Student Success in California Community Colleges ( C enter for Student Success , 2007), commonly referred
to as the Poppy Copy , basic skills are more broadly defined as “those foundational skills in reading, writing, mathematics, and English as a Second Language, as well as lear n ing skills and study skills wh ich are necessary for students to succeed in college - level work” (p.13). In mathematics courses at California Community Colleges, this generally refers to any mathematics class below Elementary Algebra, the mathematics requirement for graduation with an A ssociates Degree for all students who entered college prior to the Fall 2009 semester.
The Associates Degree graduation requirement change d to Intermediate Algebra beginning with all students entering in the Fall 2009 semester. The Board of Govenors of the California Community Colleges voted to raise the Mathematics (and English) requirements one level on Sepember 11, 2006. This action was taken in response to faculty complaints that the graduation requirements were too low as well as to better coordina te Associates Degree requirements with transfer requirements to California’s state university systems (Bogue - Feinour, 2006).
Continually Americans are told by popular media sources and prominent political figures of American’s decline in educational domina nce, particularly in mathematics and a pplied sciences. The data seem to contradict these assertions however. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) shows educational prog ress for both 9 - and 13 - year olds as well as a constant level of achievement among 17 - year olds from 1973 through 2007 (Planty et al. , 2009, p.35; Rampey, Dion, Donahue, 2009, p. 29). The NCES further reported that the 2007 Trends in International Mathem atics and Science Study (TIMSS)
showed the United States was one of only eight countries that displayed improvement from 1995 – 2007 (Planty et al., 2009, p.36).
Despite these facts, American’s K - 12 educational infrastructure is promoting students who la ck the very basic mathematics skills necessary to be successful in many careers or college programs. This is evident in California where the California High School Exit Exam (CHASEE) requires of students only mathematics skills at a Junior High School lev el for High School graduation ( http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/hs/ overview.asp ). Furthermore, t he University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) systems are being overwhelmed with students who cannot perform academically at the level req uire d and are seeking alternative methods of providing remediation to their students (Olsen, 2000). The California State University at Long Beach has openly stated that, due to the overwhelming need for mathematics remediation by its students and the lack of funds to provide this remediation, the University has been forced to u tilize online remediation programs that allow for large class sizes with minimal instruction (Olsen, 2000). Proposed budget cuts to Higher Education in California are likely to exac erbate the situation in the coming academic year s . A recent Los Angeles Times article reported that a University of California panel was considering increasing its number of online offerings to reduce costs and increase university efficiency (Gordon, “UC panel discusses proposals to make university more eff icient,” 2010). In California community c olleges the situation is more extreme; students taking placement exams test into remedial/basic skills mathematics courses at close to a ninety percent rate (Moo re & Schlock, 2007, p. 14). This indicates that the vast majority of
entering community college students are deficient in the mathematics skills considered prerequisite for any college level science or mathematics class.
Scholars, legislators, school offi cials, and constituents are engaged in constant debate over the cause of this problem and how it should be fixed. Schools, teachers, students, parents, and society are all blamed in various degree s for the situation. Given the current state of this debat e, the political climate, and deep budget cuts, there is no reasonable expectation for a remedy anytime soon , thus c olleges and universities will be left to remediate more students than ever before.
The Problem of Online Basic Skills Mathematics
The rapi d growth of online education and the increasing need for mathematics remediation have resulted in growing numbers of online basic skills mathematics course offerings. However, this growth has occurred so fast that online course technology has yet to adequ ately address the unique requirements for communication and teaching mathematics (Smith, Torres - Ayala & Heindl, 2008). Furthermore , the faculty who develop and teach these classes are often given no special preparation or training for developing and teach ing online classes (Mupinga & Maughan, 2008). These faculty generally use what they know about effective face - to - face inst ruction in their online courses; however , those skills and practices often do not effectively translate to the online environment (Be rnard et al., 2004).
Hundreds of articles and reports have been published chronicling no significance difference between distance education and traditional face - to - face education (Russell, 2001; http://www.nosignificantdifference.org , April 2009). This r esearch however,
misses its mark when applied to teaching basic skills mathematics due to its focus almost exclusively on transfer level classes and very rarely on mathematics at all. These articles rely on simple comparisons of course grades and exam res ults to assess learning. However, the purpose of a non - credit basic skills course is not to pass but to equip students with those skills necessary to be successful in subsequent courses.
Communication difficulties created by the unique language and the s ymbolic and graphic nature of mathematics conveyed via a medium not designed for such communication create unique challenges in the online environment unseen by most other disciplines (Smith & Ferguson, 2004; Smith, Torres - Ayala, Hendel, 2008). Researcher s have found that one major advantage of online courses is the special opportunity for student - to - student and student - to - instructor communication. That collaboration leads to the advanced construction of knowledge and a deeper understanding of the materia l (Schrum & Hong, 2002; Mansour & Mupinga, 2007; Buschel, 2008; Pyon, 2008). The argument is that online communication, which is generally text based, requires thinking through the material and questions more thoroughly than verbal face - to - face communicat ion, forcing online students to clearly articulate their thoughts and meaning in writing in plain text. For this communication to work, however, an effective method of two - way communication between both parties is required, something most basic skills stu dents are likely to have a difficult time with because of the complex multiple meanings a single mathematics symbol carries (Aiken, 1972). Students are enrolled in a basic skills mathematics course because they do not understand the fundamental propertie s of mathematics. It cannot be expected that these students will be able to effectively
communicate those complicated concepts (or their misunderstanding of those concepts) using text.
There exist both several programs for displaying mathematics in its standard symbolic form and a commonly understood set of keyboard workarounds (using keyboard symbols to horizontally display mathematical concepts differently from how they would normally be displayed) that allow for digital communication of mathematics.
Most instructors and high level mathematics students have little trouble negotiating the complicated programs or keyboard workarounds used for displaying mathematics on the Internet. Basic skills students on the other hand have trouble negotiating such c ommunication strategies (Smith & Ferguson, 2004), mitigating the unique advantages of such
student - to - student and student - to - instructor communication provided by the online environment.
Literature suggests that despite the technological problems communica ti ng mathematics via the Internet online mathematics courses are at least as effective as face - to - face clas ses for specialty courses like Statistics for E ngineers, (Adams, Glenn, Adams, 2006; Gundy, Morton, Liu, Kline, 2006) and for graduate level mathemat ics classes (Schrum & Hong, 2002). However, l iterature is l acking