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«Eating Your Lectures and Having Them too: is Online Lecture Availability Especially Helpful in “Skills-Based” Courses? Steve Joordens, Ada Le, ...»

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Eating Your Lectures and Having Them too: is Online

Lecture Availability Especially Helpful in “Skills-Based”


Steve Joordens, Ada Le, Raymond Grinnell and Sophie Chrysostomou

University of Toronto Scarborough, Canada





Abstract: At the University of Toronto at Scarborough, we provide enhanced flexibility to our students using a

blended learning approach (i.e., the webOption) whereby classes are videotaped as they are offered in a traditional manner, then posted online for subsequent student access. Students can attend lectures live, watch them online at their convenience, or both. Previous research examining the webOption in the context of Introductory Psychology revealed that (a) students were satisfied with the webOption in general, (b) students used and appreciated the pause and seek features afforded by the webOption interface, and (c) those who used the pause and seek features performed slightly better on exams (Bassili & Joordens, 2008). The current research examines similar issues in the context of two mathematics courses. These courses differ from the lecture-based Introductory Psychology class in their emphasis on the teaching of mathematical proofs; cognitive skills that, like any other skill, are enhanced with practice (Schneider & Shiffrin, 1977). Access to online lectures allows students to re-experience the professor as they teach these skills. Given this, the webOption might be especially potent in these learning contexts. Surprisingly, the results we report here do not confirm that prediction. Students do use and appreciate the features of the webOption as was the case in our previous work, but those students who augmented their class attendance with online viewing, and those who used the lecturecontrol features the most, were actually the students who performed most poorly. Said another way, those students who had the most trouble with the course did indeed use the webOption as a way of understanding the material better but, interestingly, doing so did not result in better performance. Several possible reasons for this surprising result are considered.

Keywords: online lectures, webOption, calculus, performance, surface versus deep learning

1. Introduction You can eat your cake and have it too. That notion of consuming something, and yet not losing it for future consumption, is impossible when it comes to food. However, it is not impossible when it comes to lectures (e.g., Halper, Kelly & Chuang, 2007). It is relatively trivial to tape lectures as they are presented, then making them available online for subsequent student access, a form of blendedlearning that we at the University of Toronto Scarborough refer to as the webOption. This approach allows students the flexibility of attending lectures live, watching them online after the lecture, or of consuming the lecture liveyet having it too.

In the remainder of this introduction we describe the webOption process with some background, present previously published research findings based on it, and then introduce the primary question of the current work; Does continued access to an online version of in-class lectures provide an especially potent tool for students in courses that emphasize cognitive skills as opposed to those that emphasize concepts?

We have offered webOptioned courses at the University of Toronto Scarborough for over 6 years, and have conducted research examining student satisfaction and performance since our first use (e.g., Bassili & Joordens, 2008). Our goal is not to replace traditional lectures but, rather, to augment them by providing students enhanced flexibility. Thus, lectures are presented as they normally would be with the following additions. As the professor lectures they are taped by a videographer using a standard tripod mounted video camera. A wireless microphone system is used to transmit the audio directly to the video camera. The videographer attempts to capture the classroom experience to the best of their ability, focusing the camera on whatever aspect of the lecture seems most critical to learning. The resulting videos are captured and compressed into realmedia format, then posted on the web typically on the same day. Six years ago we offered only our Introductory Psychology ISSN 1479-4403 ©Academic Conferences Ltd

Reference this paper as:

Joordens, S, Le, A, Grinnell, R, and Chrysostomou, S. “Eating Your Lectures and Having Them too: is Online Lecture Availability Especially Helpful in “Skills-Based” Courses?” Electronic Journal of e-Learning Volume 7 Issue 3 2009, (pp281 - 288), available online at www.ejel.org Electronic Journal of e-Learning Volume 7 Issue 3 2009, (281 - 288) courses in this way, but the popularity of the webOption is continually growing to the point where we offered 17 webOption courses in Winter 2009, and 25 courses in the Fall 2009 term.

Our initial research was conducted in the context of our Introductory Psychology courses, courses that focus primarily on teaching students the theories, definitions, experiments and perspectives that form the field. For contrast, we will frame this sort of course as one the focuses on the communication of concepts rather than cognitive skills. It is clearly the case that most courses involve the communication of both concepts and skills, and we do not mean to imply that any course focuses exclusively on one or the other. But relative to the mathematics courses that will provide the context for the current work, it is fair to say that Introductory Psychology involves less emphasis on learning procedural skills of the sort needed to solve mathematical problems.

The findings from our previous research showed that students were satisfied by our implementation, a result bolstered by their loudly voiced desire to have more courses provided in this manner (Bassili & Joordens, 2008). Replicating previous work (e.g., Robertson, Wilson, Cetto and Pardo-Ballester 2008), overall performance did not differ depending on whether students experienced lectures online or in class. However, when students watched online they made extensive use of the pause and seek functions provided by the media player, essentially taking control of the rate of information presentation. Most intriguing, usage of these features was positively correlated with exam performance such that those who used these features more scored higher on a high-stakes exam.

This result is consistent with the notion that the extent to which online learning might be beneficial depends critically on how much students interact with the online content (Davies & Martin, 2005).

Subsequent research on the webOption has been primarily concerned with what underlies student decisions to attend lectures or watch them online. For example, Bassili (2008a) showed that attitudes concerning whether students liked the option of having online lectures were predicted by motivational orientations, whereas the actual choice to attend lectures or watch them online was related to students’ cognitive strategies. In addition, Bassili (2008b) showed that students’ perceptions of media richness also predicted their tendencies to attend class or watch online, and that students were especially likely to attend classes when they perceived the content to be difficult.

However, the current work is most related to the original work by Bassili and Joordens (2008), assessing whether the performance advantage they documented might be especially potent in the context of mathematics. While there has been some previous research assessing tools that attempt to augment mathematics via online assignments (e.g., Carter, 2003; Kennedy, 1990; Kennedy, Ellis, Oien & Benoit, 2007), it appears that nobody has yet examined the effects of simply making lectures available after the traditional lecture has been presented. As mentioned previously, a correlation between use of the mediaplayer features and performance on a high stakes exam was observed in the context of Introductory Psychology, but those correlations were modest with Pearson r values in the 0.10 to 0.13 range. It seemed entirely plausible that the ability to pause or seek lectures, while clearly useful in the context of Introductory Psychology, might be even more valuable in the context of mathematics courses.

Mathematics courses, and especially the calculus courses we examine here, are notoriously difficult for many students (see Doorman & van Maanen, 2008; Pettersson & Scheja, 2008). This difficulty stems from several sources. First, students must keep up with the material as work tends to build incrementally. Having access to previous lectures should allow students to never miss a lecture, and to return to lectures they saw but perhaps forgot or never really understood. Second, the classes have a much larger emphasis on the deep learning of specific cognitive skills (Biggs, Kember, & Leung, 2001), the skills relevant to mathematics proofs. Typically these skills are demonstrated in class and then practiced by the students outside of class. If a student forgets some step between the presentation and the practice, they could encounter real problems. Having access to the lectures allows students to virtually return to the classroom and watch the demonstration again, perhaps with their homework problems in hand. These two issues alone suggest that the webOption approach might be especially beneficial to students in the context of challenging mathematics.

As every researcher knows, and as this paper will demonstrate, intuitions are only as strong as the data they predict. Given this, the purpose of the current work was to assess the impact of implementing the webOption in the context of two courses; Calculus I (MATA30) and Calculus for

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Management I (MATA32). By performing the same study in two different classes we were also able to assess the reliability of the results.

2. Study

2.1 Method 2.1.1 Enrolment and participants Participants in the study were enrolled in our MATA30 and MATA32 classes. Near the end of the term students were informed that we were performing research on their usage and satisfaction with the webOption, and they were invited to fill out an online survey. To motivate participation we had draws for iPod music players, with students informed that their name would be entered in the draw if they filled out the survey. For ethical reasons, the professors of the respective courses were not informed which students participated, and no component of the class was in any way linked to participation. Confidentiality was strictly maintained.

2.1.2 Materials Lectures were made available online by capturing them in class on videotape and by uploading a compressed digital video file to a server where they could be accessed by means of streaming video in realplayer format. Pilot research has demonstrated that students find the quality of the video image and of the sound satisfactory (Bassili & Joordens, 2003).

2.1.3 Procedure and measures Students viewed the lectures using the free version of realplayer. Like most media players, realplayer offers the ability to pause the media, and to navigate forward and backward through it via a seek bar.

Our research will consider how often students choose to watch lectures via this medium, which features they used and how often, why they used the features, and whether using the features lead to a performance advantage. We obtained this data via an online survey containing 50 questions, a subset of questions used by Bassili and Joordens (2008) augmented by some questions especially related to mathematics. In this paper we focus primarily on the questions highlighted by Bassili and Joordens in order to compare findings across the Psychology versus Mathematics contexts.

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This leads us to the primary issue: do students who use the online lectures and the features of the interface achieve better performance? As an initial analysis we correlated the various indicators described above with students’ final grade in the class. Recall that our previous research in the context of Introductory Psychology produced a modest positive correlation between use of the pause and seek features and performance on a high stakes exam, and we expected perhaps stronger correlations here. The relevant correlations are presented in the rightmost column of Table 2.

The surprising result is that while final grades in the course were unrelated to most variables, they were negatively related to use of the pause feature, r(490) = -.11, p.001, and also to the tendency to both attend and watch lectures online, r(490) = -.22, p.001. That is, opposite to our previous findings in Introductory Psychology, reliance on the media-player functions, and the tendency to both attend and watch lectures online, was associated with worse performance in the course.

One possible explanation of this surprising result revolves around what might be called studentspecific characteristics. Most students find mathematics challenging, but some find it downright impossible. Perhaps there are students who simply cannot grasp concepts, and hence end up with low final marks, but their performance does not reflect a lack of trying. That is, perhaps these students know how challenging they find mathematical concepts and thus they show the highest tendency to both attend classes and watch online, and the highest tendency to pause lectures often to take it in slowly, and yet still they do not get the concepts. If this possibility is correct, we would expect the negative correlations we observed to become less negative as we consider only higher performing students.

While plausible, subsequent analyses do not support this student-specific characteristics explanation.

We examined three subsets of the data related to students who scored better than 50%, better than 60% and better than 70% respectively. The negative correlations observed in the data set were present for all subsets, and showed no indication of systematically changing in strength. In addition, all students had completed a diagnostic test of ability prior to taking these courses. When we partialed diagnostic test performance out of the correlations, the negative correlations between final performance and use of the pause button, r(476) = -.09, p.06, and the tendency to both attend class and watch online, r(476) = -.19, p.001, remained. Thus, these correlations do not arise from differences among students in terms of their general math abilities.

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