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An Investigation of Community College Students Perceptions of Elements Necessary for Success in Online Study by Jenette Flow A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Education Department of Adult, Con tinuing and Higher Education College of Education University of South Florida Major Professor: William H. Young, Ed.D. William F. Benjamin, Ph.D. Rosemary Closson, Ph.D. James Eison, Ph.D. Date of Approval: February 23, 2007 Keywords: Student Success, Student Attit ude, Student Opinion, Student Perspective, Student Characteristics Copyright 2007, Jenette Flow
Dedication For Joe, Jason, Jodi and Baxter. Thank you for your help, encouragement, patience, and love.
Acknowledgements I have enjoyed the support of many people in this process. Dr. Bill Young, my major professor, gave freely of his wisdom and time. I am indebted to him for his acceptance, good humor, supervision, and understanding. He has been my reliable and faithful guide and without his help and dire ction, this dissertation would not have happened. I would also like to acknowledge the help of my committee, Drs. William Benjamin, Rosemary Closson and James Eison. Dr. Robert Sullins gave helpful direction and Colleen Rossbach routinely found forms, doc uments and answers. The assistance of these professionals is much appreciated. My colleagues at Pasco-Hernando Commun ity College have been supportive and accommodating. I owe special thanks to the students who volunteered their time and offered their opinions and ideas, to Professo r Janet Paskins for her encouragement and friendship, to the librarians at the North Cam pus for facilitating innumerable interlibrary loans, and to Pasco Hernando Community Coll ege for granting me a semester sabbatical to complete this dissertation. Finally, I gratefully acknowledge my fam ily for their love and support, and my Lord for answered prayers. Thank you all.
i Table of Contents List of Tables ii Abstract iii Chapter One Introduction to the Study 1 Statement of the Problem 4 Significance of the Problem 6 Purpose of the Study 7 Research Questions 9 Definition of Terms 10 Assumptions 12 Limitations 12 Organization of the Study 13 Chapter Two Review of the Literature 16 Criteria for Inclusion 16 Scope of Online Enrollment 17 Student Attitudes Toward Online Studies 18 Attrition 22 Focus of Recent Studies 23 Range of International Studies 25 Perceptions of Success 25 Individual Studies 27 Chapter Three Methodology 63 Research Design 65 Role of the Researcher 68 Inventory and Interview Template 70 Data Collection Process 76 Research Setting 83 The Population and Sample 85 Method of Analysis 86 Chapter Four Results 92 Demographic Information from Inventory 93 Discussion of Elements Iden tified by Students 103 Research Question 1: Elements Necessary for Online Success 105 Research Question 2: Differences Between Elements Identified by Students as Necessary in Trad itional and Online Success 111
ii Research Question 3: Elements Identified by Students With and Without Online Experience 116 Research Question 4: Comparison of Student Identified Elements to the Literature 122 Research Question 5: Student Identified Barriers to Online Success 132 Chapter Five Summary 144 Organizational Structure of Chapter 5 145 Review of Purpose of the Study 145 Summary of Methods 146 Summary of Findings 147 Recommendations for Practice 151 Recommendations for Further Research 155 Conclusion 156 List of References 161 Appendices 168 Appendix A Inventory 169 Appendix B Interview Template 171 Appendix C: The Student Interest in an Online Humanities Course Questionnaire 172 Appendix D Interview Transcript 174 Appendix E: Consent For Survey Questionnaire And Interview Concerning Student Success 185 About the Author End Page
iii List of Tables Table 1 Summary of Elements Iden tified as Important Contributors to Student Success 60 Table 2 Frequency Distribution of Subjects by Age 94 Table 3 Frequency Distribution of Subjects by Gender 95 Table 4 Frequency Distribution of Subjects by Ethnicity 96 Table 5 Cumulative Grade Point Average 97 Table 6 Frequency Distribution of Subjects by Number of Previous Withdrawals from College Classes 98 Table 7 Frequency Distribution of Current Student Course Load 99 Table 8 Frequency of Students by Se lf-rated Level of Computer Expertise 100 Table 9 Frequency of Student s by Intent to Take Online Course in the Future 102 Table 10 Criteria for Inclusi on in Element Categories 103 Table 11 Elements Cited by Students as Critical to Success in Online Study 110 Table 12 Frequency of Students With and Students Without Online Experience Who Cited These Elements as Cri tical to Success in Online Study 116 Table 13 Summary of Elements Identifie d as Important Cont ributors to Student Success 129 Table 14 Frequency of Students Who C ited These Elements as Barriers to Success in Online Study 140
iv An Investigation of Community Co llege Students' Perceptions of Elements Necessary for Success in Online Study Jenette Flow ABSTRACT Previous studies by professionals in educat ion have investigated the elements that are typical of the successful online student. Studies of the elements required for academic success online from the students po int of view, however, are infrequent. This study investigated student percepti ons of those elements necessary for success in online study; whether students believed differences exist between those elements necessary for success in online study and those necessary for success in traditional classes; and what factors students identify as barriers to successful completion of online courses. A comparis on was made of the viewpoints of students who had and who had not previously completed an online course. The studentidentified elements were contrasted to those elements identified by professionals appearing in the literature. This study used a variety of methods. A two-part process of inventory questionnaires and interviews gathered data from twenty volunteers, half with and half without successful online experience. A thematic analysis of the data revealed that time management skills, self-disciplin e, the ability to work independently, motivation, commitment and adequate techno logy and equipment were the elements that students believed contributed to succe ss in online study. Those elements were
v believed to be more important for success online than for success in traditional classes. Two elements were identifie d by 100% of the stude nts with online experience as critical for success: the ab ility to work independently and time management skills. Three students (30%) without online experience indicated the ability to work independently was necessa ry and seven (70%) stated that time management skills were necessary. Characteristics of successful students gleaned from the literature produced by professionals in education gave both similar and dissimilar portraits. Barriers to successf ul online study identified by students were the loss of interaction with instructors a nd classmates, a lack of time management skills, and problems with e-mailed questions. It is the conclusion of this research that greater consideration should be granted by educational professionals to student per ceptions of the elements necessary to successfully complete online studies.
1 CHAPTER ONE Introduction to the Study Education in the twenty-first century little resembles the practices of earlier times. Distance education, forms of which have b een in existence for at least 100 years (Galusha, 1997), is no longer a stagnant pe ncil and paper corres pondence course but a popular method of delivering real time cour ses via the internet. The changes in educational technology are as substantive as the establishment of formal school, the invention of movable type or the transition of education based on writing from that based on the spoken word (Knapper & Cropley, 1985; S aettler, 1990). Not only have personal computers and the internet opened new methods of course content delivery but educators have a renewed interest in stude nt engagement and the correlat es of student success in the electronically delivered format. Students today are taking advantage of electronically delivered coursework; online delivery is a fast growing segment of education. An increasing percentage of associate degree granting schools list online in struction as a growi ng long-term strategy (Allen & Seaman, 2005). In the 20002001 school year, an estimated 3,077,000 enrollments are shown in distance educati on courses at 2 and 4-year colleges. Approximately 2,876,000 enrollments were in college credit courses, most at the undergraduate level (Waits et al. 2003).
2 Although many students enroll in online cour sework, not all students complete the work successfully. Attrition is a serious problem. Course non-completion rate estimates exceed 50% of all students enrolled in online classes in the United States (Oblender, 2002). Understanding characteristics of successful learners is the first step toward the goal of using information technology to improve learning and student success (Oblinger, 2005). An investigation of student perceptions of the elements necessary for success in online study offers a critical addition to that understanding. Modern pedagogy has greatly increased unde rstanding of student learning. The correlates of students academic success and attrition have been investigated. The personal characteristics, personality traits, and life situation factors that contribute to student success, as well as those that might contribute to student dropout, have been the focus of investigation by professionals in e ducation. The academic literature includes reports by faculty, advisors, administrators, and curriculum specialists that offer insight into elements necessary to be a successful student. Online learning has also been the focus of recent study. Rarely, however, are the two subjects characteristics necessary for success and online or internet study combined. No studies concerning the characte ristics of online students were included in the 1994 report Distance Education: R eview of the Literature (Schlosser & Anderson, 1994) and studies reported ther e are now over ten years old. Further, the studies of success in classroom and online courses, defined by completion rates, student satisfaction, and intent to enroll in fu ture online courses appear contradictory (Spampinato, 2005). The importance of the role of individual charact eristics in internet
3 learning and the paucity of research on th e topic have been recognized (Hartley & Bendixen, 2001). Given the rapi dly increasing volume of online course delivery, studies of student perceptions of elements necessary for success offer constructive information for colleges in curriculum pl anning and student advising. In one review of the literature, Seidma n noted that, although much educational research has been completed in the United States, little research is based on studies involving the perspectiv e of those whose individual and collective experi ence constitutes schooling (Seidman, 1998). Admi nistrators, instructors, advi sors, and other professionals in the field of education have identified char acteristics typical of successful students. However, needs assessments are rarely conducted to determine what students actually look for to help them achieve success (Dean, 1998) Rare in the litera ture are studies of student perceptions; what the students themselv es believe are necessary personal traits or life situations that contribute to success in traditional or online classes. The students themselves recognize the need for a better unde rstanding of elements necessary for online success. Studies reflect student misconceptions. Descriptions appear of students who, before taking an online course, claimed to possess the maturity and discipline to succeed without supervision. The same students, at the end of the semester, indicated that they lacked the self-discipline to commit the n ecessary time and energy to attain success in their online coursework (Oble nder, 2002). Knowledge of student misperceptions or misunderstandings of the effort necessary for success in online study enable educators to better direct students and prepar e them with a more accurate idea of the effort necessary to succeed in online coursework. Better unders tanding of the student perspective aids in
4 identifying those students who could most bene fit from direction or advising, assists in reducing frustration of those students who misunderstand or underestimate the effort necessary for successful study, f acilitates the reduction of onl ine attrition rates, helps identify methods to improve effectiveness and aid in detection of misconceptions so that clearer guidelines for student class choice can be publicized. Teachers, administrators and curriculum planners need to know what the students believe about success online. More research is needed to better id entify misconceptions of both students and professionals. This study focuses on the percep tions of students at a community college. Statement of the Problem In the design of higher education, studen t opinion and perception are relevant but appear underrepresented. Student input into the definition of success and the elements necessary to succeed in an onlin e class is rare in the lite rature and student identified barriers or obstacles that impede online study are rarely published. De finitions of student success generated by non-students, such as inst ructors, administrato rs, and advisors, are available and some contain lists of traits a nd characteristics represen tative of successful students. Demographic data in the research literature occasionally profiles the typical successful student. Lists of the criteria believed necessary for overall academic success, representing the students pe rceptions, however, seldom appear. This study of student opinions of elements critical for success in online coursework gives voice to the student opinion of elements necessary for successful online study. Studies may use a contrived defi nition of success (Schonwetter et al. 1993) such as specific grades or course completion within a certain timeframe. Moreover, students
5 and administrators or instructors may defi ne success differently. Not only might the definition of the term success di ffer but also the criteria to meet success may be viewed differently. Student input into the definition of success suggests that, to the student, the criteria differ fundamentally from that defined by administrators, instructors, advisors or parents (Dean, 1998). Without comparison of those elements believed necessary for success by students to those factors deemed necessary for success by instructors and administrators, the risk is real that the objectives, aims, and goals differ. Studies may define successful students by course completion with a specific grade point average, and include information onl y on those students, thereby limiting the sample to those who complete the course and silencing the voice of students who, for whatever reason, did not complete a course Those students who dropped the class may have significant insight into why students do not complete the course successfully. In addition, by limiting questions or data to thos e students so defined as successful, the sample may be skewed and the data obtained lim ited in application. Furthermore, little to no allowance is made for the subjective natu re of grading, which may vary dramatically from one instructor to another. Not only ar e grades inconsistent but no agreement exists on what exactly constitutes a course or wh en the course itself is completed (Young, 1998). Administrators, instructors, and students as well would lik ely agree that the mutual goal of education is student success, however, students and teachers definition of and criteria for success have not been i nvestigated jointly. An investigation of students perceptions of elements necessary fo r success in an online course is needed to compare to the factors specified by educationa l professionals in the literature.
6 Significance of the Problem Studies of college student engagement frequently appear in the professional literature. Such resources as the Commun ity College Survey of Student Engagement give valuable insight into st udent achievement and attrition and help in understanding the causes of student success or failure (Community College Survey of Student Engagement, 2005). With the increasing popularity of online coursework, a new demand for understanding student engagement has emer ged, and with it, greater demands on the instructor to compensate for the lack of physical presence and support. Given the rapidly increasing volume of online course delivery, knowledge of student perceptions provides constructive info rmation for colleges in curriculum planning and student advising. Greater knowledge of st udent beliefs could direct advisors and instructors to those students who would most benefit from counseling and advising. The understanding of student perceptions would aid in identifying those students who are not prepared for the independence of online coursework or who hold misconceptions of online coursework. Knowledge of student perceptions might identify students who underestimate the skill necessary for successful online study. Not only would opportunities for early intervention benefit students but instructors would profit, as well. Instructors who deliver online classes could better prepare with knowledge of the students perceptions of ch aracteristics necessary for success and the profile of students likely to successfully finish the course. The instructor faces a greater challenge in identifying at-risk students in an online environment. Knowledge of hallmarks of successful students is crucial because the
7 traditional early warning behaviors, such as nonverbal and facial gestures, class absenteeism, and so forth, are not readily discernable to instructors teaching online (Wang & Newlin, 2000; Willis, 1992). The role of instructor has shifted from traditional classroom delivery methods and now incl udes facilitation of technology (White & Bridwell, 2004) and assistance in judging the re liability of the information from internet sources (Apps, 1991). Knowledge of student perspective would benefit instructors in adapting course delivery methods and content. Purpose of the Study The primary purpose of this study was to describe those elements that students perceive as critical to succe ss in online coursework. Furt her, it sought to determine if those characteristics differ in a fundamental wa y from those traits students identify as critical to traditional classroom success. Also, responses of students who have had experience with online courses and those students who have not had experience with online courses were compared in order to better understa nd the difference experience may have made in perceptions of the elemen ts necessary to succeed in online studies. Once compiled, the list of student-identifie d characteristics was contrasted to those elements identified by in the literature by profe ssionals in education as critical to student success. Finally, student identified barrier s to success in online coursework were examined. Student success may be defined different ly by students and by faculty (Dean, 1998). A students list of el ements necessary for success in an online class may differ substantially from that of administrators or instructors. This st udy intended to identify,
8 from the students point of view, what elements factors, characteristics, personal traits or life situations are most important for success in an online class and if those elements identified by students differ from those identif ied by professionals in education. Also of interest was whether students believed that those same elements were necessary for success in the traditi onal classroom, and if there was fundamental differences between the beliefs of those students who have and thos e who have not previously taken an online class. Knowledge of student perceived barr iers and obstacles provi de a more reliable basis for student advisement, direction and support. The academic literature revi ewed was used to generate a similar list of necessary factors from the point of view of professi onals in education. A comparison of the two perspectives highlights the dissimilarity in pe rception of necessary factors. Awareness of the differences between student and nonstudent definition of success, and the characteristics, traits, and elements identifie d by each as necessary to attain that success is crucial for accurate advisement, guidance, and administrative leadership of todays online students. Curriculum planning, course development, method of course delivery, teaching techniques, reduction of attrition, and eventual successful outcomes can be enhanced by the recognition of student perc eptions of elements necessary for their success. Finally, the investigation of difference in perceptions of elements necessary for success in online study between students w ho have and who have not had previous experience with online study a dds to the understanding of the student perspective and attitude toward the use of com puter delivered study.
9 Research Questions In order to determine what elements, tra its, or life situations students believe are critical for success in an online class, and to determine if those elements, characteristics or traits differ in a fundamental way from those factors necessary for success in traditional coursework, or between students with and without successful online experience, the following research questions we re posed. A list of characteristics most indicative of student success id entified in the professional literature is contrasted to that list generated by the students. Finally, this st udy intended to relate the major barriers or obstacles to online study identified by stude nts. Specifically, the following research questions were posed: 1. What elements do students identify as most critical for success in online courses? 2. Do students believe those elements differ from elements critical for success in traditional face-to-face coursework? 3. Do the elements identified as critical for success in online study by students who have experience with online coursework differ from those of students who have no experience with online coursework? 4. Do the elements identified by students differ from those commonly listed in the academic literature? 5. What do students identify as the greates t barriers to success in online study?
10 Definitions Of Terms Online class or online coursework Online class or coursework refers to education, training or academic classes or cour ses delivered to remote or off campus sites via the internet and world wide web. On line coursework is defined by the Sloan consortium as having at least 80% of the course content delivered online (Allen & Seaman, 2005) and that defining cr iteria is followed for this study. Distance Education Distance education is define d in the Executive Summary of the National Center for Educational Statistics as education or training courses delivered to remote or off campus sites via audi o, live or prerecorded video, or computer technologies, including both synchronous (i.e. simultaneous) and asynchronous (i.e., not simultaneous) instruction (Waits et al., 2003) The United States Department of Education defined education or training courses delivered to remote or off-campus location(s) via audio, video, or computer technologies as d istance educati on (United States Department of Education Nationa l Center for Education Statistics, 2006). Educational or Instructional Issues An organizational category used in this study to define elements that pertain to the curriculum, variety in and breadth of subject treatment, opportunities for spont aneous pursuit of subject matter in classes, review opportunities, practice tests, or problems resulting from delay in answers to e-mailed questions. Mechanical and Technical Considerations An organizational category used in this study that includes elements related to access to adequate computers, modems, and
11 internet service, equipment reliability, co mputer malfunctions and data loss, program navigation, delivery platforms, or internet security. Personal Characteristics The organizational category used in this study that includes elements pertaining in general to the students personality, qualities, traits, learning preferences, habits, acquired technical skills, organizational and time management skills, judgment, motivation patie nce, self discipline or self concept are included in this category. Social Aspects The organizational category used in this study that includes the elements concerning peer pressure, extra cu rricular activities, non-verbal communication, study groups, campus environment or the college experience, or personal interaction with teachers, advisors, family or classmates are included in the category of social aspects. Student Success For purposes of this study, student success is defined as completing an online course in which the st udent is enrolled with a grade of C or higher, or 2.0 or higher on a four point scale. Several research studies define success in an online class as completing the course with a passing grade, usually defined as a C or higher, or scores of two on a four-point scale (Dean, 1998; Di az, 2000; Spampinato, 2005; Tucker, 2001; A. Wojciechowski & Palmer 2005; A. J. Wojciechowski, 2004). Unsuccessful Student For purposes of this study a student is unsuccessful if, for any reason, the course is not completed, that is the student has been assigned a W (withdrew) or I (incomplete) grade or is co mpleted with a grade of D or F letter grade or below 1.9 or below on a f our-point numerical scale.
12 Assumptions It was assumed that the students interv iewed for this study answered truthfully, recognized the objectives of the interview and understood that nothing would be gained from less than honest responses. This study also assumed that unsuccessful does not equal personal or academic shortcoming. Some previous studies categor ized as unsuccessful students who did not complete the online course with a certain gr ade. This study recognized that students stop attending classes for a number of valid reas ons. Health or financial hardships, for example, or childcare or transportation probl ems may prevent the completion of a course. Limitations It is not the intent of this study to generate a definitive list of elements that define student success but rather to compile the perspectives of traits or characteristics believed critical to success in online coursework by one group of college freshmen and sophomore students at a Florida community college. Although the goal was to more clearly understand student opinions and perceptions, fa ctors such as student s emotional state, which may have influenced responses, were beyond the control of the researcher. Data given by the respondents was self -reported and was not verified from the college records or database. Students were asked to respond to ques tions concerning success in online or traditional class work but were neither asked to define success nor offered any definition in this study other than a refe rence to passing a course with a grade of C or higher. No
13 verbal indication during the interview or wr itten information on the inventories defined the word. The meaning of success may have varied from faculty to student and from student to student. Similarly, no attempt wa s made to ascertain the quality of the completed online courses from the students po int of view. Students were asked simply if they had previously taken an online course. The questionnaire or inventory and the interview template used in this study included questions drawn from several sources. The instruments were generated for this study and therefore had no previously establishe d reliability or dependability. Questions derived from the professional li terature rely on the credibilit y of each author. Copies of the inventory questionnaire and the interview template appear in Appendices A and B, respectively. The basis for questions is discussed in depth in chapter 3. The sample was a purposeful one taken at a single Florida community college. All participants were volunteers willing to discuss their opinions concerning online studies. The perceptions of uni versity, college or private sc hool students; residents of other geographical areas; or a sample that included the popul ation of an entire student body may differ. The author of this study is an instru ctor at Pasco-Hernando Community College and may have been known to the respondents. Although no student currently enrolled in the researchers classes was included, students answers may still have been guarded. Organization of the Study The purpose of this study was to inve stigate those elements perceived by one group of community college students as neces sary for success in online coursework and
14 to contrast those perceptions with the criteria shown as critical for success in the academic literature. The research also intende d to identify the greatest barriers to and obstacles of online study from the students point of view, and to investigate the difference between those students who had a nd those students who had not previously taken an online course. Elements may includ e such things as personal characteristics, personality traits, financial, family or health situations. A revi ew of the literature provided a list of those charac teristics, personal traits, at titudes or life situations perceived as critical for student success by ad ministrators, advisors, instructors or other professionals in higher education. The first chapter has included an in troduction to the study, statement and significance of the problem, the purpose of the study, the research questions, a definition of terms and a discussion of the a ssumptions and limitations of the study. Chapter 2 provides a review of the literat ure related to this study and is divided into two sections. The initial section of chapter 2 includes the introduction and a review of the literature in areas generally related to student success. The growth and scope of online coursework, the types of studies conduc ted as reported in th e literature, student attitudes as they impact the lik elihood of college success, drop -out and attrition rates, and definitions of student success are included in the first segment of chapter 2. The second portion of chapter 2 revi ews the specific studies conducted concerning characteristics or traits believed necessary for student success from the point of view of scholars, administ rators, advisors and instructor s. From that material the comparative list was compiled.
15 Chapter 3 describes the methodology used for the study. That chapter is presented in seven sections. Initially, th e conceptual framework, research design and strategy along with the overall rationale for the design choi ce are discussed. The impact of a pilot study and issues of dependability are included there. The second section of chapter 3 is a discussion of the role and possible biases of the researcher. The discussion of the researchers role is followed by a description of the inventory and interview template. The basis for the inventory questions included is discussed there. Protocol and data collection procedures follow in the fourth section. In the fift h section, the research setting is described and followed in the sixt h section by the particulars of the population and sample. The seventh and final section de scribes the method used for analysis of the collected data. Chapter 4 presents the results of the research. Demographic and descriptive data collected from the inventories are presented in narrative and table form in the beginning of chapter 4. The student-identified elements are presented in the last portion of that chapter as each of the five research questions are discussed in turn. In chapter 5 the conclusi ons are discussed as well as suggestions offered for further research in the area of student percep tions of characteristics necessary for success in online study.
16 CHAPTER TWO Review of the Literature This review of the literature is divided into two major secti ons. General topics and aspects related to this study open chapter 2. Criteria for inclus ion in this study, the current scope of online enrollments, the range of international studi es, student attitudes towards online studies, attrition, types of st udies found and variations in definition of success are included in the first section. Follo wing that is a more detailed review of specific scholarly studies intended to generate a list of characteristics identified by professionals in education as defining student success. The items identified are summarized and a table presented at the end of the chapter in or der to contrast the perceptions of non-students with those of the students surveyed for this study. Criteria for Inclusion The literature reviewed for this study c onsists of refereed and peer reviewed journals and electronic journals, published do ctoral dissertations, relevant print and ebooks, and government reports and documents. The world wide web search engines Google and Google Scholar were used and the databases Education Full Text, ERIC, Mental Measurement Yearbook, MERLOT, Omnif ile, Premier, ProQuest, PsycINFO and Wilson were accessed through the University of South Florida and Pasco-Hernando Community College libraries. Qualitat ive, quantitative and mixed methodology studies were included. With rare exception, and to en sure internet applica tion, the material was
17 limited to the past 15 years for studies. Th eoretical and analytical materials were not time bound. A study of student perceptions of the characteristics necessary for success in an online course includes the separate ideas of student opinion, stude nt success, and online coursework. This review of the literature sought research concerning the amalgamated three aspects as well as each concept indi vidually. Scholastic journals, doctoral dissertations and electronic databases were mined using the key word combinations of achievement, attitude, attributes, attrition, belief, characteristics, elearning, engagement, factors, internet, online, opi nion, perception, perspective, poi nt-of-view, student, success and traits. Scope of Online Enrollment Building on earlier innovations in distance education us ing electronic delivery, the first courses were delivered via the worl d wide web in 1995 (Bates, 2005). In 20002001, an estimated 3,077,000 enrollments were sh own in distance education courses at 2 and 4 year colleges. As Kozeracki points out, most organizations that monitor distance education do not include correspondence cour ses in their counts (K ozeracki, 1999). Approximately 2,876,000 enrollments were in college credit courses online, most (82%) at the undergraduate level (Waits et al., 2003). Over 500,000 students took all their coursework online (Bates, 2005). In the United States in 2004, approximately 2.35 million students took one or more on-line courses. The percentage of growth, over 18% per year is over ten times that projected by the National Center fo r Education Statistics for the general
18 postsecondary student population (Allen & S eaman, 2005). The U.S. Census Bureau reports that of the 4,130 degree granting pos tsecondary institutions counted, 2,320, or 56%, offered education or trai ning courses delivered to off-campus sites. The Sloan Consortium reports that 63% of those sc hools with undergraduate programs offer undergraduate programs on-line. A growing percentage (72% in 2005, compared to 58% in 2003) of associate degree granting schools list on-line as a growing long-term strategy. Forty-four percent of schools offering master s programs in the United States offer those programs on-line and 43% of the business programs are offered on-line (Allen & Seaman, 2005). In 2000-2001, 56% (2,320) of all two and four year, Title IV-eligible, degree granting institutions offered some dist ance education courses and 90% of public 2 year and 89% of public four year schools di d. In 2000 12% indicated that they would start distance education delivery by 2005. Only 31% did not offer, and had no plans to offer, any distance education courses (Waits et al., 2003). Online coursework is an integral part of the educational environment today throughout the world. Student Attitudes Toward Online Study Students report strongly positive attitudes about the value of technology and rely on technology as an essential and preferred component of their a cademic lives (United States Department of Education Office of Educational Technology, 2004). Todays students feel that computer technology is an effective way to learn and generally have a positive attitude concerning computeri zed distance education (Lowerison et al. 2006; Smith & Oosthuizen, 2006). Increased enrollment in on-line courses testifies to the fact. The Department of Commerce Report on Americans Access to Technology shows that
19 39.7 percent of Americans with internet at home used the internet to take courses in 2000, up from 35.4% in 1998 (United States Depart ment of Commerce Economic and Statistics Administration, 2000). Attitudes of entry-level students towards computers were the focus of a study conducted at two South African universities by Smith and Oosthuizen (2004). A reexamination of the earlier study by Lee (Lee, 1970), the researchers examined several aspects of student attitude. Comparisons were made of male and female perceptions, of attitudes of English and i ndigenous African languages sp eakers, students with and without previous computer education, and dist ance and residential students. The stated purpose of that study was to determine whether the inclusion of any remedial teaching in the course syllabi was necessary to improve the attitudes of students toward computers. To that end, the questionnaire used by Lee (1970) was adapted for the context. Changes included substituting the word computer for machine and a question concerning economic development was changed to more cu rrent situations. The questionnaire was in two parts: part one was to identify the language and gender of the participant as well as the level of computer experience; part two was the adaptation of Lees 20-item questionnaire. The researchers gathered 1,072 responses. The demographics determined by the first part of the survey determined th at the sample was reflective of the student population at the universities in terms of gender and reside nce. Smith and Oosthuizens results noted a significant di fference between the attitudes of males and females in the two categories of negative sentiments toward computers and fear of computer power with males being less apprehensive in both cas es. Further, English speakers were less apprehensive toward computers and more likely to indicate that computers were
20 beneficial tools for man. Hi ghly significant differences we re found in the responses of students with previous exposure or education in computers. Those with more education and exposure indicated less negative feelings. When compared with earlier studies using the questionnaire developed by Lee, the resu lts of this study indicated similar results, although the studies were conducte d at different times, diffe rent universities and with different sample sizes. The conclusion reached, that students were comfortable with computers and held a realistic view of com puter power, may have been affected by the fact that the students polled were com puter science and/or information technology students, who, presumably, would have a favorab le attitude toward technology. This was not acknowledged in the results of the study. The recommendation of the study is that less mention need be made on syllabi and that less time be spent convincing students of the benefits of computing or in allaying fears about computers. Scholars have investigated the impact of gender, educational background, age and ethnicity on student attitude towards online study and reported their findings. Rainbow and Sadler-Smith found no difference in studen t disposition toward computer assisted learning due to gender, educational bac kground, or age in a study conducted at the University of Plymouth in the United Ki ngdom (Rainbow & Sadler-Smith, 2003). Diaz (2000), on the other hand, asserted that age and gender did influence attitude toward online learning. Diaz found that students who en rolled in health education classes online at Cuesta College, San Luis Obispo, California, were more likely ol der than tr aditional college age, female and did not carry a typica l course load of 12 to 15 units. Diaz also reported a higher percentage of ethnic majority students enrolled in online courses (Diaz, 2000). Though fewer minority students enrolled in on-line classes in general, some
21 researchers found that, when enrolled, minoritie s tend to be more successful than other students (United States Department of Commerce Economic and Statistics Administration, 2000). Other researchers found different results (Spampinato, 2005) If counted in percentage rather than actual numbers, the percentage of Blacks, Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans exceeded th e percentage of Whites using the internet for courses. Over 40% of Black computer users were using th e internet to take courses, 38.4% of Asian Americans and 43.1 percent of Hispanic computer users were using the internet to take courses. Thirty-one percent of White computer users used the internet to take courses (United States Department of Commerce Economic and Statistics Administration, 2000). Some challenges have been forwarded c oncerning the perceived effectiveness and quality of online instruction and the motivati on and satisfaction of students (Lowerison et al., 2006). Issues of interaction, presence and performance in an online course were investigated by Picciano (2002). The sample for that study, conducted in the fall of 2001, was 23 students enrolled in an elective cour se entitled Administration and Supervision: Issues in Contemporary Education at Hunter College in New York City. The course was completely asynchronous and delivered via a co urse web site utilizing the BlackBoard course management system. Measures of st udent interaction were based on participation in online discussions and were collected over th e 13 units offered during the semester. Findings from that study esta blish a strong relatio nship between student s perceptions of the quality and quantity of th eir interaction and their perf ormance in an online course (Picciano, 2002). Sankaran and Bui considered the effectiveness of web versus lecture courses and noted differences we re more attributable to student motivation than course
22 delivery format (Sankaran & Bui, 2001). Case studies cited by Ve nezky and Davis found that, in general, the qualit y of instruction was not re duced through computerized applications (Venezky & Davis, 2002). Diaz (2000) reported that students enrolled in the online health education classes in his study were at least as, if not more, successful as equivalent on campus students when success was measured by exam scores, course grade of C or higher and by student satisfacti on. In addressing attitude and student perceptions of control, Schonw etter, Perry & Struthers rema rked that previous studies may provide only preliminary insight into st udents perceptions that have developed during their exposure to the classroom environment during primary and secondary school (Schonwetter et al., 1993). Student motivati on, satisfaction and attitude towards online studies determine, in part, succe ssful course completion rates. Attrition Online learning presents unique challenge s to the student; attrition rates for courses delivered online reflect the fact that all students are not successful. Approximately 50% of students enrolled in on line courses in the United States drop out, (Frankola, 2001; Oblender, 2002), an attrition rate 10 to 20% higher than their face-toface counterparts (Frankola, 2001). Advisors and faculty may ha ve little understanding of how to help students who are struggling with the unique problems of the internet coursework environment and institutions often do little to a ppropriately guide students as th ey select course formats (A. Wojciechowski & Palmer, 2005). Students may have misconceptions of what it takes to successfully complete an online class (Wojciechowski & Palmer, 2005; Frankola 2001;
23 Oblender 2002) or lack the sense of control offered by free choice in subject or class (Schonwetter et al., 1993). It is worthy of mention that not all dropout situations imply failure. Situational factors such as health or financial problems, childcare, or other emergencies may necessitate student withdrawal. Dropping out may be viewed as a positive factor by the student if done to take advantage of a s ituation such as new employment opportunity (Dean, 1998). One individuals definition of success may differ from another. Focus of Recent Studies The body of literature generated in the past decade is significant and represents an impressive amount of research concerni ng online methodology and technicalities. Scholars have compared courses delivered online with like courses offered in the traditional classroom by student pass rates, final course grade, retention, and satisfaction. Methods of addressing variation in learning styles in an online environment have been investigated, attrition rates for online learne rs are reported, statistics are related on the number of courses delivered by colleges and schools, and de mographics such as student age, gender, ethnic group, and number of children living at home appear in the literature. Studies comparing online to traditional courses have focused on attrition rates (Bates, 2005); successful student completion of the course as measured by grade point average (Bernard et al. 2004; Dean, 1998; Diaz, 2000; Sp ampinato, 2005; Tucker, 2001; A. Wojciechowski & Palmer, 2005; A. J. Wo jciechowski, 2004); reasons given for the popularity of online versus tr aditional face-to-face course s (McPherson & Nunes, 2004) and portraits of the student population taking online courses as defined by gender, race,
24 age, economic status, handicap or learning style (Beishline & Holmes, 1997; Cassidy & Eachus, 2002; Diaz, 2000; Dupin-Bryant, 2004; Mupinga et al. 2006; Spampinato, 2005; Wang & Newlin, 2000; Waterhouse, 2005) and native language (Smith & Oosthuizen, 2006) have been conducted. Freedom of c ourse selection and choice (Roblyer, 1999), number of other courses being taken (Diaz, 2000; Wang & Newlin, 2000), students frustration with technology (Hara & Kling, 2000); employment status (Astin et al. 1984), self-motivation (Lebedina-Ma nzoni, 2004), influence of pa rents (Flores-Juarez, 2005), perceptions of programs and teachers (Ram sden, 1984; Wang & Newlin, 2000) and sense of control (Schonwetter et al., 1993; Wang & Newlin, 2000) ha ve been the subjects of academic study. Correlates of student success and character istics of successful students have been investigated in health edu cation classes (Diaz, 2000); research methods (Jurezyk et al. 2004) business courses (Wojciechowski, 2005; Volery 2001) psychology (Wang & Newlin, 2000; Waschull, 2005), and Inform ation Technology and Computer Science (Smith & Oosthuizen, 2006). In few instances have investigators asked the students to define the characteristics necessary for succes s in higher education (Flores-Juarez, 2005; Harbeck, 2001). Hartley & Bendixen (2001) pointed out th at of the three predominant categories of research in educational technology: research on media, comparing methods, and investigation into impact of learner characterist ics, the first two have garnered the bulk of attention from researchers (H artley & Bendixen, 2001). A pl ethora of studies exist on student engagement, and studies have sought to identify the correlates of student success. Fewer studies, however, have sought the opinion s of the students themselves or have
25 sought student perceptions on what are believed to be the elements necessary for success. A clear need exists to profile the charact eristics suggestive of success for the online student (Diaz, 2000; Wang & Newlin, 2000). Range of International Studies Internationally, researchers have investigat ed the profile of st udents involved in computer-assisted learning. Students from th e University of Mont erey, Mexico (FloresJuarez, 2005); the Lancaster Study from the United Kingdom (Ramsden, 1984); the Open University of Israel (Beyth-Marom et al., 2003); the University of Zagreb, Croatia (Lebedina-Manzoni, 2004); Athabasca University, Canada (Powell et al. 1990); the University of South Africa and the Univers ity of the North, South Africa (Smith & Oosthuizen, 2006); the University of Plym outh, England (Rainbow & Sadler-Smith, 2003); and Curtin University of Technology, Sydney, Australia (Volery, 2001) have been considered. Perceptions of Success No agreement exists on the exact meaning of the term success. Definition of the term is vague and what constitutes success is often left to indi vidual interpretation. Students, faculty, administrators, and parent s may have differing opinions about what it means to be successful. A parent may defi ne a successful student as one who attends classes faithfully and does not violate the ru les of the home. An instructor may see a successful student as one who sits in th e front row, tests well and participates enthusiastically in class discussions. To the administrator, a successful student may
26 simply contribute to FTE measurements. Dean (1998) found that the definition of the term by faculty, defined as academic success, differed significantly from the broader perspective of the concept defined by student s as happiness and mee ting personal goals. Ramsden (1984) points out that the same student takes different approaches in different circumstances. Several research studies de fine success in an online class as completing the course with a passing grade, usually define d as a C or higher, or scores of two on a four-point scale (Dean 1998; Diaz 2 000; Spampinato 2005; Tucker, 2001; Wojciechowski 2004; Wojciechowski & Palmer, 2005). Scholars have defined and measured su ccess by a variety of elements. The following section of chapter 2 reviews studies published in doctora l dissertations and professional literature concerning characteristic s, personal traits a nd other correlates of student success. For ease of reference, a table summarizi ng the points appears at the conclusion of the chapter.
27 Individual Studies Faculty and student perceptions of what constitutes success in the college experience were the focus of a study by Dean (1998). Twenty-seven students participated in two focus groups in the spri ng of 1997 at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Virginia, in a study designed to define student success based on the perspectives of freshmen, sophomore, junior a nd senior students as well as faculty at the College of Agriculture, and to identify barriers to stude nt success. In the spring semester of 1998, seven faculty members participated in two focus groups. Findings indicated that faculty and students have dissimilar perspectives on student success. Faculty placed more emphasis on academic elements and students focused on more personal indicators, such as happiness. Dean points out also that mu ch previous research has been based on the assumption that success as a student simply means success in the academic arena. In audio taped sessions the participants began a discussion of the definition of student success and resulting individual defini tions were sorted into categories and these categories discussed. The participants comp leted a supplied questionnaire concerning the categories as well as perceived ba rriers to success. Transcriptions of the audio tapes were coded for information considered by Dean to be pertinent. Information was sorted into categories of definitions of st udent success, barriers to suc cess and solutions to improve the chances of success. A similar procedur e was followed for faculty input. Deans findings were that, to faculty, the essentials of student success included the following:
28 1. Maintaining academic success. 2. Securing a position in a chosen career field. 3. Graduation. 4. Being able to apply lessons learned during the college experience to other situations in life. Students, on the other hand, defined success differently. The most common element of success mentioned by students was to be happy or satisfied with the college experience, a much more imprecise and vague definition. Students referred to the following areas as indicators that one had achieved or was working towards achieving success: 1. A proficiency in all academic subjects. 2. Achieving a balance of all the elements of ones life. 3. Gaining practical experience to apply to the future. 4. Achieving ones goals. 5. Maintaining good grades. 6. Graduating. 7. Participating in and out of class. In the end, students maintained that it was the student who determined whether success had been achieved. Barriers to student success identified by facu lty included lack of maturity, lack of motivation, poor time management skills, par ticipation in too many extracurricular
29 activities and too little contact with faculty. Financial and family pressures were also mentioned. Student identified ba rriers included poor time management and study skills, lack of discipline, participation in too many social activities, and overall difficulty working in the college academic environment due to facu lty style, class size or grading methods. Students mentioned frustration in worki ng with graduate teaching assistants, communication problems, lack of prepar ation for college and personal problems stemming from difficulty with family, friends and financial pressure. The identification of the unique character istics of successful online students in health field related classes the focus of a study by Diaz in 2000. Data concerning student characteristics were analyzed for 96 online he alth education students, for 585 students in the health program and for 9156 students on the Cuesta College Campus, San Luis Obispo, California. Data were collected on age, motivation, gross household income, gender, ethnicity, learning style, self-assessed computer e xpertise, prior college GPA, prior college units, number of units attempted, number of dependents, and number of hours worked. No significant differences were noted between the health field education students and the general student population in the area s of prior college units attempted or earned, number of dependents, hours worked, moti vation, age, or learning style. It was noted, however, that both successful and uns uccessful online students preferred an independent learning situation. Analysis of data collected by Diaz generated the following list of characteristics the represent the successful online student:
30 1. Female. Data from 96 students, 75 of which successfully completed the online course under investigation, revealed that of the successful students, 30, or 40%, were male and 45 (60%) were female. Thirteen (61.9%) of the unsuccessful students were male and eight (38.1%) were female. 2. Non-white. Although fewer ethnic minority students enrolled in the online class (81.3% were white), when minority student s did enroll they were more likely to successfully complete the class than thei r white counterparts. In this study 78 white and 20 minority students were incl uded. Fifty-nine white students were successful, 19 were not. Eleven of the 12 minority students were successful, only one was not. 3. Higher gross household income. Divisions for this study were household income of $0 to $20,000; $20,001 to $40,000; $40,001 to $60,000; $61,000 to $80,000; and greater than $80,000. The percentage of non-successful students with gross household incomes between $20,000 and $40,000 (23.9%) was almost double that of successful students (12.9%). Of the 17 successful students in the study with incomes household incomes over $61,000, only 4 were not successful. All students with household incomes between $61,000 and $80,000 were successful. 4. Higher overall GPA. Successful online students had a higher cumulative grade point average overall. Of the 96 students on whom these data were gathered, the 75 successful students had a mean GPA of 3.02 on a 4-point scale; the 21 nonsuccessful students had a mean GPA of 2.25. 5. Lower self-perceived computer expertise. Interestingl y, unsuccessful students
31 rated their expertise in the use of the world wide web higher than the successful students. Unsuccessful students aver age rating of their skill was 3.67 on a 5point scale; successful student s ranked their skill level at 3.38 on a 5-point scale. Similarly, unsuccessful students ranked their use of e-mail a 3.62 on a 5-point scale whereas the average successful students ranked their skill in e-mail technology at 3.26. Flores-Juarez (2005) investigated factors th at students perceived influenced their engagement and promoted success at the Un iversidad de Monterrey, Monterrey, Nuevo Len, Mexico. That study focused on factors re lated to institutional practices and student behaviors, predominately stude nt retention and success. St udent success, Flores-Juarez points out, includes a number of related ideas: engagement, involvement, persistence, and learning, among others. Specifi c recommendations to impr ove student retention and reduce student attrition were outlined in this study. First was a systems approach by the college, so that every aspect of the institution worked together to promote student success. It was noted that students maximize their chances of graduating by attending a private university in any regi on or a public four-year college located in the northeastern or southern United States. Attending a coll ege affiliated with the Roman Catholic or a protestant church also positively affected student retention. Students also tended to persist in institutions of moderate size. A ttending institutions where other students had similar backgrounds also aided in retention, particularly if hometown size, religion and race were considered. Access to financial ai d, intervention programs for at risk students
32 and the campus academic environment contributed to student graduation rates, as did as student employment. An Interactive Qualitative Analysis (IQA) research method was chosen for this qualitative study of student perceptions and the guidelines of the National Survey of Student Engagement were followed for the interviews. Program heads and faculty of five academic division were asked to nominate twel ve engaged students and from that list the purposeful sample was taken. Of the orig inal 60 candidates, 36 students took part in one or more of the data gathering activiti es. Focus groups were established, one for freshmen and one for seniors and the groups we re asked to identify factors that affected student engagement. Engage d students were defined as those who: enjoy and were committed to their major; had not been expelled from any other university; had persisted since the beginning of the program; had a GPA of at least 8.0 (the Mexican scale based on 0-10 stipulates 6 as fail and 7 as pass); part icipated in different institutional activities and had a good chance of graduating in a total of ten or fewer semesters. The two groups of successfully engaged students genera ted the following criteria for student engagement/success. The criteria from bot h groups are listed in ranked order below. 1. Personal aspirations and goals. Identification of personal goals and ambitions was a key element identified by students as critical to success. Short, mid and long term goals were clear and ambitious. Students believed that commitment to the aspirations was necessary and provide d the impetus to work persistently. 2. Personal aspects. Student s identified a positive attitude, good personal organization, discipline, constancy and good time management as critical keys to success. In the classroom they take pa rt, accept responsibilit y, are courteous and
33 establish good relationships with classmates and teachers. Also mentioned as critical to successful engagement were personal situations including personal finances, health, whether living with famil y, emotional stability and self-esteem. 3. Faculty interaction. Successful students identified faculty as the most important element at their university. Students stat ed that they wanted to work with good teachers and be near them. The best t eachers were identified as honest, courteous, well prepared, knew how to teach, had releva nt experience, were enthusiastic and established solid, productive re lations with students. 4. Relevant people. Students w ho were strongly committed to their studies identified their family, particularly thei r parents, as fundame ntal to their success in terms of values, habits personality, support, encouragement and motivation. Students occasionally remarked that their parents had high expectations of them and they felt highly committed to them. 5. Academic aspects. Successful students wanted a meaningful learning experience. They professed an enjoymen t of their major field of study and were proud of their institution. Many felt the academic rigor of their discipline was appropriate. 6. Fellow students. Successful st udents identified classmates as an important aspect. Teamwork, mutual support in personal and academic matters, mutual encouragement and companionship were listed as a significant influence. Successful students relayed that they surr ounded themselves with other successful students and that principles, habits, and goa ls were shared and reinforced by the association.
34 7. Extracurricular activities and scholarships. Succe ssful students were aware of the benefits of extracurricular activities. They tended to take part in a number of activities such as personal development, athletics and student leadership. These students often reported more commitment to the institution. 8. Services and infrastructure. Stude nts reported that servi ces and infrastructures were not critical factors but were important. Libraries, study areas, computer labs and student services were mentioned as important areas of service and infrastructure. 9. Physical plant. Successful student s reported that they liked their campus for its design, its geographical location and arra ngement that allowed them to meet others. Parking was a consistently ne gative remark concerning the physical campus. Flores-Juarez interviewed and analyzed th e responses from freshmen and seniors separately and found the outlook to be very si milar. Freshmen, for example, used the world parents and seniors used family and ev en those slight differences disappeared at the third and fourth level. Flores-Juarez c oncluded that successful students perceive the elements that decide how committed and involve d they were with their studies the same way as freshmen as they did as seniors. Harbeck (2001) considered the characte ristics of community college students taking online courses, the elements that aided their success, and how the infrastructure of the college supported the students. The sample of 168 students was chosen from a population enrolled in online courses over four consecutive semesters in 1999. Each of
35 the 168 students was sent an e-mail inviting them to fill out the questionnaires. Data were collected via 29 interviews, 20 observations and three separate questionnaires. The first questionnaire elicited 35 responses, the second 13 and the third asked for 20 answers. Of the 168 potential subjects, 15 students were interviewed, 35 respondents answered the first questionnaire, 13 replied to the second and 20 responded to the third for a total of 68 questionnaires completed. All respondents were volunteers in this sample. The 15 students who participated in the two interviews were paid $20.00 per interview. Demographic data were collected concerni ng gender, ethnicity, age, and parental and marital status to address the research que stion of the characteris tics of students taking online courses. Harbeck reported the follo wing: In the year of the study, 55.6% of distance learners were female; among the in terviewees, 73% were female and of the respondents to the first questionnaire, 69% were female. The ethnicity of online learners was 92.2% white, 2.0% African American, 1.5% American Indian, 0.5% Hispanic, .5% Asian and 3.0% Other. The majority of the interviewees (8 6.6%) were white, 6.7% Native American and 6.7% Hispanic. Data from the first of the three questionnaires revealed that of 35 students, 48% were married and 45.7% were parents. The majority (57.1%) of the online students who responded to the survey were between ages of 20 and 29. A summary of the background characteristic s of the interviewees showed 93% were employed; 66% were women; 60% were marri ed, 54% had children; and 46.6% were in their 30s. Harbeck established four categories to gr oup the results. The categories, referred to as domains, and the elements representativ e of them are listed below. Domains and
36 categories were not mutually exclusive. The da ta in one area could al so be appropriate in another. 1. Interpersonal support. This category included such issues as l ack of distractions or interruptions, physical space and support from family or employers. 2. Student characteristics. Seven distinct areas were ascribed to this category. a. Concerns. This subcategory included lack of interaction, technical concerns and problems, a lack of ex perience with online learning and lack of study skills. b. Motivation. This subcategory c ontained students long term goals, required courses, convenience, personal goals and interests and attitude. c. Perception of content. Percep tion of Content included levels of difficulty of the coursework and level of the students interest in the topic. d. Prior knowledge. Prior knowledge of course content and of online learning were included in this subcategory. e. Academic background. This s ubcategory dealt w ith the students academic background, grades and overall learning outcomes. f. Learning preferences. Persona l learning styles, time and course management, individual need for struct ure, personal interaction and study habits were included in this subcategory. g. Technological issues. Factor s such as access to computers and technical skill level were discussed in this domain. 3. Course issues. Properties inhe rent to online courses included convenience,
37 novelty, lack of live interaction and student autonomy. Also included in Course Issues were practical issues of disc ussion boards, assignment submission and assessment. 4. Infrastructure. Hardware and so ftware technical problems, computer or modem malfunctions and technical support were factors of infrastructure. In the discussion of dimensions or features that promote succe ss in online courses, Harbeck points out (page 142) that the lack of facilitative dimensions or features may be problematic. In discussing the facilitative dimensions or features that promote student success in on-line courses, it is importa nt to realize that the converse of a beneficial characteristic is that the lack of this feature could be inhibitive. For example, to say that interaction is advant ageous to student success is also to say that the lack of interaction is problema tic. Therefore, for every point made in addressing the issue of faci litative dimensions, a corres ponding point can be made about debilitative features. The findings of Harbecks study asserted th at in order to be successful in an online course, students should possess certain personal characteristics and should have the support of family, friends, employers and th e college infrastructure. Overall, seven features were found to be signi ficant for students success. 1. Interaction. Interaction between th e learner and instructor was critical to student satisfaction and persistence. It was be lieved that interaction improved learner motivation because it provided for support from classmates and instructors. Twelve of the 35 respondents stated they were uncomfortable with the lack on instructor interaction. 2. Well designed and managed cour ses. The manner in which instructors design
38 and manage the course was important. Stude nts stated that exp ectations should be well defined. Since students do not have the opportunity to raise their hand to ask questions, it was important that a ssignments be clear and unambiguous and that there be provisions fo r instructor feedback. 3. Physical and emotional support Respondents asserted that support from significant others was essential. Emotional support from spouses, parents and children as well as understa nding employers was believ ed critical for student success. 4. Motivation. Students motivated to work online, who were self-disciplined were more likely to be successful. In this study, all respondents had long term goals associated with achieving a degree. The willingness to work toward this purpose was shown to be a significant element in student success. 5. Self direction. Another personal characteristic identified that was necessary for success for online learners. Students n eeded to possess learner motivation and responsibility. Successful students were se lf-actualizers. Since online instructors were not physically present, students recognized the need to be self-directed and overcome distractions. This study found th at electronic distractions of Instant Messaging and surfing the net were more debilitating than interruptions from other sources. 6. Prior knowledge of online course s. Prior experience w ith online learning was beneficial to students. It was found that even a shor t time of online course experience was beneficial in reducing di fficulties in navigating the internet and
39 online coursework. This concern also a ppeared in the domain of Infrastructure support. 7. Technical skills. Knowledge of the technology involved, not the logistics of webbased instruction referenced in characte ristic number six above was found to be an important element in student success. The challenge of learning technical procedures and equipment while simulta neously learning course content was challenging. Further, good experience w ith online classes gave confidence in taking a second course online. It was rema rked that students needed expertise in using the internet and word processors and that, before taking online courses, some students overestimated their computer skills. St udents with a flexible, open attitude towards technical difficulties and the course in general seemed more capable of problem solving and continued in the course in spite of frustrations. The facilitative features or characteristics that promote student success in online courses as delineated above were contrasted with debilitative dimens ions that inhibited student success. The following issues were c onsidered debilitative: lack of interaction, poorly designed and managed courses, lack of physical and emotional support, low motivation, poor self-direction, no prior knowledg e of online courses and weak technical skills. Hartley and Bendixen (2001) by a study of relevant rese arch examined the role of individual characteristics in internet lear ning and divided the fi ndings into two broad categories they considered most relevant: self regulation and epistemological beliefs. 1. Self regulatory skills. Self regulatory skills were defined as the ability and
40 willingness to effectively use and monitor cognitive strategies. a. Self monitoring. Included in this category were the learners abilities to monitor their understanding while reading. b. Goal setting. Also in the real m of self-regu latory skills was the students ability and willingness to set goals. c. Awareness of ability. Successful se lf regulated learners are aware of their strengths and weaknesses and can adapt to different learning situations by using appropriate learning strategies and planning. 2. Epistemological beliefs. Epistemol ogical beliefs, or beliefs about the nature of knowledge and knowing held by students, we re linked to cognitive processes such as text comprehension, text processing, academic performance, self regulation and motivation. a. Flexibility. Flexibility in learning, which allows multiple perspectives, links concepts and stresses the webbed nature of knowledge. A student who believed in a fixed ability as a primary determin ant of success might believe that more effort would not coincide with more learning. As a consequence, the additional tools available, such as links to defini tions, self-check materials or diagrams would not be sought. b. Broader view of knowledge. A stude nt who believed that knowledge is the sum of simple facts might be less like ly to take advantage of hypermedia enhancements, or other enrichments seen as unnecessary extras.
41 Schonwetter, Perry and Struthers comple ted a study of student perceptions of control and success in the co llege classroom in 1993 and demonstrated not only the importance of the students sense of control in the classroom but the link between self perception of success, instructor expr essiveness, and scholastic performance (Schonwetter, Perry & Struther s, 1993). While not includi ng on-line studen ts, the study does focus on student perceptions of success. This study used a two by two experimental design with four distinct groups: low-c ontrol/low-success, low-control/high-success, high-control/low-success and high-control/hi gh-success. One hundred and forty students from an introductory psychology course vol unteered for the study. Responses on a questionnaire were used to classify students in to groups. Traits that characterize the most successful students in this st udy are summarized below along with the negative traits of the least successful students. 1. Seeks challenge. Mastery stud ents with high levels of perceived success and perceived control seek personal challenge. 2. Persistence. Students who per ceived high levels of cont rol and high levels of success were persistent in the face of difficulties. 3. Self-directing. Students percei ving high levels of control and success are more likely to thrive even w ith poor instruction. 4. Internal locus of control. Less successful students exhibited learned helplessness or an external locus of control. These students avoided challenge and were not as persistent in the face of difficulty.
42 A recent study by Schrum and Hong resear ched aspects of successful adult online learners and identified seven significant dimensions characteristic of the successful student (Schrum & Hong, 2002). A significant bo dy of literature exists in the field of online learning and it was from this comp rehensive body of literature, as well as documents available from selected institutions that offered post-secondary online learning opportunities, that Schrum and Hong sought to identify the characteristics of successful online students in phase one of the two-phase study. Init ially, 70 institutions were chosen for the educational focus of their online courses and other components deemed essential for post secondary education such as library facilities, student support personnel and the like. This original group was then narrowed to those that offered a chance for students to investigate their ow n suitability for online learning. This assessment was done via a needs-assessment that included advanced organizers, surveys, and materials designed to provide potentia l students with information. A document analysis was completed on the assessments to compare similarities, distinguish differences and identify the functions of presentation, scoring, feedback, and supporting documentation. The document analysis was fo llowed by a second literature review to verify the field analysis. After the characteristics were deline ated, phase two of the study included verification of the traits with expert online educators. Via the in ternet, experts were presented with the list of characteristics of successful online students, along with three Likert-type and one open-ended question abou t each characteristic. A second portion dealt with strategies used to support online students.
43 The seven elements found to be characteristic of successful online students were interrelated and varied in importance. The elements are listed below: 1. Access to appropriate tools. Ease in access to equipment was correlated with course completion. Reliable access at home was deemed a distinct advantage as it afforded the student the convenience of being able to work at his or her own time schedule. 2. Previous experi ence with technology. Results showed that students with a level of confidence and comfort using technology were more likely to be successful. Schrum and Hong suggested that the chal lenge for the inexperienced student to learn both the technology and the content simultaneously might prevent success. The ability to solve simple technical pr oblems, check e-mail, print and manage files was characteristic of th e successful online student. 3. Learning preferences. Successf ul online students were aware of their own learning style and are able to compensate or modify input to assist themselves. Students who need to hear classmates discuss ideas might substitute chat sessions online or telephone conference calls, the authors suggested. Successful students adept at visual learning may take adva ntage of visual le arning opportunities, extroverted learners might join focus groups and so on were also coping strategies suggested in this study. 4. Study habits and skills. Successf ul students kept up with assignments and posted questions to clarify misconceptions. 5. Personal goals and purposes. Indi vidual need for profe ssional certification, maintaining licensure, upgrading skills or increasing knowledge encouraged
44 successful completion of the course. Personal reasons for seeking education provided motivation for course co mpletion the authors noted. 6. Lifestyle factors. Time management was found to be an important factor in student success. Students with 10 to 20 hours a week to devote to studying had a greater chance of succeeding in the onlin e environment this study found. Schrum and Hong state that most students who dr opped an online course mentioned a lack of time to devote to studying. Other fact ors such as work related travel and childcare were also mentioned. Additi onally, the support of family, friends and co-workers in scheduling and time mana gement also impacted completion. 7. Personal traits and characteristics. Personal traits, characteristics, and fundamental patterns in the way people be have, utilize time and resources, and conduct their life were found to be significan t elements in success. Organization, assuming personal responsibility and se lf-discipline were characteristic of successful online students. Successful online students also tended to have a strong commitment to the class. Spampinto (2005) investigated student pe rceptions of the effect of personal attributes in three learning situations, cl assroom, online, and telecourse success, the difference between the perceptions of attributes needed for success in each, and the demographics of the students surveyed. An instructor of traditional and online format courses and an academic advisor, Spampinto believed that students perceived that different course formats required different personal characteristics for success. The study, conducted at Delaware Technical and Community College in Delaware, queried
45 students enrolled in a General Psychology cour se in either tradit ional classroom setting, online, or telecourse format, and in a combination of class sessions and meeting days. Of 108 students invited to partic ipate in the study, 81 provided responses; 19 from the telecourse, 46 from the online courses and 43 taking the course on the physical campus. The course syllabus, competencies, and assessments were the same for all three formats. Questionnaires were mailed to the students be fore the end of the term and demographic data was gathered from the college student re cord system database. Data were collected on cumulative GPA, gender, age, and ethnicity in the three course delivery formats. Responses were reported using descriptiv e methodology. A higher percentage of online and telecourse students ranked the personal at tributes of organizat ion and study habits, reading ability, independent lear ning, self-motivation and time management as important. Students responses indicated th at student-to-student interact ion was perceived to be an important element in course success. Gender and ethnicity were not found to be significant predictors of stude nt success in either format Cumulative GPA and student age were described differently between successful and non-successful students in distance learning formats. Successful students were defined for this study as those students completing the course with a grade of A, B or C. Unsuccessful students were defined as those students whose final grade was below a C or who did not complete the course. Student responses to the questions con cerning personal attributes perceived as important to success, and if they differed fr om classroom, online, and telecourse, were addressed in sections one a nd two of the survey. Personal attributes related to organization and study habits, independent learning, motivat ion, reading ability, time
46 management, and personal skills were addresse d. Also student perceptions about course attributes important to success were include d in that section. Section three gave a demographic portrait of the students. Inform ation from sections one and two concerning personal characteristics and course attributes are summarized below: 1. Organization. Students taking onlin e and telecourses perceived themselves to be more organized than successful fellow stude nts in classroom settings. In response to the statement In general, I would cons ider myself to be highly organized 70% of successful classroom students, 92% of successful online students and 80% of successful telecourse students marked th at they agreed. The percentages of unsuccessful students were 25%, 11% and 33% respectively. 2. Strong study habits. Fewer unsuccessful students than successful students reported possessing strong study habits. Fo r classroom, online, and telecourse, the percentages of successful students agreeing to strong study habits were 39%, 76% and 70% as opposed to 13%, 11% and 17%. Although successful students in all formats perceived themselves as being stronger in study habits, the difference between the self-reported strong study habits of successful online versus unsuccessful online students was striking at 75% for successful respondents and only 11% for unsuccessful online students. 3. Staying on task. Successful st udents in classroom (12%), online (12%) and telecourse (13%) formats agr eed that it was important for course success to stay on task. Unsuccessful students showed le ss agreement with the statement with 0% of classroom students, 12% of online students and 0% of telecourse students agreeing with the statement that it wa s important for success to stay on task.
47 4. Independent learning. Independent learning as a perceived success attribute was perceived much differently between online and telecourse students compared to classroom students. Spampinto found that successful students in online (100%) or telecourse (90%) and unsu ccessful online students (100% ) and telecourse students (100%) agreed that the ability to learn i ndependently was vital to success. Fiftytwo percent of successful students enrolled in classroom format and 505 of unsuccessful students enrolled in the classr oom agreed that the ability to learn independently was important to success. 5. Classroom involvement. Activitie s other than reading and writing on ones own and interaction with other students and t eachers was perceived as important to all unsuccessful students whether in online, tel ecourse or classroom. The percentage of unsuccessful students who agreed that th ey learned better with interaction were classroom 88%, online 78% and telecourse 83%. Successful students in all three venues also agreed that they learned be tter with interaction. Percentage of successful students agreeing with the st atement were classroom 78%, online 52% and telecourse 70%. 6. Motivation. Self-motivation wa s considered important for success by 100% of the online students, both successful and unsuccessful. More successful classroom students considered self-motivation impor tant (78% compared to 50%). All telecourse students agreed that self-mo tivation was important but only 67% of the unsuccessful students agreed. Spampinato po ints out that becaus e of the ability of the classroom instructor to provide immediate feedback, expressions of concern,
48 and prompts, these elements may be perceived by students as external motivators that would substitute for the need for self motivation. 7. Reading ability. Five questions we re in the area of reading ability. Questions concerning the importance of the ability to read and understand the textbook and assigned readings were considered very important by 74% of successful classroom students, 100% of successful online students and 90% of successful telecourse students. Se venty-five percent of unsu ccessful classroom students agreed, 100% of unsuccessful online student s and 83% of unsuccessful telecourse students. Other questions concerning read ing ability, such as Sometimes I need help to understand the reading material s and I can easily understand new information by reading about it on my ow n showed agreement with perceived overall importance. 8. Time management skills. Three queries concerned time management. Agreement with the statements Time mana gement skills are important, I have strong time management skills, and I got behind and it was hard to catch up indicate that successful and unsuccessful students agree at a similar percentage. Of the successful classroom students 87% agreed; unsucce ssful agreed 88% of the time. Ninety six percent of online stude nts agreed to the importance of time management; 100% of unsuccessful online students agreed. One hundred percent of both successful and unsuccessful te lecourse students agreed that time management was critical. 9. Personal skills. Eight statements in the questionnaire c oncerned personal skills
49 such as typing, computer use, and abili ty to learn and study independently. Twenty-six percent of succe ssful classroom students felt the need for typing skills was important; 13% of unsuccessful clas sroom students did. For online students the percentages were 72% and 22%, and telecourse students 70% and 0% for successful and unsuccessful students respec tively. Knowledge of computers was acknowledged as important for 35% of successful classroom students, 95% successful online and 80% successf ul telecourse students. A demographic portrait of the successful student was generated from the college database. Female students were slightly mo re successful in classroom style courses; males were slightly more successful in online courses and telecourses. Minority students were less successful in classroom, online a nd telecourses. Higher ages group students (age 33 to 65) were more successful across all course formats. The youngest age group (18-23) were more successful than the middl e age group (24-32) in each of the course formats. Cumulative GPA was significantly di fferent as well; a higher cumulative grade point average paralleled more successful stude nts in each course format. From the college database, Spampinato followed her an alysis of student characteristics with a similar analysis of aspects of the course itself that students found important. Volery (2001) listed three critical su ccess elements asso ciated with online learning in a study conducted at Curtin University of Technology in Australia. Data were collected through a Likert style questionnaire from 47 students enrolled in business courses in the fall semester of 1999. Volerys study identified th ree critical success elements for online instruction: Technology, including the ease of access and navigation;
50 the instructor attitude toward students, technical competence and classroom interaction; and the students perv ious use of technology. 1. Technology. Students should have convenient access to tec hnology that allows both synchronous and asynchronous exchange, requires minimal time for document exchange and is supportive of a variety of elements such as text, graphics, audio and video. Included in the questionnaire were items relating to ease of access, ease of navigation, brow sing speed, presentation, feedback and ability to interact with classmates and contact the instructor. 2. Instructor characteri stics. Instructor effectiveness of online delivery relies in part on the instructors knowledge of technology, individual teaching style and attitude toward learning. Students were more likely to have a positive outcome in a class in which the instructor showed a positive attitude toward distance learning and promoted technology. The instructor s hould also be organized and have the ability to solve simple technology problems such as modifying students passwords or changing course settings. Questions in this section of the questionnaire relate to the enthusiasm of the instructor whether the instructors style held the students interest, friendliness, genuine interest in students, willingness to help students, and reaction to student questions and contributions 3. Student characteristics. Especially important was previous experience with online coursework. Six variables were included in the demographic portrait of students: program of study, internet access at home, previous experience with online class, program, gender, Electronic Commerce st udents versus students with other majors, and country of origin. A one -way analysis of variance (ANOVA)
51 revealed that the only characteristic influencing effectiveness was prior online experience. Wang and Newlin (2000) compared cognitive-motivational and demographic characteristics of students who successfully completed a web based statistical methods course with students enrolled in a traditiona l classroom section of the same course. Citing the importance of understanding and the paucity of research concerning the characteristics of successful online students, the authors designed a study to investigate the possibility that there exist characte ristic differences (e.g. psychological and demographic) between students who enroll in online classes compared with their peers enrolled in conventional classes. Wang and Newlin also endeavored to identify predictors of success or failure that occurred as early as the first week of the semester so that instructors could closely monitor and assi st students at risk of poor performance. Students in a web-based Statistical Methods in Psychology course and a concurrent traditional face-to-face version of the same course were studied over three semesters. In order to compare student pe rformance on online versus conventional class format, all six sections were taught by the same instructor using the same text, syllabus, tests and assignments. Other than an orientat ion meeting at the begi nning of the semester for online students, no face-to-face meetings were planned. An effort was made to make instructional approach, course content and performance measur es equal. At the end of the semester all students completed a standard course evaluation, the Student Perception of Instruction, to determine the degree of student satisfaction with the course. One hundred and seventeen students participated; 15, 17 and 19 in the onl ine courses and 26,
52 28 and 12 in the classroom sections respectiv ely, during the three semesters. Students self-selected the online or trad itional format. Data were collected on course evaluation, class performance, cognitive-motivational orie ntation, online course activity, study-habits and demographic particulars. Measurement used were the Rotter Locus of Control Scale, the Academic Locus of Control Scale, the Kolb Learning Styles Inventory, the Cacioppo and Petty Need for Cognition Scale paired with the achievement motivation and attitude measurement of the 1983 Spence and Hemreich Work Orientation and Family Orientation Scale, the short form of the Approaches to Studying Inventor y to assess students learning style on the basis of three dimensions related to cognitive and motivational orientations, and the Style Processing Questionnaire by Childer s, Houston and Heckler. The cognitive-motivational surveys and demographic data were assessed to determine whether students who elected to enroll in online coursework differed psychologically or demographically from conventional students. No demographic differences were found to be significant. All together, 11 variables of the online coursework were analyzed: homepage hit rate postings read, postings written, house per week spent studying, age, number of current course taken, locus of control, academic locus of control, motivation, style of info rmation processing, and need for cognition. Results of data analysis showed that co mpared to online students, those students enrolled in the traditional classroom format had slightly higher scores on the final exam and lower grades in the course. Wang a nd Newlin did not separate students into successful and unsuccessful categories by course completion at a specific grade point.
53 However, their analysis revealed that three va riables were significant predictors of final grades in class: 1. Total Homepage Hits. For online students, the final course grade correlated with the number of times the student logged on to the course homepage during the 15 week semester. Those students who main tained a high level of online course activity averaged a higher final course grade. 2. High Need for Cognition. A second significant predictor of final grade in class was inquisitiveness measured by the N eed for Cognition Scale and the Work Orientation and Family Orientation Scal e which were designed to measure the tendency for an individual to en gage in and enjoy thinking. 3. Locus of Control. Online students tended to have higher external locus of control compared with their conventional counter parts, however, online students who had an internal locus of control tended to pe rform well in the virt ual classroom. Wojciechowski (2004) examined the relationship between student characteristics and success in an online Introduction to Bu siness (BBUS 100) course at West Shore Community College, Scottville, Michigan. Succe ssful (defined as earning a grade of C or higher) and unsuccessful (final grade lowe r than C or noncompletion of the course) students were compared in the areas of gender, age, previous online experience, American College Testing (ACT) English sc ores, ACT Reading sc ores, ACT Composite score, Assessment of Skills for Successful Entry and Transfer (ASSET) Reading score, ASSET writing score, GPA, previous course withdrawals, 16-week or 8-week semester format, fall or part time status, and attenda nce at class orientation. West Shore
54 Community College is a member of the Mich igan College Community Virtual learning Collaborative, a collaborative e ffort designed to allow students to take courses at member colleges while receiving support services fr om their home campus. The Introduction to Business course was offered through this co llaborative effort; students from around the state of Michigan, as well as around the world, have enrolled in the course. The data for 12 of the variables were collected from th e college database. The final variable, attendance at an orientation session was extr apolated from the in structors grade book. The sample consisted of 179 students who registered for BBUS 100 at West Shore Community College between 2000 to 2003. The same instructor taught and the same texts were used for all semesters. Of the 179 students in the sample, 125 student s were successful in the course as identified by a grade of C or higher. Resu lts of the data analysis for the independent variables were as follows: 1. Gender. No statistically significant relationshi p was noted between gender and final achieved score in BBUS 101. 2. Age. Students in this study range d in age from 16 to 52 with an average age of 25. Statistical significance was found be tween success in the online course and the age of the student. Further, statistically significant difference was found between age of the successful student and on line grade. The older the student, the higher the grade in the cour se; the younger the student, the lower the final grade in the course. 3. Prior online coursework complete d. A significant relationship was noted between
55 those who had completed a prior online c ourse and enrollment in the course but no significant relationship between successful students and previously taken online coursework was seen. 4. ACT English score. ACT scores ranged from low of 1 to high of 36 for each of the tests in this study. ACT English range was 10 to 32 with a mean score of 20.63. There appeared to be a statistical ly significant rela tionship between ACT English scores and success in the online course. The lower the ACT English test score, the lower the grade the st udent achieved in the course. 5. ACT reading score. ACT Reading scores ranged from 10 to 36 for the students who had completed this test. No sign ificant difference was noted between ACT reading and success in the online course. 6. ACT composite score. The ACT co mposite test scores for English, mathematics, reading, and science ranged from 12 to 34. Of the students who had completed the test, the mean score was 21. No st atistically significan t difference was found with ACT composite scores and success in the online course. 7. ASSET reading score. ASSET r eading scores ranged from 31 to 53. There was statistical significance associated with higher ASSET reading scores and success in this online course. 8. ASSET writing skills score. The ra nge of scores for the online students in this study were 32 to 52. There was no statis tically significant association between the ASSET writing skills score and final grade in BBUS 101. 9. Overall GPA. On a four-point scale, the mean grade point average was 2.67.
56 There was a highly statistically signifi cant relationship between grade point average and success in the online course, (p =.000) for the populati on of this study. Students that had a higher grade point aver age were more likely to be successful in this online course. 10. Previous course withdrawals. Previous number of course withdrawals for students in this study ranged from none to 11. Withdrawal rate of the student had a negative correlation of -.027. As th e number of withdrawals decreased the grade achieved in the online course increased at a significant rate. 11. Length of semester. West Shore Community College offers both a 16 week semester and a compressed eight week summer semester. There was significance for the successful students identified in that study and summer semester length with students more successful in the shorter semester. 12. Full time / part time student status. No statistically significant relationship with success in the online course was f ound between final course grade indicating success and full or part time status. 13. Attendance at orientation. An orientation sessions at the beginning of the semester covered information on assignments, use of Blackboard and social presence. Attendance at the orientat ion session was not mandatory. A high correlation was found between attendance at the orientation session and success for both the student population studied (p =.000) and for the successful students as well. Of the 13 independent variables, 12 were correlated with the dependent variable of final grade received in the online course. This study indicated that characteristics
57 correlated with success in th e online course were attendance at the orientation session offered at the beginning of the semester; age, with older students generally likely to be successful; higher overall GPA; previously completed online courses; fewer course withdrawals; higher ACT English and ASS ET reading scores and attendance in the summer semester. Wojciechowski and Palmer (2005) reported student characteristics as predictors of success in online classes from the same da ta. One hundred and seventy nine students who had taken an online course in business at a community college in Michigan over a three-year period were included in the st udy. Various student characteristics were examined to determine their relationship to student success, which was defined by student grade of C or higher. The study covered nine semesters of the same 15-week online course, taught by the same instructor. An orientation session was offered, but not required, prior to the start of the semester With the exception of attendance at the orientation session, all data were extrapolated from the college database. Descriptive and inferential statistics were used to analyze the data for all students and also for those students deemed successful by receiving a grad e of C or higher. Of the 179 total students, 125 completed the course with a gr ade of C or higher so were defined as successful. Eleven received a grade lower than C but passe d the class; 26 failed and 17 withdrew. Thirteen student characteristics were examined as independent variables: GPA, attendance at the orientation session, num ber of previous cla ss withdrawals, score on the Assessment of Skills for Successful Entry and Transfer (ASSET) reading score, number of previous online courses taken, age, ACT English score, student status as part
58 time or full time, gender, ACT composite score, ACT reading score, semester format of 16 weeks or 8 weeks, and ASSET writing score. Of the thirteen variables examined, four were found to be characteristic of both successful and non-successful students; thr ee of non-successful students only and one of successful students only. The three variable s that were found to be correlated at a significant level (p=<.05) with non-successful, bu t not with successful students, were the ASSET reading score, number of previous online courses taken and the ACT English score. Those elements found to be significan tly correlated with the successful student are listed below in rank order. 1. GPA. The students overall grad e point average had the st rongest relationship to successful completion of the class for both the successful and non-successful student. The higher the stude nts overall GPA, the highe r his or her grade in the online class. 2. Attendance at orientation meeting. Attendance at the optiona l class orientation at the beginning of the semester was si gnificantly correlated with student success in the online course. 3. Previous withdrawals. The number of course withdrawals prior to enrolling in this online business class was predictive of a final grade of C or better. A statistically significant negative correlati on existed for both the general population and the successful student cohort. The students with fewer previous course withdrawals had higher grades in the online course. 4. Age. Students in the population ranged from 16 to 52 years old, with an average
59 age of 25. For both groups (successful and non-successful) overall, there was found to be a statistically significant corre lation: the older the student, the higher the grade in the course; the younger the student, the lower the course grade. 5. Semester format. The last elem ent of the 13 that was f ound to be statistically correlated with a final grade of C or highe r was the length of the semester. This applied only to the succe ssful students. No correlation was found between the length of the semester and the students who failed the class, passed with a grade lower than C or withdrew. Statistical analysis revealed that the two most significant variables, GPA and attendance at the orientation, accounted for 69% of the variability in the final course grade. Other variables, therefore, were le ss useful in predictin g student success in the online class. The following table summarizes the characteristics found by the above researchers to be significant cont ributors to students success.
Author Title Elements identified Dean, 1998 Defining and Achieving University Student Success: Faculty and Student Perceptions The faculty perspective 1. Maintaining academic success 2. Securing a position in the chosen career field 3. Graduation 4. Ability to apply the lessons learned in the college experience to other areas of life Dean, 1998 Defining and Achieving University Student Success: Faculty and Student Perceptions The student perspective 1. Proficiency in all academic subjects 2. Balance in all elements of ones life 3. Gaining practical experience for the future 4. Achieving ones goals 5. Maintaining good grades 6. Graduating 7. Participating in and out of class Diaz, 2000 Comparison of Student Characteristics, and Evaluation of Student Success, in an Online Health Education Course 1. Gender (Female) 2. Ethnic group (Nonwhite) 3. Cumulative GPA (over 3.02) 4. Learning Style (Independent) 5. Household income 6. Self ranked computer skills (modest) Flores-Juarez, 2005 Promoting Student Success: Students' Perceptions of the Factors that Influence their Engagement at a Mexican University 1. Personal goals 2. Personality aspects (such as attitude, organizational ability, discipline) 3. Faculty involvement 4. Personal support system of family, parents, mentors 5. Academic program that is meaningful and sufficiently rigorous 6. A sense of teamwork with fellow students 7. Involvement in extracurricular activities and scholarships 8. Collegiate infrastructure (i.e., library, labs) 9. Physical plant, buildings, parking facilities Harbeck, 2001 Community College Students Taking On-Line Courses: The Student Point-of-View 1. Interaction with instructor and other students 2. Well designed and managed course 3. Physical and emotional support 4. Motivation 5. Self-direction 6. Prior knowledge of online course 7. Technical skills Table 1. Summary of Elements Identified as Important Contributors to Student Success 60
61 Author Title Elements identified Hartley & Bendixen, 2001 Educational Research in the Internet Age: Examining the Role of Individual Characteristics 1. Self monitoring skill 2. Goal setting 3. Awareness of ability 4. Flexibility 5. Broad view of knowledge Schonwetter, Perry & Struthers, 1993 Students' Perceptions of Control and Success in the College Classroom: Affects and Achievement in Different Instructional Conditions 1. Affinity for challenge 2. Persistence 3. Self directed 4. Internal locus of control Schrum & Hong, 2002 From the Field: Characteristics of Successful Tertiary Online Students and Strategies of Experienced Online Educators 1. Access to appropriate tools 2. Previous experience with technology 3. Awareness of personal learning style 4. Study habits and skills 5. Personal goals and purpose 6. Lifestyle factors (e.g., time management, family and employer support, childcare) 7. Personal traits and characteristics (e.g., being organized, assuming personal responsibility, self disciplined) Spampinto, 2005 Student Perceptions Concerning the Effect of Personal Attributes and Course Attributes in Classroom, Online and Telecourse Success 1. Organized 2. Strong study habits 3. Staying on track 4. Independent learning style 5. Classroom involvement 6. Motivated 7. Ability to read and comprehend easily 8. Time management skills 9. Personal skills (e.g., typing, computer expertise) Volery, 2001 Online Education: An Exploratory Study into Success Factors 1. Convenient access to technology 2. Instructor who is technologically competent and organized 3. Previous experience with online coursework Wang & Newlin, 2000 Characteristics of Students Who Enroll and Succeed in Psychology Web-Based Classes 1. High level of engagement/activity 2. High need for cognition / inquisitiveness 3. Internal locus of control Wojciechowski, 2004 The Relationship Between Student Characteristics and Success in an Online Business Course at West Shore Community College 1. Age above class average 2. Prior online experience 3. High ACT English score 4. High ASSET reading score 5. Cumulative GPA above class average 6. Few previous course withdrawals 7. Semester format of 8 weeks 8. Attendance at orientation Table 1 (Continued)
Table 1 (Continued) Author Title Elements identified Wojciechowski & Palmer, 2005 Individual Student Characteristics: Can Any Be Predictors Of Success In Online Classes? 1. High cumulative GPA 2. Orientation attendance 3. Few previous course withdrawals 4. Age over class average 5. 8 week semester format 62
63 CHAPTER THREE Methodology This chapter is presented in seven sections. Initially, the overall rationale for the design choice, the conceptual framework, the research design, and strategy are discussed. The impact of a pilot study and issues of dependability are included there. The second section consists of a discussion of the role and possible biases of the researcher. The discussion of the researchers role is followe d in the third section by a description of the development of the inventory questionnaire a nd standardized interv iew template. The justification for the inventory que stions is discussed there. Protocol and data collection procedures follow in the fourth section. In the fifth section, the research setting is described and that followed in the sixth sec tion by the particulars of the population and sample. The seventh and final section desc ribes the method used for analysis of the collected data. Student opinion and perception conc erning online success appear underrepresented in the literatur e of professional education (Dean, 1998; Diaz, 2000; Harbeck, 2001) and this study of students at one comm unity college is relevant to the overall understanding of that student issue in todays educational environment. The topic of learner perspective has received less atten tion from researchers than research on educational media and teaching methods (Har tley & Bendixen, 2001). This study of student perceptions of elements critical for success in online coursework offers a one representation of the student voice.
64 The goals of this study were to identify elements perceived by students as critical to success in an online class; to determine if students believe those elements necessary for success in online study are the same as those needed in the traditional classroom; to investigate any possible differences between the perceptions of elements necessary for success by those students who have and those who have not had experience with online coursework; to investigate possible differences between students perceptions of elements necessary for success in an online course and the perceptions of administrators, advisors, instructors or other professionals in education as revealed in the literature; and to learn what students believe are the greatest obstacles to success in online study. A review of the professional literature wa s used to generate a summary of the perspectives of educational professionals. Standardized openended structured interviews with students, augmented by inventories containing both fact ual questions such as age and gender, and written response items concerning students op inion of necessary elements, provided the students perspective. Specific research object ives of this study were: 1. To identify those specific elements that students believe are critical to success in an online course. 2. To determine if those elements differ from those believed necessary in the traditional classroom. 3. To identify any differences in percep tions of those students who have and those who have not had prev ious experience with online courses. 4. To determine if those elements differ from those identified by professionals in education.
65 5. To identify the major obstacles st udents believe impede success in online coursework. Research Design Following the challenges outlined by Marshall and Rossman, this study sought to develop first a conceptual framework for th e study that was thor ough but concise and to design a plan that was systematic, manageab le, and flexible (Marshall & Rossman, 1995). Flexibility of the design insured that modi fications would be allowed as data was collected if modification was deemed advantag eous to the ultimate goa l of the study. A variety of methods and techniques we re chosen to accomplish this study. A pilot study completed in 2006 was a quantit ative one. In that study a measure, The Student Interest in an Online Hu manities Course Questionnaire (Flow & Savell, 2006) was administered to assess part icipants interest in a proposed online humanities course. The questionnaire was a 13-item self-report m easure; items one through eleven used a Likert-type scale; the final tw o questions asked the student to identify the reasons for his or her intent to take the c ourse. A copy of the instrument appears as Appendix C. The measure was administered to a convenience sample of 114 students at Pasco-Hernando Community College. The sample, which must be considered biased, was matched for two groups: those who had and who had not prev iously taken an online course. The two groups were evaluated for significant differences via an independent samples t test with an alpha level of .05. While the means of th e participants who had previously taken an online course revealed that they were less likely to take an online humanities course as compared to participants who had not prev iously taken any course online M = 1.36, SD =
66 .48 and M = 1.67, SD = .47 respectively, this differe nce was not statistica lly significant. One purpose of that study was to determine whic h of a set of independent variables, alone or in combination, best predicted the students choice of online or trad itional instruction. Multiple regression analysis revealed that students who indicated that they didnt think that the course would be as interesting, those who didnt thin k they would learn as much, and those who wanted face-to-face interaction w ith the teacher were less likely to select the internet humanities course option. Thos e variables explained 41.1% of the variance in the dependent variable: whether the student would be likely to take a humanities course online. Questions concerning the elements stude nts believed were necessary to be successful in online studies and the barriers pe rceived to hinder that success were not asked and student opinion was not part of the quantitative pi lot study. A deeper understanding of student percep tion of online study was desi red. In the present study, a variety of methods were chosen in orde r to gain insight into student opinion. Qualitative study involves no deliberate mani pulation or treatment and no specific variable or testable hypothesis ; rather, categorized data to gain a greater comprehension of the topic is desired. The focus of qualitati ve research is gathering insight from a group of respondents, via a variety of materials and depth of responses, in order to gain greater knowledge of a phenomenon and a deepened und erstanding of the issue about which all parties share a concern (Carney, 1991; Denzin & Lincoln, 2000; Fine et al. 2000; Gall et al. 1999; Willis, 1992). A qualitative approach represents students as collaborators or colleagues in understanding, rather than res earch subjects (Carney, 1991). Exploratory, descriptive, and holistic, some qualitative methods and techniques were included to bring
67 unique strengths to the pres ent research (Fraenkel & Wa llen, 2000; Marshall & Rossman, 1995). Of the questions appropriate for qualitati ve research described by Janesick (2000), open-ended questioning, wherein respondents would be asked to identify elements critical to student success online, was suitable for this project. A structured interview approach was appropriate for understanding a group perspective in an academic setting (Kvale, 1996). A focused inventory augm ented by a guided open-ended structured interview was intended to uncover as many elements as possible that respondents believed contribute to success in online study. A combined prepared inventory survey of both factual and written response questions and a supplemental standardized open-ended interview were planned as an efficient way to collect the data (Patten, 1998). To apply the multiple methods data collection technique, this research used a printed invent ory of 11 factual and 3 written response questions, amplified by an individual, guided, open-e nded, structured interview. Interviews take a variety of forms and may include questionnaires or surveys (Fontana & Frey, 2000; Sewell, 2006). This multi-met hod approach also had the advantage of alleviating the low return rate cited as a major disadvantage of que stionnaire research (Patten, 1998). Coupled with a face-to-face s ituation and personal interview, a greater range of information resulted. Qualitative research is inhere ntly multi-method in focus (Ary et al., 2002; Denzin & Lincoln, 2000; Fine et al., 2000; Gall et al., 1999) and a combination of methods was chosen to offer a repetitive aspect to the da ta. Building redundancy into the process will aid internal consistency (Ary et al., 2002) As noted by Marshall and Rossman (1995)
68 Designing a study in which multiple cases, multiple informants, or more than one data gathering method are used can greatly stre ngthen the studys usefulness for other settings (Marshall & Rossman, 1995, p. 144). This montage scheme, referred to as triangulation, is an efficient and effective method for study (Ary et al., 2002; Denzin & Lincoln, 2000; Fine et al., 2000; Fraenkel & Wallen, 2000; Gall et al., 1999; Janesick, 2000; Kvale, 1996; Marshall & Rossman, 1995; Messier, 2003; Willis, 1992). Using triangulation to compare data gathered from va rious methods aids in establishing that all sources of information reveal the same evaluative conclusions. Qualitative researchers speak of dependability rather than reliability (Ary et al., 2002). Strategies to enhance dependability in clude an audit trail, produced here by the description of the sample studi ed, selection process, methods of data collection and other descriptive material for review. Replicati on logic for this study is enhanced by the inclusion of students from multiple campuses and students with and without online experience. A code-recode technique, estab lished by reviewing the data generated by the inventories and interviews, then repeating the review at a later date also augmented the dependability. Agreement with a second reader for one half of the data amplified the dependability further. The credibility of conclusions fr om a research design using a variety of methods is dependent on the neutra lity of the researcher. The role of the researcher is discussed below. Role of the Researcher This research sought to generate a be tter understanding of student perceptions of the elements necessary for success in online study. An interview process was chosen to
69 complete the research in order to gain a d eeper understanding of the student point of view. During the interviews extensive convers ations were held with students on the topic of online study. As part of research process, a resear cher involuntarily may bring biases and prejudices into the results. Although a determined attempt was made to be nonjudgmental, the following personal facts may have colored this research. I teach western humanities at Pasco Hernando Community Coll ege where this study was completed. My experience is limited to the traditional classr oom, a venue I enjoy and believe offers the opportunity to teach the breadth and depth that is at the hear t of the subject. Although an online humanities course is being considere d, to date I have no experience teaching online. I feel strongly that students taking such a course s hould get the same richness of content available in the tradi tional classroom. Disconcerting results from a pilot study conducted in 2005 indicated that, when asked if they would enroll in a hypothetical online humanities class, 43 of the 114 stude nts surveyed indicated they would or probably would enroll; 71 students stated that they would not or probably would not. The pilot study was one stimulus for the pres ent more in-depth study. The reasons for the responses given by students in that survey were in part, the impetus for the questions in this study regarding the elements students perceived as essential for success online. Before the decision is made to produce an onlin e version of the tradit ional lecture format class, a greater understanding of student opinion of and expectation of online courses is desired. Therefore, a personal motive to discover what aspects of online study students value and what they perceive as barriers to their learning online before making a decision to produce an online course was included in th is research. If students asked, in the
70 course of interviews, if I intended to teach an online course, an honest answer of no decision has been made was given. As an educator with sincere concern for e ffective instructional delivery, I have a keen interest in the opinions and perspectiv es of community college students. A better understanding of the elements students believe are necessary for success in online study will be an invaluable addition in the generation of any future online course. The potential for ethical issues exists in any research study. Students selected for this study were volunteers who received neither reward for or penalty for not participating in the study. No students were se lected who were enrolled in my classes. Students were assured that their responses would in no way impact their grades or standing at the college. Inventory and Interview Template Previous researchers have accessed colle ge records and databases (Diaz, 2000; Wojeciechowski, 2004; Wojeciechowski & Palm er, 2005), the professi onal literature (Hartley & Bendixen, 2001; Schrum & H ong, 2002), focus groups (Dean, 1998; FloresJuarez, 2005), interviews and observations (Harbeck, 2001) and ques tionnaires (Harbeck, 2001; Schonwetter et al ., 1993; Volery, 2001; Wang & Newlin, 2000) for gathering information concerning student success. The above noted research was reviewed for appropriate methods and questions for inclusion in this study. Since this research sought input into student perception, the decisi on was made to rely on brief inventory questionnaires of both fact ual and open-ended written responses, supplemented by
71 interviews in which the students could furt her express, elaborat e, or clarify their perceptions. Appendix A contains this inventory. Questionnaires have a number of a dvantages (Andrews, 2003; Marshall & Rossman, 1995; Patten, 1998). When worded to avoid overly subj ective or plural answers, questionnaires are economical to administer and yield responses that are succinct and efficient to tabulat e (Patten, 1998; Patton, 1982). Questions included on the inventory were drawn from a number of sources. The review of the literature follows the in itiating function described by Marshall and Rossman (Marshall & Rossman, 1995) to iden tify established knowledge and conceptual relatedness of a topic and s uggested the initial categories of questions. Willis (1992) outlined questions for a qualitative study of di stance delivered course to be used as a foundation for more in-depth evaluative approaches. These open-ended questions, dealing with the strengths and weaknesses of a distance education class as well as student recommendations for future improvements of the course, were considered for the present study. One question used by Willis, asking students to list and describe five weaknesses of the course (Willis, 1992), was altered and adapted as written response question 14 asking students to list th eir perceptions of barriers to success in online study. Questions were taken from other sources as well. The pilot study conducted in 2005 and 2006 gathered student perceptions of online coursework. Students who had and students who had not previously taken an online course expressed reasons why they would or would not take an onlin e course in the future. Stud ents indicated that they did not think that the course would be as interesting, did not belie ve that they would learn as much, and desired more face-to-face interact ion with the teacher than they believed
72 would be available in an online class. Barriers identified were that the students believed that an online class would be harder, percei ved a lack of the computer skills believed necessary, thought that the online course woul d lack variety and so would not satisfy their personal learning preferen ces, and assumed that an onlin e course would not offer the desired social interaction with other students. Students id entified factors that they perceived to be benefits of online study, as well. Flexibil ity in scheduling, saving time and expense of driving to campus and the opport unity to work at an individually chosen pace were the most frequently cited reasons fo r choosing to enroll in an online class. In addition to the previously mentioned sources, da ta from those studies were influential in the generation of this inventory. Investigations of student success published in the prof essional literature have profiled successful students by the demographic elements of age, gender, ethnicity, grade point average, number of college classes dropped, credit hours attempted in the current semester, computer expertise, and attendance at orientation for the course (Diaz, 2000; Spampinto, 2005;Volery, 2001; Wojciechowski, 2004; Wojciechowski & Palmer, 2005). For the present study, eleven que stions seeking demographic da ta were included in order to contrast those factors with the aspects of earlie r research found by professionals to be contributors to student success. These data include overall GPA, age range, gender, and ethnic identity. Age and ethnic identify vari ables are found to be significant in some studies but less so in others. These data we re collected in order to give an accurate portrait of the sample for this study. Of interest also was whether these factors would be mentioned by respondents as elements necessary for online success. Gender was found to be a significant factor by Diaz (2000) but of little or no significance by others (Harbeck,
73 2001; Spampinto, 2005; Wojciechowski, 2004; Volery, 2001). The number of other courses taken during the semester, previous online courses taken, a nd previously dropped classes or withdrawals, attendance at orientations, and self reported level of computer expertise were also included to contrast w ith findings reported in the literature. Respondents who were currently or had previ ously taken an online class were asked if they completed the course with a grade of C or higher. Students were asked whether they planned to take course s online in the future. Question 7, which asked students whether they were presently or had previously taken an online course, was used to divide the sample into groups for comparison of opini ons in order to address research question number 5. In addition to the 11 factual questions, wr itten responses to three additional openended questions were sought on the printed inventory. Question number 12 asked students to list the elements they believed necessary for successful online study. Lined space was provided below the question but no numbers or other devices that might imply a specific number of elements were expect ed. Question 13 asked respondents in what way they believed those elements differed from those necessary for success in the traditional classroom. Only lined space was provided for answers to question 13. Similarly, question 14 asked students to iden tify the greatest pitfalls of online study. There was no request to rank the importan ce of the elements on the inventory. Opportunity for students to stress importanc e of any element was available during the interview process. The inventory was supplemented by a struct ured open-ended interview to afford students the opportunity to elabor ate on any answer they wished to expand. In addition
74 to the inventory, a personal interview was conducted to offe r students an opportunity to talk about their point of view. Kvale opened his seminal book on intervie wing with the following statement: If you want to know how people understand their wo rld and their life, why not talk with them? and continues The qualitative rese arch interview attempts to understand the world from the subjects points of view (Kvale, 1996). Seidman remarked if the researcher is interested, howev er, in what it is like for students to be in the classroom, what their experience is, and what meaning th ey make out of that experience then it seems to me that interviewing, in most cases, may be the best avenue of inquiry. (Seidman, 1998, p. 5). In this study the interv iew was meant not only to afford students the opportunity to clarify, explai n, and elaborate thei r perceptions but to provide a richer understanding to professionals in education of the stude nts point of view. Words are the data collected in a qualit ative study (Fraenke l & Wallen, 2000) and interviews offer a variety of forms and mu ltiplicity of uses for collection (Fontana & Frey, 2000). Qualitative researchers tend to rely on the interview as the basic method of data gathering (Denzin & Li ncoln, 2000). As it was desirable to have the same information from each student participating, the more focused open-ended standardized interview described by Patton (1982) guided th e formation of the in terview template. The template was used to guide respondents through the same set of questions in the same sequence and minimized interviewer effects (Patton, 1998). Sewell admitted that, in practice, open-ended, quali tative interview questions are often combined with more closed-ended structured interview formats (Sewell, 2006). It was intended that the addition of a guided structured interview to the invent ory would offer students the
75 opportunity to elaborate their answers while simultaneously controlling th e conversation and keeping the interview focused. Researchers have outlined procedures and interview techniques. Informal, formal or standardized interview methods were di scussed by Hatch (Hatch, 2002). Structured, group and unstructured interviews were out lined by Kvale (1999) and Denzin & Lincoln (2000) and contrasted in Bogdan and Biklen (1998). Fontana & Frey (2000) pointed out that More scholars are realizing that to pit one type of interviewing against another is futile, a leftover from the paradigmatic qua ntitative/qualitative hostility of past generations. Thus an increasing numbe r of researchers are using multi-method approaches to achieve broader and often be tter results (p. 668). Seidman (1998), in discussing interview forms, stated I would not argue that there is one right way, or that one way is better than another. (Seidman, 1998, p. 5). A more naturalistic and holistic inquiry, based on the ideas of Lincoln a nd Guba (1985) supported the multi-method approach. An individual interview format, as oppos ed to a group interview or focus group, was selected in order to reduce interaction between subjects and c oncentrate more fully on the perception of the individual student Single interviews also allowed the interviewer to maintain greater control over the interview process. Also, it was believed that analyzing the data from individual interviews would be less complex than the intermingling voices of a group interview and would result in a clea rer understanding of student perceptions (Kvale, 1996). The open-ended standardized interview was used not only to clarify ambiguous answers from the inventory and to verify straightforward answers but to encourage
76 participants to express their views and fee lings about elements necessary for success. The interview was intended as a stimulus for conversation and was made informal enough to put students at ease yet focused enoug h to remain on topic. The inventory was completed first and the responses reviewed to insure they accurately reflected the students opinion. The interview that follo wed the inventory provi ded an opportunity for students to volunteer further information a nd to answer questions requiring a more complex response. In order to assure uniform ity of the data, the template served as a flexible guide for th e interview. But h eeding the warning of Seidman (1998), the template was used cautiously, not as a verba lly administered questi onnaire but as a guide to probe for deeper understanding. During the interview process, students were often asked to talk more about that or explain wh at that means in order to probe deeper into the students percep tions. At the conclusion of th e interview students were asked if there was more that might be added to the information already given. The interview template and sample interview transcript ar e shown in Appendices B and D, respectively. Data Collection Process To accomplish this study, training was completed in the Protection of Human Subjects and a Certificate of Completion ea rned. A summary of the proposed study was submitted to the University of South Flor ida Institutional Review Board requesting approval of the research and that approva l was granted on September 29, 2006. Written permission for the study at Pasco-Hernando Co mmunity College was requested from the college and approval to conduct the study wa s granted by the Presidents Cabinet on September 11, 2006. After the permission wa s gained from PHCC administration to
77 approach faculty and students about this study, faculty were contacted by e-mail and in person at two PHCC campuses and the Spring Hill Center, and given information sheets about the study, its goal and purpose. A phone number and email address were given to fellow faculty willing to make information sheets available to st udents in their classes. A visit was made to selected classes on two campuses to further r ecruit students for the study. Librarians and student advisors were supplied with information sheets that could be distributed to students. Information con cerning the study was available in the student services office and student lounge areas as well. Recruitment was completed through classroom announcements, and information sheets distributed in classrooms, student affa irs offices, libraries, and student recreation centers. Students who expressed an interest were given information about the study and contact information if they were willing to volunteer for inclusion in the sample. Students who volunteered to par ticipate in the process were scheduled a time and location to meet when contact was made. A mutually convenient time was scheduled to administer the inventory and conduct the interv iew with the students. Interviews were conducted in faculty offices, empty classroom s, as well as quiet outside tables and benches. Recruitment was successful in obtaining 20 volunteers, an equal number of student volunteers who had and who had not previously taken an online class. Recording equipment was tested before the student interviews began and it was determined that a change of tape recorder was necessary. A newer and more reliable audio tape machine was provided by the PH CC library and proved to be satisfactory. Two pilot interviews were conducted, one on the North campus and one on the New Port
78 Richey campus. Both student volunteers in th e pilot interviews were individuals who had not previously taken an online course. The pur pose of the pilot interviews was to test equipment, routine, and to verify time lim itations and protocol. The pilot interview packets were examined and the tapes transcribed. Voices were clear on the recorder, students understood the format and the wording of the questions and the transcription of the tapes was without incident. It was dete rmined that no major changes were necessary in the data collection process and the pilot interviews were included in the sample. Students who volunteered for inclusion in the study answered the written questions first and the interview followed immediately thereafter. In order to facilitate the desired atmosphere, students were given the opportunity to choose the setting to complete questionnaires in the student activit y areas, student center s, empty classrooms, faculty offices or libraries at the campuses of Pasco-Hernando Community College. No student completed more than one questionnaire or participated in more than one interview. At the beginning of the interview pro cess, students were thanked for their participation and given a printed form with the researchers co ntact information. Students were assured that the data would be anonymous. Information on the purpose of the research, and where the final research results would be located was provided, as required by the Institutional Review Board when dealing with human subjects. Respondents were assured that their identity would not be revealed and that data would not be considered in assigning grades or in any way adversely impact their standing at the college. Students were reminded that partic ipation was completely voluntary and there was neither reward for, nor pe nalty for not, participating in the process. All students 18
79 years old or older, who were en rolled at the college, and not a student of this investigator, were eligible regardless of cumulative GPA, academic standing, academic major or program. Demographic data was supplied by the student and assumed to be accurate. Data concerning students cumulative GPA wa s not crosschecked in the PHCC student records. A signed informed consent form was require d from all student participants. At the conclusion of the interview a copy of the informed consent and written information on the study, stating where the results would be published and contact information for the researcher and the University of South Florid a, was given to the st udent. A copy of the informed consent is included as Appendix E. Inventory questionnaires were administ ered and standardized interviews conducted by the same researcher, following the template in each case, and were scheduled for mutual convenience. No time limit was imposed on completing th e written inventory questionnaire but the average time for completion was about 15 minutes. If students asked for clarification of any item the information was provided, however, care was taken not to suggest answers for any questions on the inventory. Completed forms were collected, the packet number recorded on the form and the form held for reference during the interview process. After completing the written inventory instrument, the researcher and the participant began an open-e nded structured interview. As with the inventory questionnaire, the respondents were assure d of anonymity in any published results, provided information on the purpose of the re search, and given information on how to
80 contact the researcher and where the final document would be available. Permission from the student to audiotape the interview was asked and volunteers were told that the tapes would be held in a locked offi ce until the completion of the study. The researcher and student reviewed the answers noted on the survey at the beginning of the interview in order to clarify any ambiguous answers and expand on straightforward ones. Each element listed by the student in question 12 were reviewed and verified. In order to be gin a discussion of the elements listed by the student, students were asked if the interviewers understanding of each item was correct. The researcher then asked the volunteer to talk about the ite ms, and frequent encouragement was offered to the student to continue or elabor ate on their thoughts and opinions. Question 13 of the questionnaire asked st udents if those elements previously listed as necessary for success online were the same elements necessary for success in traditional face-to-face classe s. It was not the intent of this research to construct a second list of elements believed necessary for success in traditional classroom settings but to ascertain if there was a perceived difference between online and traditional elements. Space was provided on the interview template to record any further remarks the student wished to make regarding the topic of elem ents necessary for success in any setting but the intent was to determine if a difference was believed to exist. During the interview students were encouraged to elaborate on their answers. Question 14 concerned the barriers of on line study and responds to the fourth research question of this study. Bogdan and Bi klen remarked that particulars and details may come from probing questions (Bogdan & Biklen, 1998, p137) and question 14 urged
81 description by asking students to talk about the barriers with out suggesting any category. Responses to question 14 were revi ewed for clarity and completeness. After the discussion of question 14 respons es, the student volunteers were asked if there was anything further that they could add. This proved to be a fruitful question for students often spoke more during that portion of the interview than during the original questions. Students were willing to share their major concerns of the problems perceived with online study. Not all topi cs students wished to discuss concerned research or online studies, however, during this non-focused discussion time students offered suggestions for online course enhancements, com puter links, and re gistration help. The purpose of the interview was to explor e and describe student perceptions and opinions; therefore it would be appropriate to conduct new interviews until a point of saturation, where further interviews yield lit tle new knowledge. Kvale contended that, in current interview studies, the number of inte rviews tend to be around 15, plus or minus 10 (Kvale, 1996, p. 102) to most efficientl y use the resources of interviewer and interviewee time and costs. Twenty students participated in the study; ten who had and ten who had not previously taken coursework online. A detailed description of the sample appears in the following chapter. The sample size of 20 was adequate to achieve saturation. Although each student expressed himself or hersel f in a different way, later interviews did not generate new elements or categories; therefore, the sample size of twenty was determined to be adequate for saturation. At the conclusion of each interview, students were asked if there was anything more they wished to add, and given contact information for the author for future reference if they felt the desire to add thoughts at a later time. No students were calle d for a second interview. It was felt that
82 given the opportunity at the end of each interview to add any further thoughts, and provided with the contact information if student s wished to include ideas at a later time, a second interview would not be necessary si nce saturation was noted in the data. Accepted interview protocol recognizes that all people are not equally articulate, and that some respondents need more time th an others (Bogdan & Biklen, 1998). Desire for complete data was balanced by considerati on of the students and researchers time. No time restraints were given to students participating in the interview process and most interviews lasted between 25 and 30 minutes. It was anticipated that usef ul evaluative data would mo re likely be self-reported accurately if the res earcher was successful in esta blishing a good rapport with the participants and interviews were c onducted in a supportive and non-threatening environment (Gall et al., 1999; Janesic k, 1998; Spampinato, 2005; Willis, 1992). An informal guided interview approach, in a non-threatening setting, was successful in generating useful data from the students. The natural setting may be a direct source of data in qualitative research (Bogdan & Biklen, 1998; Fraenkel & Wallen, 2000; Janesick, 1998). It was expected that students would be honest and forthcoming if in a relaxed atmosphere, assured of confidentiality, anonymity in any published results, and questioned about their own perceptions and opinions. Research on interviewer effects has shown that interviewer characteristic s such as age, gend er and interviewing experience to have relatively small impact on re sponses. However, there is evidence that student interviewers produce larger response effects than do non-stude nts and that higher status interviewers produce larger response effects than do lower status interviewers (Fontana & Frey, 2000). The researcher is a full time instructor at Pasco-Hernando
83 Community College and may have been known to respondents and, as such, might have been perceived in a powerful position (Andrew s, 2003). In order to lessen any possible impact due to the researche rs position, no students enrolled in the researchers classes were included and students were assured that answers would in no way impact their standing at Pasco-Hernando Community College. The data collected was organized for ease of retrieval during the analysis process. At the conclusion of the interview, written surveys were stapled to informed consent forms and packets numbered sequentially from the first participant in order to keep data separate. Completed packets were examined immediately following the interview to insure recall completeness and clarity. Packets were labeled with campus location, date, and time of interview, the num ber of the audiotape and the position in the sequence of interviews on the tape, to insure accurate retrieval of data. Responses on questionnaires were stor ed for later analysis and recorded interviews transcribed as soon as possible following the session. The transcript was attached to the individual packet. A record of all activity will be stored for one year following the end of the research project. Research Setting Pasco-Hernando Community College was opened in 1972 to serve the west central Florida counties of Pasco and Hern ando and is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Co lleges and Schools. The college has three major campuses located in New Port Riche y, Dade City, and Brooksville, and a smaller center located in Spring Hill, Florida. The Florida Department of Education Community
84 College Fact Book shows an annual unduplic ated student headcount of 13,138 for the 2004-2005 school year (Florida Department of Education, 2006). Additionally, 20,365 citizens participated in the colleges credit and non-credit offerings in the academic year 2004-2005 (Pasco-Hernando Community College, nd). Pasco-Hernando Community College offers both AA and AS degrees and programs leading to professional certification in several technica l, business, and health relate d fields. One thousand four hundred students received a degree, certificate, diploma and/or completed a program in the 2004-05 school year. PHCC st udents are an average of 25 years old, with over 63% of the students under the age of 25. Sixty-six percent are female, approximately 17% are ethnic minorities, and over 75% attend PHCC part time and were enrolled with an average of 8.8 semester hour s in the Fall 2004 semester. PHCC is a branch of the Southern Regional Education Boards Electr onic Campus (SREB) and online courses for college credit are offered in biology, business, computers, educati on, health and medical services, English, humanities, math, psychology and sociology. A variety of online noncredit courses are offered for workforce development, for personal enrichment and professional continuing education an d accreditation, as well (Pasco-Hernando Community College, nd). PHCC employs over 3 00 full-time faculty and staff. Faculty are encouraged to develop online courses in their discipline. No formal training in course development is required, however, a multimedia specialist and the office of instructional technology provide technical assist ance. No measures of student satisfaction specific to online coursework are separately assessed. Students may select their courses from a printed schedule of classes or from the college website which has information on c ourse meeting times and credits. Online
85 courses, as well as web-enhanced courses, are clearly indicated on the schedule. Minimum equipment requirements for soft ware and hardware, acceptable connection speed, internet browser options, and instruc tions for e-mail accounts are published on the college website. Students are directed to l og-on to the college internet information site before the first class and are given step by step instructions for accessing the course material on the WebCT platform. A link to the PHCC webhost is displayed for those students having trouble. Instru ctors have the option to require an orientation to their online course and may conduct that orientation in a college computer lab to insure that students have the computer expertise necessary to complete the course successfully. Instructors may web-enhance their classe s or require completion of internet or computer based assignments in classes that are not designated as online. The Population and the Sample This study collected data from student volunteers attending Pasco-Hernando Community College in the 2006-2007 academic year. The students given voice by this study were a purposeful sample of informants (Fraenkel & Wallen, 2000 ), an appropriate design approach when understanding of a par ticular phenomenon is sought (Kvale, 1996; Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Patton, 1982; Seidman, 1998). Insight and understanding may be gained from research efforts in a sample of community college students such as this. Twenty students were accepted as volunt eers in this study; ten who had and ten who had not successfully taken online coursework previously. The author is an instructor at PascoHernando Community College North Campus and may have been known to students. In an effort to eliminate interviewer bias and
86 enhance trustworthiness, volunteers were sought from all campuses and students presently enrolled or intending to enroll in the authors clas ses were not included in the study. Method of Analysis Marshall and Rossman contend that Data analysis is the process of bringing order, structure, and meaning to the mass of collected data. It is a messy, ambiguous, time-consuming, creative and fascinating process. (Marshall & Rossman, 1995, p. 111). The goal of this analysis, then, was to bring order, structure and me aning to the collected data in order to investigate the differences between the percepti ons of students and educational professionals regarding factor s necessary for success in online study. Bogdan and Biklen (1998) and Seidman ( 1998) stressed that analysis should begin only after all data is collected. Kval e (1996), on the other hand, suggested that a form of analysis could be built into th e interview situation itself by verifying and clarifying responses. For this study, the elements that students identified in the written inventory were reviewed to s uggest categories for the final da ta analysis. Further, the interviews were transcribed as soon as possibl e after the interview itself and that process was found to be very helpful in noting trends in the data. Listeni ng to the student during the interview, then listening to the taped recording, followed by typing the words resulted in the initial formula tion of categories. To prepare for analysis, following the co llection process all written instruments were reviewed for completeness. Audiotap es were transcribed by the researcher on a personal computer, using the Mi crosoft Word word processing program. Remarks made
87 during the interview by the researcher and th e respondent were transcribed, leaving out obviously extraneous material (Seidman, 1998). Fontana and Frey remarked that the spoken or written word has always a residue of ambiguity, no ma tter how carefully the questions are worded or coded and reported (Fontana & Frey, 2000) therefore the initial editing of transcriptions onl y cautiously removed material off topic or not directly germane to the subject (Bogdan & Biklen, 1998). During transcription long monologues were sometimes broken into frequent paragr aphs to facilitate coding. Verbiage was arranged on the page allowing a wide right margin for the interviewers penciled coding and comments. Electronic copies of the tran scripts were transferred to CD ROM disc and retained along with the audiotapes. The paper copies of transcribed dialogues were combined with the inventory responses, the packet numbers checked, and the entirety reviewed a final time for any blanks or missi ng data. Descriptive data from the first 11 questions on the inventory were entered on a spreadsheet in the Microsoft Excel software program and that document saved on the CD ROM disc with the transcriptions. The transcripts of the two pilot intervie ws were analyzed first to test the procedure and the following rou tine established. Step one was reviewing the collected data in its entirety. An initial reading thr ough all of the student re sponses and attached transcripts was then completed in order to gain a sense of the preliminary categories suggested during the transcription process. No categorization was assigned at this stage, but a thorough familiarity with the data was established. Step two of the analysis was a second reading of all transcripts and the pencil recording initial impressions of typologies next to the wording. No attempt to delineate or assign data into any category was made at that stage. When completed, the major
88 remarks and typologies made on the transcript s were listed in a separate document and the initial list was scrutinized for themes indicated by repetitions and redundancies suggesting categories. Categories were e xpanded, compressed, combined, subdivided, and separated as needed. Established themes were challenged and contrary evidence for each category actively sought. A second docum ent sheet of categories was established and this compared against the verbiage of the transcripts, and the student wording on the audiotapes when necessary, to verify agreem ent with the students intent. Categories were compared to the elements students ha d listed on the inventor ies and found to be compatible. To reduce the possibility of unintended bias in interpreta tion due to the subjective nature of coding, a second indepe ndent reader was asked to re view part of the interview transcripts and verify or estab lish new categories or identify th ematic trends in the data. The second reader reviewed ten transcripts, printed without any coding, and categories were compared to the established categorie s. Agreement was evident with only one exception. The word diligence was written by one student as an element necessary for success in online study. The author did not feel that diligence was a close enough synonym for other elements to be included in any other established category. Diligence was left as an element with one entry. The third step in the analysis process was to review th e response questions. A set of 20 summary sheets was produced and the responses listed on each sheet. The summaries were color coded a nd divided into two sets: those students who had and those who had not previously taken an online course The first review was of question 12, the first of the three written response questions from the inventories. As with the transcripts,
89 those were read in their enti rety once without any effort to categorize the responses. During a second reading, the emergent categories were examined and similar entries collapsed into single categories. As with the previous ste p, contrary evidence was sought to challenge the themes. Variations in res ponses were noted and like ideas and key words combined (Marshall & Rossman, 1995; Taylor-P owell & Renner, 2003). Responses that applied to more than one category were incl uded in all categories for which they were applicable. Category lists were expanded a nd contracted as needed until no new themes or subcategories were noted. This proce ss was repeated for questions 13 and 14, the remaining two written response questions from the questionnaire. The list of emergent categories from the transcripts was compared to those from the inventories in order to spot trends in the data. Conversations in the guided structured interview asked students to clarify the answer s written on the questi onnaire, consequently that data revealed similar entries. A guide sheet set of categories was produced. The list included the category title along with a list of the concepts included under that category. Using the guide, transcript narratives and questionnaires were again reviewed and categories verified. After completion of coding, the individual numbered packets of inventories, interview template notes, and tran scripts from the interview audiotapes were consolidated so that each individual students list of elements could be summarized and clearly shown on a cover page. The elements listed on the summary sheet were tallied to generate a single list of elements, weight ed by frequency of students who gave that response, that students perceived as n ecessary for success in an online study. Entries of the final list of elements gene rated from the data proved to fall into the categories of Personal Characteristics, Mechan ical or Technical Considerations, Social
90 Aspects and Educational or Inst ructional Issues. The criteria for inclusion in each of these broad categories are listed in Table 10. A goal of this study was to gather as much understanding as possible into the elements students believe are necessary for success in online study. Therefore, all responses were included in the data set gene rated from the inventories and interviews. Responses were ranked by number of students who mentioned the element or item. If five students mentioned that element, the rank ing score for that element was five. Data was then analyzed to respond to each of the rese arch questions of this study. The list of elements was generated to determine the elements students believed to be critical to success in online study. The responses to th e question concerning si milarities between elements necessary for online success and traditional classroom success were compared. The responses of students who had and who had not previously taken an online course were compared. The list was then contrasted to the list of elements abstracted from the literature review to determine if, in this case of community college students, the perceptions of students differ fr om those of professionals. Finally, the list of elements thought to be barriers to online study was compiled from the responses students gave to that question. Demographic data captured by questions one through eleven on the inventory were tallied and the results are presented in chapter 4 to describe the sample and for comparison to previous resear ch cited in chapter 2. Finally, a revised version of Table 1, Summary of Elements Listed as Important Contributors to Student Success, was generated and includes a final entry for the student perspective identified by this study. A compar ison of those elements, characteristics,
91 traits, and life situations mentioned as necessary for student success by educational professionals and those cited by the students themselves is discussed in the following chapter.
92 CHAPTER FOUR Results The primary purpose of this study was to identify those factors that students perceive as critical to succe ss in online coursework. Furt her, it sought to determine if those characteristics differ in a fundamental wa y from those traits students identified as critical to traditional classroom success. Al so, this study sought to compare responses of students who have had previous experience with online courses and those students who have not had experience with online courses in order to better unde rstand the difference experience may have made in perceptions of the factors necessary to succeed in online studies. It was also desired to contrast the list of student-identified characteristics, once compiled, to those factors identified by in th e literature by professiona ls in education as critical to student success. Finally, it sought to examine student identifie d barriers to success in online coursework. This chapter presents results and findings of the study in two major sections. The first section consists of the demographic info rmation captured from the first 11 questions of the inventory questionnaire and describe s the sample. In addition to the written response questions and the interview that gathered the data to respond to the specific research questions of this study, demogra phic data was collected via the survey questionnaire. These data are presented in part as a description of the student sample and as a reference to those previous studies that have included those elem ents as indicative of the successful student. These data will be presen ted in the tables and charts that follow.
93 The second section presents the data from the three written response questions and the interviews with students concerning the elements identified by students as necessary for success in online studies. Usi ng the data from the inventories and quotes from student interviews, each of the five re search questions is addressed in turn. Following the narrative, the data are presente d in frequencies of the number of students who mentioned the element, either in the written response or dur ing the interview. Finally, additional points made by students, not directly relate d to the research questions but believed to be significan t and insightful, are discussed. Demographic Information from the Inventory Twenty student volunteers at the New Port Richey, Spring Hill and Brooksville campuses of Pasco-Hernando Community Coll ege completed the survey questionnaire and participated in the interview in October and November 2006. Ten of the volunteers had previously enrolled in an online course; ten volunteers had no experience with online courses. All respondents were students at Pasco-Hernando Community College and were 18 years of age or older. Demogr aphic data captured from the questionnaires produced the following desc ription of the sample. Previously published research has suggested that age ma y be a factor in student success (Diaz, 2000; Harbeck, 2001; Rainbow & Sadler-Smith, 2003; A. Wojciechowski & Palmer, 2005; A. J. Wojciechowski, 2004). However, age was not mentioned as a factor necessary for success by any of the res pondents of this study. All three of the age groups were represented among the 10 stude nts who had previously taken an online course. Of the 10 students who had previously taken an online course for college credit,
94 all had successfully completed the class. The average age of students at Pasco-Hernando Community College is 25 years, however, more older students volunteered for this study than are typical of the student body at Pasco-Hernando Community College. Table 2 shows the age distribution frequency of student volunteer s in this study in response to the request to indicate Your age group is under 20, 20 to 29, or over 30. Table 2 Frequency Distributi on of Subjects by Age _______________________________________________________________________ With online experience (N=10) Without online experience (N=10) Age Frequency Frequency ___________ Under 20 2 4 20-29 2 1 Over 30 6 5 _______________________________________________________________________ Total_______ _____10_________________________ __10______________________ N =20 Gender is cited by some researchers (Beishline & Holmes, 1997; Diaz, 2000; Harbeck, 2001; Rainbow & Sadler-Smith, 2003; A. J. Wojciechowski, 2004) as a significant factor contributi ng to student success. St udents in this study did not list gender as a contributing f actor to student success. Sixty-six percent of Pasco-Hernando Community College students are female. Of the 10 student volunteers who had previously taken an online course, 4 were ma le and 6 were female. Table 3 below shows the frequency of responses given by the sample to question 2 on the inventory, asking Your gender: Male or Female.
95 Table 3 Frequency Distribution of Subjects by Gender _______________________________________________________________________ With online experience (N=10) Without online experience (N=10) Gender Frequency Frequency _________ Male 4 4 Female 6 6 ______________________________________________________________________ Total_______ _____10____________________________10_____________________ N =20 The effect of student ethnicity was in cluded in the studies of elements that contribute to successful stude nts by some researchers (Dia z, 2000; Dupin-Bryant, 2004; Harbeck, 2001; Spampinato, 2005). Ethnic iden tify was not listed as an element necessary for success in online or traditional class study by participants in this study. Seventeen percent of PHCCs students identify themselves as minority. Of the 10 students who had previously taken an online co urse, one indicated a Hispanic identity. All students had successfully completed an on line course for college credit. Question 3 of the inventory asked respondents to indica te Your ethnic identity: White, African American, Hispanic, or other. The ethnic makeup of the respondents is shown in Table 4 which follows.
96 Table 4 Frequency Distribution of Subjects by Ethnicity _______________________________________________________________________ With online experience (N=10) Without online experience (N=10) Ethnicity Frequency Frequency _________ White 9 8 African American 0 0 Hispanic 1 2 ______________________________________________________________________ Total_______ _____10____________________________10_____________________ N =20 The cumulative grade point average earned in college courses was found by some previous researchers to be pos itively related to the likelihood of student success in current coursework (Bernard et al. 2004; Dean, 1998; Diaz, 2000; Harbeck, 2001; Spampinato, 2005; Tucker, 2001; A. Wojciechowski & Palm er, 2005; A. J. Wojciechowski, 2004). No student respondent in this study listed overall cumulativ e grade point average as a significant element necessary for success in online study. Self reported cumulative grade point averages for all 20 respondents ranged fr om 2.0 to 4.0 on a 4 point scale, with an mean of 3.29. Of the 10 students who had previously taken an online course, the range was 2.3 to 4.0, and the mean 3.10. For the rema ining 10 subjects who had not previously taken an online course, the range of cumula tive grade point average was 2.0 to 4.0 with a slightly higher mean of 3.47. Table 5 below represents the self-reported cumulative college grade point averages of those students who have and those who have not previously taken online coursework.
97 Table 5 Cumulative Grade Point Average ______________________________________________________________________ With online experience (N=10) Without online experience (N=10) Mean GPA SD Mean GPA SD________ _________________3.10_________.578_______________3.47________.540________ N =20 The number of courses in which student s enrolled but dropped was found to be significantly correlated with success in online study in a In troduction to Business course at West Shore Community College in Scottvi lle, Michigan. These data, discussed in two published studies (Wojciechowski & Palmer, 2005; Wojciechowski, 2004) indicate that the fewer courses from which students had pr eviously withdrawn, the higher the grade in the online business course. As the number of withdrawals decreased the grade achieved in the online course increased at a significant rate. Wojciechowski reported a statistically significant nega tive correlation for both the general population and the successful student cohort. No student included in the present study lis ted previous course withdrawals as an element necessary for success although the question was asked on the inventory and, therefore, was suggested as a factor of in terest in this study. Inventory responses revealed that, when asked How many college classes have you dropped in the past? of the 20 total respondents, 11 students marked that they had never dropped a course, 3 had dropped only one, 5 students had withdrawn from two courses and one student had previously withdrawn from three courses. Table 6 below illu strates the course
98 withdrawals for students who had previous ly taken online coursework and students without experience in online coursework. Table 6 Frequency Distribution of Subjects by Number Previous Withdrawals from College Classes _______________________________________________________________________ With online experience (N=10) Without online experience (N=10) Number of N N Withdrawals_______________________________________________ ___________ 0 6 5 1 2 1 2 1 4 3 1 0 ______________________________________________________________________ Total_______ _____10____________________________10_____________________ N =20 The course load, or number of courses in which students were enrolled during the current semester was included on the list of variables investigated by Diaz (2000). In that study, data concerning student characterist ics were analyzed for 96 online health education students, for 585 students in th e health program and for 9156 students on the Cuesta College Campus, San Luis Obispo, Calif ornia. Diaz found that the majority of online students were enrolled in less than 12 credit hours or who carried a typical load of four courses, higher than the average for students who were enrolled in traditional faceto-face classes. Further, the online group also exhibited a higher percentage of students enrolled in more than 15 credit hours or five or more classes.
99 No student in the current study included number of courses taken as an element for successful online study, however that question was asked on the inventory and therefore was suggested as a factor of inte rest in this study. The average number of courses in which the students were currently enrolled differed between those who had and those who did not have experience with online coursework. St udents in this study who had experience with online courses aver aged a course load of 12 hours or four courses during the current semester; st udents who had no experience with online coursework averaged nine credit hours or th ree courses. These data are presented in Table 7 below. Table 7 Frequency Distribution of Cu rrent Student Course Load ____________________________________________________________________ With online experience (N=10) Without online experience (N=10) Course N N Load_______________________________________________ ______________ 1 1 1 2 0 3 3 2 1 4 4 5 5 1 0 6 2 0 ______________________________________________________________________ Total_______ _____10____________________________10_____________________ N =20
100 Question 11 of the inventory asked student s to rank their computer expertise in the general category of excellent, good, adequa te, and poor. Confid ence in the skills necessary to navigate computer programs and complete ro utine technological tasks was included in the lists of elements associated with successful students by previous researchers (Diaz, 2000; Harbeck, 2001; Hartley & Bendixen, 2001; Schrum & Hong, 2002; Spampinato, 2005). The results of que stion 11 are presented below in Table 8. Table 8 Frequency of Students by Selfrated Level of Computer Expertise ____________________________________________________________________ With online experience (N=10) Without online experience (N=10) Level N N ______________ excellent 1 1 good 8 7 adequate 1 2 poor 0 0 _____________________________________________________________________ Total_______ _____10_____________________________10___________________ N =20 Ten students in this study were curren tly taking, or had in the past taken, an online course. This study used the Sloan C onsortium definition of an online course as one having at least 80% of the course cont ent delivered online (A llen & Seaman, 2005). Instructors at Pasco-Hernando Community College may web-enhance their class by offering material online or requi ring that students take all or part of their exams online. These web-enhanced courses were not consid ered online coursework in this study.
101 In order to investigate any difference in perception between students with and without online experience, ten student volunt eers from each category were included in this study. Question number seven of the i nventory is evenly split in the sample by design. The following two questions: If you are now, or have in the past, taken a college course online, did you attend an orientation to th e online class before the class began? and If you have taken a college course online, did you complete the class with a grade of C or higher? are limited to a sample size of 10. Attendance at orientation was considered to be an important predictor of online success in two published studies by Wojciec howski (A. Wojciechowski & Palmer, 2005; A. J. Wojciechowski, 2004). Statistical analys is revealed that the two most significant variables, GPA and attendance at the orientat ion, accounted for 69% of the variability in the final course grade, and therefore, classi fying the student to be successful in online study. Other variables consider ed in that study were less us eful in predicting student success in the online class. It is up to the discretion of the instructor at Pasco-Hernando Community College whether to offer or require that students attend an orientation. In the present study, only one of the 10 students who had online experien ce had attended an orientation to the class. Orientation attendance was not mentioned by any respondent in this study although the question was included on the inventory and therefore suggested as a factor of interest in this study. Question nine of the inventory asked respondents to indicate whether they had completed the online course with a grade of C or higher. All ten of the students in the online experienced group had successfully completed the college online course for which they enrolled, although one indicated that sh e had dropped a different online course and
102 another had failed one in high school. Ten of the twenty students had successful online experience, and ten of the twenty students had no experience w ith online study. The sample was purposefully divided into equal groups of students with and students without online experience. The last item from the inventory to be discussed is the data resulting when students were asked to respond to the question: Do you plan to take a class online in the future? These data are presented in Table 9. Table 9 Frequency of Students by Intent to Take Online Course in the Future ____________________________________________________________________ With online experience (N=10) Without online experience (N=10) Intent N N _________ __ yes 4 5 no 6 2 unsure 0 3 _____________________________________________________________________ Total_______ _____10_____________________________10___________________ N =20 The remainder of the inventory quest ions concerned stude nt perception and opinion. The final three queries asked students to write in elements believed to be necessary for successful online study, whether these elements were the same as those believed to be necessary for success in th e traditional classroom, and the perceived barriers to success in online coursework. T hose factors are discussed in the following section.
103 Discussion of Elements Identified by Students In addition to the descriptive data pr esented above, three written response questions were included on the inventory. These questions, numbered 12, 13 and 14 on the inventory, combined with the audio tape d and transcribed interviews with twenty student volunteers, provided da ta to address the following research questions. Each question will be discussed separately in the following portion of this chapter. The elements noted on the written invent ories and the coded data were grouped into four broad categories labeled Personal Characteristics, Mechanical or Technical Considerations, Social Aspects, and Educati onal or Instructional I ssues suggested by the list of final coded categories ab stracted from the transcripts. Table 10 lists the category and defines the criteria for inclusion. Table 10 Criteria for Inclusion in Element Categories _____________________________________________________________________ Category____________________________________ Criteria________________ Personal Characteristics Elemen ts pertaining to the students personality, personal qualities, traits, learning preferences, habits, acquired technical skills, organizational and time management skills, judgment, motivation, patience, self discipline or self concept.
104 Table 10 (continued) Criteria for Inclusion in Element Categories ______________________________________________________________________ Category____________________________________ Criteria_________________ Mechanical or Technical Considerations Elements related to convenient access to adequate personal computers, modems, high-speed internet service, the reliability of equipment, computer malfunctions and data loss, ease of program navigation, delivery platform, or internet security. Social Aspects Elements concerning peer pressure, extra curricular activities, clubs, non-verbal communication, study groups, the campus environment, milieu or college experience, or interaction with teachers or classmates. Educational or Instructiona l Issues Elements pertai ning to the curriculum, variety in and breadth of subject treatment, review and practice opportunities, or problems resulting from delay in answers to e-mailed questions. _______________________________________________________________________
105 Research Question 1: Elements Necessary for Online Success The first research question asked: What elements do students identify as most critical for success in online courses? Twen ty student participants wrote a total of 53 responses in the area of lined space provide d under question 12 on th e inventories. More elements noted by students were categorized under Personal Characteristics than in the other three categories with all students listing at least one personal characteristic as a necessary element fo r successful online stu dy. The category of Personal Characteristics include d aspects of self-disciplin e, motivation, determination, attitude, computer expertise, typing ability, time management skills, ability to concentrate and good study habits. In the category of Personal Characteristics, skill in time management was cited more often than any other element as an important for success with 17 of the 20 participants citing that element. The abil ity to wisely manage personal schedules was written 7 times on the inventories and mentione d in 17 of the 20 student interviews. One student stated Time management, big time. Big time time-management and another noted online courses require less time in a concentrated chunk than courses where you must attend lecture. Students understood that procrastination might lead to problems in online classes and accepted the importance of scheduling their time. A young woman who had never taken an online course admitte d that she had not because it might be easier for me to play hookey if I had an online class. Students conceded that the flexibility of scheduling time spent in class work online required greater time management skills. One student wrote Sche dule your time. You need a higher level of
106 commitment to participate online. A lot of people think that because it allows them to have that leeway, they dont necessarily have to sit down at a certain time, but life gets in the way. Youre left cramming for a class at the last minute. Its not such a good idea. Youve got somebody riding you in class, telling you youd bette r get this done. Theres no whip and chair online. On the other ha nd, flexibility in scheduling that allowed for employment, child care and family obligations was considered a major advantage of online studies. One student explained You do have to have time management skills. But its not like you have to say now Im going to work five hours on this this week-end and do this and that homework the next day. It s not like that. Its just that you have to make a commitment to put forth that tim e. If something does come up, and you dont have the time then, theres no reason to freak out, and think Im going to fail the course. Its flexible. Self discipline and the ability to l earn independently were the next most frequently cited elements by participants in this study. Self-discipline appeared eight times on the written inventories and was iden tified by 13 of 20 students during the course of the interviews. The first st udent to participate in this study wrote in response to the question: What do you believe are the factors necessary for successful online study? Well, first and foremost, definitely, would be self-discipline. Students often stressed the importance of making myself do it as an important element of success in online classes. Students acknowledged the seductive na ture of the internet, the ease of access to video games and messages from friends as pow erful distracters and recognized the need for self-discipline to stay on task. One stude nt revealed that in an online class in high
107 school a lot of times I was doing things other than my homework, and I ended up failing that class. Independence and the ability to work alone, and self-initiative in answering questions and finding information for ones se lf, was noted four times on the inventories and mentioned by 13 of the 20 students interviewed. A consequence of working alone, that is the lack of personal interaction with a teacher or with other students, was listed as a barrier to success and will be discussed furt her in the response to the final research question. Accurate judgment of the difficulty of online studies was mentioned by seven of the twenty students interviewed. Five of th e twenty students noted adequate computer skills. Mechanical and Technical Considerations was the second broad category into which the data fell. Aspects of this cate gory were mentioned by nine of the twenty students interviewed. Although one student stated that she feared she was stating the obvious, she said: a computer is necessary in order to part icipate online. Students acknowledged the need for high-speed internet connections and reliable equipment, as well. The above student expressed the concept bluntly: in order to take an online course you really need a big, 500 dolla r plus computer, with a 80 dollar extra memory and extra graphic card and all this othe r souped up stuff. Plus, you have to have broadband. Students stressed that equipment needed to be reliable. One student predicted: anytime youre ever working with a computer, at some point something is going to go wrong. Its going to freeze up, start lagging on you, youll lo se your internet connection, or nudge the power strip and it will turn o ff on you. Something is going to happen. Students also
108 noted the need for adequate time on the com puter. Even with reliable computers and high-speed connections, in households with one computer, family members had to share. Im interrupted because the kids want to play computer games and I have to do homework. We have to share the computer; there is only one. Easily navigable software programs, a nd understandable delivery platforms were also necessary. Four students mentioned the need for programs that were easy to follow or quick to learn. Social Aspects as a category of da ta included communication and human interaction. Three students specified communication with th e instructor as a necessary element of success. One student remarked: I think that one of the biggest keys to success in an online course is communication. Your teacher can only help you if you can tell him or her whats wrong. Human intera ction as an element necessary for success was mentioned by three students. A chat room or message board in an online course was appreciated as an avenue to communicate with classmates. The category of Educational or Instru ctional Issues included student remarks concerning wider access to lear ning material and greater re view opportunities, each of which was cited by two of the twenty stude nts. Variety in teaching techniques to accommodate a personal learning preference as well as the opportunity to expand on material in a lesson by way of computer li nks or website suggestions, and a method to access a review of information and further prac tice are examples of suggestions in this category. The first research question asked what elements students perceived as essential to online success. In summary, personal charact eristics were cited most often, with time
109 management skills, self-discipline and ability to work independently critical elements. Mechanical and technical considerations were also important. Only one student in the sample did not own a personal computer. In the Social Aspects category, a method to communicate with both instructors and classmat es as an aid to success was mentioned by only a minority of the respondents. Educational and instructional issues were infrequently mentioned as f actors necessary for success in online study. Overall, most students saw the personal charac teristics of self discipline, motivation, and the ability to work independently and manage ones time wisely as the most important elements for success in online study. Five elements were mentioned as critical to success in onlin e classes by students in this study that were not noted in the lite rature reviewed. Four of the five elements unique to this study were in the Personal Ch aracteristics category. The ability to focus was cited by two of the twenty students who participated in this study; determination by three; diligence by one; and memory, retenti on and recall by one. Those elements were not specifically listed as necessary elements in the pr evious studies. One student mentioned the fifth element not mentioned in previous studies, revi ew opportunities. Table 11 below recounts the elements iden tified by students as important for success in online study, and the number of students who mentioned that element.
110 Table 11 Elements Cited by Students as Crit ical to Success in Online Study ______________________________________________________________________ Element Total number of students who cited the element ______________________________________________________________________ Personal characteristics Ability to focus 2 Accurate judgment of c ourse difficulty 7 Attitude 1 Commitment to ones studies 9 Computer skills 5 Determination 3 Diligence 1 Good study habits 2 Independence, or ability to answer their own questions and work w ithout supervision 13 Memory, retention & recall 1 Motivation to complete the course 10 Organization 2 Patience 3 Self confidence 1 Self discipline 13 Time management 17 Mechanical or techni cal considerations Access to equipment/connection 6 Reliable equipment 4 Program easy to navigate 4 Social aspects Communication 3 Human interaction 4 Educational or Inst ructional Issues Access to more learning resources 2 Review opportunities 2 ____________________________________________________________________ N=20
111 Research Question 2: Differences Between El ements Identified by Students as Necessary for Success in Traditional and Online Coursework Research question 2 asked: Do students believe elements necessary for success in online coursework differ from elements critical for success in traditional face-to-face coursework? The same four broad categories of Personal Characteristics, Mechanical or Technical Considerations, Social Aspects and Educational or Instructional Issues were used to organize elements mentioned by respondents to this question. A total of 42 responses were offered on the inventorie s for Question 13. Of the 20 respondents interviewed, 14 indicated that at least one element was the same element necessary for success both in online and in the traditiona l classroom setting. Four of twenty participants stated there was no difference in components necessary for success online and in the traditional classroom Four students indicated that there was a difference. Of the entries in response to Question 13 on th e inventory, only one item did not appear on the list of elements in response to Question 12. One student in refe rence to online study wrote in simply you dont have to physica lly attend class. That one entry only was unique for differences in elements necessary for success in online and traditional classes. Although 14 of the 20 respondents indicated the same elements were necessary for success in for both online and traditional classes, qualifiers such as more or less were apparent in a total of 12 responses. Representative comments with such qualifiers include: You need more self discipline for online classes, self discipline is more important online, you dont need as much de dication, there is less interaction with the teacher in an online cla ss, and online requires a commitment level and degree of
112 self management not seen in traditional face to face classes. One student explained in face-to-face, theres more discussions where you would learn things that arent in the textbook or that go into greater details than the textbook, so its more important to go to class and pay attention. In on line classes, the material is based mostly on the information in the textbook, so its more importa nt to read and study the book. Four of twenty students i ndicated that there was a difference in the elements necessary for success in online study and tradit ional face-to-face classes. Three of the differences cited were in the Social Asp ects category. The hu man interaction is obviously absent from online courses, there is no interaction with the teacher, and no opportunity to interact with other students. The fourth student w ho indicated that there was a difference pointed out that, in online clas ses, she didnt have to physically attend class. In the category of Personal Characteristic s elements identified by four students as necessary for success online did not differ from those element identified as necessary for success in a traditional classroom. Four of the respondents wrote no difference, or essentially the same, in response to questi on number 13. Those students indicated that they believed the same personal characteristics are necessary for success in either arena. Time management skill, classified in the Personal Characteristic category used above, was mentioned most often in the su rveys. Twelve of the twenty students interviewed commented on the importance of judiciously scheduling their time. These students did not cite time management skills as a difference between elements necessary online or in traditional classes, but the degr ee of its importance was stressed during the interview process. A student explained in speaking about time management: You do
113 still need that, but I think more of it is built in to the [traditio nal] class itself. There are a whole lot more deadlines in my [traditional] class than in my online course. The end goal is the same but the path to it is more blocked out. The tendency to procrastinate in online studies was recognized. Comments referred to the presence of the teacher as a preventative to procrastination. You cant pr ocrastinate in a class that actually has a teacher sitting there. Things are due at that poi nt, things are due at that time, and thats it. If youre late you get dropped a grade one student wrote. Flexibility in scheduling personal study time was cited as an important difference between online and traditiona l classes by three students. Although not an element necessary for success, per se, students did a ppreciate the advantage of working at their convenience and at their own pace and stressed these as a benefit of online studies. Family obligations, childcare, employment schedules and personal biorhythms were mentioned as impediments to traditional class attendance. One student said in reference to traditional classes: My schedules have to match their schedules but my computer is always sitting there. Ten students mentioned flexibility as an element that allowed them to work, not only at their convenience, but also at their own pace. One student remarked the faster youre done online, the faster youre done with the course. In class, if youre done in five minutes you still have to st ay in the classroom. Another agreed: Sometimes you spend more time on one topic, then breeze through the next one. But in class, everybody stayed on the same page. Independence or ability to work without supervision or human interaction was noted by 10 of the 20 respondents as being a more important element for online study than face-to-face coursework. Of the ten pa rticipants who noted the difference, the
114 advantages of working online were listed as privacy by one student, less distraction from other students by two respondents, a reduction in peer stress by four students. Three students felt that working independently was a deficit due to lack of social support and more distraction from family obligations or the internet. One student mentioned that the anonymous status of online work allows student s to cheat easily. That student said: You can pull up your assignment window, minimi ze it and pull up what youre looking for on certain answers, and, its just basically, you cheat. Its so easy. People do it all the time. If you really need something you can ace it, and you dont really have to do it. They [teachers] dont know, they think its you. In the category of Mechanical or Tec hnical Considerations, differences cited by the student volunteers were as follows. The difference in expense was noted by two students. The expense of computer equi pment and high-speed internet access was mentioned by one student. The participant stated the level of technology you have to have is very high and often expensive, espe cially to keep in repairIts a lot more expensive and a lot more complicated in th e long run. But once you get everything set up, theres usually a big payback in the form of being able to have the time and the flexibility in schedule. A nother student remarked about the cost of commuting: We have the gas problem here. It takes a lot of money every week for students to come up to campus and they dont really have the money to come up here just to go to class. Aside from the expense, one student noted the re are fewer techno problems in traditional classes. In the Social Aspects category, three st udents related their desire for greater human interaction than provided by online co ursework. One student in particular
115 stressed the importance of social interac tion. He wrote: The human interaction is obviously absent from the online courses which can often hamper the students ability to grasp the concepts being taught. Also the bene fit of asking another student for assistance isnt there either, which prevents the student from having something put to them in a way they can understand or relate to. The avai lability of a classmate to put concepts in different words was mentioned repeatedly as an asset of traditional classes and will be discussed further in the res ponse to research question 5.
116 Research Question 3: Elements Identified by Students With and Without Online Experience Research question 3 asked: Do the elements identified as critical for success in online study by students who have experience with online coursework differ from those of students who have no experience? This study included ten students with and ten students without successful online experience. No student interviewed was completely without computer experience and all respondent s believed their computer use skills were adequate for online study. Research for a nd assignments in traditional classes may require computer use at PHCC. Also, students classified as not having online experience may have had experience with hybrid or we b-enhanced classes and therefore had some experience with the proce ss of online study. Table 12 presents the frequency of stude nts who cited each element as important to success in online study. Table 12 Frequency of Students With and Students Without Online Experience Who Cited These Elements as Critical to Success in Online Study ________________________________________________________________________ With online Without online experience (N=10) experience (N=10) Element Frequency Frequency ______________________________________________________________________ Personal characteristics Ability to focus 1 1 Accurate judgment of course difficulty 3 4
117 Table 12 (continued) Elements Necessary for Success in Online Study Cited by Students With and Without Online Experience ________________________________________________________________________ With online Without online experience (N=10) experience (N=10) Element Frequency Frequency ________________________________________________________________________ Attitude 0 1 Commitment 3 6 Computer skills 3 2 Determination 1 2 Diligence 0 1 Good study habits 1 1 Independence 10 3 Memory, retention & recall 1 0 Organization 1 1 Motivation 4 6 Patience 2 1 Self confidence 0 1 Self discipline 5 8 Time management 10 7 Mechanical or techni cal considerations Access to equipment & connection 4 2 Reliable equipment 1 3 Program easy to navigate 2 2 Social aspects Communication 1 2 Human interaction 3 1 Educational or Inst ructional Issues Access to more learning resources 1 1 Review opportunities 1 1 ______________________________________________________________________ Total_______ _______________________58_______________________57__________ N =20
118 Two elements, independence and time management, both from the Personal Characteristics category, were indicated as necessary elem ents for success by 100% of those students with online experience. All ten (100%) of the students with online experience stated that independence was a n ecessary element for su ccess; three (30%) of those without online experience listed that element. Ten of the ten (100%) of those students with online experience indicated that time management sk ills were critical to success; seven of the ten (70%) of those stude nts without online experi ence indicated that element was necessary. A difference was noted between those students who had and those who had not previously successfully taken an online class in the estimation of the importance of the Personal Characteristic of independence. The ability to be self-directing, work alone, and without direct supervis ion was listed by all ten (100%) of the students with experience as a critical element for success. Three of the ten (30%) w ho had no experience in online study indicated that independence was a critical factor. Students with online experience made it clear that the ability to work alone was an important element in online study. All ten of the students with online experience wrote on the inventory or mentioned during the interview that the ability to work independently was an element necessary for success in online study. One online-experienced res pondent said Not only can you not go to somebody and ask a question about something, you have to be able to know how to get that question answered all on you r own. You have to be able to look it up in the book, know where to look for that answer, know how to figure it out. Another online student agreed that independent learni ng was important. You have to be resourceful. You have to be willing to get what you need by yourself Look things up. You have to go get what
119 you need for yourself. The instructor isnt there to tell you. You need to be able to look for yourself. One student remarked that if the presentation didnt match a personal preference of lesson delivery style, no other techniques for presenting the material were available online. An online student said in compar ing traditional classes to online: Stuff is presented different. Not just one variation, a number of ways. If you didnt get it, the teacher would say, OK, then try this. Online, there was only one version of a way to do it. Nothing different to see if that worked. So if I didnt understand the way they said it, I didnt get it. I was stuck. Another st udent echoed the need for elaboration on some concepts: The instructor brings in visual aids. Thats how she teachers. When she was explaining one concept, she brought in a huge deck of cards. She asked how many jacks were in the deck. How many jacks out of how many. Four out of 52. She showed us. I understood. The computer doesnt do that. It s not very creative. But not everybody has the same learning style, or take s direction the same. I could ta ke direction in writing, just cant do it for math. I need visual aids. A student without online experience said: With an online course theres only one way to lear n. And I couldnt do it I would never be successful at it. An online learner put it: With a teacher you get personalized way of explaining things. If you dont understand the way the computer is telling you, youre up you-know-what creek. But if you can ask the teacher a questio n, she can explain it in a different way, then maybe youll unde rstand what she is talking about. No distinction was found in the number of citations given by students with and students without online experi ence concerning the help of fellow students. Eight students, four with and four without online experience, cited help by other students in a
120 traditional class in understanding the presente d material by re-phrasing or offering a different interpretation, a component not usua lly available in online classes. Students with online experience made these remarks: Other students help by putting things in a different words, explaining it a different way. If I dont get it in the class, then I can talk to someone who does get it, and they say it in a different language or for some reason I just get it when I hear them say it. A student without online experience commented If I didnt get it when the teacher said it, one of my classmates did, and they can explain it in a different way. They may have questi ons that I didnt think about until they did. And it spurs something else there. Not havi ng the one-on-one intera ction is one of the biggest problems that exist in online courses. One student, who had not taken an onlin e course, expressed her opinion of the difference between online and traditional classes this way when speaking about a traditional classroom situation: You get something more. You can talk to the other students and talk to the teacher and get more A wider viewpoint. More information. More understanding. More learning. Another advocate of the tradit ional class said I like coming to school Its just interesting a nd you learn things when youre in class. Its just more enriching. Time management skill was indicated by ten of the ten (100%) students with online experience. Seven of the ten (70%) of those students wit hout online experience indicated that time management skill was crit ical to success. One student expressed that online courses require less time in a con centrated chunk than courses where you must attend lecture. Another student this one with online experi ence, added the caution that students should put some time in reserve in online courses. Try to work on work in
121 advance because sometimes the site has errors as well. Ten of ten students with online experience and seven of ten students w ithout online experience commented on the necessity of scheduling their time. One stude nt without online expe rience related: If youre not structured, you know, you dont know when to study, and when to, you know, have play time and work, have spare time, if you cannot, like any ot her class, take the time for it, its, youre just not going to do t oo well. Especially since no ones going to say youve got to do the work now, this is due, they just already assume that you know. The ability to proceed at an individual pace was recognized as an advantage by ten students with and two without experience online. In referr ing to a course schedule in which a set amount of tasks were required to complete the course, and no time limit was placed on the pace the student could work a st udent with online experience said The faster youre done online, the faster youre done with the course. In class if youre done in five minutes you still have to stay in the classroom. A student without experience, however, remarked: I dont mind coming to class, but online its like ugh. Id go through it very quickly if I dont like it Theres nobody there to make you do it online.
122 Research Question 4: Comparison of Student Identified Elements Necessary for Success in Online to the those Elements Listed in the Literature Research question 4 asked: Do the elem ents identified by students differ from those commonly listed in the academic literature? Table 1 summarized the major elements reported by professionals in education to be indicative of the successful student. Some elements discussed in the literature were mirrored in this study while other elements conflicted. Although this study did not include the large sample (n = 9,837) and statistical analysis used by Diaz (2000), two elements listed by that author were mentioned by students at Pasco-Hernando Community College as important for success. An independent learning style was found by Diaz to be favored by both successful and unsuccessful online students. The ability to learn independently was identified by thirteen students in this study as a necessary factor in online success. Also listed by Diaz were computer skills, an element recognized by five students in this study as necessary elements for successful online study. In th e small sample used for this study, the cumulative grade point average, indicative of the successful online student in the Diaz study, was higher for those students who had never taken an online course. Diaz gathered the cumulative grade point average data of 96 students, 75 who were successful and 21 who were not. All ten of the stude nts at PHCC who had attempted an online course were successful therefore a more m eaningful comparison might be made to the GPA of only the 75 successful students in the Diaz study. In the Diaz study, the 75 successful students had a mean GPA of 3.02 on a four point scale; the 21 non-successful students had a cumulative GPA of 2.25. Students in this study without online experience
123 had a self-reported GPA of 3.47 on a 4 point sc ale; students with online experience had a GPA of 3.1 on a 4 point scale. Other elem ents conflicted. Given the opportunity to identify elements felt necessary for succe ssful online study, no student in this study identified gender, ethnic group, cu mulative GPA, or income. The 36 students who participated in th e focus groups to identify students perceptions of the factors th at influence engagement led by Flores-Juarez (2005) at the University of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexi co, ranked the personal aspects of self discipline and time management as critical factors. In this study those personal characteristics were identified by 13 and 17 students, respectively, as elements critical for online success. No other elements listed by Flores-Juarez were ci ted by students in the PHCC study. The student perception of elements nece ssary for success in this study closely matched those identified by Harbeck (2001). That study included data from 68 studentcompleted questionnaires and 15 student interv iews and divided the elements into four categories, referred to as domains. The domains were labeled and described as follows: 1. Interpersonal Support. This category included such issues as lack of distractions or interruptions, physical space and support from family or employers. 2. Student Characteristics. Seven distinct areas were ascribed to this category: concerns, motivation, perception of content, prior knowledge, academic background, learning preferences, and technological issues. 3. Course Issues. Properties inherent to online courses included convenience, novelty, lack of live interaction and student au tonomy. Also included in Course Issues were practical issues of discussion boards, assignment submission and assessment.
124 4. Infrastructure. Hardware and soft ware technical problems, computer or modem malfunctions and technical support were factors of infrastructure. Students in the Harbeck study identified motivation and that element was identified by 10 students in this study. In addition to learning preferences, Harbecks study also identified time manageme nt skill, identified by 17 of the 20 participants in this study, and technological issues, identified by 14 student in this study, as critical to online success. The domain of Course Issues contained student feedback on human interaction, a category that had 4 citations in this study, and student autonomy, a similar element to independence, cited by 13 of the 20 participants in this study. Finally, in the domain of Infrastructure, hardware and software issu es and technical support were identified. Overall, student perceptions in this study agre ed closely with the elements identified by the Harbeck study. The study by Schrum and Hong (2002) accessed the academic literature to identify seven dimensions characteristic of the successful online student. The list of characteristics identified was then submitted to professional educators for verification. The seven dimensions identified by Schrum and Hong (2002) found to be characteristic of successful online students are listed below: 1. Access to appropriate tools. Schrum and Hong found that reliable access at home was a distinct advantage as it afforded the student the convenience of being able to work at his or her own time sche dule. Six students in this study cited access to tools as a critical element. 2. Previous experience with technology. St udents with a level of confidence and
125 comfort using technology were more likely to be successful in the study by Schrum and Hong. 3. Learning preferences. Successful online st udents in that study were aware of their own learning style and are able to compensate or modify input to assist themselves. 4. Study habits and skills. Successful st udents in the Schrum and Hong study kept up with assignments and posted ques tions to clarify misconceptions. Two students in this study cite d study habits and skills. 5. Personal goals and purposes. Schrum and Hong asserted that individual need for professional certification, maintaini ng licensure, upgrading skills or increasing knowledge encouraged successful completion of the course. 6. Lifestyle factors. Time mana gement was found to be an important factor in student success in the study by Schrum a nd Hong. Seventeen of twenty students in the present study cited time management skills. 7. Personal traits and characteristics. Personal traits, ch aracteristics, and fundamental patterns in the way people be have, utilize time and resources, and conduct their life were identif ied by Schrum and Hong as significant elements in success. Organization, assuming personal re sponsibility, and self-discipline were characteristic of successful online students. Identified in the Schrum and Hong study, as noted in this study, were the elements of reliable equipment, cited by four students in this study; computer skills, cited by five students in this study; independe nt learning style, cited by thir teen students in this study;
126 time management ability, cited by seventeen stud ents in this study; and self-discipline, cited by thirteen students in this study. Spampintos (2005) study of the student perceptions of classroom success, using surveys and student interviews, includ ed input from 46 online and 43 traditional classroom students. Student responses to th e questions concerning personal attributes perceived as important to success, ranked wit hout percentages in that study, were related to organization, study habits, independent learning, motivation and time management skills, a close parallel to the factors identified by students in this study. Two students at PHCC noted organization, two said study habi ts, thirteen listed independent learning style, ten mentioned motivation and sevent een said time management skills. An interesting correlation was seen in the student perceptions of the value of independent learning ability. In Spampintos study 100% of the online students ranked that attribute as necessary for success; 52% of those in the traditional classroom did so. In the present study, 100% of the online students listed the abil ity to learn independently as necessary for success; only 30% of the stud ents without online experience included that element. Wojciechowski (2004) and Wo jciechowski and Palmer (2005) used data from the same sample of 179 students to investigate in dividual characteristics as predictors of success in online study. No student in the cu rrent study listed the elements identified by Wojchichowski or Wojciechowski and Palm er of age, prior online experience, standardized scores, previous course withdrawals, cumulativ e GPA, semester format or orientation attendance as elements necessary for success. Wojciechowski found a highly statistically significant relati onship between grade point aver age and success in the online course but made no comparison to the GPA of students with and students without online
127 experience. In this study, albe it with a very small sample, the GPA of those students with successful online experience was lower than th e overall grade point average of students who had not taken an online course. Further, no trend was noted in this small sample correlating course withdrawals or age range. Overall, those studies by Diaz (2000), Flores-Juarez (2005), Harbeck (2001), Schrum & Hong (2002), and Spampinto (2005) most closely agree with the elements identified by students in this study as critical for success in online courses. The academic literature reviewed for this paper in cludes factors not identified by students in this study as necessary elements for success in online education. Those factors include maintaining academic success, securing a posit ion in the chosen career field, graduation, ability to apply the lessons learned in the college experience to other areas of life, proficiency in all academic subjects, balance in all elem ents of ones life, gaining practical experience for the future, achiev ing ones goals, maintaining good grades, graduating and participating in and out of cl ass as identified by Dean (1998). Elements identified by Diaz (2000) that were not lis ted by students in this study included gender, ethnic group, cumulative GPA, and household income. Listed by Flores-Juarez (2005) but not by any student in th is study were the elements of personal goals, faculty involvement, an academic program that is mean ingful and sufficiently rigorous, a sense of teamwork with fellow students, the colle giate infrastructure, and physical plant. Harbeck (2001) listed a well-designed and managed course, physical and emotional support among the elements necessary for student success. Those elements were not mentioned by students in this study. The elem ents listed by Hartley and Bendixen (2001) of self monitoring skill, goal setting, awareness of ability, fl exibility and a broad view of
128 knowledge were not identified by students in this study. Schonwetter, Perry and Struthers (1993), unlike students in this study, identified affinity for challenge and an internal locus of control as element indicative of the succe ssful student. The elements listed by Schrum and Hong (2002) include d previous experience with technology, awareness of personal learning style, and personal goals and purpose, however, those elements were not listed by participants in this study. The 2005 study by Spampinto included the element of the ability to read and comprehend easily not listed by any student in this study. Volery (2001) included instructor who is technologically competent and organized and previous experience with online coursework as elements of the successful student. Students in this study did not list t hose elements. The study by Wang and Newlin (2000) included three elements not recognized by students in this study as necessary for success in online course work: high level of engagement or activity, a high need for cognition and inquisitiveness and an internal locus of control. Wojciechowskis 2004 study included age, pr ior online experience, high ACT English score, high ASSET reading score, a cumulativ e GPA above class average, few previous course withdrawals, a semester format of eight weeks and attendanc e at orientation as indicative of the successful student. No st udent in this study listed those elements. Finally, Wojciechowski and Palmer (2005) liste d a high cumulative GPA, attendance at orientation, few previous course withdrawals, an age over th e class average and an eight week semester format as elements associated with the successful student. Students in this study did not identif y those elements. The student perceptions of factors necessary for success in online study are presented in the final entry of Table 13 below.
Author Title Elements identified Dean, 1998 Defining and Achieving University Student Success: Faculty and Student Perceptions The faculty perspective 1. Maintaining academic success 2. Securing a position in the chosen career field 3. Graduation 4. Ability to apply the lessons learned in the college experience to other areas of life Dean, 1998 Defining and Achieving University Student Success: Faculty and Student Perceptions The student perspective 1. Proficiency in all academic subjects 2. Balance in all elements of ones life 3. Gaining practical experience for the future 4. Achieving ones goals 5. Maintaining good grades 6. Graduating 7. Participating in and out of class Diaz, 2000 Comparison of Student Characteristics, and Evaluation of Student Success, in an Online Health Education Course 1. Gender (Female) 2. Ethnic group (Nonwhite) 3. Cumulative GPA (over 3.02) 4. Learning Style (Independent) 5. Household income 6. Self ranked computer skills (modest) Flores-Juarez, 2005 Promoting Student Success: Students' Perceptions of the Factors that Influence their Engagement at a Mexican University 1. Personal goals 2. Personality aspects (such as attitude, organizational ability, discipline) 3. Faculty involvement 4. Personal support system of family, parents, mentors 5. Academic program that is meaningful and sufficiently rigorous 6. A sense of teamwork with fellow students 7. Involvement in extracurricular activities and scholarships 8. Collegiate infrastructure (i.e., library, labs) 9. Physical plant, buildings, parking facilities Harbeck, 2001 Community College Students Taking On-Line Courses: The Student Point-of-View 1. Interaction with instructor and other students 2. Well designed and managed course 3. Physical and emotional support 4. Motivation 5. Self-direction 6. Prior knowledge of online course 7. Technical skills Table 13. Summary of Elements Identified as Important Contributors to Student Success 129
Author Title Elements identified Hartley & Bendixen, 2001 Educational Research in the Internet Age: Examining the Role of Individual Characteristics 1. Self monitoring skill 2. Goal setting 3. Awareness of ability 4. Flexibility 5. Broad view of knowledge Schonwetter, Perry & Struthers, 1993 Students' Perceptions of Control and Success in the College Classroom: Affects and Achievement in Different Instructional Conditions 1. Affinity for challenge 2. Persistence 3. Self directed 4. Internal locus of control Schrum & Hong, 2002 From the Field: Characteristics of Successful Tertiary Online Students and Strategies of Experienced Online Educators 1. Access to appropriate tools 2. Previous experience with technology 3. Awareness of personal learning style 4. Study habits and skills 5. Personal goals and purpose 6. Lifestyle factors (e.g., time management, family and employer support, childcare) 7. Personal traits and characteristics (e.g., being organized, assuming personal responsibility, self disciplined) Spampinto, 2005 Student Perceptions Concerning the Effect of Personal Attributes and Course Attributes in Classroom, Online and Telecourse Success 1. Organized 2. Strong study habits 3. Staying on track 4. Independent learning style 5. Classroom involvement 6. Motivated 7. Ability to read and comprehend easily 8. Time management skills 9. Personal skills (e.g., typing, computer expertise) Volery, 2001 Online Education: An Exploratory Study into Success Factors 1. Convenient access to technology 2. Instructor who is technologically competent and organized 3. Previous experience with online coursework Wang & Newlin, 2000 Characteristics of Students Who Enroll and Succeed in Psychology Web-Based Classes 1. High level of engagement/activity 2. High need for cognition / inquisitiveness 3. Internal locus of control Wojciechowski, 2004 The Relationship Between Student Characteristics and Success in an Online Business Course at West Shore Community College The student perspective 1. Age above class average 2. Prior online experience 3. High ACT English score 4. High ASSET reading score 5. Cumulative GPA above class average 6. Few previous course withdrawals 7. Semester format of 8 weeks 8. Attendance at orientation Table 13. Summary of Elements Identified as Important Contributors to Student Success (continued) 130
Author Title Elements identified Wojciechowski & Palmer, 2005 Individual Student Characteristics: Can Any Be Predictors Of Success In Online Classes? 1. High cumulative GPA 2. Orientation attendance 3. Few previous course withdrawals 4. Age over class average 5. 8 week semester format Flow, 2007 An Investigation of Community College Students Perceptions of Elements Necessary for Success in Online Study 1. Time management skills 2. Self discipline 3. Ability to work independently 4. Motivation 5. Personal commitment to study 6. Convenient access to reliable equipment Table 13. Summary of Elements Identified as Important Contributors to Student Success (continued) 131
132 Research Question 5: Student Identified Barriers to Online Success Research question 5 asked: What do student s identify as the greatest barriers to success in online study? In order to address that question, Questi on 14 of the inventory asked students to respond to the following: Whether or not you have ever taken an online course, what do you believe are the greatest ba rriers to success in online coursework? Students wrote 37 responses in reply on the inventories and were willing to elaborate their point of view during the interview. Co mparisons were made often to the traditional classroom setting. As before, student responses fell into areas of personal characteristics, technical computer issues, social interaction concerns and instructional issues. For consistency in presentation of this research, the same four broad categories of Personal Characteristics, Mechanical or Technical Considerations, Social Aspects, and Educational or Instructional Issues were used. On the inventories, students wrote ten elements designated as Personal Characteristics. Referring to the element of independence, one student mentioned a personal learning style incompatible with the independence of computer delivery. Another referred to personal motivation. He said you really have to have a driven personality, be motivated, to do that. Still a nother student referred to learning style. He expressed his feeling about online learning this way: I dont like it. Im more a visual learner. Insufficient self-discipline was recognized as a barrier to success online by two students who felt that problem was exacerbated by the fact that the student did not have
133 to face an instructor without completed assignm ents. On student described the situation: Youre sitting there with your buddies or something along those lin es and everyone is going to turn something in. And you dont want to be the one without doing it. Say, oh, I didnt do it. Your friends would look over at you and think what kind of person are you. Youre in college. Why didnt you do it? You know, college is a place that youre expected to turn things in. So in college so much discipline is expected in an online course. Misjudgment of course difficulty was cite d as a barrier to success online by two participants. People think its an easy way out, that you dont have to go to class. You can do it 24 hours a day. Whenever your sc hedule permits one student warned. People misconstrue how much work it is a nother student said of online course work. Four students recognized lack of tim e management skil ls, specifically procrastination, as an impediment to success online. People put things off. Procrastination. You have to push yourself to get it done. So youll have more time to reflect on what youve done. If you wait until the last minute, you just hurry up and throw everything in. If you do (keep up), you can look over your work better and take your time to do a good job. one student explained. A student without online experience feared that procrastination would keep hi m from succeeding online. See, my problem with all that online thing woul d be procrastination. I wait until the due date. So timing has something to do with it. In the category of Mechanical or Te chnical Considerations, the costs of a computer and high speed internet access was mentioned by two stude nts but balanced by others who noted that online classes save ga s money. Six stude nts viewed computer
134 malfunctions as a greater problem. Students described scenarios in which assignments were sent electronically but lo st or computers crashed at a critical time. A sample of those comments follows. Programs crash. So it s hard if you need to do a quiz and lets say you waited until the last minute to do it, and somehow the program went down or something and youd fail your quiz because th e program was down. It can happen. You send your assignments in and then, th e one I was in, the hurricane came along andthe teacher didnt have his computer. Stu ff just kept getting lost. I had to keep on sending it. Any time youre ever working w ith a computer, at some point something is going to go wrong. Its going to freeze up, start lagging on you, lose your internet connection, youll nudge the power strip and it will turn off on you. Something is going to happen. A total of 23 student-identif ied barriers were included in the category of Social Aspects. Students voiced the greatest concer n over the lack of interaction with an instructor in online classes; fourteen students made mention of that. One student expressed his dislike of having to interact with a machine inst ead of a person. Students saw the physical presence of a t eacher in a traditional setting as an advantage in several re spects over computer delivered mate rial and related that in online classes equal weight or importance was nece ssarily assigned to all information as opposed to a classroom setting in which the teacher could stress important points. A student pointed out that in a traditional classroom Youre not learning and discussing everything thats in the book or on the outline. But in an online class youre supposed to learn everything, not just what the professor th inks is important. A similar barrier was the students fear of misinter pretation of material. A stude nt said: The other thing I
135 found difficult was when youre studying on your own, its your interpretation of the book. It might be a prejudi ced interpretation. Interaction with a teach er was classified as a social aspect for this study. Fourteen students indicated that the loss of interaction with the instructor was a barrier to success in online studies. Students felt that onlin e classes didnt offer the instructor the opportunity to be spontaneous in the clas sroom. One student wrote in response to question 14 of the inventory: T here may not be the factor of spontaneity that usually arises in a traditional face to face classroom. Another had a similar sentiment: Online courses limit where the instructor can go within the curriculum. It limits branching out into areas that can supplement the subject matter. I believe online course curtail spontaneous thought processes. And another: Well, spontaneity brings discussion to the classroom. And you can give examples. By just one situation that ar ises in class you can incorporate the learning materials in to the cla ss or other things in the course that falls into the subject. The instructors ability to alter the p ace of the class was mentioned by a student who saw those restrictions as a barrier to online success. That student said: If you needed more time on one concept, the teacher can assess that. She can spend more time here because she knows that on the next chap ter, we wont need that much time. Sometimes you spend more time on one topic and breeze through the next one. In class, everybody stayed on the same page. The computer cant kept the class on one page. Students stated that another barrier to onlin e success that resulted from the lack of a physical presence of an instructor was m eeting deadlines. Procrastination has been mentioned as a problem in itself in the Pe rsonal Characteristics category but students
136 stressed that having a teacher remind them of due dates was an advantage in the traditional classroom. The more personal feeling provided by the teacher was expressed this way by one student: Because if youre in a face to face class (the teacher) will tell you. Theyre like, OK, this is going to be due. And you have a pe rsonal stake, you dont want to let your teacher down. Four stude nts mentioned that the teacher reminding them of due dates helped them avoid missing deadlines. A further barrier of success online was the perceived inability in an online course of the instructor recognizing wh en a student is having trouble One student described the problem this way: the computer cant see your duh face. Another student remarked another thing online cant do. A teacher can see youre confused. She knows youre confused. A computer cant do that. Anot her similar remark was: Sometimes youre so lost you dont even know what to ask. But the teacher knows. And cares, too. Three students relayed that a barrier to success online was that the computer could not explain things in a different way in th e event that a student did not understand the initial presentation. Students explained the idea this way: Other cues other than straight forward words. All teachers find little qui rky ways of explaining things. Maybe draw stuff on the board for us, stuff like that. Co mputers cant do that. and If you can ask the teacher, she can explain it in a different way, then maybe youll understand. If the teacher is there you can say, excuse me, can you expl ain this to me. I ts all the teacher. Theres no replacement for a teacher. One fi nal quote: I dont care how elaborate a computer gets, it will never match the complex ity of the human brain. It will never do what a teacher can do. It w ill never replace a teacher.
137 Not only the absence of the physical presence of a teacher but the loss of interaction with other students was seen as a barrier to success. Nine participants cited that element. One student said The presence of the other students is important too. Because maybe theyre asking something you didnt think of. Or maybe there was something that I wouldnt ask but they asked, and that answ ered my question too. The following quote illustrates the help of hearing answers directed at classmates, a loss seen as a barrier to online learning. I ts nice to have a different point of view. It does help. In the class that I failed, it was mostly all computers in the classroom and doing the interactive in class. It wa snt like the teacher would go in and youd raise your hand. The teacher would come over and whisper to you. You didnt have the interaction with your classmates. You didnt even know a nything from the person sitting next to you because they were just sitting there staring at a computer screen. But now Im taking that class over, but its not computer interactive its just a regular class, and Im doing much better. And Im learning a lot more. In one case, a timid student found he was helped by classmates in a traditional classroom and mentioned the lack of that s ituation would be a barr ier to success if the course were taken online. This comment illustrates: Sometimes people have problems with raising their hand in the middle of class and putting themselves in the spotlight with other students. Theyre afraid to ask the teacher so they can turn around to you and say did you understand a word she just said? and they say it in a different way. Another student made a similar point. You learn fr om the other students too. Other people have different viewpoints and I now when Im st uck, other viewpoints help. I can see it another way. I didnt think of that. Input from other people helps you learn and finds
138 solutions to problems. This wouldnt exist online. One student asserted that the computerized lecture simply didnt explai n a concept clearly. Theres no human interaction, youre at a computer. When I was listening to that computer explain to me how to do a math problem, it translated from the computer to my ears as blah blah blah blah blah, blah blah. What did you just say? Nothing. I felt bad. A human needs human interaction. Theres some things that a computer cant do. Students provided a total of 24 elements considered barriers to successful online study that fell into the fourth category of Educational or Inst ructional Issues The loss of the classroom environment was mentioned as a problem with online studies. Three students remarked that they enjoyed the interaction with other students and the social world of school. The following quote illustrate s: Some people really like the solitary kind of just get it done. But if you have the personality to r eally like the social environment, you like discussion and stuff, working in groups, not working by yourself but with people around you, then you like th e classroom. Another student mentioned involvement in extracurricular activities not available in on line study. Its like getting a degree through the mail. Its like when youre taking online classes youre not getting the college experience that maybe your older brother or sister might have had and that you wish you could have. But you dont really get the full campus experience. Theres more going on. Theres actual clubs here that you could join, and ot her extra curricular activities that look good on a resume. The final element students mentioned freque ntly as a barrier to online success was problems with asking questions via e-mail. Tw elve of the twenty students interviewed felt problems with e-mail were a serious hindr ance to online coursework. Students were
139 vocal in their descriptions of problems caused by having to e-mail questions to an instructor. In general students said that because composing and typing a question took more effort, they tended to ask shorter quest ions and fewer of them They described the difficulty of wording a question when they didnt understand, of not being able to comprehend the answer, and waiting to go forwar d in their studies until the situation was resolved. The comments were numerous; the following were typical of the difficulty of composing an e-mail. Its hard to type it out if you dont understand. That was the problem to begin with. I didnt get it. Youve got to explain the problem th at you dont understand. Its harder. You have to compose the e-mail ques tion. If youre confused, how are you going to ask the question? Then, if you don t understand the reply, youve got to try again. Two students said they asked fewer questions and that the questi ons were shorter. If there are questions, Im fumbling writing the e-mail. I found that my questions tend to be very short. That I dont ask in the same words. Another student didnt ask because she felt she was imposing on the instructors limited time. She said: I feel like shes not very available to me and Im going to impose by a million and one questions to her. Not just fewer, shorter questions but the wait until the question is answered was declared a barrier by six students. One student complained: It slows you down. Especially if you have just two or three days to get the exerci se done. It may take two or three days to get an answer to your question. Math class is sequential. You have to be
140 able to do this before you can do that. But you have to wait. Another remarked What do you do in the meantime? You could e-mail. Tread water until they get back to you. But it was easier to do it for yourself. Just go to a book or something and find the answer. Two students placed the blame on the instruct or. The instructor sometimes lets you know that shes very busy, that she has th is or that going on, she might not get back to you for a while. Its like they cant get back to you for a couple of days, or may not get back to you for a day or two. Unlike in the classroom, if I have a question, I get an instant answer. I dont have to wait. Another said: If you have to wait for your answer, its frustrating, I think. You forget your question if you dont get an answer. The number of students who mentioned each element is indicated on Table 14 below. Table 14 Frequency of Students Who Cited These Elements as Barriers to Success in Online Study ______________________________________________________________________ Element Total number of students who cited the element ______________________________________________________________________ Personal characteristics Personal learning preference 1 Personality 1 Lack of self-discipline 2 Misjudgment of course difficulty 2 Time management/procrastination 4 Table 14, continued
141 Frequency of Students Who Cited These Elements as Barriers to Success in Online Study ______________________________________________________________________ Element Total number of students who cited the element __ Mechanical or techni cal considerations Costs of equipment and connections 2 Equipment malfunctions 6 Social aspects Less interaction with instructor 14 Less interaction with other students 9 Educational or Inst ructional Issues Lack of classroom environment 8 e-mail problems 12 ____________________________________________________________________ N=20 Other points made by a student during the interview pro cess, although not directly related to the research questi ons of this study, were insight ful and worthy of mention. That student has a learning disability as a result of a medical condition. Previously the Office of Disabilities had granted her the allo wance of a private location for exams, extra time on assignments and a note taker or scribe in class. She expressed how, before online classes were widely available, she sometime s felt other students were resentful of the perceived advantages she was granted. She appreciated the fact that online she could work at her own pace in the privacy of her home and not feel that she was imposing on other students or the teacher. Instead of doi ng all that, I can now ju st do it all at home. And feel comfortable doing that, I dont have to worry, or take time from the teacher to get everything together for me, get the packet, send it up to the library, mess with all that.
142 Because I can do it all at my house. And I dont feel like Im doing something that the other students that theyre not getting. They dont feel like Im different. Like how come she gets to do that and we dont kind of thing. Whats wrong with her. Like Im getting an advantage that th eyre not. The student pointed out that she now could simply print out the notes from the computer ra ther than having a note taker in class. She also mentioned that she coul d review from the notes. A further complication for that student was the medication that she takes. Although she is alert in the morning, the medi cal makes her groggy later in the day. She appreciated the flexibility of scheduling online offers. She di dnt have to worry about the time of day a class was offered and could complete assignments when she felt best able to do so. Online you can do it when you re ready to concentrate on it. Further, she stated that she was easily di stracted and that students talking around her interrupted her thoughts. She said: If youre doing it by yourself on the computer youre less likely to be distracted. If so mebody is laughing in the background or talking, which is annoying. Ill be watching the Power Points or listening to the teache r talking and somebody will be talking behind me and I get distracted At home I have privacy, by myself. I can lock the door and hang a do not disturb sign if I have to. Thats what I like best. Not being disturbed. Clearly the advantage of online study has opened opportunities and made an educational difference to this student with disabilities. In conclusion, students in this study pr ovided insight into student opinion and perception of the elements necessary to succeed in online classes. In this study, participants acknowledged self -discipline 13 times and time management skills 17 times
143 as necessary elements for success in online studies and indicated that these same elements were essential to success in the traditional classroom. Ten of ten students with online experien ce and 7 of 10 without online experience listed time management as critical for succes s. Both students with and students without online experience emphasized the ability to st udy and learn independently was vital. Ten of ten students with online experience and th ree of ten students wit hout online experience listed the ability to learn independently as an element necessary for success online. Previously published studies have not con centrated on the students perspective of elements necessary for success in online study. Characteristics identified in the professional literature, however, cite the personal characteristics of self-discipline, independence and time management (Flores-Juarez, 2005; Harbeck, 2001; Schrum and Hong, 2002; Spampinto, 2005). Only six of the twenty students included in this study stated that th ey intended to take an online course in the future Four of the ten students who had previously taken online courses indicated that they would take another. Although most students recognized the advantages of scheduling flexibility and pe rsonal pace, they were frustrated by the clumsiness of e-mailing their questions and th e loss of the campus environment.
144 CHAPTER FIVE Summary The focus of this study has been to gi ve voice to student perceptions of the elements that students believe necessary to succeed in college coursework taken online. Although the previous studies conducted by pr ofessionals in education have sought to identify those factors that closely parallel student success, studies that access student opinion or seek student input into elements believed necessary for success are infrequent. This research did not intend to identify elem ents that correlate with or predict student success, but to add to the understanding of student academic success by adding the students perspective. The correlations found between demographics and student success are of undeniable value in establis hing the curriculum of modern education, however, listening to the student voice of the elements they believe contribute to success offers another valuable facet in understandi ng student success. The use of demographic data to predict the successful student and the opinions of students about success are two aspects of the wider subject of student academic achievement. College courses delivered via the intern et are growing in popularity. Enrollment in such classes is increasing, however, all students who enroll in online classes do not complete the classes successfully. Attriti on remains a serious problem in both online and traditional classes. Scant professional literature exists concerning the student perspective of elements necessary to successfully comp lete online courses. Generating a greater
145 understanding of the student perspective of the elements necessary to successfully complete online coursework is a major goal of this research. Organizational Structure of Chapter 5 This concluding chapter will review the goals and procedures, summarize the study and findings and provide recommendations for further research in the area of student-perceived elements necessary fo r success in online study. The chapter is presented in sections. The initial introduc tion and summary will be followed by a review of the purpose and goals of the study. A su mmary of the methods used to address the research questions will follow. The findings of the research are summarized next. Recommendations for practice and suggestions for further research appear before the final conclusion. Review of the Purpose of the Study The purposes of this study were to identif y the student perspective of the elements necessary for success in online coursework; to determine if students believed those elements differed from those essential for succe ss in traditional classes; and to detect differences in the elements identified by students who had experience and students who did not have experience with online courses. Additionally, this study sought to compare the student-identified elements necessary for success in online study to those published studies discussed in the academic literature a nd, finally, to discover what barriers students perceived as impeding success in online courses. This study sought to give voice to the student perspective; to expa nd the literature concerning th e factors related to student
146 success; and provide insight for instructors, administrators, advisors and planners into student needs and opinions. Summary of Methods A variety of methods were used to obta in the desired information. A pilot study of student interest in online courses used a quantitative approach and generated questions about student-perceived elements necessary for success. The academic literature was mined for information on student success a nd better understanding of the factors and elements related to student achievement. A mixture of methods, including inventory questionnaires and personal semi-structured in terviews, were used to gain a wider view and a deeper understanding of student opinion. Twenty student volunteers at Pasco-Hern ando Community College in central west Florida constituted the purposeful sample. Ten of the participants had and ten had not previously completed online coursework. Data was collected from the students by administration of an inventory and personal semi-structured one-on-one interviews. The information captured by the inventory was ente red on a personal computer spreadsheet. Interviews were audio taped and the tapes transcribed. Reviews of the audio tapes, transcriptions and inventories together suggested categories and printed transcripts were coded. To directly address the research quest ions of this study, the data collected from interview transcripts and inventories was mined for student opinion and perceptions of specific elements students believed necessary for online success. Similarly, student opinions of those factors necessary for succes s in online courses and those felt necessary for success in the traditional classroom were compared. The sample was purposefully
147 and evenly divided between students with a nd students without onlin e experience and the factors identified from those groupings as critical for success were compared. The elements identified by professionals in edu cation found in the academ ic literature were compared to those identified by students. Finally, the student-identified barriers were identified in the data. After the data captured from the inventor ies and interviews were reviewed and coded and the summary sheets made, analysis of the data began. It was noted that the data fell into four broad but diverse categories The categories incl uded personality and personal traits such as learning style pref erences or acquired skills, mechanical or technical considerations and elements deali ng with high speed connections and computer failures, social interactions such as cama raderie with fellow st udents and faculty, and educational or instructio nal issues such as subject matter, review opportunities and tests. Student responses were scruti nized and it was found that all student responses could be categorized into one of the four categor ies. The categories were tagged Personal Characteristics, Mechanical or Technical Considerations, Social Aspects, and Educational or Instructio nal Issues. The categories were us ed consistently to organize the answers to each of the five research questions. Specific cr iteria for inclusion in each category are presented in Table 10. Summary of Findings Research question 1 asked: What elements do students identify as most critical for success in online courses? In response to the firs t research question, thematic analysis revealed that personal characte ristics were viewed most ofte n as essential elements for
148 success. Time management skill was cited by 17 of the 20 participants, self discipline by 13, the ability to work independently by 13. Motivation to complete the course was cited by 10 participants; commitment to ones studies by 9 and accurate judgment to course difficulty by 7 of the 20 volunteers. These el ements were each classified as Personal Characteristics in the organi zation of this study. Student responses in the three other categories of Mechanical or Technical Considerations, Social Aspects, and Educational or Instructional issues, received fewer cita tions from students. The mechanical or technical consideration of convenient access to adequate technology and equipment was identified by six of twenty students as a cri tical element that contributed to success in online study. The category of Mechanical or Technical Considerations was mentioned 14 times; Social Aspects a total of 7; and Educational or Inst ructional Issues a total of 4 student responses. Students in this study placed greater im portance on personal traits as critical for success than on issues less persona l, such as equipment or other individuals. These results are pr esented in Table 11. Research question 2 asked: Do student s believe those elements differ from elements critical for success in tradit ional face-to-face coursework? Of the 20 respondents interviewed, 14 indicated that at least one elem ent was necessary for success both in online and traditional classroom settings Four of twenty students stated there was no difference in the elements necessary for success in either situation and four students did find differences. Th e differences cited were lack of social interaction with other students and teachers and the fact that the student didnt have to physically attend class. Responses from the remaining 12 st udents indicated that students believed the same elements were necessary for success in ei ther venue however to differing degrees.
149 Qualifiers such as more important or less pressure indicated the importance students assigned to the element. Seventeen of th e twenty students interviewed indicated the importance of the elements of time management thirteen identified self-discipline, ten indicated motivation, and commitment was lis ted by nine of the twenty students as necessary for success in both tradit ional classes and online work. Research question 3 sought to identify any differences between the elements identified by students with and students without experience in on line study. Students recognized the importance of time management in online success. Ten (100%) students with online experience and seven (70%) without online experience mentioned time management. The element of independence wa s seen as more important for successful online study than for success in the traditional classroom with ten of ten (100%) online experienced students and three (30%) non-experienced students listing that element. The ten students with experience in online study listed the elements of self-discipline, motivation, and commitment to study five, four and three times respectively. The ten students without online experience listed self -discipline eight times, motivation six times, and commitment to studies six times. Research question 4 sought to contrast th e elements identified by students to those elements mentioned in publica tions by professionals in educ ation. Elements identified by respondents in this study when compared to those characteristics of successful students gleaned from the literature produced both sim ilar and dissimilar portraits. Those studies that included an element of student polling, via questionnaires, interviews or focus groups, were better predictors of student opinion in this case than studies that relied on theory, instructor opinion or statistical analysis of student records. The studies published
150 by Diaz (2000), Flores-Juarez (2005), Harbeck (2001), Schrum & Hong (2002), and Spampinto (2005) most closely agree with the elements identified by students in this study as critical for success in online course s. Agreement was evident in identifying the elements of self-discipline, time manage ment skills, motivation, ability to work independently, and adequate and convenient e quipment. Elements appearing in other literature reviewed, but not mentioned by respondents in this study included gender, ethnic identify, age, GPA, college course loa d, courses previously dropped, or computer expertise, among others. Research question 5 asked: What do student s identify as the greatest barriers to success in online study? Barriers to successful online study most frequently identified by students in this study were the loss of in teraction with instructors mentioned by 14 students, less interaction w ith classmates mentioned by 9 respondents, problems with email communication noted by 12 students, and poor time management skills noted by four participants. Three re spondents also mentioned loss of the college experience or campus environment. Students stressed that more happened in a classroom than the straightforward delivery of le sson materials and stated they appreciated the fact that instructors in the traditional classroom ela borated, reviewed, or expanded on the planned lesson. A recorded format of online delivery erased the liberty of spontaneously altering the direction of a lesson to conform to learner interests. Twelve of the twenty student participants were vocal concerning frust rations with e-mail response time and the difficulty of composing or asking questions in writing. Two students relayed that their questions were fewer and shorter than would have been asked in a traditional classroom due to the difficulty of wording a concept abou t which they might be confused. Further,
151 having to wait for an electronic reply meant in terruption in their train of thought as well as disruption of their study schedule. This study goes beyond the previous resear ch concerning the characteristics and traits of successful online students published by professiona ls in education by examining the student viewpoint, a factor that has been infrequently studied. The twenty students from Pasco-Hernando Community College who participated in this study expressed their perceptions of the factors nece ssary to succeed in online studies Overall, their responses have reflected an acceptance of personal res ponsibility for their success and placed less emphasis on others or equipment. The stude nts have voiced an appreciation for the help of fellow students, acknowledged the importa nce of their teacher and relayed their frustration with the technical problems of asking questions vi a e-mail. The participants noted little difference between the factors ne cessary for academic success in traditional or online classes. Also, both students with and students without online experience cited personal characteristics more often than elem ents in any other category. The respondents have indicated their perception that personal characteristics are the most critical elements for academic success. Recommendations for Practice A comparison of student responses to pub lished studies suggests that faculty, administrators, advisors and ot her professionals in education may hold a different view of the elements necessary for student success than the students themselves. This study indicates that students could benefit from gr eater opportunity for input into the design and presentation of internet de livered courses. Stude nts who took part in
152 this study made suggestions during the interv iew process that might improve the chances of student success for those students who en roll in online courses. Student ideas concerning content that could be applied to improve current practice included an independent and separate written course ev aluation by students of perceived strengths and weaknesses of individual course conten t. Such an evaluation would provide a vehicle to better inform students of course content and expectati ons, and would provide feedback concerning student reaction for course designers. Using th e student perspective to create course and curriculum content is not only possible but is suggested from the results of this study. An orientation session at the beginning of the term that includes both students and faculty is suggested by the findings of this study. A major barrier to success in online study identified by students in this study was the absence of an instructor; such an orientation would help alleviate that student perceived barrier. Periodic student and faculty meetings to re view student suggestions for improvement would alleviate the student id entified barrier of lack of communicati on. Students were willing to offer possible solutions to perceive d shortcomings of online study. Innovative and creative solutions, such as a web link at re gistration directing the potential student to previous student reviews, a course outline, and sample lessons were among the suggestions by students. A variety of course offerings that met the general education requirements would enhance the opportunities for stude nts with physical or learning disabilities, or those who are place bound, incarcerated, incap acitated, or experiencing tran sportation restrictions. Acquainting students with a realistic view of the time and effort necessary to complete an online course successfully might le ssen attrition. Previ ous research suggests
153 that students may have a distor ted view of the difficulty of online coursework. Oblender (2002) described students who, before taki ng an online course, claimed to possess the maturity and discipline to succeed without supervision. Those same students, at the end of the semester, indicated that they lacked the self-disci pline to commit the necessary time and energy to attain success in their onlin e coursework. Only nine of the twenty students interviewed for this study intended to take an online course in the future. Less than half of the ten students who had previ ously taken an online course indicated they would take another course online. A visito r pass to visit an online course, a sample online class, or a student focused seminar or cyber chat room might give students a more accurate picture of course difficulty and expectations. One of the problems cited frequently by students concerned e-mail. Two students indicated that they asked fewe r and shorter questions and tw elve students listed e-mail as one barrier to success. Of those twelve stud ents, the complexity of composing a question about something they didnt understand, the fr ustration interpreting the instructors answer, or of the delay in getting a questi on answered were the problems voiced. Not only should instructors be vigi lant in responding promptly but also silent students could be contacted regularly regard ing their progress. Communica tion with students should be a high priority. Students in this study commented that ofte n fellow students were able to clarify confusion by rephrasing information or usi ng other examples. A requirement of a specified number of chat room visits in a synchronous class, or periodic postings on asynchronous discussion boards with classmates and the instructor during the semester might facilitate better communi cation among the students.
154 Students with a strong preference for one style of presentation mentioned the single method of delivery in online classes as an obstacle to their suc cess. Greater variety in presentations that encompass visual as we ll as auditory, tactil e and other forms of presentation would aid those online learne rs. Students suggestions included the incorporation of music, gra phics, videos and games to add variety and interest. Online course delivery is a rapidly gr owing aspect of education. Understanding the student perspective of the elements neces sary for success in that venue continually grows more critical. Educa tional professionals cannot assu me that students share their viewpoints, opinions and perspectives. Ba sed on my observation of data gathered directly from this study, th e student perspective should be actively sought and student perspectives should be consid ered in matters of online curriculum, course design and presentation, and problem solving attempts. It is the conclusion of this research th at greater consideration should be granted by educational professionals to st udent perceptions of the char acteristics, traits, and life situations necessary to successfully comp lete online studies. The preferences and perceptions of students should be considered in the structuring of curriculum to insure that traditional face-to-face sec tions of classes are scheduled for those students who do not wish to enroll in online sections. Methods to acquaint students with the expectations of online coursework, such as orientations to online courses, or a sample of an online class accessible to any student with curiosity about online classes, could be beneficial. Opportunities for students to telephone or meet with the instructor in person could be made for students who are experiencing frustration with e-mailed questions.
155 Recommendations for Further Research This study has generated further questi ons about student perceptions. Several attractive areas for further research are suggested. The study could be improved. For example, the research would be strengthened by the inclusion of students who had attempted an online course but were not successful. The perspective of students who enrolled in an online course but failed or withdrew from the class might offer greater insight into student success and would have enriched the study. Further, the student data concerning grade point average, numbers of classes undertaken or courses droppe d were self-reported. The study could be replicated with st udents who had enrolled but did not successfully complete an online class. Student s who were otherwise su ccessful in college courses but who failed the online classes coul d provide insights into the difficulties of online study. Similarly, pe rceptions of students who enro lled but withdrew would help alleviate the significant online attrition probl em. Access to student opinion from those students who, for whatever reason, did not co mplete an online course in which they enrolled would add significantly to the unde rstanding necessary to resolve any problems of online education. Alternatively, gathering stude nt perspective from the same students before and again after taking an online class might provide a measure of any change in attitude or enlightenment resulting from the online experi ence. Variation in opinions in such a survey would be more directly related to the experience and less a result of individual student differences in such a pretest posttest study.
156 Although only one student in this study was identified as a student with special needs, that student offered unique insights. Flexibility in study time allowed for the altering alertness caused by daily medication cy cles, for example. Students with special needs may have valuable insight into the be nefits of online study for students with a variety of restrictions. A survey of indivi duals with situ ational, physical or learning disabilities to determine the benefits and limitations of online study would enrich the understanding of problems experienced by these learners. Students in this study sometimes remarked that they would or would not take an online class in a specific discipline. Eng lish would be okay but I would never take a math class online one student said. An inve stigation of differences, if any, between elements necessary for success in separate di sciplines would be a valuable addition to understanding online success in general. This research relied on a small sample of students at one community college in Florida. This study could be extended by use of a sample that diffe red geographically, or a sample taken from a university rather th an a community college A larger overall sample might offer different student perceptions also. Conclusion Students in this study recognized the role of personal characteris tics in successful college study. Time management skills, that is the ability to judiciously manage ones time, schedule assignments and deadlines adeptl y, resist the temptation to procrastinate, and adhere to a self-imposed schedule, were acknowledged as contributors to successful study whether online or in the tr aditional classroom. Procra stination was mentioned as a
157 barrier to success, an especi ally hazardous threat when working without supervision. Further, students who had not previously taken an online course were less likely to recognize the value of time management as a contributor to success on line with seven of the ten non-experienced student s compared to ten of the ten with online experience identifying that element. Time manage ment skills were recognized by previous researchers and published in the academic literature (Flores-Juarez, 2005; Spampinto, 2005). Students misconception or underestim ation of the merit of wisely scheduling their time may be one factor in student frustr ation and the 50% attri tion rate estimated by some experts (Oblender, 2002) for online classes. Also important in the students perspectiv e was the ability to work independently. Thirteen participants expressed the value of the ability to wo rk without supervision, to be self-reliant in problem solving, resourceful in finding information or solutions, and selfmotivated to meet deadlines and ask ques tions. Independence was ranked as more important by students with online experience than by students without such experience. Ten of the ten students with experience and th ree of the ten without experience identified independence as essential to success online. Earlier studies (Di az, 2000; Harbeck, 2001; Hartley & Bendixen, 2001; Schonwetter, Pe rry & Struthers, 1993; Spampinto, 2005) identified self-direction as a characteristic of the successful student. A conclusion of this study is that students without previous experience with online study may underestimate the importance of self-directe d, autonomous, independent lear ning or the ability to set and adhere to individually established goals.
158 Of equal importance in the students perspective was self-discipline. Thirteen of the twenty student participants acknowledged the value of self-discipline as a factor contributing to success in college studies. That personal characteristic was identified as critical in online as well as traditional, face-to-face class work and listed by students with and without onlin e experience. Eight studen ts without online experience indicated that self-discipline was a necessary element for success; more than the five with online experience who identified that element. Previous research has pointed out the characteristic of self-discipline as typical of the successful student (Flores-Juarez, 2005; Schonwetter, Perry & Struthers, 1993; Schrum & Hong, 2002). In general, students in this study expressed that they felt a mature exercising of willpower and self-restraint were critical factors in all college studies. Commitment to ones studies was listed as a necessary element for success by nine participants in this st udy. Students stressed that a pers on must want to be successful and be willing to make the effort required whether online or in a traditional classroom. Also listed as necessary for success online were the elements of convenient access to adequate equipment by six participants, accurate judgment of course difficulty by seven, adequate computer skills by five, th e ability to stay focused by two, good study habits by two, and patience by three respondents. Students identified barriers to success we re the loss of social interaction and communication problems. Intera ction with instructors and ot her students was found to be indicative of a successful student in previ ous studies by Flores-J uarez (2005), Harbeck (2001), and Spampinto (2005) and by four and th ree students respectiv ely, in this study. The classroom environment, relationships w ith teachers and classmates, enlightening and
159 informative aspects of non-verbal communi cation, study groups and explanations or rephrasing by fellow students, and the immediate reply to questions were noted as advantages on the traditional classroom setting by seven students. Problems resulting from asking questions via e-mail were listed by 12 students in this study as a significance hindrance to su ccessful online study. Both the time lag in receiving the answer to questi ons and the difficulty of wording a question when there was confusion about the concept were voiced by participants in this study as problematic. Overall, students identified personal characteristics more frequently than mechanical and technical, social, or educational and instructional aspe cts. Most students were willing to take personal responsibility for their learning and not attribute problems to sources beyond their control. Students in this study indicated that they valued the attention and direction of teachers who explained, encouraged and re minded students of deadlines. One student remarked: Its all the teacher Theres no replacement for a teacher. Another observed that the teacher knew the student was confused, and cared, too. Education in the 21 st century faces substantial ch allenge. Online delivery of college courses is one dramatic development of the past decade and a phenomenon that is growing rapidly. Enrollment in online classes is growing at a rate faster than enrollment in traditional college courses; however, in this study fewer th an half of the students who had previously enrolled in online classes indica ted they would take an online class in the future. Clearly, we need to ask the students about their experience, their observations and their perceptions about the elements necessa ry to succeed. Future enrollments may well depend on this understanding.
160 I have learned from this study that students value highly the presence of a teacher and appreciate the learning environmen t. The volunteers in this study have acknowledged personal responsib ility for their academic su ccess. This process has verified for me the importance of not only listening to students but also actively seeking their input. The National Inst itute of Education, in the final report of the study group on the conditions of excellence in American high er education (Astin et al., 1984) contains the following quote: An institution that regularly seeks its st udents views about the quality of their educational experience is manifesting a ve ry different set of values from an institution that makes no such inquiries once the student matriculates. If the only subjects on which we call for student opinion are extracurricular activities, athletics, and food service, we leave the impression that we do not value students as people capable of thinking serious ly about their education (p. 61) As professionals in the field of modern education it is our responsibility to adequately meet the needs of our students To meet this responsibility, we must understand students perspective and re spond to the student voice.
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Packet No. ____ Appendix A: Inventory 1. Your age group (under 20 20-29 over 30) 2. Your gender ( M F ) 3. Your ethnic identity (White African American Hispanic other ) 4. Your overall college GPA (on a 4-point scale) ________ 5. How many college classes have you dropped in the past? _________ 6. How many college courses are you taking this semester? _________ 7. Are you now, or have you in the past taken a college class online? ______ 8. If you are now, or have in the past, taken a college course online, did you attend an orientation to the online class before the class began? ________ 9. If you have taken a college course online, did you complete the class with a grade of C or higher? _________ 10. Do you plan to take a class online in the future? __________ 11. Rank your computer expertise (excellent, good, adequate, poor) 12. What do you believe are the factors necessary for successful online study? ______________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________ 169
170 13. In what way do the factors necessary for success in online study differ from those needed for success in a traditional face-to-face classroom? ______________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________ 14. Whether or not you have ever taken an online course, what do you believe are the greatest barriers to success in online coursework? ______________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________ Thank you for your input.
Packet No. ____ Appendix B: Interview template Do you mind if our conversation is tape recorded? Thanks for participating in this study of student opinion. The information collected for this study will be reported only as aggregate data. Your name or identity will not be revealed. The information is needed to learn more about your opinion and to compare your ideas and opinions to those of administrators, instructors, advisors and others in the field of education. The final report will be in the form of a doctoral dissertation, available through the University of South Florida in Tampa. Below is printed information on how to contact me if you have further questions. Pertaining to question 12 of the questionnaire: You have listed factors that you believe are necessary for success in an online course. I would like to review your answers to be sure that I understand what you mean. Do these apply to all subjects online? Do English and math, for example, require the same list of factors? Question 13: Are those factors which you have identified as necessary for success in online study the same factors necessary for success in the traditional face-to-face classroom? Would you elaborate that answer? Question 14: Finally, would you tell about the barriers you have identified? Is there anything else you would like to add? 171
172 Appendix C: the Student Interest in an Online Humanities Course Questionnaire Please circle the response that most accu rately reflects your an swer to the following questions. 1. Please indicate your age group. (1) below 18 years (2) 18 to 24 (3) 25 to 34 (4) 35 and over 2. Please indicate your approximate GPA (Grade Point Average). (1) 3.0 to 4.0 (2) 2.0 to 2.9 (3) 1.0 to 1.9 (4) 0 to .9 3. Please indicate your gender. (1) male (2) female 4. Would you take an online humanities course if one were offered at PHCC? (1) Yes (2) probably would (3) probably not (4) no 5. Have you taken an online course before? (1) yes (2) no 6. Have you taken a web-enhanced course (a combination of online and class room) before? (1) yes (2) no 7. In which type of class would you be more likely to enroll in the future? (1) an online class (2) a web enhanced class (3) a traditional class room 8. Do you feel that a person would learn more in (1) an online class (2) a web enhanced class (3) a traditional class room 9. Which do you think would be more interesting? (1) an online class (2) a web enhanced class (3) a traditional class room 10. Which do you think would have more variety? (1) an online class (2) a web enhanced class (3) a traditional class room 11. Which do you think would be harder? (1) an online class (2) a web enhanced class (3) a traditional class room
173 12. If you would not, or probably not, take a web enhanced or online humanities course, why not? Check all that apply 1. I dont have access to a computer. 2. I dont have the computer skills I think I would need. 3. I dont think it would be as interesting. 4. I want more variety in the way material is presented than I would expect in online classes. 5. I dont think I would learn as much as I do in a traditional class. 6. I think online classes would be harder. 7. I want face-to-face interaction with the teacher. 8. I like face-to-face interaction with other students. 9. I might not have the motivation to complete the work assigned. 13. If you would or probably would take an online or web enhanced class, why? Check all that apply 1. I think it would be easier than tr aditional classroom classes. 2. I think I would learn more. 3. I think an online or web enhanced class would be interesting. 4. I could work at my own pace. 5. The schedule is more flexible. 6. An online class would save the time and expense of driving to the campus. 7. Other students recommended the class. 8. Other. You may use the other side of this page fo r any additional comments you wish to make.
Appendix D: Sample Interview Transcript Interview with Sam October 24 Tape 2, side B, 2 nd interview on tape 2 Question 12. What do you believe are the factors necessary for successful online study? I think you need to have a firm grasp of the program you are working with Computer skill the discipline to put aside other online activities and do your work Self discipline the patience to deal with the inevitable problems that will occur with an online program patience and above everything else, you have to want to pass. Motivation Question 13. In what way do the factors necessary for success in online study differ from those needed for success in a traditional face-to-face classroom? The human interaction is obviously absent from the online courses which can often hamper the students ability to grasp the concepts being taught. Human interaction 174
Interaction with students Also the benefit of asking another student for assistance isnt there either, which prevents the student from having something put to them in a way they can understand/relate to. Question 14. Whether or not you have ever taken an online course, what do you believe are the greatest barriers to success in online coursework? As I stated before, the lack of interaction with another human is the biggest drawback. Being in a room with other students and actually looking at your teacher explaining the course is an important part of not only school life but it also is an important part of functioning socially. Non verbal communication Human interaction 175
JF: To be successful online firm grasp of the program you wrote. As in technical expertise? S: No. I think the technical expertise is just knowing the basics of the program that youre using online because that may be a problem. Ive had this experience myself where the teacher doesnt really explain how to use the program that youre going to be using all semester at all, she just expects you to go in do it and figure it out yourself. And often times that really difficult to do, a lot of the programs theyve got now, it like sometimes it may take a couple of months to learn all the aspects of it. Computer skills JF: You mean like an orientation to webCT or Angel or whatever it is youre going to use? Computer skills S: Pretty much. I think if youre going to have online courses everyone should know how to do it. It takes away from class time itself to take the time to teach every single student how to do it and make sure they understand it. 176
JF: I think thats a valid point. You need to start at the beginning. So an orientation to the class would be a good time to check to see if everyone was proficient and comfortable with the program? S: Yea. And also I think that somebody should be there or there should be some kind of a notice when you take the class, when you sign up to take the course, they give you a notice that this course works with a certain program, and if you dont know how to use it, go to this place to learn how. Some sort of a tutorial set up, maybe at the media center where students can go before the semester starts and they can go and ask their questions and learn how to work with the program. With a teacher that knows how to do it. A link at registration would work too. Human interaction Computer skills (tutorial) Interaction with teacher Knowledgeable teacher JF: You wrote: And the discipline to put aside other online activities and do your work. S: Yea. 177
JF: Tell me about that. S: Well, like, Im going to speak from personal experience. Whenever Im on the computer I have about 30 different things that I usually do. Its like just out of habit that I go on the computer, I go check my e-mail, I go to MySpace, I go to this online forum that I have, then I go do my computer editing of my footages for the film-making. I just go do all that, its just natural to me that I do that, and often times before I even realize it, Im on there for four hours doing all my stuff and I dont have time for the stuff from school. Self discipline Ability to focus Time management JF: So discipline? S: Yea. patience JF: (reading) The patience to deal with the inevitable problems that will occur with online programs. You have to want to pass. You have to have patience? To learn the program? motivation 178
S: No. The patience Im talking about is not with the program. Im talking about working with the computer in general. Because anytime youre ever working with a computer at some point, something is going to go wrong. Its going to freeze up, start lagging on you, lose your internet connection, youll nudge the power strip and it will turn off on you. Something is going to happen. You need to have the patience to deal with that if you get frustrated easily, thats not a good thing. If it causes you to get frustrated, its worse. Equipment reliability Patience JF: And you have to want to pass? S: Yea. You have to go in to this program and you have to want to really do it. That goes back to the discipline of actually going on and doing your work. You have to want to do it or else youre not going to do it outside of class. And often with online programs when youre not there and the teacher is saying OK go in to this program and do this, this and this, youre going to have to do it yourself. And you have to push yourself to do it. So you have to want to pass the class motivation Self discipline independence Self discipline 179
to do it. And often times thats a very big challenge to a lot of students. Yea. Pretty much. JF: (reading) And this differs from face to face classes in that human interaction. What do you mean by human interaction? Whats good about that? S: Human interaction is basically, well, this is just an opinion of mine. Human interaction I feel is the biggest, probably the most important thing you learn by going to school. In life in general thats the most important thing you can learn. You learn social skills, you learn communication skills, and talking to another person face to face is probably one of the most important skills you could ever develop in your entire life. Its one skill that every single human being on this planet must have to survive. And I think that with online courses, that removes that. Human interaction Social aspects/ communication And most people go to college for the college experience because it does teach you to be self sufficient which I think, obviously, online classes you have to be self sufficient to learn it but you have to have self sufficiency enough to actually go to class, College environment Independent 180
and you have to, you dont know any other people in the class usually, but maybe somebody you went with to high school, but that doesnt count, you dont know the teacher, you dont know a lot of the students, you have to actually push yourself to go and do this and you have to learn to function in that environment. But if youre just on a computer, sitting there listening to a robotic voice tell you and this thing you do this, this, this and this. You dont really learn everything because you have to learn. With a teacher you get personalized way of explaining things and if you dont understand the way the computer is telling you, youre up you-know-what creek. But, if you can ask the teacher a question, she can explain it in a different way, then maybe youll understand what she is talking about. Human interaction Self discipline Human interaction Human interaction JF: Communication then, and some of it non-verbal? Non-verbal communication S: Other cues other than straightforward words. And all teachers find little quirky ways of explaining things. Like in (names) class, they used to maybe Human interaction 181
draw stuff on the board for us and stuff like that. Computers dont do that. They just show you like the thing out of the textbook and they only do it like that. JF: (reading) Also the benefit of asking another student S: You can sometimes. Sometimes people have problems with raising their hand in the middle of class and putting themselves in the spotlight with other students. So, and theyre afraid to ask the teacher. So they can turn around to you and say like did you understand a word she just said? and they say yea and theyll say it in a different way. Sometimes even the teachers, theyre a teacher. And youre a student, and obviously theres a very big difference. Students have a completely different way of communicating. They can explain it to each other in a way that makes more sense the way they understand it. Oftentimes, its the same way somebody else would understand it. But something might have clicked differently in their head and they got it and that person didnt. Human interaction /students communication Interaction w/ student 182
Online is different. Theres no human interaction. Because youre not speaking with a person face to face. Not like a chat room. Its not the same. Human interaction JF: So sometimes a student can explain it to another student and be better able to explain it? S: Well, its not better. Im sure the teacher, if you went up and asked the teacher, she would find a way to do it. Im saying that sometimes its more comfortable for you to be talking to another person whos in the same situation you are. Communicating with peers is more comfortable than with the teacher. (laughs) Human interaction communication JF: You dont want the teacher to think youre dense? S: Yea. Its just easier sometimes to talk to another student. 183
JF: Greatest problems: Lack of interaction. Not being in a room and actually seeing your teacher explaining the course is an important part? Human interaction Non-verbal communication S: Yea. JF: Anything else that you can tell me to help understand. If were going to do online we need to do it right. S: Yea, we need to do it right if were going to do it. Everyone Ive talked to about it says the same things. I always like to reiterate the fact that I think being in a classroom with other human beings, speaking to other human beings, explaining things to you in a human way, is one of the most important things. Its the most important thing to learn in school, in life, and online courses tend to hamper that. Human interaction communication Im not saying theyre a bad thing. Dont get me wrong. They have their uses. Theyre wonderful as aids to a class. I dont think it should be totally self sufficient as an online course. 184
185 Appendix E: Consent For Survey Questionn aire And Interview Concerning Student Success Study location: Pasco-Hernando Community College Principal Investigator: Jenette Flow This is a research study concerning student opinions of the factors necessary for success in online coursework. You ar e being asked to participate because I am interested in gathering data on student per ceptions for a doctora l dissertation at the University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida. The following information is being pr esented to help you decide whether or not you want to take part in this minimal risk research study. Please read this carefully. If you do not understa nd anything, please ask for clarification. You must be at least 18 years old to participate. Participation will involve completion of a survey questionnaire including demographic data and space for you to write responses to three questions. An informal, semistructured interview intended to clarify or elaborate your answers may follow and may be tape recorded with your permission. I may ta ke notes during the process. The entire procedure should take no longer than one half hour to complete. Your participation will be confidential. None of the information gathered from the study can be linked to participants names or othe r identifying information. The results of the study may be published, however, the result will only be reported fo r the entire group and no individual responses will be identified by name. The purpose of this study is to survey the student point of view. While there may be no direct benefit to you for participation, the st udy will help professionals in education better understand student perspective and may ai d in identifying misconceptions by both students and professionals. There are no know n risks to participants in this study. There is no reward for participation or penalty for not participating. Your participation is voluntary and you may withdraw at any time without penalty. Your decision about participation will in no way a ffect your status at PHCC. If you have any questions about this study or this form, please cont act Jenette Flow at (352) 797-5107 or at firstname.lastname@example.org If you have any questions about your rights as a person who is participating in a study, call USF Research Compliance at (813) 974-5638. If you agree to participat e, please sign the reverse side of this form.
186 By signing this form, I agree that: 1. I have fully read or have had read and explained to me this informed consent form describing this research project. 2. I have had the opportunity to ask questions concerning the study and have received satisfactory answers. 3. I understand that I am being asked to participate in research. I understand the risks and benefits, and I freely give my consent to pa rticipate in the research project outlined in this form. 4. I have been given a copy of this informed consent form, which is mine to keep. _______________________________ ______________________________ Signature of participant Printed name of participant _______________________________ Date Investigator Statement: I have carefully explained to the subject the nature of the above re search study. To the best of my knowledge the subject signing this consent form understands the nature, risks and benefits involved in pa rticipating in this study. _______________________________ ___Jenette Flow______________ Signature of participant Printed name of participant _______________________________ Date
187 About the Author Jenette Flow received her bachelors degr ee in Art Education from the University of South Florida in 1981. Her masters degree also from the University of South Florida was awarded in 1984. Prior to entering th e doctoral program in Adult and Higher Education at USF, she completed the course work for a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Florida. She joined Seahawk Deep Ocean Technology, a deep-sea exploration firm, as chief archaeologist in 1990 and in 1999 joined the faculty of PascoHernando Community College, North Campus, wh ere she currently holds the position of Associate Professor of Humanities.
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An investigation of community college students' perceptions of elements necessary for success in online study
h [electronic resource]
by Jenette Flow.
[Tampa, Fla] :
b University of South Florida,
ABSTRACT: Previous studies by professionals in education have investigated the elements that are typical of the successful online student. Studies of the elements required for academic success online from the students' point of view, however, are infrequent.This study investigated student perceptions of those elements necessary for success in online study; whether students believed differences exist between those elements necessary for success in online study and those necessary for success in traditional classes; and what factors students identify as barriers to successful completion of online courses. A comparison was made of the viewpoints of students who had and who had not previously completed an online course. The student-identified elements were contrasted to those elements identified by professionals appearing in the literature.This study used a variety of methods.^ ^A two-part process of inventory questionnaires and interviews gathered data from twenty volunteers, half with and half without successful online experience. A thematic analysis of the data revealed that time management skills, self-discipline, the ability to work independently, motivation, commitment and adequate technology and equipment were the elements that students believed contributed to success in online study. Those elements were believed to be more important for success online than for success in traditional classes. Two elements were identified by 100% of the students with online experience as critical for success: the ability to work independently and time management skills. Three students (30%) without online experience indicated the ability to work independently was necessary and seven (70%) stated that time management skills were necessary.^ ^Characteristics of successful students gleaned from the literature produced by professionals in education gave both similar and dissimilar portraits. Barriers to successful online study identified by students were the loss of interaction with instructors and classmates, a lack of time management skills, and problems with e-mailed questions.It is the conclusion of this research that greater consideration should be granted by educational professionals to student perceptions of the elements necessary to successfully complete online studies.
Dissertation (Ed.D.)--University of South Florida, 2007.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic dissertation) in PDF format.
System requirements: World Wide Web browser and PDF reader.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Title from PDF of title page.
Document formatted into pages; contains 187 pages.
Adviser: William H. Young, Ed.D.
x Adult Education
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.