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  1. 1. IADIS International Conference WWW/Internet 2006 A COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS OF ONLINE AND TRADITIONAL UNDERGRADUATE BUSINESS LAW CLASSES Daniel J. Shelley, Ph.D., Louis B. Swartz, J.D. and Michele T. Cole, J.D., Ph.D. Robert Morris University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania ABSTRACT The trend in academia to online learning has gained momentum in the past decade, due in part to the cost of higher education, a changing student profile, lack of traditional classroom space, and the recognition that distance learning has created a new paradigm of instruction. Universities wishing to maintain or expand enrollments need to be able to respond effectively to the educational needs of working adults, students in the military and residents of rural communities as well as of other countries. Online (internet-based) course offerings constitute a creative and increasingly popular response to these challenges. As more and more institutions of higher learning offer online courses, the question arises whether they are, or can be, as effective as courses offered in the traditional classroom format. Answering the question has been the focus of several studies. Our study compared students enrolled in both online and traditional classroom versions of one business law course, BLAW 1050, where all elements were the same except for the instruction format. The study found no significant difference between the two formats with regard to student satisfaction and student learning. The findings support earlier comparisons of online and traditional instruction modes. KEYWORDS Online learning, eCollege Platform, Traditional/Onland Classroom 1. INTRODUCTION Robert Morris University (RMU) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has continued to develop and offer an increasing number of online course offerings to meet the needs of working students, its traditional student base. In 1999, RMU offered twenty-five online courses. In 2006, the number of online courses has grown to 220. With the elimination in 2006 of the federal restriction on online education (the “50 percent rule”), online course offerings can be expected to grow exponentially. Ensuring instructional quality and learning effectiveness while doing so will be the challenge. RMU is a private university with an enrollment of approximately 6000 students. Founded in 1921, the university has experienced rapid growth in the last two decades. It supports six schools with the School of Business being the largest. A large number of undergraduate and graduate course offerings in this school have had online course development as a focus for several years. A number of the courses are available to the students in both the traditional and the online formats. For the past three years, Legal Environment of Business (BLAW 1050) has been one of the courses that is popular in both formats. The course, BLAW 1050, is designed to enable students to develop an understanding of the American legal system and to attain a working knowledge of ethics, contract law and consumer protection to a degree sufficient to be useful in business and consumer transactions. The course also helps students to better comprehend the rules of conduct they can reasonably expect others to follow, as well as the conduct others may expect from them in various business situations. In this course, students acquire an awareness of their legal rights and responsibilities and gain the ability to apply legal principles to help solve business and consumer problems. 3
  2. 2. ISBN: 972-8924-19-4 © 2006 IADIS 1.1 Online versus Traditional Instructional Issues In any discussion of online and traditional course delivery and development, some obvious and fundamental differences will be acknowledged by instructors. In general, the traditional course is taught in a structured classroom, the students are physically there, all instruction is in real time and the instructor is present for the class meetings. In the online format, the class is taught in a cybernetic environment, instruction does not have to be in real time, the students are not present in one place, and the instructor monitors most of the activity from a distance. In defining distance education, Desmond Keegan (1996) identified six significant elements of online learning. These were: the separation of the teacher from the student; placement with an educational organization; use of technology to convey content and unite instructor with the learner; two-way communication that facilitates student-initiated conversation; potential for face to face meetings for social as well as instructional purposes; and participation in an “industrialized form of education”(Keegan,1996, p. 44). The fundamental differences between online and traditional instruction pose some major challenges and concerns for course instructors and educational institutions. Online teaching forces the instructor to assume a new teaching role and necessitates a reappraisal of the traditional teacher-student relationship. In fact, online teaching requires the instructor to rethink and reorganize the existing teaching paradigm. The institution must find different ways to monitor the quality of instruction. In most cases, conveying the basic content to the students in the online format is easy to accomplish. A greater challenge is getting the instructional quality of the online course to match, or exceed, the instructional level of the traditional class. It is not sufficient for the online instructor to have an understanding of the technological skills and course development tools alone. He or she must have a strong sense of course design and an understanding of good pedagogy as well. Good pedagogy is generally accepted by educators to involve: 1) a high level of learner activity, 2) a high level of student interaction, 3) a format for motivation and, 4) a well-structured knowledge base. As online instruction gains acceptance, researchers have begun to test the proposition that online instruction can indeed incorporate the principles of good pedagogy and effective course design. Schulman and Sims (1999) studied students enrolled in five separate courses, each offered in both the online and traditional format. Both sections of each course were taught by the same instructor. In their sample, they found that students learned as well online as they did in the traditional classroom environment. This particular study compared the course assessments and final outcomes of both instructional scenarios. In his 1999 book, The No Significant Difference Phenomenon, Thomas Russell reviewed 355 research reports, papers and summaries on the subject of the online versus traditional learning. He found no significant difference in grades, satisfaction or effectiveness when “E-learning” was compared to traditional teaching (Russell, 1999). R. C. Ryan’s study at the University of Oklahoma compared the online and traditional versions of the course entitled, Construction Equipment and Methods (CNS 4913). The final grades for the two groups were not significantly different and survey results indicated that students perceived no difference in the quality of the instruction (Ryan, 2000). Other studies have found little or no difference between online and classroom learning when such issues as race, gender, technological and academic backgrounds, and socioeconomic status were taken into account (Navarro & Shoemaker, 2000). Yet, Rivera and Rice (2002) reported that while several studies (including Russell’s 1999 work) have demonstrated that online and traditional courses were found to be comparable with regard to the cognitive factors (learning, performance and achievement), the same could not be demonstrated consistently with regard to student and instructor perceptions and satisfaction with online learning. Our study relied on satisfaction surveys and grade comparisons to assess whether online instruction was as satisfactory as traditional instruction and if student learning were the same or better with online versus traditional instruction in the area of Business and in particular, Business Law. 1.2 Online Business and Law Courses Discussing the challenges to the instructor and developer of online law-related courses, Kathy Marcel noted that the best online courses were instructor-facilitated, student -centered and highly interactive (Marcel, 2002). The design of an online law course, as with the design of any online course, is critical. The 4
  3. 3. IADIS International Conference WWW/Internet 2006 instructor’s role is one of designing a learning experience and guiding the students through the process. Marcel found that in fact, many law instructors tend to work very well with the facilitative aspect of good online course development. Marcel argued that because of the nature of their profession, law professors teaching online courses tended to expect students to be engaged and not merely passive learners. The suitability of teaching law courses online was even more evident, she found, with regard to upper-level law courses, because these courses themselves often rely on case studies, projects and Socratic dialogue. Suanpang, Petocz and Kalceff (2004) addressed the comparison of student attitudes when taking a Business Statistics course in the online and traditional formats. Working with 230 students (with an N=112 in the online format and an N=118 in the traditional format) both quantitative and qualitative data were analyzed. The study concluded that “…students taught online develop strongly positive attitudes towards learning statistics, which influence their learning and make understanding statistics easier for them than for students taught in the traditional mode” (Suanpang et al., 2004, p. 17). E. Cassel (2003), after having taught law online for over six years, concluded that online learning matched or exceeded traditional environments in several respects. In her experience with online learning, the level of student-professor and student-student interaction through asynchronous (Threaded Discussion) and synchronous (Chat/E-mail) was higher than in the traditional classroom setting. Additionally, the various audio and video options enhanced the learning environment for students. Cassel also points out a consideration often overlooked as an advantage of the online format; that is, that with online learning, classroom and classmate distractions, interruptions and basic annoyances are not present, thus allowing the learner to focus more completely on the subject matter and activities. Both Cassel (2003) and Marcel (2002) describe the advantages of online instruction for effective legal instruction. Although focusing on the use of voice–recognition software to enhance online law courses, K. H. Miller (2004) also found that legal education, thoughtfully designed, could be delivered effectively online. Some would argue, as Kristine Ellis does in A Model Class (2000) that designing a law course requires going back to the basics. That would mean constructing an online law program that would teach students how to formulate and deliver a legal argument and to analyze and systematize case decisions. 1.3 Why This Study? Bernard, Abrami, Lou, Borokhovski, Wade, Wozney, Wallet, Fiset, and Huang (2004) note in their analysis of studies comparing distance and classroom instruction that the value of such studies lay in their usefulness in determining the impact on desired outcomes, lending credibility to the innovation (online learning in this case) and providing focus for further developments. The available evidence seems to indicate that, if carefully designed, an online course would offer a comparable, if not better, learning environment for students than the same course presented in the traditional format. However, little has been published on the online delivery of undergraduate business law courses. In a post-Enron environment, incorporating the principles underlying Sarbanes-Oxley into undergraduate law courses intensifies the need for effective instruction in business law. But is teaching business law online as effective as teaching business law in the classroom? Weaver-Kaulis and Crutsinger (2006) cite considerations of accreditation, budget and accountability as stimulants in the increased attention on documentation of student learning beyond the traditional grading system and the impetus for faculty driven assessment programs. In their study of student performance, Frantz and Wilson (2004) note that the increased scrutiny of legislators and accrediting bodies, particularly in business schools, has intensified the need for research into determinants of success. Specifically, they remark on the lack of research on legal studies courses in business schools – “a surprising void given the importance of legal studies to business education” (Frantz & Wilson, 2004, p.225). This study seeks to address that void by examining the effectiveness of one core business law course taught both online and in the classroom. 5
  4. 4. ISBN: 972-8924-19-4 © 2006 IADIS 2. IS ONLINE INSTRUCTION COMPARABLE TO TRADITIONAL CLASSROOM INSTRUCTION Determining how well students are learning is critical in any educational setting. It is of particular significance to RMU’s School of Business, which is in the midst of its AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) accreditation process. Measurement of student learning is central to the review of current course offerings and to the development of new ones. Student satisfaction with the learning environment not only contributes to student retention, but it also serves as a measure of faculty performance and pedagogical effectiveness. 2.1 Research Questions 1: Does student satisfaction with the course overall differ significantly between the online format and the traditional class format? 2: Does student satisfaction with the instructor differ significantly between the online format and the traditional class format? 3: Does student satisfaction with the course structure differ significantly between the online format and the traditional class format? 4: Does student learning differ significantly between the online format and the traditional class format? 2.2 Methodology: Study Structure The course examined was Legal Environment of Business (BLAW 1050) which is required for every business major at Robert Morris University. The course is offered in both the online and the traditional classroom formats. For this study, the same professor taught each section of BLAW 1050 surveyed, using the same textbook, required readings, activities, projects, exams, and assessment for both groups. Comparative data was drawn from four online sections of the course (two in 2004, one in 2005 and one in 2006) and two traditional sections in the spring of 2005. Fifty-eight of the sixty-four enrolled students completed the online sections of BLAW 1050 (N=58) or 90.6%. Forty-six of the forty-nine enrolled students in the traditional sections completed the course (N=46) or 93.8%. The total number of students receiving grades for BLAW 1050 during the study period was 104 (N=104) or 94.5%. Although student retention was not a focus of this study, it should be noted that of the sixty-four students enrolled in the online sections of BLAW 1050, six withdrew, for a retention rate of 90.6%. The retention rate for the traditional sections was higher, at 93.8%. Of the forty-nine who enrolled, three withdrew. 2.3 Course Design The online sections of BLAW 1050 were developed using the eCollege™ format. RMU uses eCollege™ because it is considered to be a more student-friendly platform for e-learning than Web CT or Blackboard. All students taking an online course at Robert Morris University are required to complete the Online Learning Training Module prior to being registered for the class. All online sections of the course were developed and maintained by the instructor involved in this study. The online format employed available instructional tools, including digital drop boxes, document share areas, synchronous and asynchronous dialog, e-mail and online assessment. The textbook readings were enhanced and supplemented with lecture notes and illustrations of key points. The classroom sections of BLAW 1050 used the same syllabus as the online course and had the same assignments and assessments. The same topics used in the threaded discussions in the online format were used in real time in the traditional classroom format. The online format of Legal Environment of Business employs both the asynchronous tools such as the threaded discussion and synchronous tools, such as e-mail. Sample/Participants The study sample consisted of those students who were enrolled in the four online sections of the 2004, 2005 and 2006 BLAW 1050 courses and the two traditional sections of the same course in 2005 and who responded to the survey. Respondents from the online sections numbered thirty-three (N=33). Respondents 6
  5. 5. IADIS International Conference WWW/Internet 2006 from the traditional sections numbered thirteen (N=13). The total number of participants for this study was forty-six (N=46). Instrumentation A twenty-four question satisfaction survey with a five-point Likert Scale (attached as Appendix (A)) was distributed in each class. The survey was administered by the instructor after grading was completed. Participation was voluntary. Thirty-three of the fifty-eight online participants responded, for 56.9% return rate. Thirteen of the forty-six students in the traditional courses completed their surveys for a return rate of 28.2%. Total number of students participating in the survey was forty-six (N=46). The higher rate of return from the students in the online courses might have been due to the ability to respond electronically versus having to return the survey physically as was required of the students in the traditional classes. Questions 1-13 applied to students both in the online course and in the classroom course and were answered by both groups. In addition, space was provided on the survey for comments or suggestions to enable both groups to make further observations on the content and quality of the courses. Question 1 asked if the student felt he/she had learned the subject material. Questions 2 and 10 focused on the performance of the course instructor. Questions 3 and 4 focused on the quality of the selected textbook.1 Questions 5-9 and 11-13 dealt with issues involved directly with the course structure. Participant responses from the online and classroom sections were aggregated and compared. Responses to question one formed the basis for comparison for Research Question 1. Responses to questions two and ten formed the basis for comparison for Research Question 2. Responses to questions five through nine and eleven through thirteen formed the basis for comparison for Research Question 3. 2 Final grades from the online and traditional classroom courses formed the basis for comparison for Research Question 4. The structure of the survey allowed for both quantitative and qualitative data to be analyzed. The survey was available in a template to the students who took the course online and in hardcopy for the students who took the course in the traditional setting. The study used SPSS for data analysis. For each research question, an independent -samples t test was run. Within the context of this study, “satisfaction” is defined as having met expectations as demonstrated by the student responses. “Learning” is defined as having acquired knowledge of the subject matter as evidenced by the course grades. 2.4 Results Research Question 1: Does student satisfaction with the course overall differ significantly between the online format and the traditional class format? Table 1. Student Satisfaction with the Course Overall t-test for Equality of Means t N=46 Sig. (2-tailed) N=46 VAR0002 Equal Variances Assumed - .885 .381 Aggregated mean score for the online sections 4.4242 Aggregated mean score for the traditional sections 4.6154 Research Question 2: Does student satisfaction with the instructor differ significantly between the online format and the traditional class format? Table 2. Student Satisfaction with the Instructor t-test for Equality of Means t N=46 Sig. (2-tailed) N=46 VAR0002 Equal Variances Assumed -.460 .647 Aggregated mean score for the online sections 4.5385 Aggregated mean score for the traditional sections 4.6154 1 Responses to questions 3 and 4 were not used for the analysis. 2 Questions 14-25 were designed specifically for the online students and were not asked of the students in the traditional course. 7
  6. 6. ISBN: 972-8924-19-4 © 2006 IADIS Research Question 3: Does student satisfaction with the course structure differ significantly between the online format and the traditional class format? Table 3. Student Satisfaction with the Course Structure t-test for Equality of Means t N=46 Sig. (2-tailed) N=46 VAR0002 Equal Variances Assumed .053 .957 Aggregated mean score for the online sections 3.8920 Aggregated mean score for the traditional sections 3.8846 Research Question 4: Does student learning differ significantly between the online format and the traditional class format? Table 4. Student Learning t-test for Equality of Means t N=104 Sig. (2-tailed) N=104 VAR0002 Equal Variances Assumed 1.299 .197 Aggregated mean score for the online sections 2.9871 Aggregated mean score for the traditional sections 2.7609 3. CONCLUSIONS In their meta-analysis of the empirical literature comparing distance and classroom instruction, Bernard et al. (2004) found that the differences between the two modes of instruction were not substantive. They analyzed 232 studies measuring student achievement, attitude and retention. They found the effect sizes to be basically zero on all three measures and wide variability due in part to the disparity in the degree of rigor in the studies analyzed. Some applications of distance education were better than classroom instruction; some were worse than classroom instruction. Our study found no statistically significant differences between the online and traditional instructional/learning formats with regard to any of the research questions. Student satisfaction with the course overall and with the instructor was slightly higher in the traditional classroom format than with the online format (mean scores of 4.6154 to 4.4242 and 4.6154 to 4.5385 respectively). Student satisfaction with the course structure was slightly higher in the online format as opposed to the traditional format (mean scores of 3.8920 to 3.8846). The mean scores for student learning in the online courses were slightly higher than for those in the traditional classes (2.9871 to 2.7609). The results reinforce Russell’s “no significant difference phenomenon”. Survey results also supported findings in the earlier work by Schulman & Sims and Ryan with regard to research questions 1-13 on student satisfaction with the course, the instructor and the course design of BLAW 1050, Legal Environment of Business. An independent-samples t test was used to analyze the survey data for each of the questions. Survey responses were grouped according to purpose of the question (course, instructor, text, structure). Responses to the questions on the text were dropped because they were not relevant to the four research questions posed. Student input under “Comments/Suggestions” was comparable with the exceptions that students in the online courses also referenced the online features (positively) and that students in the traditional class setting commented on the outside assignments and exams. Seventy-two percent of the online students who participated in the study also added comments compared with 69% from the students in the traditional classroom setting. The comments are included in Appendix B. Study limitations include the sample sizes and the difference in participation rates. More than half (56.9%) of the students in the online courses participated while only 28% of the students in the traditional courses participated. This may be attributed to differences in the ease of participation between the two. The online students could respond electronically, while the students who took the course in a traditional environment needed to return the survey by mail or to the instructor. 8
  7. 7. IADIS International Conference WWW/Internet 2006 D. Fowler (2005) suggests that experience with online instruction now leads to a different discourse, asking, “Are on-site courses as effective as online?” (Fowler, 2005, p.1). This study does not really answer that question. Students in both the online and traditional courses liked the course, liked the instructor and felt that they had learned the material. The final grades suggest that students in the online courses and the traditional courses mastered the material equally well. Clearly, additional studies comparing online with traditional learning environments, using larger samples, need to be conducted. Further investigation of online instruction versus traditional classroom instruction of business law courses needs to be done before any definite conclusions can be made as to whether online should replace or simply supplement classroom learning. Both the Bernard et al. analysis (2004) and the Phipps and Merisotis study for the Institute on Higher Education Policy in 1999 argue that more rigorous studies need to be designed for researchers to be able to answer the question, “Is there a difference?”. REFERENCES Keegan, D., 1996. Foundations of Distance Education. (3rd ed). Routledge, London. Russell, T., 1999. The No Significant Difference Phenomenon. Office of Instructional Telecommunications, North Carolina State University Chapel Hill, N.C. Bernard, R.M., et al, 2004. How Does Distance Education Compare to Classroom Instruction? A Meta-Analysis of the Empirical Literature. In Review of Educational Research, Vol.74, No.3, pp.379-439. Cassel, E., January, 2003. Teaching and Learning Law Online. In Modern Practice: FindLaw’s Practice and Technology Magazine. Retrieved October 27, 2004 from http://practice.findlaw.com/archives/teaching_0103.html. Ellis, Kristine, December, 2000. A Model Class. In Training, Vol. 37, No. 12. Fowler, D., March, 2005. Are On-Site Courses as Effective As Online? Online Cl@ssroom, March, 2005. Frantz, P.L. & Wilson, A.H., 2004. Student Performance in the Legal Environment Course: Determinants and Comparisons. In The Journal of Legal Studies Education, Vol. 21, No. 2, p. 225. Marcel, K., 2002. Can Law Be Taught Effectively Online? JURIST, December, 2002. Retrieved May 5, 2005 from http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/lessons/lesdeco2.php. Miller, K.H.,2004.The Law Catches Up With Distance Learning. THE Journal, Vol. 31, No. 7, pp.31-34. Navarro, P & Shoemaker, J., 2000. Policy Issues in the Teaching of Economics in Cyberspace: Research Design, Course Design, and Research Results. In Contemporary Economic Policy, Vol. 18, No. 3, pp. 359-366. Rivera, J.C. & Rice, M.L., 2002. A Comparison of Student Outcomes and Satisfaction Between Traditional & Web Based Course Offerings. In Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, Vol. V, No. III. Ryan, R.C. (2000). Student Assessment Comparison of Lecture and Online Construction Equipment and Methods Classes. In THE Journal, Vo. 27, No. 6. Schulman, A.H. & Sims, R.L., 1999. Learning in an Online Format Versus an In-Class Format: An Experimental Study. In THE Journal, Vol. 26, No.11, pp.54-56. Suanpang, P., Petocz, P. & Kalceff, W., 2004. Student Attitudes to Learning Business Statistics: Comparison of Online and Traditional Methods. In Educational Technology & Society, Vol. 7, No. 3, pp. 9-20. Weaver-Kaulis, A. & Crutsinger, C., 2006. Assessment of Student Learning Outcomes in FCS Programs. In Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences. Vol. 98, No.1, pp. 74-81. Phipps, R. & Merisotis, J., 1999. What’s the Difference? A Review of Contemporary Research on the Effectiveness of Distance Learning in Higher Education. The Institute for Higher Education Policy, Washington, D.C. 9