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Bits & Bytes 2001 - Teaching University Level Courses to Pre-University Students in an Online Environment

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Barbour, M. K., & Kinsella, J. (2001, October). Teaching university level courses to pre-university students in an online environment. Presentation at the Bits and Bytes: The Evolution of Technology in Education conference, http://www.stemnet.nf.ca:8900/public/bitsandbytes/index.html

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Bits & Bytes 2001 - Teaching University Level Courses to Pre-University Students in an Online Environment

  1. 1. Teaching University LevelCourses to Pre-University Students in an Online Environment Michael K. Barbour & Jim Kinsella
  2. 2. Advanced Placement ProgrammeThe Advanced Placement (AP) programme, which offers universitylevel courses to secondary school students, administers a standardisedtest each Spring which determines whether or not students will beeligible for university transfer credit.Traditionally, AP courses are taught in a classroom setting, to a smallgroup of academically strong students. However, decreasededucational funding has limited this type of environment to urbanschools or large regional high schools. Even in these environments,AP courses have usually been limited to the Mathematics and Sciencecourses.The Centre for Advanced Placement Education (CAPE) is the firstinitiative to offer AP Social Studies courses in an onlineenvironment.
  3. 3. Centre for Advanced Placement EducationThe Centre for Advanced Placement Education is based in Bonavista, Newfoundland, Canada. TheCentre was the creation of a group of teachers and administrators at Discovery Collegiate. Whilethe Centre has a physical office at Discovery Collegiate, the primary location of the Centre is onthe World Wide Web. In essence, the Centre is a virtual body.Discovery Collegiate is the largest school within the Vista School District. The Vista SchoolDistrict is a geographically large, but is the smallest district in terms of student population, ruraleducational authority in the Canadian province of Newfoundland. Four years ago, through afederal grant the District was able to establish four online AP mathematics and science courses.This was significant, as it allowed all ten secondary schools the opportunity to offer AP courses totheir students. Prior to this, only one or two schools in the District had the needed student body tooffer traditional in-class versions of these AP courses.Two years ago, the Vista School District supported the creation of a Centre for AdvancedPlacement Education. This Centre was established to offer AP Social Studies courses in the sameway the earlier programme had offered AP mathematics and science courses.The Centre has been designed for three purposes. The first to offer online Advanced Placementcourses, primarily in the Social Studies subject area and primarily to rural learners. The second isto seek out funding opportunities which will allow the Centre to expand its activities, especially thenumber of courses that it offers. The third is to conduct research into tele-teaching and tele-learning.
  4. 4. Research DesignStudents from two different classes participated in an online discussionforum. At the conclusion on the course, students had to option to takean external exam and received a score of 1 to 5 based upon a standardcurve, with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest.There were three different categories in the discussion forum. The“Discussion” category was a place where students participated in adirected, threaded discussion. The “Main” category was a place wherestudents would post course-related messages that weren’t part of thedirected discussion. Finally, the “DC Café” was a place for students todiscuss anything that they wanted to.When viewing the following charts, the number of messages posted islisted across the top of the chart and the students’ scores on the externalexam is listed along the side.
  5. 5. AP European HistoryThe students who participated in this discussion forum over a25 week period did so under the following conditions:• the participation of 19 students was part of an assignmentvalued at less than 5% of their final mark•the participation of 3 students was mandatory twice weeklyand worth 15% of the students final grade•the participation of 2 students was mandatory twice weeklyand worth 15% of the students final grade, but these studentsonly participated for the final 18 weeks•the participation of 1 student was entirely optional and notworth any of their final mark
  6. 6. AP European HistoryAll categories 0-9 10-19 20-29 30-39 40-49 > 505 3 2 14 1 3 13 3 32 1 1 11 1 1- 2 1Discussion category 0-5 6-10 11-15 16-20 21-25 26-305 1 2 34 1 1 33 2 2 22 1 1 11 1 1- 1 1 1
  7. 7. AP Human GeographyThe students who participated in this discussion forum overa 26 week period did so under the following conditions:• the participation of 15 students was part of a mandatoryassignment that was worth approximately 10% of thestudents’ final mark•the participation of 5 students was mandatory twice weeklyand worth 15% of the students final grade
  8. 8. AP Human GeographyAll categories 0-9 10-19 20-29 30-39 40-49 > 505 2 14 1 1 132 1 21 1 2- 3 1 2 1 1Discussion category 0-5 6-10 11-15 16-20 21-25 > 265 2 14 2 132 1 1 11 1 2- 2 1 1 4
  9. 9. Research SummaryExcluding the students whose participation wasmandatory, the following trends were noticed:• in both classes, students who participated morescored better on the external exam than students whoparticipated less• lack of participation did not guarantee a poor score,no more than a large amount of participationguaranteed a high score (as seen by the participationand scores of the students’ whose participation wasmandatory)
  10. 10. Similar ResearchCollins and Barbour, in their research on the use of e-mail andweb-based discussion forums in second-year university Biologycourses have found that:•there is a clear relationship between Web forum use and lettergrade attained•only “A”s were very frequent users, while only “A”s and “B”swere frequent users•“C”s, “D”s, and “F”s were either infrequent users or non-users•“A”s were more likely to be users (21 of 42) than “B”s (12 of29), who in turn were more likely to be users than thoseattaining lower letter grades (7 of 20)
  11. 11. Similar ResearchBased upon their findings Collins and Barbour havespeculated that students who write about their subjectlearn that subject better. (Ambron) (Kurfiss) Moore,for example, has shown the connection betweenwriting in Biology and higher course scores as othershave demonstrated for other subject areas… Postingson the Web forum are ‘public’ and open to thescrutiny of all the class members. Students then aremore likely to be careful and deliberate about whatthey write on the Web forum… because they are forpublic consumption, and especially discussion items.
  12. 12. ConclusionsThere are some general conclusions which can be drawn:• students who write about a subject learn that subject better• participation in an open discussion forum forces students towrite about a subject• students who participate in online discussion forums tend toperform better than students who are non-users of the onlinediscussion forumsMain question for future research: Do better students participate more in online discussion forums or do students who participate more in online discussion forums perform better?
  13. 13. BibliographyAmbron, J. “Writing to improve learning in Biology,” Journal ofCollege Science Teaching. vol. XVI, no. 4, pp. 263-266, 1987.Collins, M & Barbour, M. “Some observations on student use ofelectronic communications,” International Conference on Advances inInfrastructure for E-Business, Science, and Education on the Internet.LAquila, Italy: Scuola Superiore G. Reiss Romoli (SSGRR), August2001.Kurfiss, J. “Do students really learn from writing?” Writing Across theCurriculum. vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 3-4, 1985.Moore, R. “Does writing about science improve learning aboutscience?” Journal of College Science Teaching. vol. XXII, no. 4, pp.212-217, 1993.

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