In WCET's "Frontiers: Trekking through the e-learning policy and practice wilderness," Rhonda Epper, Assistant Provost at the Colorado Community College System and past chair of the WCET Executive Council, writes about a recent study of WCET's students:
The first part of the study looked at online and traditional students only within the community college system. The greatest difference between students in the online versus traditional science courses were with grades earned in those specific science courses. Students in traditional Biology and Chemistry classes received, on average, higher course grades than students in online classes. Grades earned in Physics were similar for both online and traditional students. In spite of lower grades in Biology and Chemistry classes, the online students had either very similar or slightly higher overall GPAs than students completing these courses in traditional classrooms. Furthermore, the online students in all three science disciplines had similar or higher cumulative credit hours earned than their traditional counterparts. While the interpretations of these findings can be wide ranging, it is suggested that the higher GPAs and higher cumulative credit hours completed by online students could be the result of more experienced and academically prepared students self selecting online courses. It is also interesting to note that a widely held rumor that faculty in online courses have “easier” grading practices appears not to be the case.
The second part of the study tracked students who transferred and took science classes at one of four four-year public institutions in Colorado (CU-Boulder, CU-Denver, CU-Colorado Springs, and Colorado State University). An average science GPA at the four-year institution was calculated for each student, along with Biology, Chemistry, and Physics GPAs. The bottom line: there were no statistically significant differences in students’ science GPAs based on the community college instructional delivery method (online versus traditional). The study suggests that students who took online science courses at the community college level perform just as well in science classes at four-year institutions as students who took traditional on-campus science classes.