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Comparison of Traditional Face-to-Face and Online Student Performance in Two Online-Delivered Engineering Technical Electives

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2017 Pacific Southwest Section Meeting


Tempe, Arizona

Publication Date

April 20, 2017

Start Date

April 20, 2017

End Date

April 22, 2017

Conference Session

Technical Session 2a

Tagged Topics

Diversity and Pacific Southwest Section

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Paper Authors


Keith E. Holbert P.E. Arizona State University Orcid 16x16

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Keith Holbert is presently an Associate Professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering of Arizona State University (ASU). He earned his Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from University of Tennessee in 1989. His research expertise is in the area of instrumentation and system diagnostics including radiation effects on sensors. Dr. Holbert is a registered professional (nuclear) engineer. Keith is Senior Member of IEEE, and a member of the American Nuclear Society as well as the American Society for Engineering Education. He has published more than 200 journal articles and conference papers, two textbooks, and holds one patent. Keith is the Director of the Nuclear Power Generation Program at ASU.

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Besides the traditional face-to-face approach, ABC University now delivers one of only two ABET-accredited, fully online baccalaureate degree programs in electrical engineering. As part of the development of two courses for that program, the recorded classes were initially deployed to both the online students and the traditional on-campus students.

This paper will report on the results of an inadvertent experiment resulting from the mostly half-semester offerings of two senior-level technical electives. The end-of-the-course grades and distributions for two offerings of each course are used to compare student performance. It is noteworthy that both student cohorts viewed the same online recordings, took identical exams, and completed the same homework assignments, but the on-campus (termed ‘hybrid’) students had the benefit of in-person office hours with the instructor. The major difference in demographics of the two cohorts is that the on-campus students have mean age of 22 while the online students have an average age of 32 and 37% are veterans.

For the first course, the two cohorts exhibited similar performance, with the online students outperforming the on-campus students in 2015, and vice versa in 2016 but by a smaller margin. A closer examination shows that for the 2015 offerings with near equal term lengths, the online students (8 weeks) had an average of about 9 points higher than the on-campus students (7 weeks). In 2016, when the on-campus students were given the usual 15 weeks, they had a 2 point advantage over the online students who took the course in an 8-week session. Other academicians have also observed differences in student learning based on the course term length.

The term lengths and dates of the first course were different for the online and hybrid students; however, that was not the case for the second course with the 2015 and 2016 offerings occurring within the same 7.5 and 8 week periods, respectively, and as such better comparisons can be made. Upon analyzing these direct class comparisons, the online students as a whole performed slightly better (6 points greater) in 2015 and more significantly better (9 points higher) in 2016 than the traditional on-campus students. This enhanced performance (which was also noted in the first course when the term lengths were near equal) may be attributed to (1) the maturity (age) of the online students, and/or (2) the fact that students in the online program were accustomed to completing their courses in half-semester terms whereas the on-campus students were not.

The gratifying result from this experiment is that the online and on-campus students are receiving very similar experiences and both groups are learning the material. The full paper will include details of the analysis, including the full statistics and stylized probability density functions created for comparison. In addition, a composite record of when students view the lecture recordings is available to compare against the homework assignment due dates.

Holbert, K. E. (2017, April), Comparison of Traditional Face-to-Face and Online Student Performance in Two Online-Delivered Engineering Technical Electives Paper presented at 2017 Pacific Southwest Section Meeting, Tempe, Arizona.

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