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UNL  students participating in a new study on online courses said they felt less connected and had a smaller sense of classroom community than those who took the same classes in person, but that didn’t keep online students from performing just as well as their in-person counterparts.
The study by UNL agronomy graduate student Robert Vavala gauged students’ perception and performance in three UNL undergraduate science courses that had both online and face-to-face class versions. At the same time, in the portion of the survey about students’ perception of their own learning, online students reported levels equal to those reported by face-to-face students and at the end of the day, their grades were equivalent to their in-person peers. The study  is getting some decent play, including from United Press International and its member affiliates around the country. Researchers assembled the data from a survey of more than 250 students enrolled in three different entry-level science courses at a large Midwestern public university.
Though the results may suggest that in-person classes are no more effective for student learning than online ones, Vavala said they also show that online courses could be even more effective if they could foster a culture of class cohesion, spirit, trust and interaction among students.
On the surface, online classes and community colleges might seem like a match made in heaven, since two-year students are more likely to work full time or have family obligations to tend to. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the research, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, aimed to discern why some students choose to take some courses online while others opt for physical classrooms. According to the Los Angeles Times, only 10 percent of study participants said they would prefer to take all their courses online -- mainly students whose schedules demand flexibility and older students who would prefer not to interact with younger classmates.


Inside Higher Ed reports that the new CCRC study's results are based on interviews with 46 students taking online courses at one of two unnamed Virginia community colleges.
It found that online students did not feel a sense of cohesion, community spirit, trust or interaction, elements that have been shown to foster effective classroom learning.
Perhaps more one-on-one contact and timely feedback between the instructor and online students, according to the study.
One of those challenges is that community might not be as important to the online student as it is to their in-person peers,” Vavala said. You may use unl.edu without enabling JavaScript, but certain functions may not be available. Yet according to a new study from Columbia University's Community College Research Center, most of these students still prefer face-to-face instruction -- at least in subjects they deem difficult, interesting or important. It comes at a time when most two-year schools host -- and are even expanding -- online courses. The remaining 90 percent of participants said they would prefer a mix of online and face-to-face instruction, especially in difficult courses or those that require a lot of back-and-forth discussion with peers or instructors.
Department of Education found that online students in fact fared better than classroom-based learners.


Though Jaggers said participants were "fairly representative of the typical student who takes online courses," Russell Poulin, deputy director for research and analysis at the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies, cautioned against drawing too many conclusions from the study, given its size. All three instructors involved in the study said they felt creating a sense of community in their classes was very important, and worked to simulate that experience for online students. Christine Mullins, executive director of the Instructional Technology Council, told The Chronicle of Higher Education that online students' ability to study at their own pace and review course content probably helped.
He noted that the results reinforce the idea that community colleges need to add online options strategically, especially when budgets are tight. She also said that many online courses do encourage peer interaction through email or chat rooms.




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