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Implications of Online Learning for Novice Students


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Online teaching has many implications for pedagogy, teacher-student communication, grading, and other campus aspects, such as social life and administration. Although online teaching can take many forms, no matter where, when, and how the online course is taught, all online courses share the same basic idea of students' studying off-campus, usually alone.

According to Beard, Harper, and Riley (2004), "Many students learn best through direct interaction provided by professors and other students" (p. 29). In a broader sense, the on-campus experience encompasses not only social events, but also a framework that enhances learning habits and provides important tools for successful graduation.

During the Coronavirus semester (Spring 2020), we had a chance to explore the implications of studying at home and what the on-campus experience actually gives students. Specifically, we were interested in comparing the challenges, as well as solutions, that freshmen and experienced students faced during the Coronavirus semester.

In this blog, we present the results of this comparison alongside several insights derived from it. We compared two identical courses called "Introduction to Computer Science," taught by Yael Erez, co-author of this blog. One of the courses was taught at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, where approximately 80% of the ~120 students were in their 1st semester of studies (and will be referred to here as novice students). The other course was taught at ORT-Braude College of Engineering, and approximately 80% of the 48 students in the course there were in their 3rd or 4th semester of studies (and will be referred to as experienced students).

The students in both courses answered two online questionnaires. The first questionnaire, which was distributed around mid-semester to the Technion students, included mainly open questions and addressed challenges the students faced and how those challenges were coped with. Based on the analysis of answers of 65 students, we identified:

(a) main challenges the students faced: communication (with other students and with the course staff), overload, time management, and environmental challenges, and

(b) techniques the students used to overcome those challenges: using online material, online office hours, social networks, and digital communication with other students and with the course staff.

Based on the main challenges and solutions identified in the first questionnaire, the second questionnaire, which was distributed towards the end of the semester, requested that the students use a 4-point scale (1 – not at all, 4 – to a high degree) to rate how frequently they encountered each challenge and the extent to which they used each technique to cope with them. Twenty-nine students from ORT Braude and 52 students from the Technion answered the second questionnaire.

The Techniques Students Use

We divided the techniques into two groups:

1.     Techniques that were used more frequently by experienced students (see Table 1 and Fig. 1);

2.     Techniques that were used more frequently by novice students (see Table 2 and Fig. 2).

Table 1: Mean, standard deviation and median of techniques that were used more frequently by experienced students

Techniques used more frequently by experienced students

 

(1) Looking for online material

(2) Re-watch recorded lectures

(3) Attend online office hours

(4) Ask course staff

(5) Ask other students in the course

Novice (n=52)

mean

2.55

2.37

1.67

1.83

2.29

std

0.90

1.01

0.79

0.81

0.75

median

3.00

2.00

2.00

2.00

2.00

Experienced (n=29)

mean

3.03

2.76

1.86

2.14

2.59

std

0.73

0.99

0.88

0.88

0.87

median

3.00

3.00

2.00

2.00

3.00

Figure 1: Techniques that were used more frequently by experienced students than by novice students

Table 2: Mean, standard deviation and median of techniques that were used more frequently by novice students

Techniques used more frequently by novice students

(1) Social network

(2) Family, friends, etc.

Novice (n=52)

mean

2.10

2.10

std

0.96

1.16

median

2.00

2.00

Experienced (n=29)

mean

1.79

1.86

std

0.98

0.95

median

2.00

2.00

 

Figure 2: Techniques that were used more frequently by novice students than by experienced students

What can we learn?

The above data reveals that experienced students exploited the available campus-related resources, such as online material, recorded lectures, and office hours, more frequently. They also knew peers from previous semesters, and therefore assisted each other and were assisted by others. Finally, being familiar with the role of the teaching staff, they also consulted more frequently with the course staff.

On the other hand, novice students were not familiar with other students or with the course staff, and therefore communicated with them less frequently. Novice students did, however, use resources they are familiar with: social networks and people outside their academic learning environment (family, friends, etc.).

The above summary implies that:

1.     The on-campus experience

     a.     is important in order to become acquainted with other students and form social networks; and

     b.     helps students acquire learning skills even when such skills are not taught explicitly.

Therefore,

2.     Online learning is more challenging for novice students than for experienced students since it does not enable them to master learning techniques that can be acquired only through on-campus experience.

Surely, the implications of the Coronavirus semester on freshmen students will be extensively explored both in general and specifically with respect to computer science education. Our blog aims at giving just a slight taste of such an investigation.

References

Beard, L. A., Harper, C. and Riley, G. (2004). Online Versus On-Campus Instruction: Student Attitudes & Perceptions. TechTrends, 48(6), 29–31.

 

Yael Erez is a lecturer in the Technion's Faculty of Computer Science and a staff member of the ORT Braude Department of Electrical Engineering. She is currently studying towards a teaching certificate at the Technion's Department of Education in Science and Technology. Orit Hazzan is a professor at the Technion's Department of Education in Science and Technology. Her research focuses on computer science, software engineering, and data science education. For additional details, see https://orithazzan.net.technion.ac.il/ .


 

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