The Importance of Interaction for Student Academic Success in Online Courses

Gary Long (Rochester Institute of Technology, US)
Carol Marchetti (Rochester Institute of Technology, US)
James Mallory (Rochester Institute of Technology, US)
Additional Authors
Richard Fasse (Rochester Institute of Technology, US)
Susan Foster (Rochester Institute of Technology, US)
Session Information
November 9, 2011 - 12:45pm
Learning Effectiveness
Areas of Special Interest: 
Research Study
Institutional Level: 
Universities and Four Year Institutions
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Northern Hemisphere E2
Session Duration: 
35 Minutes

This presentation reports on research designed to better understand the factors contributing to academic achievement for students in online courses. Information from the myCourses management system was used to quantify the amount of communication that occurred in online courses and relate this measure to grades and responses to survey questions.

Extended Abstract

We will report on two studies, part of an ongoing research program at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) that suggests that the reflective nature of asynchronous online discussion is helping our hearing, deaf and hard-of-hearing students achieve better academic results in online courses than they do in comparable campus based face-to-face (F2F) courses. The first study analyzed grade distributions for 35,179 students over a two-year period for online courses and their campus based F2F equivalents. Although there were some interesting exceptions, students in the online courses earned higher grades on average than the students in the face-to-face courses, and deaf and hard-of-hearing students had an even larger achievement increase than the hearing population. The second study explored how the quantity of interaction in online courses related to student perceptions of course satisfaction, learning, and ease of communication. While no effect was found for perceived satisfaction or learning, we found that students in the most interactive courses communicated with the instructor and other students "more than I do in most courses." Students also said that they were better able to communicate/express their own ideas "because of the online interactions in this course." Our data suggests there are significant communication and learning benefits for hard-of-hearing and deaf students enrolled in online courses with hearing peers. Finally we looked at the grade distributions for 6,702 students in approximately 400 online courses divided into quartiles based on the amount of interaction that occurred in each course. Students in online courses with more interaction received significantly higher grades than did students in online courses with less interaction. One limitation of this work is the field nature of our data where students in the online and F2F classes were not randomly assigned. It is possible that with self-selection "brighter" students were going into the online sections and we have no external measure to determine if this is true or not. However it is hard to explain why the results were even more striking for the students with a hearing loss and these same students responded the most positively about being able to communicate with peers online in the second study that included the survey. What we do know is that, regardless of hearing status, students in the online courses with the most interaction had better academic achievement than did students in the courses with the least interaction. This link speaks to the importance of students learning from each other as a critical component of overall learning in the online environment. It can be extremely difficult for students with a hearing loss to keep up with classroom presentations and to be full participants in discussions in a traditional lecture focused classroom. All information is taken in through the eyes so allocating time to the multiple inputs in a classroom (Instructor, Power Point slides, Interpreter, other students) can be an overwhelming information processing task. If this complex process isn't monitored and controlled by the instructor (allowing students time to read slides before speaking, pausing to allow the interpreter to finish signing a question before calling on a student to answer it, pointing to the student answering the question and allowing one student to respond at a time) communication breaks down and D/HH students no longer have access to the information. Findings of the present study show the importance of online peer interaction to learning for all students. It also speaks to the effectiveness of online interactions for facilitating direct communication between hearing and D/HH students and the associated learning that occurs. Session participants will be asked to respond to respond to the following question; "What are the best instructional practices for encouraging meaningful online interaction of students?" Audience members will be asked to share their own personal experiences and observations. Why this session is important: *Demonstrates a metric used to quantify online interactions and relates that metric to academic achievement, *Utilizes a subgroup of deaf and hard-of-hearing that normally struggle with classroom communication to better understand the importance and role of online interaction to student learning, *Presents both quantitative and qualitative research to link interaction and achievement across multiple courses and also share what students have to say about that online interaction in their own words