PhD in Education student Peter McPartlan is one of two 2017 graduate student poster winners for Division 15: Educational Psychology at the American Psychological Association (APA) Annual Convention, held August 2-6 in Washington, D.C.
Mr. McPartlan’s project, developed from Professor Mark Warschauer's Investigating Virtual Learning Environments project, was titled "Modality Motivation: Assessing Motivational Differences in Online and Face-to-Face Students."
Amidst the rising costs of higher education, online courses have been heralded as a cost-saving solution. Uncertainty over the quality of online learning, however, has encouraged researchers to assess the effectiveness of online (OL) courses through comparisons with equivalent face-to-face (F2F) courses. The validity of such comparisons rests entirely on the assumption that selection effects are not biasing results. Although many studies use superficial demographic variables to test for selection effects (e.g. race, gender, SES), motivation is a much more proximal predictor of performance. The present study investigated three different courses in which students had the option to choose between equivalent OL and F2F courses with the same instructor. Results showed that students who chose OL courses felt forced to do so due to situational constraints. Introductory OL students cited institutional constraints (e.g. full in-person courses or conflicting course schedules) whereas advanced/summer OL students cited personal constraints (e.g. long commutes or employment conflicts). Quantitative comparisons showed no significant differences in online students’ values for their courses. However, whereas introductory OL students who cited institutional constraints performed on par with F2F counterparts, advanced/summer OL students citing personal constraints performed far worse. Choosing OL courses due to personal constraints was negatively associated with attending peer study groups and speaking with the instructor. Ultimately, motivational factors are unlikely to induce selection effects, but researchers should certainly consider students’ competing personal responsibilities instead of simply testing for differences in race, gender, and SES. Additionally, researchers comparing OL and F2F courses may be more likely to avoid selection effects by targeting introductory courses during the traditional academic year.