CEC Theses and Dissertations

Title

Computer-Supported, Time and Place Independent Distance Education for Adult Learners: A Demonstration Project in Teaching Financial Accounting Via the Internet

Date of Award

1998

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences

Advisor

Maxine S. Cohen

Committee Member

Getrude W. Abramson

Committee Member

Steven R. Terrell

Abstract

This study investigated the use of the Internet as a tool to provide adult students a time and place-independent learning environment. The project addressed the problem that higher education often does not adequately meet the needs of the adult student due to the constraints typically associated with traditional, classroom-based environments. The goal of this project was to develop and validate a set of procedures that could be used to plan, implement, and manage a college-level, credit-bearing course that could be offered to the adult student in a time- and place-independent manner via the Internet.

Matrices for administrative, management, and learning issues attendant with an Internet based learning environment were developed. The matrices were tested with a pilot project that entailed planning, implementing, and managing a course in financial accounting. An experimental section of the course was offered in a time- and place-independent manner via the Internet. To provide a basis for comparison, a control section of the same course, taught by the same instructor, was offered in a classroom-based environment.

Four tools were used to evaluate the pilot project. The college's standard course evaluation form, which measures student satisfaction, was given to both groups, as well as an expanded evaluation that examined the students' level of confidence regarding accomplishment of each of the learning outcomes. Both sections were given the same final exam and were graded using the same criteria. Ratings on both course evaluation forms, the grade on the final exam, and the grade for the course were compared using independent sample t-tests. No significant differences were noted in rating on the confidence evaluation or on either the final exam or the course grade. Satisfaction with the course, as recorded on the standard course evaluation form, was significantly higher for the classroom-based section than the Internet-based section.

A summative committee was convened to evaluate both the objective results and subjective impressions of the pilot project. Based upon the input of the summative committee, a questionnaire regarding the administration and management of an Internet based, college-level course was developed. Requests for participation in the survey were e-mailed to 369 faculty and administrators with experience in Internet-based education; 53 completed surveys were returned. The results of this survey were used to add depth and refinement to the administrative and management matrices.

Two conclusions were evident as a result of both the pilot project and the survey of experienced providers of Internet-based college coursework. The planning matrices did indeed aid the development of an academically sound college course that could be taught in a time- and place-independent fashion using the resources available in the Internet.

Several challenges inherent in this delivery system emerged. Most notably, it appeared to be more difficult to positively engage the student in the learning process in the Internet based environment than in the traditional classroom. This difficulty was manifested in three ways. First, both the pilot project and responses to the survey indicated a rate of withdrawal from the course noticeably higher than typically found in classroom based courses. Second, the rating of the students participating in the pilot project on the student satisfaction section of the course evaluation was significantly lower than evaluations for the same instructor teaching the same course in a classroom setting. Third, both impressions from the pilot project and responses to the survey indicated a difficulty in establishing the intangible aspects of a college experience commonly referred to as a learning community.

This study did develop a schema for planning, implementing, and managing an academically sound, time- and place-independent, Internet-based learning environment. Further research was indicated to identify the appropriate mechanisms for making the environment more convivial for the student.

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