Pre-lecture Online Learning Modules in University Physics: Student Participation, Perceptions, and Performance

Matthew Hill, Manjula D Sharma, Yingying Xu


In our earlier paper published in this journal, we described short-weekly online learning modules (OLMs) that were carefully created to supplement a first-year university physics course (Hill, Sharma, & Johnston, 2015). Where the previous paper was focussed on the merits of the content of the OLMs, this paper is focussing on the student uptake to allow for fellow practitioners to benefit from our experience. Online learning is often tried, but less often tested. For practitioners, it is useful to understand when and how students participate, why do or don’t students participate, and what are students’ opinions of online learning. Here we present the frequency and duration of student engagement with OLMs based on data collected automatically by the learning management system, and results of a survey. Over 75% of students who completed the final exam were deemed to have actively participated in the OLMs for an average of approximately 15 minutes each week. Despite the flexibility of having almost four days to complete the modules, the majority of students completed them 24 hours before the deadline. Students reported that they completed the modules as they found them helpful for learning and for the 1% contribution to the final course mark regardless of correctness of answer. Students reported that the modules improved their understanding, prepared them for lectures, and provided other benefits such as motivating regular participation. When considering performance, students who achieved high distinctions completed the most OLMs at an average of 10.7 ± 1.4 modules, while students who failed the course only completed 4.1 ± 3.8 modules on average. As each grade level increases, so does the average number of OLMs completed. From another perspective when comparing students who completed more than eight OLMs with those who completed less than four using an established physics concepts test (the Force & Motion Concept Evaluation), students who completed more modules had higher learning gains across the semester. Results from this study assist educators in understanding the dynamics of introducing online learning in face-to-face courses and contribute to the growing body of literature into the efficacy of blended learning. For the practitioner often baffled by the significant amount of data that can be queried through learning management systems, this paper offers an analysis using these data to consider what blended learning looks like for the students.

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