Assessing a Student Performance Gap between Face-to-Face and Online Sections of an Introductory Geology Lab Course

Thursday 2:15pm E Building 202
Oral Session Part of Thursday Oral Session A


Joyce Smith, North Carolina State University
David McConnell, North Carolina State University
Over the 2021-2022 academic year, students enrolled in online (OL) sections of our Physical Geology laboratory course collectively averaged lower grades than their same-semester peers in face-to-face (F2F) sections, by nearly a full letter grade (~8%). With only minor variations in students' academic rank and demographics between delivery modes, we looked to differences in the curriculum materials between F2F and OL to inform this gap.
Despite our best efforts to align the F2F and OL sections during the pandemic-related shift to online-only sections, they have parallel but not identical assessments of student learning. While the content and general flow of the labs are consistent between the course modalities, we modified the question styles (e.g. multiple choice, short answer, arithmetic), grading styles (e.g. auto-graded, number of attempts), and question weighting to reduce the cognitive load in an OL setting for students and graders.
The labs that covered Streams, Groundwater, and Plate Tectonics content tended to have the highest grade disparity between F2F and OL sections over the entire academic year (~10-18%). However, labs with the greatest difference in scores varied between semesters. To address this, we made changes to our 2022-2023 academic year data collection, sub-dividing weekly lab assignments into 4-5 matched lab activities so that we could evaluate the influence of the content, specific activities, and curriculum material changes on student performance at a more discrete level.
In this presentation, we will analyze two labs and the activities within them: one where the student performance gap was large between the two delivery modes and one where performance was nearly equivalent. Our analysis of the contrast between the results of these two labs informs our next steps for instructional interventions, but also holds general recommendations for curriculum development and improvement of online course materials.

Presentation Media

Slides for Oral Session A _ Smith (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) PRIVATE FILE 17MB Jul13 23)