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22st Annual OLC International Conference
November 16-18, 2016 | Orlando, Florida | Walt Disney World Swan/Dolphin Resort

OLC Innovate 2016 - Innovations in Blended and Online Learning
April 20-22, 2016 | New Orleans, LA | Sheraton New Orleans Hotel

STEM Online Education: How to Create A Successful Online Course

#Twitter: 
#olc54125
Presenter(s)
Baiyun Chen (University of Central Florida, USA)
Wendy Howard (University of Central Florida, USA)
Additional Authors
Kathleen Bastedo (University of Central Florida, USA)
Session Information
October 16, 2015 - 11:45am
Track: 
Learning Effectiveness
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Research Study
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Practical Application
Institutional Level: 
Universities and Four Year Institutions
Audience Level: 
All
Session Type: 
Information Session
Location: 
Europe 2
Session Duration: 
45 Minutes
Session: 
Concurrent Session 11
Abstract

This study examined best practices in online education in the STEM fields through student surveys and instructor interviews.

Extended Abstract

The popularity of online courses continues to rise. According to the 2013 report of the Online Learning Consortium, a total of 71 million higher education students are taking online courses and a third (33.5%) of all students in the United States now take at least one course online (Allen & Seaman, 2014). At the same time, STEM Education has become a national priority (STEM Education Coalition, 2014) and President Obama has dedicated resources to the advancement of STEM education through his Educate to Innovate initiative and the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (111th Congress, 2011; The White House, n.d.). With the increase in online learning and national focus on STEM education, there is a growing need for pedagogical best practices that address the unique challenges of delivering STEM instruction online.

Therefore, a research study on exploring best practices for online STEM education was conducted. In particular, the research questions are as follows:
- How did students perceive their experiences of taking an online STEM course? What factors would influence their online learning experience?
- How did instructors perceive their experiences of designing and teaching an online STEM course? What factors would influence their online teaching experience?

Method

There were 19 online courses in the STEM fields offered at UCF in 2014 fall semester. The researchers contacted all course instructors to seek permission for their students to participate in an anonymous online survey. Five instructors replied and their students were notified of this research opportunity through an announcement delivered via the learning management system (i.e. Canvas). A total of 474 students were invited to participate in the survey and 32 students voluntarily completed it in fall 2014 with a response rate of 7%. Two additional cohorts will be invited to participate in the survey in spring and summer 2015.

At the same time, the researchers interviewed five instructors about their experiences of designing and teaching online courses. These instructors have completed professional development training in online teaching and have taught online courses in the STEM fields.

Results

Based on our fall 2014 results, students were generally satisfied (m=3.89 out of 5) with their online experience. More than two thirds of the students (n=23) rated their online experience as comparable or somewhat comparable to what they would expect in a traditional face-to-face course. In the explanations, students rated the student-instructor interactions as the most important factor that impacted their learning experience. Students who were satisfied complemented the instructor's online office hours and the quick feedback they received from the instructor. Students who were dissatisfied mostly stated that their instructor was difficult to reach. For instance, one respondent stated that their instructor disappeared for over a week due to business travel and did not respond to their group's messages in time to be helpful.
Among all the student-instructor interactions, email was rated by students as the' number one preferred communication method. When they had a general course question or a question that involved formulas, equations, or symbols, students preferred to email their instructor and receive a response at the earliest convenience. The second tier of communication method was either web conferencing or face-to-face office hours. More than one student suggested that their instructor hosted weekly office hours via chat or video conference tools, such as Google Hangout.

The student-content interaction was another factor that affected the students' learning experience. Among the five courses, 25 out of 31 students reported that their instructors used some type of media/videos to help their learning process. The video formats varied in a range of short video clips (e.g., CBT nuggets), podcast audio clips (iTunes U) to instructor-created narrated PowerPoint slides. Students responded favorably to all of these media elements especially when they had a difficult time understanding a certain topic. Among all the supplementary resources, our respondents found multimedia resources work better in illustrating complicated concepts rather than mere verbal or textual explanation, such as textbook content or additional websites. In the survey results, students asked the instructor to provide them with more video resources, especially on hands-on lab sections before the exam or due date.

Two thirds of our respondents (n=23) stated that they would consider taking another STEM course online. Just like students in other fields, convenience is the largest reason for them to consider the online platform. The other one-third (n=6) of the students felt that the subject was just too difficult for the online medium and that they needed more interactions than reading a textbook to get themselves engaged with the complicated course content.

Conclusion

The theme of this conference is shaping the future of online learning. One way to ensure institutions continue to produce viable candidates for future employment is to continually evaluate and re-evaluate best practices in online STEM courses. The President of the United States himself has reiterated just how important education, especially STEM education, in the United States continues to be for the future of this country (http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/education/reform). Our study aims to promote the re-evaluation and improvements in online STEM best practices by determining what new approaches work best with online STEM students. At the time of the submission of this proposal, five instructor interviews have been completed. They provided valuable suggestions for online STEM course instructors. We are still in the process of collecting the 2015 spring data. The plan is to roll out the survey again in the summer semester. Results from the series of surveys, along with the instructor interviews, will be shared at this session. Early results of the survey are promising; and we propose that implementing these findings may enable instructors to provide more interaction and richer learning opportunities within these challenging online STEM courses.

Lead Presenter

Dr. Baiyun Chen is an Instructional Designer at the Center for Distributed Learning at UCF. She designs and delivers faculty professional development programs and teaches graduate courses on Instructional Systems Design. Her research interests focus on using instructional strategies in online and blended teaching and learning, professional development for teaching online, and application of emerging technologies in education. On related topics of online instruction, she has published 15 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters and delivered more than 50 presentations at international and local conferences and events. She has also served as the Co-Managing Editor of the Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository.