Lunsford, E., & Bolton, K. (2006). Coming to Terms with the Online Instructional Revolution: A Success Story Revealed through Action Research. Bioscene: Journal Of College Biology Teaching, 32(4), 12-16.
Lunsford and Bolton undertook an action research project involving the development of an online introductory biology course for non-science majors at a community college. The framework of their action research included four steps: 1. Realize the problem, 2. Develop a plan of action, 3. Reflect on results and 4. Integrate results.
Administration at the college requested that these instructors consider teaching an online biology course. The goal of the faculty designers was to keep the online course as “equitable in content as possible to traditional, seat-based courses as the school.” It was also important to the instructors to provide students with as many authentic lab experiences as possible utilizing hands-on materials and living organisms. The course that was chosen to be developed was the introductory, non-majors biology course. Unfortunately, the non-science major course had not been taught at the college in recent years, so the basis for comparison was limited. The authors elected to compare students in the non-majors course to students enrolled in the science majors course who had declared themselves to be non-science majors. The investigators felt that focusing study on non-majors from both courses would offer the best method available to them for evaluating the new online course.
To further minimize potential sources of error in their comparison, the instructors compiled a list of content knowledge objectives that were common to both courses. A third party researcher authored a 50 item multiple choice test that sampled most of the objectives. The author of the test was blinded to the purpose of the study. The test was given to students at the end of the term. This test in no way affected their grade for the course in which they had enrolled. Participation in the study was voluntary and anonymous. Students had only to identify the course in which they were enrolled and whether they were a science major or non-major.
Results of this study indicated that the mean test scores of the seat-based and web-based non-majors groups were essentially identical. Due to the small sample size ( nine members in each group), no statistical comparisons were made. However, the results did alleviate the fears of the instructors with respect to offering an online biology course. They said. “we can state that our concerns about content knowledge in online versus traditional instructional formats have been allayed.” With the information obtained from this small study, an informed decision was made to continue teaching non-majors introductory biology in an online format.
It is important to note that both authors indicate further research is necessary to fully validate their results. They acknowledge the limitations of their study, specifically with respect to sample size. The care that was taken to preserve the essential hands-on, authentic nature of the laboratory exercises provided in the online course is laudable. This paper provides a “starting point” for biology and other science instructors to evaluate the effectiveness of online course delivery