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Is It the Technology or the Teacher? A Comparison of Online and Traditional English Composition Classes

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Journal of Educational Computing Research Volume 31, Number 2, ISSN 0735-6331


Recent reviews of the literature on distance learning have reached two general conclusions. First, students are about as satisfied with the quality of their education in distance-learning (DL) classes as they are in traditional or face-to-face (FTF) classes. Second, students perform about as well in DL classes as they do in FTF classes. We examine this finding of "no significant difference" in a study of students at a public university in the Southeast who were enrolled in online and FTF versions of the same English Composition course. We looked at three student outcomes: satisfaction, learning, and participation in classroom discussion. We found that being in an online class had a positive effect on satisfaction and participation, but no effect on learning even when we controlled for instructor behaviors and classroom characteristics. We attribute the positive effect of being in an online class on student satisfaction--which directly contradicts the no-significant-difference assumption--to the way in which synchronous instruction mimics the traditional classroom. Our findings attest to the importance of both technology and instruction on student satisfaction, learning, and participation.


Finlay, W., Desmet, C. & Evans, L. (2004). Is It the Technology or the Teacher? A Comparison of Online and Traditional English Composition Classes. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 31(2), 163-180. Retrieved September 17, 2019 from .

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