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New Mexico State University professors do "how-to" study of on-line courses

Thinking of an online class? As with many things, the key to success is "Know yourself," said Jennifer Kreie, a New Mexico State University assistant professor of accounting and business communications.


udy published in the year 2000 edition of the proceedings of the Decision Sciences Institute, Kreie and Wayne Headrick, a New Mexico State professor of business computer systems, looked at students who took an on-line information systems course at New Mexico State. The results suggest that students' degree of self discipline and computer knowledge played an important role in how successful they were in the course and in how much they liked it, Kreie said.

The study sample included 174 students signed up for an introductory course in information systems, with 90 of those enrolled in the online class section. After the final exam, the students in the online course were asked to evaluate the course and their own experience. Kreie said she thinks the students' negative comments were more enlightening than the positive ones.

"Sixty-two students provided written comments." she added. "The positive comments were generally along the lines of 'This is great,' or 'This is the way to learn.'"

The negative comments can be summarized in four statements, she said:

- 'It is difficult to learn this on my own. I need more interaction with the professor.'

- 'I don't have the willpower to do this on my own.'

- 'Technical difficulties are very frustrating and discouraging.'

- 'You already have to know a lot about computers to do this well.'

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the percentage of institutions of higher education in the United States offering computer-based, online courses grew from 22 percent in 1995 to 60 percent in 1998. According to an Oct. 15, 2001, story in U.S. News and World Report story, that number has grown to 70 percent in the last few years, Kreie said.

Online courses give students the flexibility to take courses at remote locations and to control the pace of instruction by concentrating on material they find more challenging and going faster on material they find easy or familiar. But some universities have become concerned that online courses aren't for everyone, she said.

"The University or Illinois recommends that online students be comfortable communicating through writing, be self-motivated and self-disciplined and be willing to contact the instructor if there's a problem. I think our findings support those recommendations," Kreie said.

Kreie said several characteristics of the students she and Headrick studied -- such as whether the students were freshmen, sophomores, juniors or seniors -- did not prove to be strong indicators of whether or not they would succeed in the internet-based course.

"Only G.P.A. (grade point average) is a significant indicator ... and G.P.A. is significant whether or not the course delivery was traditional or through the Internet. In future research there may be other student characteristics worth measuring, such as preferred learning style and computer self-efficacy," she said.