The Enhancement of Academic Performance in Online Environments
2. Online Education
2.1. The Course
- The ability to solve advanced mathematical problems, and plan their resolution according to available tools and time and resource constraints;
- The ability to understand and apply advanced computer knowledge and numerical or computational methods to engineering problems in order to solve them in the most appropriate way for each situation;
- The ability to choose and use computer applications, numerical and symbolic calculations or others, and to experiment in mathematics and solve complex problems.
2.2. The Students
- Active employment situation;
- Family and personal issues to attend to;
- Age above the average of the students attending a face-to-face postgraduate course.
2.3. Educational Resources
- The coach. Each student has the support of a coach, who contacts the student weekly. The coach guides the student through study techniques, collects their suggestions and transmits the most relevant comments to the teachers of the subject.
- The instructors. The professors of the subject have wide experience in the teaching of the contents. In addition, part of their research is focused on the aspects that are dealt with in the subject. As recommended by , these teachers are trained in the use of digital resources.
- The LMS. The platform on which interactions take place integrates multiple tools. On the static side, students can find a textbook, the slides used in the live lessons or the deliverable activities. Let us remark that this part can be modified along the course. On the dynamic side, there are forums for general queries or doubts, or links to join the live lessons.
- The course software. Given the characteristics of the subject—in which mathematics and computing are combined—the use of specialized software is required. Students have access to a license for downloading the software in their desktops. They also have the support of the coach if they have any problem in this process.
- The textbook. The teacher of the subject, prior to its teaching, is responsible for the writing of the textbook. The book details the contents, theoretical ideas, examples with solutions and external resources for further information.
- The live lessons. There are online live lessons, that can be classified in two groups: general and laboratory sessions. In general sessions, the concepts of the textbook are explained and exercises are solved step-by-step. Students may participate at any time, requesting additional explanation or clarification. The instructors share their screen with the students to see how the exercises are implemented in the software. In laboratory sessions, the teachers introduce one or more problems to solve. Students work together in groups to solve the exercise. When students are in doubt, they can ask for the instructor’s help, who gives them an idea of the path they should follow. A critical part is that the students have to work afterwards on the lessons.
- The forums. This part of the LMS is where the general queries, doubts or problems are transmitted to the rest of the students and teachers. It is useful for students because they can raise a question that worries other participants as well. These questions are answered by teachers within 48 h. Moreover, it is also helpful for teachers in order to broadcast, for instance, unexpected events.
2.4. Methodology of the Course
2.5. The Problems
- The teaching approach. We agreed that a student-centered approach would be more suitable for the students than a teacher-based centered approach. As mentioned before, two possibilities were considered: the flipped classroom approach and the problem-based learning approach.
- The contents of the textbook were too theoretical.
- Students needed to solve more exercises.
- The students thought that the contents of the course were difficult.
- The students requested a shorter final exam or an increase in time to solve it.
- The book had many misprints and not every piece of content was well developed.
- Many students needed more examples to verify their capabilities to solve exercises and to internalize the concepts.
- Continuous assessment activities. The activities of the continuous assessment are explained in the online lessons. The explanation involves the techniques to be used for solving the exercises and what is expected in each answer: table of results, implementation code, discussion of the results, representation of functions, etc.
- Reedited version of the book. The book’s contents were completely revisited and rewritten. Based on the previous book, the misprints were corrected and the information that was less relevant was eliminated. In addition, some clarifications were included, using specifically, bibliography [42,43,44,45]. Finally, more problems with detailed solutions were provided.
- Overview seminar. Before the final exam, a seminar of 30 h was imparted. The attendance for students was optional but highly recommended, since different problems were going to be solved. Moreover, the students had the chance to send activities and receive individual feedback.
- Update of activities. The activities of the continuous assessment were updated. That way, the questions were more specific, and the structure of the activities was more similar to their structure in the final exam.
3. Methodology of the Study
- The groups were formed by four consecutive classes: “Class 1”, “Class 2”, “Class 3” and “Class 4”. The actions and changes described in Section 2 were gradually implemented over two years, as follows.
- Students of the Class 1 learned with problem-based learning lessons.
- From Class 2 to Class 3 the major change was applied, because the full contents of the book were readdressed. This change consisted of correcting the misprints, including more examples solved step-by-step, descriptions of many pseudo-codes for implementing the programs that students need and inclusion of the complete code for particular cases. In these major changes, the activities of the continuous assessment were updated, taking into account the difficulties of comprehension that concerned students.
- Finally, besides all the aforementioned changes, we decided to include an overview seminar for students of Class 4.
- In this experiment, no control group was considered. This is due to ethical issues: since the marks scored by Class 1 students were very low, we considered that improving all students’ learning was more important than conducting a more reliable experiment. Consequently, there was no random selection, so we conducted a quasi experimental design.
- In all classes, assessment was carried out by the same evaluator.
- Since we were interested in analyzing the student’s improvements during the teaching period of the subject, we only considered the exam results obtained immediately after the course ended. The results of the rest of the activities were not considered since they were the improvement elements, whose real influence we wanted to determine.
- To guarantee independence, repeating students were removed from the following classes; that is, we only considered the marks of their first exam.
- A one-way ANOVA test was performed to determine whether the means of marks scored by the students of the classes were equal between groups ; that is, we wanted to find out if the hypothesis “the means are equal” could be accepted or not. The significance level was set at 0.05%.
- When the null hypothesis of the ANOVA test was rejected, it was important to explore differences between means. To know which specific means differed from the rest, the post hoc Bonferroni test was used . This test performed multiple comparisons and the p-value was adjusted in order to control the type I error. This error was reduced at the expense of a type II error, so we have to take into account that when the number of comparisons is large, the test may become too conservative and no significant differences will be found. In this study, we did not have to perform a large amount of comparisons and, since we were interested in controlling the type I error, it was appropriate to use Bonferroni test.
6. Conclusions and Future Work
Conflicts of Interest
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|Dimension||Project-Based Learning||Problem-Based Learning||Challenge-Based Learning|
|Learning||Task to complete a project||Content applied on problems||Real problems to complete a challenge|
|Focus||Solution for real problems||Solution for real/fictitious problem||Real solution for open problem|
|Product||Presentation or execution||Process and results||Solution that results in a concrete action|
|Process||The project generates products for the learning||The problem tests their ability to reason and apply their knowledge||Students analyze, design, develop, and execute the best solution to address the challenge|
|Teacher||Project manager||Professional guide||Coach and co-researcher|
|Action||Problem (Teacher)||Problem (Student)|
|Continuous assessment activities||X||X||X||X||X|
|Improvement of the feedback process||X||X||X||X||X|
|Reedited version of the book||X||X|
|Update of activities||X||X||X||X||X|
|Class||Mean of Marks||Standard Deviation||Number of Students|
|Class (i)||Class (j)||i–j||p|
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Chicharro, F.I.; Giménez, E.; Sarría, Í. The Enhancement of Academic Performance in Online Environments. Mathematics 2019, 7, 1219. https://doi.org/10.3390/math7121219
Chicharro FI, Giménez E, Sarría Í. The Enhancement of Academic Performance in Online Environments. Mathematics. 2019; 7(12):1219. https://doi.org/10.3390/math7121219Chicago/Turabian Style
Chicharro, Francisco I., Elena Giménez, and Íñigo Sarría. 2019. "The Enhancement of Academic Performance in Online Environments" Mathematics 7, no. 12: 1219. https://doi.org/10.3390/math7121219