May 2020 Advocate: Selected readings on the impact of online education


Selected readings on the impact of online education

Setting Course Enrollment Maximums: Process, Roles, and Principles. Academic Senate for California Community Colleges. Adopted Spring 2012.

The primary basis of any determination regarding enrollment maximums should be the pedagogical factors that influence the success of the students in the course… Many different college constituencies have roles to play in establishing appropriate enrollment limits, including discipline faculty, curriculum committees, academic senates, bargaining units, and administration… As faculty have gained more experience with online teaching, and as they are required to maintain regular effective contact with each and every student, they have come to realize that a significant negative correlation seems to exist between increased class size and student learning.

S.H. Taft, K. Kesten, & M.M. El-Banna.  “One Size Does Not Fit All: Toward an Evidence-Based Framework for Determining Online Course Enrollment Sizes in Higher Education.” Online Learning 23(3) 2019.

Small classes (≤ 15 students) are indicated for courses intending to develop higher order thinking, mastery of complex knowledge, and student skill development… Class sizes should be based on learning level and identified pedagogical intent.

Patrick R. Lowenthal, Rob Nyland, Eulho Jung, Joanna C. Dunlap & Jennifer Kepka. Does Class Size Matter? An Exploration into Faculty Perceptions of Teaching High-Enrollment Online Courses. American Journal of Distance Education  May 23, 2019.

“The results of our inquiry reveal that faculty in this sample believe online courses with smaller enrollments are better for student learning and faculty satisfaction.”

Hans Johnson, Marisol Cuellar Mejia and Kevin Cook. “COVID-19 Shutdown Forces Colleges to Ramp up Online Learning.” Public Policy Institute of California March 30, 2020.

“Students with limited technology, such as those without access to broadband, may not be able to access online courses. In community colleges, Latinos are less likely to enroll in online courses than other groups, which may reflect the digital divide. And while course success rates have improved across the board, equity gaps remain large.”

Lis Kenneth Regula. “The online courses we’re creating right now are ways to survive in uncertain times, not to thrive in online education.” Hechinger Report March 16, 2020.

“Contracts with for-profit [online education] companies raise concerns about the privatization of U.S. higher education … shared governance, academic freedom, educational quality, student privacy, and the reputation and sustainability of the institution. 

Sandy Baum and Michael S. McPherson. “The Human Factor: The Promise & Limits of Online Education.” Daedalus (American Academy of Arts and Sciences) Fall 2019.

“Strong evidence indicates that students with weak academic backgrounds and other risk factors struggle most in fully online courses, creating larger socioeconomic gaps in outcomes than those in traditional classroom environments.”

Susan M. Dynarski. “Online schooling: Who is harmed and who is helped?” Brookings October 26, 2017.

“While online courses are certainly convenient for such non-traditional students [those who are older, more likely to work full-time, and more likely to be a single parent], the existing evidence suggests they are a poor fit for those who are academically behind their peers.”

Spiros Protopsaltis and Sandy Baum. “Does online education live up to its promise? A look at the evidence and implications for federal policy.” Center for Education Policy and Evaluation, George Mason University January 2019.

“On average, fully online coursework has contributed to increasing gaps in educational success across socioeconomic groups while failing to improve affordability. Even when overall outcomes are similar for classroom and online courses, students with weak academic preparation and those from low-income and under-represented backgrounds consistently underperform in fully-online environments.”

Jill Barshay. “Five studies find online courses are not working well at community colleges.” Hechinger Report April 27, 2015.

“Online coursework disproportionately harms lower-income students and community colleges. A University of California–Davis study found that community college students were 11 percent less likely to pass a class if they took it online, rather than in a face-to-face setting.”

James McWilliams. “The downside of online learning.” Pacific Standard April 19, 2019.

Researchers have confirmed that “students enrolled online reported higher rates of texting, emailing, checking in with online social networks, watching videos — none of these activities related to class — while also playing video games and listening to music.”

Nick Thompson. “‘Education Is a Human Thing’—but Covid-19 Will Push It Online.” Wired April 22, 2020.

Even leading online education promoter Sebastian Thrun acknowledges that while very high quality online courses can excel at teaching technical skills, social skills like empathy are harder to learn through a screen. “Computers can help… but having people on your side will always be an advantage.”