In Brief

Students who frequently log on to course Web pages, collaborate with others and are personally invested in their own learning do best in Web-based classes, finds a recent study.

The research compared the performance of students taking Web and regular face-to-face sections of undergraduate psychological statistics. More specifically, the study examined the cognitive, motivational and demographic characteristics that predict cyberstudents' success--something previous research hadn't yet done, say the researchers, psychology professors Alvin Wang, PhD, and Michael Newlin, PhD, of the University of Central Florida.

Across three semesters, 51 students in Web sections of the course and 66 students in regular sections did the same homework, took the same tests and used the same course materials. But instead of attending face-to-face lectures and labs, online students logged on for biweekly chat-room lectures and worked together on statistical problems via e-mail, telephone or Web discussion.

After the course, researchers found that scores on online quizzes and midterms were comparable in both groups. Although Web students showed a higher external locus of control--meaning that they believe in fate more so than self-determination--and earned slightly lower grades than regular students on a face-to-face final, there were more parallels than differences between Web and regular students. The groups were demographically similar--mostly young and local--and did best when they participated in class discussion, spent time on homework and were interested and invested in course material. But for cyberstudents, two patterns emerged to predict their success:

  • A high number of personal hits to the course home page in the first week of class.

  •  A large amount of collaboration--talking over statistics problems and comparing answers--with other students.

The findings, published in the current issue of the Journal of Educational Psychology (Vol. 92, No. 1), indicate that professors can help students succeed in Web courses by tracking their visits to course Web pages and urging the formation of online learning communities, says Wang.

"Online the cues are not the same as the conventional classroom for telling when students are bored or tuned out," says Wang. "But you can tell the number of times they're hitting your home page or talking with others in a chat room."

In future research, Wang and Newlin plan to study the quality of online student communication and to further investigate the role of self- efficacy in cyberstudent success.

--B. MURRAY