The educational value of online courses has been debated for years, based on a large but uneven body of research. An analysis of 99 studies by the federal Department of Education concluded last year that online instruction, on average, was more effective than face-to-face learning by a modest amount. But that analysis has been challenged because so few of the underlying studies include apples-to-apples comparisons, reports the New York Times. Mark Rush of the University of Florida and colleagues tried to do just that by contrasting grades of students who sat through a semester of his live microeconomics lectures with those who watched online. Their conclusion, reported in June by the National Bureau of Economic Research: some groups of online students did notably worse. Hispanic students watching online earned a full grade lower, on average, than Hispanics who attended class, and all male students who watched online were about a half-grade lower. The results surprised the researchers; after all, the live lectures were delivered in a hall to scores of students, who rarely engaged the professor or one another. David N. Figlio, a professor of education and social policy at Northwestern University and a co-author of the study, had been prepared to find that “watching online didn’t make a lick of difference,” he said. “What we’re saying is, ‘Hang on for a second, maybe it does.’ ”

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About the Author:

Meris Stansbury

Meris Stansbury is the Editorial Director for both eSchool News and eCampus News, and was formerly the Managing Editor of eCampus News. Before working at eSchool Media, Meris worked as an assistant editor for The World and I, an online curriculum publication. She graduated from Kenyon College in 2006 with a BA in English, and enjoys spending way too much time either reading or cooking.


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