Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Higher Education


Leadership and Counselor Education

First Advisor

Lori A. Wolff

Second Advisor

Qiang Chen

Third Advisor

Whitney Webb

Relational Format



Online education in the United States has seen dramatic growth for the past decade, outpacing any other growth in higher education. The concurrent mixed-methods study that was conducted for this research used data from a survey geology course taught in both environments, online and traditional face-to-face. The quantitative research focused on comparing student performance in an online course relative to the same face-to-face course, while the qualitative research investigated how students described their experiences taking an online class. Previous work in online education has been limited by relatively small sample sizes, conducting studies over just one semester, comparing dissimilar courses in one study, considering few of the stem disciplines, and, of the limited studies with GPA as a covariate, using self-reported GPA rather than actual GPA. The quantitative analysis of this study compared student performance in online (n=171) and face-to face (n=1266) environments using data from the same stem class over five years, with actual GPA as the covariate. Ancovas were calculated, and results shothat, overall, students performed better in the face-to-face class than in the online class, and this difference was more pronounced with students whose GPAs were 3.0 and lower. Ols regression was also conducted to identify predictors contributing to student success in the online classroom GPA, course load, and student credit hours were the only significant factors predicting online performance. For the qualitative component of this study, issues related to student satisfaction were explored by conducting a focus group from four students enrolled in the online stem course. Themes emerging from the discussion included interaction, technology, self-regulated learning practices, convenience, and course structure, with interaction as the most prominent theme. These findings help to explain the quantitative findings of why students with higher GPAs perform better- they do so, in part, because they have frequent interaction with the content despite the negative impact of the distance-based environment. Research, such as this study, is important in that identifying effective pedagogy promotes learning, particularly when the learning is done at a distance such as the online environment.



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