Boyd: "Analyzing Students'' Perceptions of Their Learning in Online and Hybrid First-Year Composition Courses"

Boyd, P. W. (2008). Analyzing students’ perceptions of their learning in online and hybrid first-year composition courses. Computers and Composition, 25(2), 224-243. doi:10.1016/j.compcom.2008.01.002





Boyd aims to measure students'' perceptions of their learning in online and hybrid first-year composition (FYC) courses. She notes that though effectiveness of online education is still being debated, more online writing courses are being offered nationwide; therefore "to ensure that our uses of technologies are helping students achieve our learning outcomes while at the same time providing them with greater flexibility, we need to assess the effectiveness of our current practices" (p. 225). She focuses on interaction, citing multiple sources supporting that it is vital to students'' learning.




Boyd created and administered an "extensive" survey measuring "students'' perceptions of their interactions with fellow students, their interactions with their instructor, and the impact of technology on their learning" (p. 226). She specifically looked for seven key principles promoted by the Arizona Board of Regents: "student-faculty contact; cooperation among students; active learning; prompt instructor feedback; time on task; communication of high expectations; and respect for diverse talents and ways of learning" (p. 228). The survey was administered to 19 sections of online and hybrid FYC courses at Arizona State University during Fall of 2004 (total sample size= 170). Boyd tabulated and analyzed the data (both statistical and open-ended results). 


Results and Interpretation:


Boyd''s findings are at times contradictory. Most students surveyed were dissatisfied with the opportunities for online interaction with their instructors, but they also responded that they had a higher level of interaction with their online instructor than in f2f instruction. Also, respondents stated that they had more timely feedback (questions answered, grades, etc.) in the online environment; however, for some, they wanted immediate feedback, stating that f2f offered such immediacy. A majority of the students surveyed (89.7%) stated that they were often unclear as to instructor expectations for online course materials. Peer interaction was evaluated to be the same or higher than in f2f classes  by 84.4% of respondents.


Finally, looking to the responses of the open-ended questions, Boyd argues that three main themes emerge: "online interactions introduced [students] to multiple perspectives; online space allowed them to share opinions more freely without fear of reproach; and online experiences directly benefited their writing" (p. 235). Boyd theorizes that three corresponding reasons for these responses: greater time than in f2f to exchange ideas; distance allowed for greater freedom to share opinions; and the use of discussion boards facilitated the creation of learning communities. However, the findings are not reflected in the fixed-answer responses, in which 77.6% of respondents reported that they did not consider classmates'' feedback to hold importance.


Because of the differences between the replies to  fixed-answer and open-response questions, Boyd argues that students may not be connecting what''s happening in the course to their learning; therefore, instructors have to make their purposes clear when designing courses, and provide metacommentary as to purposes of assignments and the learning objectives/goals they are to achieve.




Boyd melds results and interpretation together, often citing a result and, in many ways, responding with a critique. This makes it difficult to separate findings from reactions. Furthermore, the methods section was quite generalized. I see that some questions are, in effect, stated in different ways, but she does not provide that as a possible measure of reliability (because, perhaps, it proves not to be). There is absolutely no way for readers to check the veracity of her data or  results, and therefore, her findings come into question. A copy of the survey (or, if space did not permit, a link to it) would be appreciated as well, especially as her article hyperlinks to other sources.


That all being said, Boyd''s research does raise important issues as to online pedagogy and achieving learning outcomes, and her analysis seems to logically follow from the data she presents to us.







Andrea notes:


For example, she finds that students expressed dissatisfaction with the opportunties to interact online with their instructors; she ends that same (brief) paragraph with "Interestingly enough, students reported that while they wanted more interaction with their instructors, the online and hybrid environments afforded many of them with new opportunities for interaction that were not present in face-to-face courses" (p. 229).