Assessing The Role of Individual Differences in Student Performance in Online Classes

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Michael V. Tidwell
Sheryne Southard
Mara A Mooney
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Virtually every university within the United States of America offers some type of online educational programming. Therefore, the need to understand student learning in an online environment versus a traditional environment is growing exponentially. While there have been dozens of studies performed on how individual differences impact student performance in online learning environments (e.g. Wojciechowski & Palmer, 2005), to date, none have explored whether individual differences play a more central role in performance in traditional, hybrid, or online classes. More specifically, no study has examined how personality traits interact with student GPA to influence performance in traditional, hybrid, and online classes. The current study fills this void. The sample was comprised of business and professional studies majors from a southeastern university. Approximately 130 students were asked to participate but only 100 completed the surveys. Researchers collected objective data from each subject’s electronic school records. These data included GPA, course grades, and class type. Subjects provided subjective data by completing the Big 5 Measure of Personality. Costa and McCrae’s (1992) NEO Five Factor Inventory-Form S (NEO-Form S) was used to measure participant’s self-reported levels of Neuroticism, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Openness to Experience. Using twelve items to assess neuroticism (e.g., I rarely feel fearful or anxious), extroversion (e.g., I really enjoy talking to people), openness (e.g., I often try new and foreign foods), agreeableness (e.g., Most people I know like me), and conscientiousness (e.g., I work hard to accomplish my goals), the NEO-Form S asks respondents to rate their answers to these items on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (5). Several statements were reverse keyed, and the individual items were summed then averaged to create an overall measure for that personality characteristic. Reliability coefficient alphas ranged from .75 to .95. Means, standard deviations, and correlational data were computed for all variables. Analysis of variance was then computed to assess the difference in how students performed based upon their GPA, personality characteristics, and type of class taken (traditional, hybrid, online). Preliminary models suggest differences in GPA, class type, openness to experience, and extroversion impacted class performance. In addition, there were interactions for GPA and openness relative to class performance. These initial findings suggest that while certain traits impact classroom performance independently they must be considered within the larger context of delivery model and student GPA. In short, as a student’s immutable traits, pass academic performance and course delivery method must all be considered when attempting to understand why some students outperform others in certain classroom environments. References Cheung, L., & Kan , A. (2002). Evaluation of factors related to student performance in a distance-learning business communication course. Journal of Education for Business, 77 (5), 257–263. Didia, D., & Hasnat, B. (1998). The determinants of performance in the university introductory finance course. Financial Practice and Education, 8 (1), 102–107. Dutton, J., Dutton, M., & Perry, J. (2002). How do online students differ from lecture students? Journal of Asychronos Learning Networks, 6(1). Retrieved January 31, 2004, from 6dutton.htm Hall, M. (2008). Predicting Student Performance in Web-Based Distance Education Courses Based on Survey Instruments Measuring Personality Traits and Technical Skills. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 11 (3). Halsne, A., & Gatta, L. (2002). Online versus traditionally-delivered instruction: A descriptive study of learner characteristics in a community college setting. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 5 (1). Retrieved on January 10, 2003, from spring51.html Wojciechowski, A. & Palmer, L.B. (2005). Individual Student Characteristics: Can Any Be Predictors Of Success In Online Classes? Unpublished.
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