Support for policies that address climate change depends on an educated population and their understanding of difficult scientific concepts. To prevent action on climate change, the United States government in 2017 removed hundreds of climate change web pages from federal department and agency websites and removed the term “climate change” from thousands of websites. ‘others. It was only four years later, after a new administration took office, that this censorship was reversed. It is also disturbing to note that during this period some reliable sources of information have become less suitable for educational purposes; for example, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment reports have grown exponentially: the Physical Sciences Working Group I reports grew from 414 pages in 1990 to 3949 pages in 2021, for Working Group II on Impact and Adaptation from 296 pages in 1990 to 3675 pages in 2021, and for Working Group III on Mitigation from 438 pages in 1995 to 2913 pages in 2022 (Fig. S1). To address these issues, the U.S. National Science Foundation, under DUE 09-50396 “Building a Learning Community for Climate Change Solutions”, funded the creation of a learning community cybernetics nationwide to develop online educational resources. to teach undergraduate students about climate change. One of the products of this project was an introductory multidisciplinary online course that is freely accessible to the public.1.
This course was pushed into wider service as schools struggled to provide materials online at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Higher education institutions have been criticized for adopting such courses, largely on the assumption that online education is inherently inferior to face-to-face. The question is whether the convenience and security of online education outweighs the possibility of lower learning outcomes for today’s undergraduate students.
Although the pandemic has injected topical urgency into this issue, it is not new. The effectiveness of distance learning has been debated since the University of London External Program first offered a correspondence course in 1858. Correspondence degrees have always been driven by concerns of equity for workers and women who could not access colleges.2but they have always been seen as inferior to on-campus teaching3.4.
Online learning opportunities have grown explosively with the advent of widespread Internet access and the expansion of accredited university programs. In the United States alone, enrollment in online college courses has grown from 1.6 million students in 2002 to 6.9 million students in 2018.5.6. In 2018, 35.3% of undergraduate students in the United States took at least one course online, and half of those students took courses online exclusively6. This boom in online offerings has co-evolved with active learning and EdTech, and today’s online courses tend to be highly interactive, even when asynchronous or self-paced. Indeed, proponents of instructional design often position today’s online courses on a spectrum of blended learning and flipped classrooms, rather than pointing to their rise from didactic-style correspondence courses. Proponents of interactive online learning claim that a well-designed online course can be as effective as a face-to-face course, and perhaps even more effective than a traditional course based on passive presentations.7,8,9,10.
Despite today’s new pedagogical paradigm for online courses, familiar critiques of online learning persist4. Critics cite high attrition rates as evidence that online courses leave students vulnerable to distraction and claim that the quality of the educational experience and success in an online course cannot match that of an online course. a similar face-to-face course. Compounding these criticisms, a number of studies in higher education have suggested that online courses, like their historical counterparts of distance education, tend to disproportionately recruit underserved students: if these students already vulnerable are lured by a lower-quality online educational experience, then the proliferation of such courses could be an educational trap, exacerbating achievement gaps and creating barriers to persistence and achievement11.12.
The effectiveness of online versus face-to-face classes seems ripe for evidence-based study, but high-quality pseudo-experiments that compare efficiencies remain elusive. For example, in 2010, the US Department of Education conducted a meta-analysis of 28 studies comparing online learning to face-to-face learning in post-secondary institutions and concluded: “When it is used alone, e-learning seems to be as effective as traditional classroom teaching, but no more »13. However, a reassessment of this meta-analysis found that only four of these studies used an appropriate experimental design and examined semester-long college courses: in three of the studies, students of online versions of a courses performed less well than those in the face-to-face versions, whereas in the fourth study, students in both versions had roughly similar results.14.
More recently, several large-scale studies of college students in the United States have determined that student outcomes—both persistence through course completion and final grades—were significantly lower for courses. online than for face-to-face lessons.15,16,17,18,19,20,21,22,23,24. These studies, however, were based on comparisons of courses covering either different subjects, courses taught by different teachers, or courses with a relatively small number of students. Because many of these studies are based on dissimilar courses, they did not have the opportunity to isolate student enrollment decisions to a simple choice between an online version and a face-to-face version. nor to provide an appropriate analysis to take into account the potential effects of a lack of services. group preference for one format over another.
It follows that previous pseudo-experimental studies have also failed to examine the central concern that underlies all online and face-to-face course comparisons: whether there is a trade-off between the basic educational outcomes of a face-to-face course and an online course the extended accessibility of the course, is the decrease in learning outcomes worth the resulting increase in accessibility? These compromises have been imbued with a new urgency due to the COVID-19 pandemic during which universities and students are seeking to make difficult decisions about how to ensure safe access to courses while maximizing outcomes. of learning during the disruption of unfettered public life.
In this study, we seek to dissect student choice, student outcomes, and the trade-offs between online and face-to-face courses at a large research university, through a post-hoc pseudo-experiment. We analyzed student performance against their attributes for 1790 undergraduate students at the University of California, Davis (a public research university) who enrolled in an online or face-to-face version of the course. introduction to climate change (for a course schedule see Table 1). Each demographic group had more than 100 students enrolled in the online and in-person versions (Fig. 1). Each year, both versions of the course were taught by a single instructor, thereby minimizing key confounding variables such as instructor bias, course design, content differences, and other aspects that could influence student choices and outcomes. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we offered both versions of the course for eight winter terms and only offered the online version for six spring terms. During the Winter and Spring 2021 terms, during the pandemic, we offered the course online only. For two concurrent course offerings in Winter 2019 – one face-to-face and one online – and for the COVID-19 pandemic-induced online course offerings in Winter 2021 and Spring 2021, we have asked students about their past experiences with online learning and how those experiences influenced their choice between the online and face-to-face versions of the course.
All course material is freely available at https://www.climatechangecourse.org/, including a free multimedia manual at https://indd.adobe.com/view/7eafc24d-9151-4493-85d2-cb3f2e5a2a51 which is updated regularly. During the period from 2017 to 2021, the online textbook had 5,000 new users per year, who each averaged at least 3 views and 10 minutes per view. Prior to 2017, a printed version of the manual was available for purchase25.