Comparing Student Achievement in Online Versus Traditional Astronomy Classes: A Quantitative Study

LaRue, Lee H.
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The effectiveness of online courses in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects has not been shown conclusively. One area that has not been well investigated is the achievement of online astronomy students versus astronomy students in a traditional face-to-face course. Researching this area will aid in determining whether online courses in STEM subjects have deficiencies that need to be addressed. Transactional distance theory and e-learning theory provided the theoretical foundation for the research. The purpose of the quantitative quasi-experimental study was to determine whether a statistically significant difference exists in final grade between online college astronomy students and face-to-face astronomy students. The study determined how students taking an online astronomy class at a university compared in achievement with students taking a face-to-face astronomy class. Archived data from Fall 2017 through 2019 on a population of astronomy students at a university in Texas were used in the study. The sample size was 488 students. A comparative analysis was made of final letter grades of astronomy students enrolled in online classes and students taking face-to-face classes, using the nonparametric Mann–Whitney U test (z = -3.80, p < .001). The conclusion drawn from this study was that online college astronomy students performed significantly worse than face-to-face students. Results of the study indicated improvements in transactional distance and use of media may improve the outcomes for online students. Recommendations for future research include surveying students to determine strategies to improve the online course. Results of the study contributed to the literature comparing online to face-to-face format in college and university courses generally, but for STEM classes specifically. Keywords: online, face-to-face, STEM, transactional distance theory, e-learning theory