Because online courses increase convenience and remove pressures of transportation and scheduling, they are often touted as a means to increase equitable access to higher education. However, in recent studies, the outcomes of students enrolled in fully online courses tend to be poorer than those of their face-to-face counterparts. With this project, we seek to understand whether online courses preferentially attract, and then disadvantage, underserved student demographics--thus functioning as an “access trap” to vulnerable student populations.
Within this project we analyze the performance versus attributes of 1,482 undergraduates of the University of California who have been enrolled in either an online or face-to-face version of an introductory, multidisciplinary course about climate change. This course was taught, with one exception, twice a year by the same instructor over a six-year period. By using this relatively controlled sample of classes to simultaneously understand student choice and student outcome, we will better understand the present effects of online learning, as a basis for better supporting students who enroll in these courses.
This project is a collaboration between CEE and Department of Plant Sciences Professor Arnold Bloom, and it is funded by University of California ILTI Award 19921.