COS 24-7 - Evaluating effectivess of participation incentives in an online biological statistics course

Tuesday, August 9, 2011: 10:10 AM
9C, Austin Convention Center
William M. Cook, Biological Sciences, Saint Cloud State University, Saint Cloud, MN
Background/Question/Methods .

Technology is increasingly important in education, and more and more students are enrolling in distance learning and online courses. A disadvantage of online learning is that direct communication between instructors and students is sometimes reduced, and student learning can become a relatively solitary experience. In conceptually challenging online courses such as biometrics it is often critical to facilitate direct learning opportunities between instructors and students, and among students. One solution to this problem is to create incentives for students to communicate via online discussion boards, where the instructor moderates discussion of homework problem sets and their solutions. In this paper I describe the simple incentive system I have used for several semesters in my “Quantitative Methods for Biology Majors” course, analyze the quality and quantity of posts by students, and determine if participation in online discussions predicts student performance on homework assignments and subsequent quizzes and exams.


All discussion posts for each student were coded by quality of content, and participation score, number of posts and average content quality were correlated with grade outcomes. In general, raw participation score and number of posts were only loosely correlated with grade outcomes at best, although post quality correlated better with grade outcomes. One of the best correlates to grade outcomes was the number of posts which answered other students’ questions, which suggests that the higher performing students may be electing to satisfy their participation requirements by answering other students’ questions. Overall I have some evidence that online discussions provide benefits to students in my class, but since participation scores, grades on homework and grades on quizzes are not well correlated I may need to reconsider course assignments and structure.

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