What's the Outcome?

Bauer Researchers Study Outcomes of Online Learning

The popularity of online learning has soared since the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic upended traditional education modes.

The C. T. Bauer College of Business, known for its large share of busy, working students, has added numerous virtual classes to meet the needs of students. Many say they appreciate the convenience of not having to fight traffic, or pay for parking, while earning university credits.

One example of the popularity of virtual classes is Bauer’s introductory financial accounting classes, which are now almost evenly split between face-to-face classes and a virtual option.

While faculty understand that virtual classes are here to stay, they also voice concern about learning outcomes in the new format.

Associate Professor Janet Meade and Instructional Associate Professor Kiran Parthasarathy, each of the Bauer College Department of Accountancy & Taxation, seized the opportunity to contribute to the sparse research on learning behavior and outcomes in online classes. Their investigation, which compares engagement metrics and exam scores in face-to-face and virtual accounting classes, was published this year in Issues in Accounting Education, a leading academic journal.

Associate Professors Janet Meade (left) and Kiran Parthasarathy (right)

Associate Professors Janet Meade (left) and Kiran Parthasarathy (right)

Their research paper, “'Does Student Engagement Impact Learning Differently in Face-to-Face and Virtual Accounting Classes?” reveals that students are less engaged in virtual classes than in traditional classes, and that their engagement declines rapidly over the course of a semester as the material gets more challenging. More important, the difference in engagement between virtual and face-to-face learners contributes to lower learning outcomes for many students. Another interesting finding in their study is that engagement via poll participation does not determine student success, accuracy of responses matters.

The results have changed the way they teach, each said.

“Students have to work harder in an online class because more of the learning (in a virtual class) is on their shoulders,” Meade said.

Parthasarathy, Faculty Director of Principles Accounting Courses at Bauer College, shares that some students have asked her to call on them by name to combat the experience of feeling anonymous. She is also initiating more peer-to-peer learning opportunities and including assignments for students based on open AI, while cautioning students about the information it generates.

In addition to interventions such as polling and gamification, instructors can use storytelling or visual aids to make sure they’re reaching students, Meade said. They also need to make sure students know about ways to catch up, review, or understand an unfamiliar accent. For example, class transcripts and video recordings of virtual sessions are often available, but few students take advantage of them.