Comparing Student Activity and Performance in the Classroom and a Virtual Learning Environment
Paper in proceeding, 2016

In recent years, we have witnessed an increasing use of e-learning in higher education, triggered by both new educational technologies and new pedagogical approaches. This development raises questions about how students learn in virtual learning environments (VLEs) compared to traditional classroom environments. While several case studies have examined this question, they are often based on single course iterations and there is a lack of longitudinal and quasiexperimental comparative studies. In this paper, we examine how student activity and performance are related in a graduate course in applied physics that was reformed by replacing the traditional classroom environment with a VLE. We use longitudinal data from six iterations of the course, of which half were campus based and half were conducted online. We analyse quantitative data based on home assignments, the students’ participation in course activities as well as the quantity and quality of questions that students posed during the course. The results show that there is no statistically significant difference in the students’ average performance across the two formats. However, for the VLE there is a substantially greater variation in individual performance. Moreover, the participation in synchronous activities in the VLE, such as online wrap-up sessions and tutorials, is strongly correlated with improved student performance. Further, students that asked content related questions are more likely to achieve better outcomes. We conclude that despite the reported benefits of video lectures, even when augmented with built-in quizzes, these are not sufficient for encouraging a deep approach to learning. Our results provide further evidence that video lectures need to be accompanied by other learning activities that require students to engage in higher-order thinking skills. We discuss our results in the light of related empirical and theoretical work, and highlight implications for teaching in blended and virtual learning environments.

student performance

student activity

higher education

virtual learning environments

learning analytics


Christian Stöhr

Chalmers, Applied Information Technology (Chalmers), Engineering Education Research - EER (Chalmers)

Christophe Demaziere

Chalmers, Physics, Subatomic and Plasma Physics

Tom Adawi

Chalmers, Applied Information Technology (Chalmers), Engineering Education Research - EER (Chalmers)

Proceedings of the 15th European Conference on e-Learning ECEL 2016

2048-8645 (eISSN)

Vol. 15 664-671

Subject Categories

Educational Sciences

Learning and teaching

Pedagogical work

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4/5/2020 7