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AbstractGraduation date: 2003
Online courses and even degree programs are becoming a widespread phenomenon at universities across the United States. Research into the effectiveness of these courses is in the early stages. This qualitative study explored student perceptions of their online class experience using expectancy-value theory as a framework in an attempt to gain a better understanding of the criteria for designing an effective on-line course. The purpose of this case study was to describe the experience of students enrolled in online courses at two western universities in order to answer the following questions: 1. What do students value in terms of an outcome? 2. What do students value in terms of an online experience? 3. What do students consider to be negative factors (costs) in terms of an online experience? Data were collected using a variety of techniques. Twenty students in two online classes at one university participated in focus groups. Ten students from two universities participated in open-ended interviews, conducted either face-to-face or via telephone. Fifteen students, including those who were interviewed, maintained anecdotal records to capture real-time reactions to the experience. Participants represented a variety of disciplines, ages, and backgrounds. Transcripts from interviews and focus groups were pooled with information from anecdotal records and entered into QSR Nud*ist (qualitative analysis software) for coding. Categories represented in the data include orientation, course content, student-student interaction, student-teacher interaction, course interface and navigation, flexibility, hardware/software issues, and support systems. Students described both positive and negative factors in each of these categories. Negative factors identified by participants closely matched factors identified in cognitive load theory as extraneous cognitive load, suggesting that reducing negative factors in online courses may also reduce cognitive load, leading to improved learning. Additionally, findings from this study suggest that it may be possible to increase student motivation to participate and persist in online courses by adjusting the course design to enhance positive factors identified by participants and minimize factors they identified as negative.