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Face-to-face versus online tuition: Preference, performance and pass rates in White and ethnic minority students

Presentation at CALRG annual conference 2010 by John Richardson

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Rebecca Ferguson
24 May 2010

Presentation at CALRG annual conference 2010 by John Richardson.

It is well established that the attainment of  ethnic minority students in UK higher education is poorer than that of white students. This study considered the implications for this attainment gap of the introduction of online tuition, using data from students who had taken five courses with the UK Open University. In certain courses, students who received online tuition tended to obtain lower marks and to show lower pass rates. However, students from ethnic minorities obtained lower marks and lower pass rates regardless of the discipline or the mode of tuition. The introduction of online tuition can be considered as a form of student support in both face-to-face and distance education, but the factors responsible for the attainment gap in ethnic minority students probably do not lie in their interactions with their teachers and other students.

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Notes crossposted from my blog.

John Richardson on Preference, performance and pass rates in white and ethnic minority students.

Has a handout, but only on request. This topic keeps coming round – face to face versus online tuition. Especially around the attainment gap between white students and others.

Asian and Black students are less likely to obtain good degrees (1st, 2:1) than White students – across the HE sector.  At the Open University specifically … over 2002-5, awarded about 21k honours degrees, only 3.7% were from non-White ethnic groups. And trend for non-White students to do worse is very similar to the sector one. Source of effect is the variations in the attainment at the course level. in 2003 133k students taking courses, 6.8% non-white – same pattern in per-course results.

Considerable concern about this, across the sector, and here.

What about face-to-face versus online tuition? Is possible the gap arises from interactions with tutors and other students. Move to online tuition – are there consequences for the attainment gap? Two possibilities: online environment impoverished so less support for underachieving students; or, ethnicity less salient in online communication, so might reduce attainment gap.

Sample: five pairs of courses in Arts and Management – face-to-face and online tuition, but identical curriculum & assessment. 4620 f2f, 1164 online. Original survey about student experience, remarkably little difference found.

Reanalysis of the data to explore the attainment gap.

Why did they choose the mode? Quasi experimental, but no control over which tuition model chosen by student. 85% white, 6% ethnic minorities, 9% unknown (usually expect 1% refuse). No significant difference between ethnicity profiles of students choosing f2f or online tuition. Preference for f2f was mainly (71-75%) preferred it; didn’t know about online (10% ish), don’t have reliable Internet access. Other reason includes need for personal contact or confidence. For online, more like 55% preferred it, >50% was because other commitments prevent attending tutorials; Other (20%+) was around flexibility or disability/chronic illness. Statistically no significant differences – seem to have similar reasons for choosing.

How did they perform? The students’ marks differed significantly across ethnicity – White students outperform others, apart perhaps from Asian students. Variation in marks was broadly similar with f2f and online tuition.

The attainment gap appears to be independent of both discipline and mode of study.

Pass rates – Arts f2f was similar to online; Management pass rate was consistently lower for online. Possibly because of lack of experience of tutors, or priority for study, and so on. Independently, pass rate varied across ethnicity (Black students worst). Variation in pass rates with ethnicity was similar in Arts and Management.

In the end: students from different ethnic groups are qually likely to choose f2f vs online; give similar reasons for choosing; achieve similar marks; and overall pass rates.

Introduction online tuition doesn’t make the gap any worse. (Phew!) But doesn’t make it any better. The mode of tuition does not seem to be involved – but we do need to find out what those factors actually are.


Ruslan: Geographical location of Management students – all UK-based, or some in Europe?

John: Thorny issue. Was all students who took the courses. Students who apply online to take our courses (regardless of mode) are asked the same question about ethnicity as UK-only … categories derived from the 2001 census – and so include ‘White British’ etc. That would be a place to look had he found differences but didn’t.

Kim: Did they come in at the same level of achievement, prior attainment?

John: No. Some had not prior educational qualifications, some had PhDs. Is a big predictor of OU performance, but ethnicity gap exists independent of that. Controlling for prior attainment doesn’t remove the attainment gap. In f2f UK HE, it explains about 50% of the gap. But we don’t collect data in the same way as the other universities, since they get A-level points scores.

Canan: Ethnicity question – White British, White Other?

John: ‘BME’ is often the phrase used, but there are White minority ethnic groups, discourse leaves those out. Are these categories ones that students regard as sensible? Yes for most UK students, No for students from outside the UK.

John: We lost ethnicity data for students when they applied on paper – about 25% just not typed in. Online they have to tick something, only about 1% refuse to tick anything.

This work by Doug Clow is copyright but licenced under a Creative Commons BY Licence.
No further permission needed to reuse or remix (with attribution), but it’s nice to be notified if you do use it.

Doug Clow
12:27 on 24 May 2010

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