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4 Table 1: Operational Definition of Variables Part A: Independent Variable Course Enrollment: A categorical variable was coded: 1 = Enrolled in an online STEM course; 0 = Enrolled in a traditional STEM course. Part B: Dependent Variable Structure Dependence: Six-item scale measuring the extent to which a student requires a clear and focused instructional environment. Part C: Control Variables Age: A categorical variable based on a self-reported measure of the respondent s age was coded: 1 = 18 or younger; 2 = 19-21; 3 = 22-25; 4 = 26-35; 5 = 36 or older. Gender: A categorical variable was coded: 1 = female, 0 = male. Grade Point Average: A categorical variable based on a respondent s self-reported grade point average was coded: 1 = A; 2 = A, B+; 3 = B; 4 = B-, C+; 5 = C, C-, or lower. Year in School: A categorical variable based on a student's year in school was coded: 1 = Freshman; 2 = Sophomore; 3 = Junior; 4 = Senior. Residence Status: A categorical variable was coded: 1 = live on-campus; 0 = live off-campus. Hours Spent Studying Per Week: An interval-scaled variable based on a student s self-report of the number of hours spent studying per week was coded: 1 = 0; 2 = 1-5; 3 = 6-10; 4 = 11-15; 5 = 16-20; 6 = 21-25; 7 = 26-30; 8 = more than 30. Hours Worked On- and Off-Campus: An interval-scaled variable based on a student s self-report of the number of hours they worked on- and off-campus per week was coded: 1 = 0; 2 = 1-5; 3 = 6-10; 4 = 11-15; 5 = 16-20; 6 = 21-25; 7 = 26-30; 8 = more than 30. RESULTS Table 2 summarizes the direct effects of taking an online STEM course (versus a traditional STEM course) on students perceptions of structure dependence. Multiple regression analysis demonstrated that taking an online STEM course had significant positive direct effects on students scores on the Structure Dependence scale (B =.907). This result suggested that students enrolled in online STEM courses were more likely to report a greater need for detail and structure as opposed to students in traditional courses who reported lower levels of structure dependence. The effect size indicates that this statistically significant difference is low to moderate (Cohen, 1988). Designing rigorous web-based STEM courses that support the academic needs of students and enhance their learning is a primary goal among course developers who teach STEM courses. The results obtained in this study indicate that online courses may need to incorporate elements that increase students perceptions of structure dependence. 94 The Journal of Human Resource and Adult Learning Vol. 6, Num. 2, December 2010

5 Table 2: Regression Summary for Structure Dependence a Dependent Variable Regression Coefficient Effect Size R 2 Structure Dependence.907* a Statistically controlling for age; gender; grade point average; year in school; residence status; hours spent studying per week; and hours spent working on-campus and off-campus per week * p <.05 DISCUSSION Multiple regression analysis demonstrated that taking an online STEM course had significant positive direct effects on students scores on the six-item Structure Dependence scale. Further analysis of internal reliability coefficients, using Cronbach s alpha, indicated that the instrument utilized in the study generated valid measurements for the construct of interest. Results suggest that online students prefer clear and specific assignment instructions. In contrast, another study (Diaz & Cartnal, 1999) examining students in a science course found that students in a distance learning environment preferred less structure and more independence than students in traditional courses. One explanation for the differences in this study and the Diaz and Carnal study may be due to the lack of appropriate individual-level statistical controls for students precollege characteristics and students academic experiences. The utilization of quality empirical research studies is a potent mechanism for improving distance education. Given the complexity of STEM courses and the inherent challenges faced by students to learn difficult concepts on a largely individual basis, academic performance may be directly linked to students' needs for structure integration in the framework of the online course design. The current quantitative study was conducted to assess the viewpoints of undergraduate students enrolled in online STEM courses at a historically Black institution. Based on the results presented in this study, online students in STEM courses expressed a greater need for comprehensible guidelines for academic assignments, when compared to students in traditional courses. Recommendations for Online Course Development Successful online courses involve a substantial amount of preparation, before the start of a new semester. Thus, structure dependence is an important concept to consider, when developing online courses. Because most online courses include asynchronous components, a clear and understandable assignment schedule may be paramount to student success. The utilization of a detailed syllabus, specific course announcements, and s can be used to reinforce assignment instructions. Integrating synchronous elements in the online course will also allow students the opportunity to clarify course expectations in realtime. The Journal of Human Resource and Adult Learning Vol. 6, Num. 2, December

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