Effectiveness of an Ethics Course Delivered in Traditional and Non-Traditional Formats*

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1 Science and Engineering Ethics (2004) 10, Effectiveness of an Ethics Course Delivered in Traditional and Non-Traditional Formats* Charles R. Feldhaus and Patricia L. Fox Purdue School of Engineering and Technology, Indiana University Purdue University, USA Keywords: ethics, traditional, compressed, distance ABSTRACT: This paper details a three-credit-hour undergraduate ethics course that was delivered using traditional, distance, and compressed formats. OLS 263: Ethical Decisions in Leadership is a 200-level course offered by the Department of Organizational Leadership and Supervision in the Purdue School of Engineering and Technology at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). Students in engineering, technology, business, nursing, and other majors take the course. In an effort to determine student perceptions of course and instructor effectiveness, end-ofcourse student survey data were compared using data from traditional, distance, and compressed sections of the course. In addition, learning outcomes from the final course project were evaluated using a standardized assessment rubric and scores on the course project. Introduction: The Effectiveness of Non-traditional Course Delivery Formats There is an ongoing debate among researchers, university professors, and classroom instructors at many levels regarding the effectiveness and quality of the various methods used to deliver courses to university students. The majority of studies that have attempted to shed light on this question are comparative in nature and discuss the effectiveness, differences, and/or student performance outcomes of traditional courses (16-week, face-to-face), compressed courses, courses delivered via distance education, or hybrid courses (a combination of face-to-face and distance delivery methods). The findings are mixed regarding the effectiveness of each delivery format; however, the data indicate that the needs of the adult learner can be met by each delivery method. In addition, the majority of the studies take (use) traditional instructional delivery as their * An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Ethics and Social Responsibility in Engineering and Technology meeting, New Orleans, Address for correspondence: Charles Feldhaus, Assistant Professor, Organizational Leadership and Supervision, Purdue School of Engineering and Technology, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis, 799 West Michigan Street, Indianapolis, IN , USA; Opragen Publications, POB 54, Guildford GU1 2YF, UK. Science and Engineering Ethics, Volume 10, Issue 2,

2 C. R. Feldhaus and P. L. Fox benchmark for measuring the quality of the educational experience, and compare compressed, distance, and hybrid courses to it. A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education indicated that over 400 studies relating to distance education have been published since Thomas L. Russell has compiled a bibliography of studies on distance education in a book entitled The No Significant Difference Phenomenon, and has developed a searchable website that indexes articles dealing with this topic. In addition, Russell has created a website including studies that have found a significant difference between virtual and classroom instruction. According to Russell, there is so much research on distance education that no reasonable, knowledgeable, unbiased, and professional person can deny the ability of technology to deliver instruction as well as traditional modes (at least when student populations are studied as large groups). 2 J. M. Carey agrees with Russell: To this date, most research indicates that there is little difference in the performance of students taking online courses and students taking face-to-face classes. 3 According to E. L. Daniel, compressed courses have also emerged as a popular alternative to the traditional 16-week semester course. 4 Several different course formats, such as summer, interim, modular, and weekend courses, fall under the rubric of compressed courses. According to K. C. Reynolds, the feature distinguishing such formats from traditional formats is that compressed courses are completed in a relatively short amount of time they are often held during a single week or on weekends and have individual class sessions that often last four hours or more. 5 With the growth in popularity of compressed courses have come questions concerning their effectiveness. In their comprehensive literature review of 100 articles, P. A. Scott and C. F. Conrad concluded that compressed courses yield learning outcomes that equal and sometimes surpass those produced by traditional courses. 6 More recent research has echoed this conclusion. In a review of time-shortened courses, Daniel, for example, suggested that compressed courses offer as effective a learning experience as do traditional courses. 4 This conclusion holds true for both short-term and long-term learning outcomes. Furthermore, compressed courses have been found to be effective across a wide variety of academic disciplines, including the fine arts, foreign languages, the humanities, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. Several explanations for the effectiveness of compressed courses have been offered. Because they generally enroll in only one compressed course at a time, students can focus their efforts on a single course without being distracted by other courses. 7 Likewise, courses that students might otherwise view as unimportant are less likely to be lost in the shuffle when they are offered in a compressed format. Compared with traditional courses, compressed courses have fewer but longer class sessions. Therefore, being absent from a single session of a compressed course means missing a relatively large portion of the course. For this reason, absence rates are lower in compressed courses than in traditional courses. 8 The fact that compressed courses meet over only a few days or weeks allows students to maintain their focus on a given subject and also discourages procrastination Science and Engineering Ethics, Volume 10, Issue 2, 2004

3 An Ethics Course Delivered in Traditional and Non-Traditional Formats The attitudes of students and instructors might also contribute to the success of compressed courses. Students report positive attitudes toward compressed courses and indicate that they are more interested and motivated in compressed courses than in traditional courses. 9 Furthermore, students report that instructors are more enthusiastic when teaching compressed courses and that compressed courses provide a relatively relaxed atmosphere. 7-9 Perhaps these findings explain why students enrolled in compressed courses devote more time to studying than do their counterparts who are enrolled in traditional courses. 10 Another explanation for the success of compressed courses could be the composition of the student body. Compared with college age (18-24 years old) students, adult learners are more likely to enroll in compressed courses and demonstrate greater academic achievement. Superior academic performance by older adults has been documented for a variety of course formats, including traditional 16- week courses. 11 It has often been argued that adult students, because of their maturity and life experiences, are especially equipped to perform well in compressed courses. Consistent with this notion, Knowles 10 found that adult students performed as well as traditional-aged students in compressed courses, and Wlodkowski and Westover 12 found that adult students enrolled in compressed sections performed similarly to traditional-aged students enrolled in course sections held over 16 weeks. Wlodkowski, Mauldin and Gahn 13 found that faculty interaction and integration among students were associated with adult learners success in compressed courses. A number of studies detail the delivery of courses using the traditional format, distance format, and compressed format, and a number of content areas have been examined. Carlisle recently completed a four-year study comparing English classes taught online via television and courses taught in a face-to-face format. 14 Johnson found no significant difference between teaching a biology course online and teaching one in the traditional format. 15 Spanish, graduate level accounting, and a host of other content areas have been studied, and no significant difference has been found in student achievement and effectiveness when comparing a traditional course with identical online courses. 16,17 A huge body of knowledge comparing cumulative research on traditional courses and identical compressed courses also exists. A review by Scott and Conrad, which was supplemented by Bowling, Ries and Ivanitskaya, lists 50 comparative studies by over 100 authors. 6,18 The content areas studied include history, computer science, pharmacy, foreign languages, education, calculus, English, library science, philosophy, accounting, and graduate studies in business administration, education, and human development. The review includes course durations (i.e., weekend format vs. traditional 16-week format) and outcomes. Thirty-one of the studies found no significant difference when delivering an identical course via a compressed format and a traditional format; twenty-four studies found in favor of the compressed format as a means of course delivery; and two studies found in favor of the traditional format. However, a content area that was not included in the aforementioned review of the literature was ethics. There was a dearth of information about the effectiveness, differences, and/or student performance outcomes of various delivery formats for Science and Engineering Ethics, Volume 10, Issue 2,

4 C. R. Feldhaus and P. L. Fox ethics courses offered to university-level students. This lack of research leaves a multitude of questions that need to be answered should university ethics instructors desire to offer ethics courses in a compressed or distance format. The Course The Department of Organizational Leadership and Supervision (OLS), located within the School of Engineering and Technology at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis, offers Purdue University Associate of Science and Bachelor of Science degrees, as well as Certificates in Leadership, Human Resource Management, and International Leadership. In 2000 OLS began offering three courses Labor Relations, Human Behavior in Organizations, and Contemporary Leadership Assessment Techniques in both distance and compressed formats. These formats were offered in an effort to: meet student demand; improve school-wide retention and persistence; make use of institutional resources during potentially idle times; create a fit with use of distance learning technologies; and address the diverse learning needs of adult learners. A detailed needs assessment was completed prior to offering these courses, and the school faculty council and dean approved both the distance and the compressed (oneweek) formats. After experiencing three years of success with the compressed format, the department decided that additional courses in Organizational Leadership and Supervision should be offered via the distance and compressed formats. It was decided that another course OLS 263: Ethical Decisions in Leadership would be offered via the distance and compressed formats during the 2003 school year. OLS 263 is one of the three foundation courses that all OLS degree- or certificate-seeking students must complete. Its general learning objectives state that upon completion of the class students will have: read about, contemplated, viewed and discussed many of the difficult ethical and legal situations facing leaders in all sizes and types of organizations; read about and discussed a variety of writings on ethics in the workplace and analyzed a variety of legal/ethical scenarios; demonstrated that they have the ability to make judgments with respect to individual conduct, citizenship and aesthetics; demonstrated that they are aware of and can make informed and principled choices regarding ethical situations in their personal and professional lives and to foresee the consequences of those choices. OLS 263 covers a variety of topics related to organizational ethics, including employee rights and duties, employee crime, sexual harassment/treatment of employees, discriminatory and prejudicial employment practices, downsizing, whistleblowing, organizational values, climate and culture, gender issues, trust, child-care in the workplace, global ethics, marketing strategy and ethics, and ethical challenges of 392 Science and Engineering Ethics, Volume 10, Issue 2, 2004

5 An Ethics Course Delivered in Traditional and Non-Traditional Formats the future for organizations. The text for the course is Annual Editions: Business Ethics, which contains a series of short articles from various sources, including Business and Society Review, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, Issues in Ethics, SAM Advanced Management Journal, Management Review, and Business Week. The articles in the text serve as discussion points for ethical issues relevant to the course and case studies developed by the course instructors and students. Students earned points in the course by completing three major assignments: 1) participation/reading all assigned articles, 2) a movie reaction, and 3) completion of the Personal Ethics Action Plan. The syllabus and assignments for the traditional 16-week format, the online format, and the compressed format are essentially the same. However, the course has been modified to meet the demands of each delivery method. Students who take the traditional version of the course meet once or twice per week for a total of 45 clock hours; those who meet online are required to participate in a weekly chat session for 16 weeks; and those who take the course via the compressed format meet for five consecutive 8-hour days (over Winter or Spring Break), complete preand post-course work, and submit all class assignments via the internet. The traditional, distance, and compressed versions of OLS 263 all have their own course outlines detailing the time frame, assignments, readings, and other coursework. Research Objectives and Methodology This study had two objectives. First, using end-of-course surveys, it set out to compare student perceptions of instructor effectiveness, course content, and overall effectiveness of OLS 263 delivered via traditional, distance, and compressed formats by the same instructor. Second, it attempted to determine whether outcomes of student work in the three sections were comparable by using a standardized assessment rubric to analyze the final course project (see Appendix I). End-of-course survey statistics compiled by an independent third party (the university assessment department) were used to determine instructor effectiveness, course content effectiveness, and overall course and instructor effectiveness. The data were retrieved from three sections of OLS 263 taught during the Spring 2003 semester, each of which was delivered via one of the three formats discussed above. Table 1 shows the number of survey participants in each course, the questions asked, and the mean score. Responses are based on a five-point Likert scale (strongly agree, agree, undecided, disagree, and strongly disagree for the instructor effectiveness and course effectiveness sections, and excellent, good, undecided, fair, and poor for the overall evaluation section). In an effort to answer questions about the similarities and differences of the student evaluations displayed in Table 1, a mathematical procedure called analysis of variance (ANOVA) was performed. The ANOVA is a comparison of means. 19 It compares the amount of between-groups variance in individuals scores with the amount of withingroups variance. If the ratio of between-groups variance to within-groups variance is sufficiently high, this indicates there is a greater difference between the groups in their scores on a particular variable than there is within each group. If the analysis of Science and Engineering Ethics, Volume 10, Issue 2,

6 C. R. Feldhaus and P. L. Fox variance yields a non-significant F-ratio (the ratio of between-groups variance to within-groups variance), the computation of T-tests to compare pairs of means is not appropriate. 20 Table 1: Student Perceptions of Instructor Effectiveness, Course Content and Overall Course/Instructor Effectiveness. Traditional Valid Evaluations Mean score of 5 Compressed Valid Evaluations Mean score of 5 Distance Valid Evaluations Mean score of 5 Instructor Effectiveness Subject explained clearly Response to questions helped me learn Instructor provided regular feedback Instructor provided motivating environment Course objectives were met Course Content Content matched course description Instructional materials helpful Assignments helpful in meeting course objectives Overall Evaluation Overall, I rate this course as: Overall, I rate this instructor as: Using an alpha level (level of significance) of.05, the mean scores of the 10 variables in the traditional course delivery of OLS 263 (variable 1), the compressed course delivery (variable 2), and the distance course delivery (variable 3) were computed using data from Table 1. The standard error for each set of variables was also computed (see Table 2). Table 2: Analysis of Variance Results for Variable 1 (traditional), Variable 2 (compressed) and Variable 3 (distance) course means. Treatment n Mean Std. Error var var var Alpha Level =.05 Table 3 shows the actual ANOVA results, including the source, degrees of freedom, sum of squares, mean square, F-statistic and P-value at a.05 alpha level. To reject the null hypothesis, the F-statistic would have to be higher than the critical value of the F-distribution, which is The F-statistic computed in this ANOVA was 394 Science and Engineering Ethics, Volume 10, Issue 2, 2004

7 An Ethics Course Delivered in Traditional and Non-Traditional Formats 2.095, and therefore the null hypothesis would be accepted. This means there is no significant statistical difference between the means of the three sets of variables (grand means of the traditional, compressed, and distance sections of OLS 263). In addition, the P-value, or probability value, of Table 3, which is the level of significance actually obtained after the data have been collected and analyzed, is To reject the null hypothesis, the P-value would have to be less than.05, which was the alpha level (level of significance) selected prior to data collection for rejecting or accepting the null hypothesis. Table 3: Analysis of Variance Table showing source, degrees of freedom, sum of squares, mean square, F-statistic and P-value. Source df SS MS F-Stat P-value Treatments Error Total Alpha Level =.05 In an effort to further examine the effectiveness of the course and instruction, student grades on a final course product the Personal Ethics Action Plan were analyzed using a standardized assessment rubric. This project is worth 30% of each students final grade in OLS 263 (see Appendix I). All sections of the course used an electronic grade book within Oncourse, the online student data system used by Indiana University. The sample size, mean, high and low scores, and standard deviation for the student grades on the Personal Ethics Action Plans in the traditional, distance, and compressed versions of the course were computed based on data provided from Oncourse (see Table 4). Table 4: End of course product Analysis of Variance Results for Variable 1 (traditional), Variable 2 (Distance) and Variable 3 (Compressed) course means and high/low score and standard deviation. Variable (course) Number of Personal Ethics Action Plans Mean Score of 30 High Score Low Score Standard Deviation Traditional Course Distance Course Compressed Course Using an alpha level (level of significance) of.05, the mean score of the total number of Personal Ethics Action Plans assessed in the traditional course delivery of OLS 263 (variable 1), the distance course delivery (variable 2) and the compressed course delivery (variable 3) was computed using data taken from Table 4. The standard error for each set of variables was also computed (see Table 5). Science and Engineering Ethics, Volume 10, Issue 2,

8 C. R. Feldhaus and P. L. Fox Table 5: Analysis of Variance Results for End of Course Product Variable 1 (traditional), Variable 2 (compressed) and Variable 3 (distance) course means. Treatment N Mean Std. Error var var var Alpha level.05 Table 6 shows the actual ANOVA results, including the source, degrees of freedom, sum of squares, mean square, F-statistic, and P-value at a.05 alpha level. To reject the null hypothesis, the F-statistic would have to be higher than the critical value of the F-distribution which is The F-statistic computed in this ANOVA was 0.028, and therefore the null hypothesis would be accepted. This means there is no significant statistical difference between the means of the three sets of variables (grand means of the traditional, compressed, and distance end-of-course outcomes). In addition, the P-value, or probability value, of Table 6, which is the level of significance actually obtained after the data have been collected and analyzed, is To reject the null hypothesis, the P-value would have to be less than.05, which was the alpha level (level of significance) selected prior to data collection for rejecting or accepting the null hypothesis. Table 6: Analysis of Variance Table showing source, degrees of freedom, sum of squares, mean square, F-statistic and P-value. Source df SS MS F-Stat P-value Treatments Error Total Alpha Level =.05 Discussion and Conclusions The results of the analysis of variance between the total mean scores of the traditional, compressed, and distance versions of OLS 263 clearly reveal that the three modes of delivery were not associated with any significant differences either in student perception of instructor effectiveness and course quality. In addition, there were no significant differences in student outcomes of identical end of course products for OLS 263: Ethical Decisions in Leadership, delivered via traditional, compressed or distance formats. In fact, the mean score of the Personal Ethics Action Plans for the traditional course was lower than it was for the distance and compressed courses. In the case of this ethics course, students taking compressed and distance versions of the ethics course actually produced slightly better end of course products than those students taking the course traditionally. Considering the fact that assessment of university 396 Science and Engineering Ethics, Volume 10, Issue 2, 2004

9 An Ethics Course Delivered in Traditional and Non-Traditional Formats courses at any level uses traditional delivery as the benchmark for quality, these data are very interesting indeed. The ramifications of this small study are actually quite revealing to engineering and technology professors wishing to teach ethics courses using a variety of formats. Ethics courses and the material discussed and learned in them are often perceived as soft by schools of engineering and technology. The hard science of the various engineering and technology disciplines has always been paramount to a quality degree program. In recent years, partly because of the changes in accreditation requirements, schools of engineering and technology have made a concerted effort to address ethical issues in the curriculum. As schools of engineering and technology revise curriculum, create various learning opportunities and professional development seminars for students and practicing engineers and technicians, and ensure that the next generation of engineers and technicians will be better equipped to resolve ethical issues and anticipate negative consequences, the ways in which ethics learning opportunities are delivered will be a priority. While some would suggest that soft skills, including those discussed in ethics courses, can be effectively delivered only in a traditional, face-toface format, this study should inspire those who believe in alternative methods of delivery. The real issue is not how ethics courses are delivered, but whether students have discussed, learned, and internalized the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to make ethical decisions as professionals. Based on the results of this study, there is no one right way to deliver an ethics course to engineering and technology students. Regardless of the means of delivery, student perceptions of instructor and course effectiveness were very similar, and course products were virtually the same in terms of outcomes. However, more research is needed in areas related to learning such as determining what kinds of students are best suited for distance, traditional and compressed courses. In addition, research should be done on the types of courses that lend themselves to the distance and compressed formats and those that don t. Finally, more research needs to be completed on instructional best practice in the traditional, distance and compressed formats. Meeting the needs of the learner is the benchmark by which all educational endeavors should be judged. Just as there are those who fail and thrive in traditional classrooms, there will be those who fail and thrive in alternative delivery of courses via distance and compressed formats. The real question is why? and exactly what can be done to break down the barriers to success in all delivery formats? REFERENCES 1. Young, J.R. (2000). Scholar Concludes That Distance Ed Is as Effective as Traditional Instruction. Chronicle of Higher Education: Distance Education. 2. Russell, T. L. (1999). The No Significant Difference Phenomenon. Chapel Hill, NC: Office of Instructional Telecommunication, North Carolina State University Press. 3. Carey, J. M. (2001). Effective student outcomes: A comparison of online and face-to face delivery modes. DEOSNEWS, Vol. 11, no. 9, ISSN Science and Engineering Ethics, Volume 10, Issue 2,

10 C. R. Feldhaus and P. L. Fox 4. Daniel, E.L. (2000). A review of time-shortened courses across disciplines. College Student Journal, 34, Reynolds, K. C. (1993). Students in cohort programs and intensive schedule classes: Does familiarity breed differences? Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education, Pittsburg, PA. (ERIC Documentation Reproduction No. ED365175). 6. Scott, P.A., & Conrad, C.F. (1991). A critique of intensive courses and an agenda for research. Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research, 8, Scott, P.A. (1995). Learning experiences in intensive and semester-length classes: Student voices and experiences. College Student Journal, 30, Nixon, R.O. (1996). A source document on accelerated courses and programs at accredited two and four year colleges and universities. Tucson, AZ: Pima Community College (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED399827). 9. Mims, S. K. (1983). The impact of time on art learning: Intensive vs. concurrent scheduling in higher education. Studies in Art Education, 24, Knowles, L. (1972). The intensive semester: An experimental approach to academic achievement. California Journal of Educational Research, 23, Woodruff, J.C., & Mollise, T. (1995). Course Performance of students in weekly and daily formats. Journal of Continuing Higher Education, 43, Wlodkowski, R.J. & Westover, T.N. (1999). Accelerated courses as a learning format for adults. Canadian Journal for the Study of Adult Education, 13, Wlodkowski, R.J., Mauldin, J.E., & Gahn, S.W. (August, 2001). Learning in the Fast Lane: Adult Learners Persistence and Success in Accelerated College Programs. Lumina New Agenda Series, 4, Carlisle, R. (2001). A four year study comparing English classes online, via television, and faceto-face. California State University Press. 15. Johnson, M. (2001). Introductory biology online: Assessing outcomes of two student populations. Journal of College Science Teaching, 5, Musumeci, D. (2001). The Spanish Project: Innovations in Online Learning. Center for Academic Transformation. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Press. 17. Gagne, M. & Shepherd, M. (2001). Distance learning in accounting: A comparison between a distance and traditional graduate accounting class. T.H.E. Journal, 28, 9, Bowling, N., Ries, K., & Ivanitskaya, L. (August, 2002). How effective are compressed courses? Central Michigan University s OnTarget newsletter, vol I, issue III Ayub, B.M., & McCuen, R.H. (2003). Probability, Statistics, and Reliability for Engineers and Scientists. Chapman & Hall/CRC Press LLC, Boca Raton, FL. 20. Gall, M.D., Borg, W.R., & Gall, J.P. (1996). Educational Research: An Introduction. Longman Publishers, White Plains, NY. 21. Lau, A.S. (June, 2001). Transformations: Ethics and design. ASEE Annual Conference Proceedings, Albuquerque, NM. 22. Johnson, M. (1993). Moral Imagination. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL. 398 Science and Engineering Ethics, Volume 10, Issue 2, 2004

11 An Ethics Course Delivered in Traditional and Non-Traditional Formats APPENDIX I PERSONAL/PROFESSIONAL ETHICS ACTION PLAN GRADING RUBRIC STUDENT ASSIGNMENT Completely Not At All The paper fulfilled assignment The paper was well organized The paper was neat (typos, font, etc.) The spelling/grammar were correct The writing was clear and concise The writing indicated analytical thinking on part of student The writing showed depth of thought The Cover Sheet expressed author s feelings about Ethics, Character, Service and Leadership Ethics, Character, Service and Leadership were appropriately defined Personal Mission Statement and Life Balance Goals were included The most pressing ethical issues facing organizations and leaders were defined and discussed A plan was developed to deal with these pressing ethical issues Science and Engineering Ethics, Volume 10, Issue 2,

12 C. R. Feldhaus and P. L. Fox Author articulated how their Personal Mission Statement, Life Balance Goals and beliefs/definitions of Ethics, Character, Service and Leadership will influence their plan Author summarized changes in thinking as a result of taking OLS 263 and completing the PEAP (or not!) The writing cited work/authors read in class that connected to assignment COMMENTS: 400 Science and Engineering Ethics, Volume 10, Issue 2, 2004

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