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«Comparing social isolation effects on students attrition in online versus face-toface courses in computer literacy. Issues in Informing Science and ...»

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Issues in Informing Science and Information Technology Volume 12, 2015

Cite as: Ali, A., & Smith, D. (2015). Comparing social isolation effects on students attrition in online versus face-toface courses in computer literacy. Issues in Informing Science and Information Technology, 12, 11-20. Retrieved from

http://iisit.org/Vol12/IISITv12p011-020Ali1784 .pdf

Comparing Social Isolation Effects on Students

Attrition in Online Versus Face-to-Face Courses in Computer Literacy Azad Ali and David Smith Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana, PA, USA Azad.ali@iup.edu david.smith@iup.edu Abstract This paper compares the effect of social isolation on students enrolled in online courses versus students enrolled in on campus courses (called in this paper Face-to-Face or F2F). Grade data was collected from one online section and two F2F sections of a computer literacy course that was recently taught by one of the authors of this study. The same instructor taught all sections thereby providing a controlled comparison between the two forms of teaching (F2F and online). This paper first introduces the plan and the limitation of this study. It provides a literature review and notes the trend of social isolation found in online courses. This paper then presents a summary of the collected data; and offers a conclusion based on the collected data.

Keywords: Online course withdrawal, social isolation in online courses, attrition in online courses Introduction This study builds on a previous study regarding performance difference between online courses and face to face (F2F) courses. In our first study (Ali & Smith, 2014) we analyzed the difference in student grades between online courses versus F2F courses. Based on our analysis we determined that student performance in F2F courses is not necessarily superior to online courses. We did note that the rate of withdrawal in online courses is higher than F2F courses. Our inclination was that the withdrawal rate is mainly caused by the social isolation felt among online students.

Although our inclination was supported by literature from different studies (Allen & Seman, 2013, Brown, 2012, Haley & Heise, 2008, Kirtman, 2009), we did not provide evidence in support of this position. Thus, we decided to research this topic further and to collect data in order to test a general hypothesis about the difference in the feeling of social isolation between students enrolled in online versus F2F courses.

Social isolation feeling has been examMaterial published as part of this publication, either on-line or ined in various studies and was deterin print, is copyrighted by

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grams (Frankola, 2001). Although this can be argued at different levels, social isolation is determined to be a major factor that causes students to dropout in academic courses and programs.

The increased offering of online courses has boosted the level of discussion on the effect social isolation and whether the effect increases among students enrolled in online courses. This study contributes to the on-going discussion by comparing the effect of social isolation on students’ attrition in online versus F2F courses. It compares withdrawal rate (W grade) from three sections of computer literacy course taught online and F2F by the same faculty member. It drives its conclusion after analyzing the difference of the data collected between these two setting of courses (F2F versus online).

The remainder of this study is divided into the following sections:

- First section defines the problem that this study addresses, establishes the hypothesis and explains the limitation of this study

- Second section provides literature review regarding social isolation and online education

- Third section explains the courses that this study uses and the procedures followed for data collection

- Fourth section analyzes the collected and gives insight into the results

- Fifth section provides conclusion and suggestions for future studies The Problem The problem that this paper is addressing is whether students enrolled in online courses experience social isolation feeling to a greater degree than their counterpart students in F2F courses. A hypothesis can be established to assess the correctness of this problem or not. Also, some limitations are cited regarding the methodology employed in this study.

Hypothesis Based on the description above, the problem that this paper is addressing can be stated in terms of hypothetical settings, both in terms of null hypothesis (H0) and alternative hypothesis (H1). The

following is a statement of both hypotheses:

H0: Online students experience social isolation feeling to a greater degree than F2F students in computer literacy courses H1: Online students do not experience social isolation feelings to a greater degree than F2F students in computer literacy courses Limitations of This Study Three notable limitations are facing this study based on hypothesis, method of data collection,

and analysis:

- The collected data is based on one semester of student grades. Although this may be acceptable in some case studies, this narrow scope of data collections makes it challenging to generalize the results and findings of this study.

- The degree of social isolation is based on the measurement of only one factor; the number of withdrawals (W grades) from each section of the course. In our opinion, this is largely true. Our opinion is supported by the findings of other studies that points to feeling of social isolation as the main cause of attrition from courses and programs (Allen & Seaman, 2008; Harrell, 2008; Hawlery, 2003; Lovitts, 2001). Course withdrawal (attrition) in our opinion is one manifestation of social isolation feeling.

Ali & Smith

- We are aware that withdrawal rates (W grades) can be caused by factors other than social isolation, but this study does not address other factors that may cause W grades. Instead we will focus on the feeling of social isolation and consider it as the grass root for the reasons to withdrawals (W grades) and attrition from online courses.

Literature Review Educators agree that online education is here to stay. Most predict the trend of offering of online courses is going to increase substantially given the increasing demand on such courses (Allen & Seaman, 2008; Beyrer, 2013; Brown, 2012). Yet there is still skepticism about performance of students in online courses in light of the attrition rates among students enrolled (Allen & Seaman, 2013; Kirtman, 2009). Some note that the feeling of social isolation contributes to the decision to withdraw from their online courses (Parkhurst, Moskal, & Downey, 2008; Schaeffer & Konetes, 2010). But the extent to which social isolation has effect on attrition is still not agreed on and may require some background information about these interrelated topics.

To give background information about these issues, this section reviews literature regarding social isolation and the trend in online courses. It begins by describing social isolation feeling in general and addresses the same issue in academic institutions. It continues to show the increasing trend of online education. The section last describes social isolation feeling in online courses in more details to address larger issues with it.

About Social Isolation Social isolation has negative effects for the functioning and well-being of individuals, and for solidarity and social cohesion within society. Personal quality of life is very much affected by being part of a social network. By rationalizing relationships, in the public domain, the intimate nature of social relationships in the other domains has become increasingly important. (Hortulanus, Machielse, & Meeuwesen, 2006, p. 25) Social isolation is known to have an effect on individuals, on the groups they belong to and on the society at large (House 2001; Hortulanus et al., 2006). There are different explanations about the cause of social isolation and its development. Some point to the upbringing of the individuals and to events in the life of the individuals that lead them to withdraw. Others point squarely to the technological advances that lead the individuals to be more reliant on technology rather than the individual connection (Morahan-Martin, & Schumacher, 2003). Yet others relate social isolation with the changes of the social structure. For example, Pappano (2001) name this change of structure as “The Connection Gap” and explains the changes in the structure of society are prime factors that increased the risk of becoming socially isolated.

A common description that is mentioned regarding social isolation is a “lack of meaningful social contacts” (Hortulanus et al., 2006). The emphasis here is on the word “meaningful” and its context varies depending on the situation in which it is taking place. At work, meaningful may mean relationship with peers, superiors, clients, and other individuals that may come in contact with. At colleges and universities, meaningful social contact may take place among students and also between students and faculty members.

Lack of direct contact is considered a contributing factor to social isolation (Priego & Peralta, 2013). In direct contact the person sees the other individuals face-to-face. All emotions can be felt and expressed at the contact (Ting & Gonzalez, 2013). No other contact (such as phone, email, and video) can have this direct contact affect (Lehman & Conceição, 2010). Take a phone conversation for example, there is a voice contact where messages are exchanged and conversations are carried on. Also, some feeling can be detected from the tone of the conversation. But the real feeling that can be viewed from facial expression or body movement cannot be detected in phone

Comparing Social Isolation Effects

conversations. Similarly, email messages lack the ability to transmit these emotions. Although a limited extent of feeling can be detected from email messages, feelings cannot be totally epressed in email messages.

The result of social isolation is diverse and multi-faceted. Social isolation may cause anxiety, depression, or withdrawals (Hortulanus et al., 2006). House (2001) went a step further to suggest that the feeling of social isolation may kill people. The results of social isolation can be manifested in the family by having the individual rebel against others in the family or refuse to take part in family activities. At the workplace, it may lead to reduced productivity or unexplained or long absences. At schools and universities, social isolation can show up among students through withdrawal or attrition –dropping out of courses or even programs.

Social Isolation in Academia Social isolation has been discussed at various forums in academia and has been described in many literatures. It is also considered a major contributing factor to attrition among students, especially at the graduate level. In terms of doctoral enrollment for example, experts estimate the rate of attrition from doctoral studies is about 50% and attribute social isolation feeling as the prime factor for such high attrition rate (Ali & Kohun, 2007; Hawlery, 2003; Lovitts, 2001). This rate of attrition at the doctoral level is especially alarming knowing that most students who attend doctoral programs are high achievers as they start doctoral studies after long successes in their earlier studies. Thus, academic preparedness is not considered a major drop out factor for doctoral students (Hawlery, 2003; Lovitts, 2001).

At the undergraduate level, similar feelings of social isolation emerge that cause the students to drop out of their courses and programs. Academic institutions are active in their attempts to tackle this issue. They typically take proactive measures that aim in part to limit the effect of social isolation and encourage social integration into the academic community. Among these proactive steps are forming social clubs and planed social events to encourage social communication and interaction among students.

The increased use of technology makes it easier for students to rely on technology instead of communicating with others (Top, 2012). This decreases the need for direct communication with others. It, in turn, increases the chance to cause social isolation. In other words, if the student spends significant portion of the time dealing with the machine (the computer) alone, then it lessens the chance of meeting and talking directly to people. This in turn creates a recipe for the student to be socially isolated.

Online education is one of the results of advances in technology. Students can complete courses and programs without the need to see any of their professor or their colleagues. They may not have to socialize with others. Initially, online attrition was not seen as a major problem for students and for the completion of their degrees because the number of courses that were offered used to be limited. Recent increase of online courses offerings changed this perception (Morris & Finnegan, 2005). The increase of online offerings is persistent and is inclusive of most fields of study (Monolescu, Schifter, & Greenwood, 2004). To understand the severity of the problem of social isolation in online courses, we need to understand the trend of online enrollment, online course offering, and online education in general.

About Online Education – Enrollment Trend There is a steady increase in the number of online course offerings. This is reflected in the number of courses offered online, the number of students taking online courses, and the number of programs and institutions that offer online courses (Monolescu et al., 2004; Morahan-Martin &

Ali & Smith

Schumacher, 2003). This also is reflected in comparing the growth in total student population versus growth in students taking online courses.

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