A PILOT STUDY OF A MODIFIED DISTANCE LEARNING TECHNIQUE FOR USE
IN AN INTRODUCTORY MANAGERIAL STATISTICS COURSE
Robert H. Forsman, Ed.S. and Elinor M. Madigan, Ph.D.
Florida Institute of Technology
Treasure Coast Graduate Center
3725 SE Ocean Blvd.
Stuart, Fl. 34996
email: rforsman@fit.edu and Madigan@.fit.edu
Typically, distance education is thought of as a method
involving any means used to promote the learning process in a
format that involves physical separation of the students and
teacher. One methodology that appears to provide positive result
is the use of student-teacher interaction using e-mail.
The Treasure Coast Graduate Center, located in Stuart, Flori-
da is an Off-Campus site for the Florida Institute of Technology
business program. It offers an MBA, MS in Management, and cer-
tain other management-related masters' degrees by traditional
methods.
The students who attend are a diverse group, mostly living
and working within 50 miles of the site. Some students have
rotating schedules, or may be required to travel for their compa-
ny. This has caused problems in the past when students miss
several classes. The classes meet one night per week, and the
majority of professors are adjuncts (part-time), which compounds
the problem of student-teacher interaction when students must
miss a class.
Florida Institute of Technology's Off-Campus sites have long
been interested in the development of distance learning tech-
niques. This Fall semester, the opportunity arose to explore a
modified distance learning scheme. A complete distance learning
format was not considered feasible. Rather, it was decided that
an addendum to the standard lecture-discussion method was the
mechanism that could be used to introduce a distance learning
format to the Treasure Coast site. The modified distance learning
would become an adjunct to the classroom.
The format chosen for this pilot study required students to
communicate with the instructor by computer, uploading homework
assignments, obtaining additional assistance, and downloading
solutions to selected problems. The instructor of the managerial
statistics courses was willing to provide the on-line opportuni-
ties to the students by making herself available via computer
telecommunications. Thus, the computer telecommunications aspect
is an enhancement to the course, not replacing any of the class-
room meeting times.
All students at Treasure Coast Graduate Center are "computer
literate" (which encompasses a variety of skills). Past experi-
ence shows that all students routinely use computers at work. It
was determined during preregistration in the summer, that all
prospective students for the statistics course would have access
to various Microsoft Windows applications.
All but one of the students registering for this Fall semes-
ter course had computer telecommunication capability. Addition-
ally, all had Microsoft's EXCEL either at home or at work. With
these parameters, we developed a plan to incorporate an on-line
dialogue between the students and the instructor in the manageri-
al statistics class. We wanted to increase the ability of stud-
ents to receive feedback with problems. Along with using EXCEL's
statistical functions (available in the Data Analysis Package) to
solve various homework projects, the students must upload the
solutions to the instructor's computer.
The expectation of the instructor was that some students might
exhibit resistance to participating in the study. In fact, all
students were exceptionally supportive. An unforeseen develop-
ment was the shyness of the students logging on for the first
time. A great deal of time was spent demonstrating how to log
on, but volunteers for the first logon sessions were nonexistent.
The instructor was reduced to assigning a logon time for each
student. After the first logon session the students lost any
anxiety and actively communicated with the instructor.
There were a variety of computers in use, one-third of the
students were Macintosh users and the rest were IBM PC's or
clones. There was no difficulty in connecting the various com-
puters nor was the variety of software used a problem. The
computers functioned superbly. The software used by the in-
structor was Flashlink by Cardinal Technologies. The students
used any software package they had such as Telix, Procomm, White
Knight, etc.
The students calling did have some problems from misdialed
numbers to inadvertent logoffs due to typing errors. Even though
the process was demonstrated many times in the classroom, there
was still confusion on how to send files or chat with the in-
structor. One student insisted that he must download a file to
the instructor instead of uploading. Only during the logon
session did he see that he had the two words reversed. After one
logon the students were comfortable with the system and every-
thing then went smoothly.
In addition to the on-line experience, EXCEL was chosen be
the statistical package for this class. In previous terms no
statistical package was used for this introductory course. When
it was discovered that all students had access to EXCEL the
instructor decided that the students would benefit from using the
built in functions provided by EXCEL. The availability of this
package was only one factor; providing students with the ability
to use statistical methods easily and at work was another import-
ant aspect.
There were no real problems in having the students learn
EXCEL. Almost all had had experience with it and only needed to
learn the statistical portion. The instructor had to deal with
two versions of EXCEL (4.0 and 5.0) however this was very minor
problem. Several of the students reported that they had to
install the data analysis pack (where the statistical functions
can be found).
The introductory statistics course covers measures of central
tendency, dispersion, various graphs, probability, discrete and
continuous distributions, confidence intervals, goodness of fit,
and hypothesis testing with one and two variables. To introduce
EXCEL's functions, the first project involved measures of central
tendency, dispersion and graphing. The students had to upload
this project to the instructor during their first on-line ses-
sion. Once the students knew what to do this was an easy task.
The Data Analysis portion of EXCEL has an adequate selection
of statistical processes for an introductory or intermediate
statistics class. Some of the functions included are a single
factor ANOVA, two factor ANOVA with and without replication,
correlation, simple linear regression, covariance test, descrip-
tive statistics (see the appendix for a sample output). A Chi-
squared test is available through the formula section. Only p-
values are returned for the Chi-squared tests no actual Chi value
can be obtained. Other useful functions available from the data
analysis are histograms (see appendix output), moving averages,
exponential smoothing and Fourier Analysis (using the Fast Fouri-
er Transform methods). Any statistics course that covers con-
fidence intervals, elementary hypothesis testing, goodness of fit
or forecasting could use the EXCEL functions.
Given the nature of this pilot study, we were not under any
constraints to provide statistical evidence on the success or
failure of this project. This study was designed to be an infor-
mation gathering process. Some of the question we wanted an-
swered are:
1. Could computer telecommunications work on this campus?
2. Would students particpate?
3. What problems would arise?
4. Would students actually benefit from this process?
As this project unfolds we are finding that the telecommuni-
cation process seems to work well, students not only are partici-
pating, they are enthusiastic, and no significant problems have
arisen. It appears that the students are benefiting from this
process (by anecdotal references). However, we feel that this
project cannot assess the effectiveness of these benefits. We
feel that further research in this area is needed. We are cur-
rently in the process of searching for an instrument that will
measure student satisfaction and we plan to develop a formal
research project to measure student achievement.
It would appear, from observation and student feedback, that
this pilot study justifies the effort made to incorporate an on-
line dialog between student and teacher. The instructor is
already anticipating continuing this method for future classes,
not only introductory statistics, but other courses that she
teaches.
References
Willis, B. (1993). Distance Education A Practical Guide. New
Jersey: Educational Technology Publications.
Marland P. (1989). An approach to research on distance learn-
ing. British Journal of Educational Technology, 20 (3), 173-
182.