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Link Between TWEN Use and Grades Confirmed
N. O. Stockmeyer
Thomas M. Cooley Law School

As a teacher, I have long been interested in learning what factors contribute, positively or negatively, to student performance. Trying to go beyond anecdotal evidence and "hallway wisdom," I have read a number of empirical studies and conducted a few of my own.

Past Studies

My first study looked for a correlation between class attendance and student performance. Based on records I maintained for courses that I taught at Cooley and at two other law schools, I found that at all three schools a strong positive correlation existed between class attendance and student performance, as measured by grades received. At Cooley, students with perfect attendance achieved an average grade of 2.54, whereas students who "maxed-out" their allowed absences averaged 2.13. The results were similar at Mercer and California Western. "Class Attendance and Grades - Is There a Correlation?," The Pillar (June 13, 1994 issue); also "Better Grades @ No Extra Cost," The Pillar (June 21, 2001 issue).

In another study I looked for a correlation between class size and student performance. I tabulated course enrollment, class GPA, and the percentage of failing grades over a five-year period in the three courses that I taught regularly (Contracts I, Contracts II, and Equity/Remedies). The results established that, on average, as class size increased the overall class performance declined and the percentage of failing students increased. "The Effect of Class Size on Student Performance," The Pillar (September 16, 1994 issue).

That more learning goes on in smaller classes may seem self-evident. At the time, however, the law school's president was insisting, with no supporting data, that larger class sections would actually have a positive effect on learning. The situation was symptomatic of higher education generally, where administrative initiatives often are more imperial than empirical.

This Study

The subject of this article is the correlation between TWEN use and student performance. TWEN ("The West Education Network") is a platform that hosts pre-formatted websites where students and their professor can communicate with one another and access course-related resources on line. I was prompted by the results of a recent study undertaken by Professor Andrew Field of Monash University, Australia's largest university.

Professor Field, who teaches in the Department of Business Law and Taxation, examined whether any correlation existed between the grades received by students in his Commercial Law course and the frequency of their visits to a WebCT website he established. WebCT ("Web Course Tools") is a popular course-management software package that, like TWEN, allows faculty members to supplement in-class discussion with online content.

Professor Field's results showed that up and down the grading scale, the better-performing students accessed the website with greater frequency:

Grade RangeAverage Visits
High Distinction (80-100)90
Distinction (70-79)84
Credit (60-69)76
Pass (50-59)75
Fail (40-49)61

Source: "Australia Study of Student Use of Course Web Site," The Law Teacher (Spring 2003).

Could Professor Field's results be replicated here? I decided to find out. Based on his methodology, I compared the grades received by the students enrolled in my Contracts II course in Michaelmas (Fall) Term 2002 with the number of times they accessed a feature of the course's TWEN site. (That is the only course, as of this writing, for which I have both TWEN usage data and student grades. As more data become available I hope to conduct a more comprehensive study.)

By way of background, my TWEN site's features included an on-going discussion forum, down-loadable classroom overheads, announcements, links to course-related CALI ("Computer Assisted Legal Instruction") lessons, advice on exam writing, and review quizzes with instant feedback. Although all students were required to register for the TWEN site, I did not require them to actually access it. But I expended considerable effort on the site, believing it to be a helpful resource, and I let the class know that on several occasions.

Results

When the average TWEN use of students in various grade ranges was computed, my study confirmed the Australian results, with even greater accentuation between grade ranges:

Grade RangeAverage Use
Highest (A)94
Honors Level (B or better)36
Mid-range (B-/C)21
A.P. Level (below C)16
Failing (F)8

Of course there were other variables at work. Indeed, the figures may prove no more than that the better the student, the more likely he or she is to follow the professor's advice ("Brief every case, make your own outline, and visit TWEN often"). However, another study strongly suggests that active participation in online learning significantly increases student grades independently of other variables.

The study is by Professor Charles G. Geiss of the Department of Economics at University of Missouri-Columbia. He used WebCT in his Principles of Microeconomics course. Online participation varied widely; 12% of his students participated in nearly every activity, but 7% did not participate at all. Using regression analysis to remove other measurable variables -- ACT score, high school rank, and university grade point average -- Professor Geiss found that the final grade of an actively-participating student was three-quarters of a letter grade higher than that of an otherwise comparable student who did not take part. [source: "Participation and Benefits of Computer-Assisted Learning: Results from a Pilot Class" (accessed November 7, 2003)]

Conclusion

A strong positive correlation exists between TWEN use and student grades. Whether students are shooting for an A, or just trying to keep off academic probation, frequent visits to their prof's TWEN site are likely to increase their academic performance.

And to fellow faculty members I would add this observation, from a recent e-mail from Professor Field: regardless of what else they may reflect, "these figures do evidence that there is value in developing these websites and encouraging students to use them."


N. O. Stockmeyer is a professor at Thomas M. Cooley Law School.

JURIST's Lessons from the Web series is edited by Professor Patrick Wiseman, Georgia State University College of Law.

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