Cyber PLTL (cPLTL): Development, Implementation, and Evaluation
Enrollment in online courses in the United States has been growing substantially faster than the overall higher education enrollment. Almost 3.9 million students were taking at least one online course during the Fall 2007 term. This represents 21.9% of the total enrollment in Fall 2007, up from 9.9% in Fall 2002. Over 80% of the 3.9 million students are studying at the undergraduate level. Public institutions and community colleges have seen the highest rate of increase in online courses including the science disciplines with the exception of engineering. In order to reach all students taking undergraduate science courses, efforts need to focus on creating a variety of effective cyberlearning environments.
Intellectual Merit: This project is producing and studying the tools and conditions required for enhanced cyberlearning through Peer-Led Team Learning (PLTL). The project investigates how technology can be used to enhance an educational strategy that already has proven beneficial in STEM courses. To accomplish this goal, the project is creating a cyber PLTL (cPLTL), an online collaborative environment for conducting PLTL Workshops; studying the effectiveness of a cPLTL environment in duplicating the proven benefits of the traditional, face-to-face PLTL method; examining the effectiveness of the existing PLTL materials in cPLTL Workshops; modifying the existing training course for the peer leaders to be effective facilitators in the cPLTL model; developing brief technology training for students learning chemistry in cPLTL workshops; and articulating the critical components vital to successful implementation of a cPLTL program. An evaluation is gathering data on the process of development and implementation of cPLTL. The evaluation also includes a quasi-experimental study of how cPLTL compares to traditional PLTL sections that are taught at the same time.
Broader Impacts: cPLTL has the potential to increase participation and retention of underrepresented groups in the STEM fields by providing active learning and leadership opportunities to a more diverse group of students in a flexible time frame. Also, cPLTL has the potential to strengthen the ability of community colleges to recruit students, who typically leave the institution after the sophomore year, to serve as peer leaders. In addition, if successful, cPLTL implementation will encourage adoption by other chemistry courses, STEM disciplines, and institutions, especially those with large non-traditional and commuter student populations. While research on cPLTL is not within the scope of this project, other complementary projects are probing a number of research questions. The cPLTL environment allows data collection on student interactions by capturing chat sessions, written collaboration, voice recordings, and video. This captured and saved data allows for research on student interactions in cPLTL, which has not been possible at this level of detail in face-to-face PLTL Workshops.