Online learning during COVID-19 produced equivalent or better student course performance as compared with pre-pandemic: empirical evidence from a school-wide comparative study.BMC Med Educ. 2021 Sep 16; 21(1):495.BM
The COVID-19 pandemic forced dental schools to close their campuses and move didactic instruction online. The abrupt transition to online learning, however, has raised several issues that have not been resolved. While several studies have investigated dental students' attitude towards online learning during the pandemic, mixed results have been reported. Additionally, little research has been conducted to identify and understand factors, especially pedagogical factors, that impacted students' acceptance of online learning during campus closure. Furthermore, how online learning during the pandemic impacted students' learning performance has not been empirically investigated. In March 2020, the dental school studied here moved didactic instruction online in response to government issued stay-at-home orders. This first-of-its-kind comparative study examined students' perceived effectiveness of online courses during summer quarter 2020, explored pedagogical factors impacting their acceptance of online courses, and empirically evaluated the impact of online learning on students' course performance, during the pandemic.
The study employed a quasi-experimental design. Participants were 482 pre-doctoral students in a U.S dental school. Students' perceived effectiveness of online courses during the pandemic was assessed with a survey. Students' course grades for online courses during summer quarter 2020 were compared with that of a control group who received face-to-face instruction for the same courses before the pandemic in summer quarter 2019.
Survey results revealed that most online courses were well accepted by the students, and 80 % of them wanted to continue with some online instruction post pandemic. Regression analyses revealed that students' perceived engagement with faculty and classmates predicted their perceived effectiveness of the online course. More notably, Chi Square tests demonstrated that in 16 out of the 17 courses compared, the online cohort during summer quarter 2020 was equally or more likely to get an A course grade than the analogous face-to-face cohort during summer quarter 2019.
This is the first empirical study in dental education to demonstrate that online courses during the pandemic could achieve equivalent or better student course performance than the same pre-pandemic in-person courses. The findings fill in gaps in literature and may inform online learning design moving forward.