CLASS SIZE AND INTERACTION IN ONLINE COURSES - [PDF Document] (2024)

CLASS SIZE AND INTERACTION IN ONLINE COURSES - [PDF Document] (1)

• Anymir Orellana, Program Professor, Instructional Technology and Distance Education, Fischler School of Education

and Human Services, Nova Southeastern University, 1750 NE 167th St., North Miami Beach, FL 33162. Telephone: (954)

262-8797. E-mail: [emailprotected]

The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, Volume 7(3), 2006, pp. 229–248 ISSN 1528-3518

Copyright © 2006 Information Age Publishing, Inc. All rights of reproduction in any form reserved.

CLASS SIZE AND INTERACTION

IN ONLINE COURSES

Anymir Orellana

Nova Southeastern University

This article presents findings of a study conducted to determine instructors’ perceptions of optimal class sizes

for online courses with different levels of interaction. Implications for research and practice are also pre-

sented. A Web-based survey method was employed. Online courses studied were those taught sometime in the

last 5 years by a single instructor in undergraduate or graduate programs from U.S. higher education institu-

tions. Instructors described the level of interactive qualities in their most recently taught online course using

a Web version of Roblyer and Wiencke’s (2004) Rubric for Assessing Interactive Qualities in Distance

Courses, and they indicated optimal class sizes according to such qualities. Responses from 131 instructors

were analyzed. On average (a) instructors described their online courses as highly interactive, (b) the actual

class size of the online courses was 22.8, (c) a class size of 18.9 was perceived as optimal to better achieve the

course’s actual level of interaction, and (d) a class size of 15.9 was perceived as optimal to achieve the highest

level of interaction. No relationship was found between online courses’ actual class sizes and their actual level

of interaction.

Modern distance education is a means for

higher education institutions to increase enroll-

ments and students’ access to learning (Lewis,

Alexander, & Farris, 1997). Between 1997 and

2001, the percentage of American higher edu-

cation institutions that offered distance educa-

tion courses increased from 34 to 56, and

course enrollments increased from 1.7 million

to 3.1 million (Wirt, Choy, Rooney, Provasnik,

Sen, & Tobin, 2004). Institutions also seek to

implement quality distance education that

often translates into high initial fixed costs and

variable costs related to delivery of instruction

(Bates, 2000; Bates & Poole, 2003; Morgan,

2000). These variable costs depend on course

enrollments and, hence, class sizes.

Setting class-size limits is a budget-related

matter for administrators (Parker, 2003; Tho-

mas, 1984). Administrators are faced with the

issue of determining an optimal class size to

balance the cost-benefit relationship, while

maintaining manageable faculty workloads

and ensuring quality education. Administrators

often believe that the number of students can

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230 The Quarterly Review of Distance Education Vol. 7, No. 3, 2006

be as large as hundreds because there is no

physical space limitation in distance education

(Simonson, 2004). Conversely, in a report of a

year-long faculty seminar (University of Illi-

nois, 1999), the following was concluded:

Because high quality online teaching is

time and labor intensive, it is not likely to

be the income source envisioned by some

administrators. Teaching the same number

of students online at the same level of qual-

ity as in the classroom requires more time

and money. (p. 2)

Class size research is important to educa-

tional policy development. Despite the growth

of distance higher education, little research has

been reported regarding class sizes for online

courses (Boettcher & Conrad, 2004; Parker,

2003; Simonson, 2004). Simonson (2004) sug-

gested that claims of “smaller is better [or that]

it really makes no difference how many, if the

course is organized correctly” (p. 56) are

“myths” of distance education. Most of the

class sizes recommended in the literature for

distance education are based on anecdotal evi-

dence (Simonson, 2004).

In this study, the online class-size problem

was approached from the perspective of the

instructor. It was assumed that different online

courses may have different interactive quali-

ties. Hence, the concern was not to determine a

“one-size-fits-all” optimal class size for online

courses, but to determine optimal class sizes

according to the interactive qualities present in

online courses. For the purpose of the study,

interaction was defined as “a created environ-

ment in which both social and instructional

messages are exchanged among the entities in

the course and in which messages are both car-

ried and influenced by the activities and tech-

nology resources being employed ” (Roblyer

& Wiencke, 2003, p. 81). Interaction is

achieved “through a complex interplay of

social, instructional, and technological vari-

ables” (p. 1).

The purpose of this study was to determine

instructors’ perceptions of optimal class sizes

for online courses with different levels of inter-

action. The level of interaction was measured

with Roblyer and Wiencke’s (2004) Rubric for

Assessing Interactive Qualities in Distance

Courses (RAIQ). The RAIQ is a validated

instrument that measures interactive qualities

through five observable indicators (Roblyer &

Wiencke, 2004): (a) social rapport-building

designs for interaction, (b) instructional

designs for interaction, (c) interactivity of tech-

nology resources, (d) evidence of learner

engagement, and (e) evidence of instructor

engagement. The RAIQ was not used in the

study as a means to imply that the highest lev-

els of interaction were optimal, needed, or

desired in an online course. As Moore and

Kearsley (2005) suggested, the RAIQ was used

in the study as a “means of thinking about what

kind of interaction you [the instructor] want to

facilitate for different types of students and dif-

ferent subject areas” (pp. 145-146).

Online courses studied were those that

(a) counted for credit toward a degree in a

bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral program from

an American higher education institution;

(b) were taught at a distance at least 80% of the

time using interactive telecommunications

systems, perhaps with occasional traditional

face-to-face activities; and (c) were taught by

one instructor with no teaching assistant, or the

like, sometime in the past 5 years. Class size

was defined as the number of students main-

tained during instruction after the drop period.

Class size did not necessarily reflect the num-

ber of initially enrolled students, or the limit

set by the institution.

The study employed a Web-based survey

research method. Instructors were asked to

determine the level of interactive qualities in

their most recently taught online course using

a Web version of the RAIQ. Instructors were

then asked to indicate what they perceived as

optimal class sizes to better achieve the

course’s actual level of interaction and to bet-

ter achieve the highest possible level of inter-

action, as measured by the RAIQ. Qualitative

comments were also collected from instruc-

tors.

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Class Size and Interaction in Online Courses 231

It was anticipated that findings would be

useful as an initial approach to the class size

problem in the field of distance education, spe-

cifically for online courses in higher educa-

tion. It was also anticipated that results might

be applicable to policy development regarding

class-size limits for online courses. The impor-

tance given to interaction in the research, in

best-practice guidelines, and in accreditation

standards for online education served as the

main framework for the study.

REVIEW OF LITERATURE

Research on class size in traditional education

has been conducted for more than a century

(Achilles, 1999). Research in elementary edu-

cation has demonstrated that smaller classes

allow for better student-teacher interaction

(Achilles, 1999; Laine & Ward, 2000; Prit-

chard, 1999). More than 20 states in the United

States have developed and implemented state-

wide policies that limit class sizes in public

schools (Pritchard, 1999). On the other hand,

class sizes in higher education usually can be

as large as the institution deems necessary.

According to Borden and Burton (1999), most

studies focused on higher education have

reported mixed results. Class size mostly

affects what goes on in the classroom and not

student achievement, per se (Gilbert, 1995;

Hanco*ck, 1996; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991;

Raimondo, Esposito, & Gershenberg, 1990;

Toth & Montagna, 2002).

Gilbert (1995) advocated for large classes

in higher education where group collaboration

is best done. According to Gilbert, “Instruction

which is intimate, interactive and investigative

produces the most positive educational out-

comes. The importance of interaction, partici-

pation and involvement of student learning are

widely recognized … and are, in fact, a part of

effective large class instruction” (p. 5). On the

other hand, Gilbert also suggested that quality

instructor-student interaction is perhaps best

achieved in smaller classes. Brown (as cited in

Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991) and Smith and

Malec (as cited in Pascarella & Terenzini,

1991) found that students’ experiences in large

classes negatively impacted student-faculty

interaction. Also, Pascarella and Terenzini

concluded that evidence suggested that smaller

classes are better than larger ones if the goals

of instruction are “motivational, attitudinal, or

higher-level cognitive processes” (p. 87).

The question as to whether smaller classes

are more conducive for learning than large

ones is also important in distance education.

Instructors also believe that quality of online

instruction is questionable for large class sizes

(Olson, as cited in Olson, 2002; Parker, 2003;

University of Illinois, 1999). Sugrue, Rietz,

and Hasen (1999) conducted a study across

three learning sites to determine relationships

among class size, instructor location, student

perceptions, and performance. Two classes

were taught at a distance via two-way video

and differed in class size and the third class

was taught face-to-face with 36 students.

Results indicated that performance in the two

smaller classes was better than in the large

class. The authors concluded that, without con-

sidering individual differences among learn-

ers, class size influenced performance more

than location did. Also, the authors indicated

that small classes must be kept for successful

multisite distance learning with two-way

video. However, it was not clear to them what

the optimum class size was.

Due to perceived higher demands of stu-

dent-teacher interaction in online courses,

many (e.g., Ko & Rossen, 2004; Sellani &

Harrington, 2002; University of Illinois, 1999)

have considered that instructors’ workload

increases with class size. In a descriptive study

conducted by Berge and Muilenburg (2001),

faculty time and workload were reported as

main barriers for the adoption of online

courses at any stage of the institution’s matu-

rity in implementing distance education.

Instructors’ perceptions of more work in

online courses might be due to the instructor’s

unfamiliarity with the use of the media

(Anderson, 2003; Hislop & Ellis, 2004).

Accordingly, Simonson (2004) called the

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instructor-perceived-more-time issue the

“‘more work’ myth” (p. 56) that is claimed

among distance education practitioners. This

group usually advocates for smaller classes.

However, small classes might not be appropri-

ate for course designs with emphasis on col-

laborative or group learning activities (Bates &

Poole, 2003; Ko & Rossen, 2004; Vrasidas &

McIsaac, 1999).

Survey research conducted by the National

Education Association (NEA, 2000) showed

that instructors perceived that time, or effort, is

greater when teaching an online course, as

opposed to a face-to-face course. However, the

NEA report also showed that class size was not

related to the amount of online teaching time

estimated by surveyed faculty members.

DiBiase (2000) concluded that the normalized

teaching time per student in the online course

was not greater than in the traditional version.

Similarly, Hislop and Ellis (2003) found no

significant difference in the total time spent by

instructors teaching online versus face-to-face

when time was normalized for class size.

Visser (2000) conducted an experimental case-

study to analyze the time to develop and teach

the graduate-level distance course compared to

a similar traditional course. Time was adjusted

for class size. Visser concluded that online

courses do seem to take more teaching and

development time than the traditional course,

but also noted that delivery time and effort

may depend on the instructor experience and

the level of institutional support.

Determining an optimal class size depends

on multiple factors. According to Bates

(2000), the driving factor that determines the

ideal class size for an online course is the

“amount and nature of the interaction between

the tutor and students [and] student-teacher

ratio is as much determined by educational

philosophy, course design, and student num-

bers as by technology” (p. 129). In addition, a

considerable body of literature presents sets of

best practices and guidelines for course

designs and for interactive strategies that pro-

mote quality distance education. Online strate-

gies range from collaborative group activities,

where interaction among students is essential,

to activities in which more individualized

instructor-student interaction is needed. Addi-

tionally, conventional wisdom suggests that

large class sizes for online courses impact the

amount of individual instructor-student inter-

action (Simonson, 2004). On the other hand,

small class sizes negatively affect interaction

in online community building (Vrasidas &

McIsaac, 1999).

The importance of interaction in the design

of distance courses is also highlighted in

accreditation standards of the Southern Asso-

ciation of Colleges and Schools (2000) and the

Western Cooperative for Educational Tele-

communications (WCET, 2000). Accredita-

tion is the means by which American higher

education institutions are reviewed for quality

(Council for Higher Education Accreditation,

2001) and recommended accreditation stan-

dards should be taken into account in the

development of distance education policies

(Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek,

2003). The Accrediting Commission of Career

Schools and Colleges of Technology (2004)

developed standards of accreditation that “sets

forth the criteria under which the Commission

will recognize programs or courses of study

offered via distance education” (p. 29). Class

size and interaction were addressed under the

following faculty-related standards:

The school ensures that faculty and stu-

dents interact, and provides adequate

means for such interaction

The school must have developed policies

addressing teaching load, class size, time

needed for course development, and the

sharing of instructional responsibilities

which allow for effective teaching using

distance education methods. (p. 29)

The American Association of University

Professors (AAUP, n.d.) has posted sugges-

tions and guidelines for a sample language for

distance education institutional policies and

contract language. The AAUP recommended

the following language for policies concerning

faculty workload and teaching responsibilities:

“Determination of class size for a distance

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Class Size and Interaction in Online Courses 233

education class should be based on pedagogi-

cal considerations. Large sections should be

compensated by additional credit in load

assignment in the same manner as traditional

classes” (Workload/Teaching Responsibility

section, ¶ 1). This recommendation is based on

anecdotal evidence:

In the absence of more definitive data,

workload provisions should take into

account the anecdotal evidence that dis-

tance education course development is tak-

ing two to three times as long as

comparable courses taught in the tradi-

tional manner. The same evidence suggests

that the investment of faculty time involved

in teaching a distance education course is

substantially greater than that required for a

comparable traditional course. The time

spent online answering student inquiries is

reported as being more than double the

amount of time required in interacting with

students in comparable traditional classes.

(Workload/Teaching Responsibility sec-

tion, ¶ 1)

In summary, research findings, practical

guidelines and standards, and anecdotal evi-

dence suggest that interaction is affected by

class size. Determining an optimal class size

for an online course is complex and depends

on several factors. Instructors involved in the

design, delivery, and administration of courses

are key elements to successful distance educa-

tion and their perceptions of optimal class

sizes would be useful information to policy

makers. A goal of this study was to determine

such perceptions as they relate to interaction in

online courses.

THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK

As in traditional classrooms, interaction is

considered necessary and desirable for suc-

cessful online learning (Bates, 2000; Fulford

& Zhang, 1993; Lock, 2002; Moore, as cited in

Gresh & Mrozowski, 2000; Offir, as cited in

Gresh & Mrozowski; Roblyer & Wiencke,

2003; Sorensen & Baylen, 2000). Conse-

quently, a model that captures the essence of

theoretical and practical fundamentals of inter-

action is useful. In this respect, Roblyer and

Wiencke (2004) developed and validated a

RAIQ. The model is based on findings from

theory and research related to interaction in

distance education (e.g., Moore, 1989; Wag-

ner, 1994; Yacci, 2000). Roblyer and

Wiencke’s (2004) RAIQ served as the main

framework for this study. According to

Roblyer and Wiencke, the rubric can be used

by instructors as a “tool to allow more mean-

ingful examination of the role of interaction in

enhancing achievement and student satisfac-

tion in distance learning courses” (p. 77). As

Roblyer and Wiencke pointed out, the RAIQ

might help the “design and research of optimal

distance learning environments by helping to

define and quantify observed interaction and

allow empirical assessment of its contribution

to course effectiveness” (p. 95).

METHOD

The study examined the following questions:

What are instructors’ perceptions of optimal

class sizes for online courses with different

levels of interactive qualities? What are typical

class sizes of online courses? What are typical

levels of interactive qualities in online

courses? A Web-based survey research

method was employed. The Class Size and

Interaction Questionnaire (CSIQ) was the

Web-based instrument used for data collec-

tion.

Participants

According to Fowler (1993), “people who

have particular interest in the subject matter

or the research itself are more likely to return

mail questionnaires than those who are less

interested” (p. 4). Hence, in addition to fac-

ulty members who teach college-level online

courses, groups of researchers in the field of

distance education were also considered as

potential participants. Participants were

instructors who, sometime in the past 5 years,

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234 The Quarterly Review of Distance Education Vol. 7, No. 3, 2006

had taught an online course as defined in the

study and were sampled from five groups of

interest: (a) presenters of distance education-

related topics at the 2004 National Conven-

tion of the Association for Educational Com-

munications and Technology, (b) researchers

who have published in the journal Quarterly

Review of Distance Education, (c) researchers

who have published in the journal Distance

Learning, (d) researchers who have published

in the American Journal of Distance Educa-

tion, and (e) faculty members of U.S. higher

education institutions that offer online

courses.

Procedures

The Web-based software Surveyor was

used to construct and administer the CSIQ via

the Internet. Invitations and follow-ups to par-

ticipants were also administered by Surveyor.

Confidentiality, anonymity, and one-time

responses were guaranteed by means of a

secure Web-server, automated invitation and

follow-up to participants, and randomly-gener-

ated-password access to the CSIQ. A multi-

stage clustering was conducted to compile a

list of 659 e-mail addresses from the five

groups of interest based on the professional

profile that was published on the selected jour-

nals or posted on the Web. The initial e-mailed

invitation for participation in the research used

Surveyor’s features for survey invitation.

Thirty-four messages were automatically

returned to the researcher because of invalid

e-mail addresses. These 34 addresses were

deleted from the invitation list. Hence, a total

of 625 composed the final list of invitation

recipients.

After receiving the invitation, participants

had 2 weeks to visit the URL that granted

access to the CSIQ. Participants had to use the

unique password randomly generated by Sur-

veyor to access the CSIQ. To reduce the nonre-

sponse rate, a follow-up e-mail was sent to

nonrespondents as a reminder to complete the

CSIQ. Surveyor automatically e-mailed the

invitation letter to those who had not replied 1

week after the initial invitation. Eighty-six

individuals submitted answers to the CSIQ

before the follow-up reminder, and 68 more

after the reminder. A total of 154 responses

were collected. The response rate was 33.8%.

The response rate was computed considering a

total of 625 actual invitation-recipients and

211 replies to the invitation (i.e., 154 actual

respondents to the CSIQ and 57 self-reported

unqualified individuals).

According to Fowler (1993), “The effect of

nonresponse survey estimates depends on the

percentage not responding and the extent to

which those that not responded are biased—

that is, systematically different from the

whole population” (p. 40). To maintain a non-

biased nonresponse rate, several aspects were

considered: (a) sampled individuals were

selected based on their professional profile

(i.e., instructors or faculty members of col-

lege-level online courses), (b) individuals who

did not meet the inclusion criteria were

expected to reply to the e-mailed invitation

and follow-up messages, (c) a conditional

question in the CSIQ automatically directed

respondents to the rest of the CSIQ questions

only if they met the inclusion criteria, and (d)

five nonrespondents were contacted by tele-

phone to determine why they did not respond

to the CSIQ.

From the five nonrespondents who were

telephoned, two indicated that they usually do

not take the time to answer online surveys.

One did not read the e-mailed invitation or

reminder, but indicated that he usually sup-

ported this kind of research and would have

been pleased to participate. Another indicated

that she did not teach online courses. The last

nonrespondent telephoned indicated that she

did not believe that the research problem was

worthwhile or appropriate, and was not willing

to participate.

Instruments

The CSIQ was designed following guide-

lines recommended by Gall, Gall, and Borg

(2003) and by Schonlau, Fricker, and Elliot

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Class Size and Interaction in Online Courses 235

(2001) for Web-based questionnaires. The

questionnaire consisted of an initial question to

verify that the respondent met the inclusion

criteria (i.e., sometime in the last 5 years, he or

she had taught an online course as defined in

the study) and four main parts: demographics,

general questions related to the instructor’s

most recently taught online course, Web ver-

sion of the RAIQ, and optimal class-size ques-

tions and comments

Demographics

Questions were formulated to collect

respondents’ age, gender, highest academic

degree, number of years since degree was

awarded, number of years teaching in higher

education, academic rank in faculty position,

general area of teaching from the United

Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural

Organization’s (UNESCO, 1997) Web site,

level of expertise in online teaching on a scale

from 1 (novice) to 5 (very experienced), num-

ber of years teaching online courses, and num-

ber of online courses taught. Respondents also

indicated whether they had received formal

training in online teaching methods.

General questions related to the instruc-

tor’s most recently taught online course. Ques-

tions were formulated to collect the course’s

actual class size, academic level of the pro-

gram (bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral), dura-

tion in weeks, and semester credits. Questions

were formulated to collect the number of

credit-bearing courses that the instructor

taught during the same academic term, the

Carnegie classification from the Carnegie

Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching

(2005), and type of the institution that offered

the course (public, private for-profit, private

nonprofit).

Web Version of the RAIQ

Roblyer and Wiencke’s (2004) RAIQ was

used in its complete original form, but with a

different layout format suited for the Web.

Specifically, the five elements or indicators for

interactive qualities in a distance course were

separately displayed, as opposed to the origi-

nal matrix-like display. Following is a brief

description of each element:

1. Social rapport-building designs for inter-

action. This element is measured by the

strategies designed for social interaction

among participants. The instructor has

control of the strategies during the design

and implementation phases of instruction.

2. Instructional designs for interaction. This

element is measured by the activities

“designed to encourage, support, and

even require interaction [among partici-

pants]” (p. 87). The instructor has control

of the activities during the design and

implementation phases of instruction.

3. Interactivity of technology resources.

This element is measured by the various

levels of interactivity that are offered by

various technologies. The technologies

“become meaningful components to pro-

mote interaction only in the context of

course designs that make effective use of

them” (p. 88).

4. Evidence of learner engagement. This

element is measured by “the number of

students who reply and who initiate mes-

sages on a frequent basis; send messages

both when required and spontaneously;

and send detailed, informative, well-

developed communications that are

responsive to discussion purposes”

(p. 89).

5. Evidence of instructor engagement. Mea-

sured by the “consistent, timely, and use-

ful feedback to students [from the

instructor]” (p. 89).

Optimal Class-Size Questions and

Comments

Two open-ended questions were formulated

to collect instructors’ perceptions of (a) an

optimal class size that allows for the actual

level of interaction in their most recently

taught online course, and (b) an optimal class

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236 The Quarterly Review of Distance Education Vol. 7, No. 3, 2006

size that allows for the highest level of interac-

tion in the RAIQ (i.e., a maximum score of

25). Table 1 presents the interactive qualities

that characterize a course with the highest

level of interaction in the RAIQ. An open-

ended question was formulated to collect par-

ticipants’ comments that they believed would

contribute to the study.

Data Analysis

Data collected from Surveyor were input to

a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet data were then

input to SPSS Student version 7 for Windows

to obtain descriptive statistics. Following is a

description of how the data were organized

and analyzed:

1. Determining levels of interactive qualities

in the RAIQ. The overall level of a

course’s interactive qualities can be low,

moderate, or high (Roblyer & Wiencke,

2004). To obtain the course’s interactive

level, points were assigned to each level-

option under each of the five elements.

There were five options of levels under

each element: low, minimum, moderate,

above-average, and high. Low interactive

qualities were worth 1 point; minimum

interactive qualities were worth 2 points;

moderate interactive qualities were worth

3 points; above-average interactive quali-

ties were worth 4 points; and high interac-

tive qualities were worth 5 points.

Participants could only select one level

per element. The five resulting scores

(i.e., one per element) were totaled, and

according to the interval where the total

fell, the course had one of three interac-

tive levels: low (1 to 9 points), moderate

(10 to 17 points), or high (18 to 25

points). This calculation was done for

each entry in the spreadsheet (i.e., for

each online course described by respon-

dent) and saved as the course’s level of

interactive qualities.

2. Determining class sizes. Descriptive sta-

tistics were obtained for class sizes of

respondents’ most recently taught online

courses. Class-size statistics were

grouped according to (a) the course’s

level of interactive qualities, (b) academic

level of the online course’s program, (c)

type of institution that offered the course,

TABLE 1Highest Levels of Interactive Qualities in a Distance Course in the

Rubric for Assessing Interactive Qualities in Distance Courses (RAIQ)

Element in the RAIQ Description

1. Social/rapport-build-

ing designs for inter-

action

In addition to providing for exchanges of personal information and encouraging student-

student and instructor-student interaction, the instructor provides ongoing course structures

designed to promote social rapport among students and instructor.

2. Instructional designs

for interaction

In addition to the requiring students to communicate with the instructor, instructional activities

require students to develop products by working together cooperatively (e.g., in pairs or small

groups) and share results and feedback with other groups in the class.

3. Interactivity of tech-

nology resources

In addition to technologies to allow two-way exchanges of text information, visual

technologies such as two-way video or videoconferencing technologies allow synchronous

voice & visual communications between instructor and students and among students.

4. Evidence of learner

engagement

By end of course, all or nearly all students (90-100%) are both replying to and initiating

messages, both when required and voluntarily; messages are detailed, responsive to topics, and

are well-developed communications.

5. Evidence of instruc-

tor engagement

Instructor responds to all student queries; responses are always prompt, that is, within 24

hours; feedback always offers detailed analysis of student work and suggestions for

improvement, along with additional hints and information to supplement learning.

Source: Roblyer and Wiencke (2004). Copyright 2004 by M. D. Roblyer. Adapted with permission.

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Class Size and Interaction in Online Courses 237

and (d) Carnegie classification of the

institution that offered the course.

3. Determining perceived optimal class

sizes. Respondents’ perceptions of opti-

mal class sizes were grouped according to

levels of interactive qualities previously

calculated, and to the highest possible

level in the RAIQ. Hence, four possible

data groups of perceived optimal class

sizes resulted according to the course’s

level of interactive qualities. Descriptive

statistics were obtained for each group of

data. Subgroups were analyzed and

descriptive statistics were obtained

according to (a) the course’s level of

interactive qualities, (b) academic level of

the online course’s program, (c) type of

institution that offered the course, and (d)

Carnegie classification of the institution

that offered the course.

DISCUSSION OF RESULTS

From 154 CSIQ response-cases to the CSIQ,

23 were not analyzed. The reasons for remov-

ing the 23 cases were as follows: (a) 5 respon-

dents provided a negative answer to the initial

question of the CSIQ, indicating that they did

not meet the inclusion criteria (e.g., they had

teacher assistants, they had not taught in an

American institution, or the face-to-face com-

ponent of the online course was greater than

20%); (b) 17 respondents gave an affirmative

answer to the initial question of the CSIQ, but

did not answer the rest of the questions; (c) 1

respondent indicated a class size of 100, and

the corresponding answers were removed

because they were considered outliers. There-

fore, the final sample was 131 (N = 131).

From 131 respondents, most (61.8%) were

female, had doctoral degrees (82.4%), taught

in the area of education (47.3%), on average

perceived themselves as very experienced in

online teaching (4.2 over 5), and had received

formal training in online teaching (52.7%).

Most of respondents’ online courses were

taught in public (71.8%), doctoral-research

universities (68.7%), and in graduate programs

(53.4% master’s and 17.6% doctoral).

Following is a discussion of results related

to the study’s research questions. Results were

interpreted bearing in mind demographics of

respondents, the type of online courses stud-

ied, and the scope and purpose of the RAIQ

and of the CSIQ.

What Are Typical Class Sizes of Online

Courses?

Results from the CSIQ indicated that actual

class sizes (CS) for the 131 respondents ranged

from 4 to 81. The mode was 20 and the average

was 22.8. Almost 62% of respondents’ courses

had 20 or fewer students, and only 2 courses

had a CS greater than 65. From the results, it

can be concluded that for online courses, as

defined in the study, the average CS was

approximately 23, the most frequent CS for an

online course was 20, and most courses

(61.8%) had a CS smaller than or equal to 20.

According to data posted in U.S. News &

World Report (“E-learning,” 2005), accredited

higher education institutions that offer online

graduate-programs in education have reported

class size limits of 23, on average. Even

though the CSIQ did not examine the accredi-

tation status of the institution, the average CS

identified by the CSIQ is consistent with the

data posted in U.S. News & World Report. On

the other hand, the NEA (2000) reported that

one third of online courses had 20 or fewer stu-

dents, and two thirds had 21 to 40. Similarly,

according to the Higher Education and Policy

Council of the American Federation of Teach-

ers (2000), only one third of instructors taught

online courses with 20 or fewer students. In

contrast, results of this study indicated that

most respondents (61.8%) reported a class size

of 20 or less, and only a 27.8% reported a class

size from 21 to 40. It seems that more recent

courses, taught during the years 2000 and

2005, are smaller than those taught before the

year of publication of the NEA report. How-

ever, the specific characteristics of the online

courses studied (see Table 2) and the limita-

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238 The Quarterly Review of Distance Education Vol. 7, No. 3, 2006

tions of the sample of participants prevent

making a generalization to other distance

courses. Therefore, it is not appropriate to

draw conclusions about typical class sizes of

online courses from comparing these studies.

Table 3 presents descriptive statistics for

class sizes. A more in-depth analysis indicated

that, in public doctoral-research universities,

the largest average class size resulted for

courses in bachelor’s programs (43.5), and the

smallest average class size resulted for courses

in doctoral programs (15). These results were

to be expected. Public institutions usually have

higher enrollments than private institutions,

and bachelor’s programs usually enroll more

students than doctoral programs. Hence, class

TABLE 2Characteristics of Online Courses According to Respondents

to the Class Size and Interaction Questionnaire (N = 131)

Measure Min Max Average Standard Deviation

Actual class size 4 81 22.8 13.7

Number of weeks 4 20 14.2 2.8

Interactive level* 9 25 18.8 3.8

Semester credits 1 6 3.2 0.7

Note: Min = Smallest score reported, Max = Largest score reported.

*Interactive level = Sum of points of the five elements of interactive qualities described in the questionnaire; low interactive level = 1 to 9

points, moderate interactive level = 10 to 17 points, high interactive level = 18 to 25 points.

TABLE 3Descriptive Statistics for Class Sizes of Online Courses According to Respondents to the Class Size and

Interaction Questionnaire (N = 131)

Classification Min. Max. Average

Standard

Deviation n

Carnegie Classification of Institution

Doctoral 4 81 24.7 15.4 90

Master’s 4 37 19.5 7.4 29

Other 8 35 17.3 7.7 12

Type of Institution

Public 4 81 24.4 15.1 94

Private for-profit 8 35 20.3 7.7 10

Private non-profit 7 45 18.4 8.8 24

Other 13 23 17.0 5.3 3

Academic Level of Online Courses

Bachelor’s 7 81 31.5 18.3 38

Master’s 4 55 19.7 9.7 70

Doctoral 7 35 18.0 7.8 23

Interactive Level of Online Courses*

Low 8 20 14.0 8.5 2

Moderate 7 81 25.8 15.9 43

High 4 65 21.6 12.4 86

Note: Min = Smallest score reported, Max = Largest score reported.

*Interactive level = Sum of points of the five elements of interactive qualities described in the questionnaire; low interactive level = 1 to 9

points, moderate interactive level = 10 to 17 points, high interactive level = 18 to 25 points.

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Class Size and Interaction in Online Courses 239

sizes were expected to be larger for online

courses in bachelor’s programs, and for

courses in public institutions.

What Are Typical Levels of Interactive

Qualities in Online Courses?

It was assumed that online courses may

have different interactive qualities and, hence,

different interactive levels (IL), as measured

by the RAIQ. Results from the CSIQ showed

that most respondents (65.6%) perceived that

their online course had a high IL, 32.8% a

moderate IL, and only a 1.5% a low IL. On

average, respondents perceived that their

online courses had a high-interactive level

(18.8 over 25 possible points). Specifically,

the online courses studied could be character-

ized as having above-average levels of social/

rapport-building designs for interaction, of

instructional designs for interaction, of evi-

dence of learner engagement, and of evidence

of instructor engagement. On the other hand,

these online courses could be characterized as

having a moderate level of interactivity and of

technology resources. The standard deviation

of interactive levels was 3.8. From these

results, it can be concluded that almost all

online courses (98.5%), that were taught dur-

ing the years of 2000 and 2005, were moder-

ately to highly interactive without much

variability in their interactive qualities, as

measured by the RAIQ.

Some respondents to the CSIQ commented

that the RAIQ might not be an appropriate

instrument to measure interaction in online

courses. Moreover, respondents who com-

mented about the interactive level in online

courses indicated that the highest levels, as

measured by the RAIQ, are not necessarily

needed, feasible, or desirable. Some indicated

that a high level of interaction did not neces-

sarily require synchronous communication,

video technologies, or such a demanding

instructor engagement as described for the

highest level of the RAIQ (e.g., 24 hours turn-

around response time and instructor’s detailed

responses to every student query). As previ-

ously mentioned, it was not implied in this

study that the highest interactive level was

needed or desirable in an online course. The

purpose of the study was to use the RAIQ to

determine interactive levels of online courses

and obtain information about class sizes

according to these levels.

Most respondents described their online

course as moderately and highly interactive.

Also, results indicated no statistical relation-

ship between CS and IL (see Table 4). The lat-

ter might indicate that CS does not seem to

have an effect on the course’s interactive qual-

ities. Results also indicated that the average CS

(21.6) of highly interactive online courses was

smaller than the average CS (25.8) of moder-

ately interactive ones. Generally speaking,

because it has not been agreed upon in the lit-

erature what actually constitutes a large or a

small online class, it cannot be concluded from

these results that a small CS allows a higher IL

than a large CS, or that highly interactive

online courses have smaller CS than moder-

ately interactive ones. From the results, it can

be concluded that, even though highly interac-

tive online courses that were studied had a

smaller average CS than moderately interac-

tive courses, CS does not seem to be related to

the level of interaction. Respondents com-

mented that other factors, which were also sug-

gested in the literature, might affect

interaction. Some of the mentioned factors

were instructors’ time commitment and work-

load in face-to-face traditional activities (e.g.,

administrative and teaching), course content,

students’ characteristics, and limitations of

technology.

The CSIQ did not measure instructors’

teaching-time commitment or workload in tra-

ditional face-to-face-activities. The CSIQ

measured the number of online courses taught

during the same term (NOCT) including the

online course described. The NOCT did not

measure instructor’s workload completely, but

it was considered to be an indicator of instruc-

tor’s commitment in online teaching during an

academic term. The average NOCT was 2.4

and ranged from 1 to 9. Most respondents’

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240 The Quarterly Review of Distance Education Vol. 7, No. 3, 2006

(66.9%) taught, at most, two online courses at

the same time. No relationship was found

between the interactive level and NOCT (see

Table 4).

The CSIQ did not examine characteristics

of students, per se. However, to some extent,

the academic level of the course is related to

the type of students (e.g., students are usually

younger in bachelor’s programs than in gradu-

ate programs). Common wisdom suggests that

graduate courses are more interactive, or

should be more interactive, than undergraduate

courses. However, results from the CSIQ indi-

cated only two online courses with a low inter-

active level, and both were reported at the

master’s academic level. Fifty-nine percent of

the total number of highly interactive courses

was taught in master’s programs, and 21% in

doctoral programs. Bachelor’s online courses

were reported as moderately (55.3%) and

highly (44.7%) interactive. Furthermore, no

relationship was found when analyzing differ-

ences among average scores of interactive lev-

els within groups of courses, per academic

level.

These results indicate that there is not a

strong relationship between the academic level

of the course and the interactive levels of the

studied online courses. Moderate and high

interactive qualities reported for bachelor’s

online courses might be a reflection of younger

students that have embraced technology-medi-

tated courses in different ways than, perhaps

older, graduate students. The assumption that

traditional students at the bachelor’s level are

not as interactive as graduate students might

not be applicable for online undergraduates.

Nonetheless, highly interactive online courses

were more frequent in graduate level programs

than in undergraduate programs.

What Are Instructors’ Perceptions of

Optimal Class Sizes for Online Courses

With Different Levels of Interactive

Qualities?

In distance education, anecdotal class-size

evidence is mostly related to two aspects that

Simonson (2004) denominated “myths of dis-

tance education” (p. 56): (a) It takes more time

TABLE 4Intercorrelations for Selected Measures Examined With the Class Size and Interaction Questionnaire (N = 131)

Measure Age CS YTHE NOCT LE OCS OCSL5 IL NCST FT YTO

Age —

CS −.25** —

YTHE .51** −.12 —

NOCT −.05 .06 .12 —

LE .13 −.03 .17 .34** —

OCS −.19* .79** −.07 .00 .04 —

OCSL5 −.20* .66** −.14 −.02 .08 .81** —

IL .04 −.12 −.13 .13 .25** −.18* −.08 —

NCST −.03 .02 .07 .15 .08 .03 −.02 −.09 —

FT .05 −.16 .06 −.01 .01 −.15 −.10 − .01 −.01 —

YTO .06 .03 .28** .70** .43** .02 − .02 − .14 − .13 .09 —

Note: CS = class size, YTHE = years teaching higher education, NOCT = number of online courses taught, LE = level of

expertise, OCS = optimal class size, OCSL5 = optimal class size for highest interactive levels, IL = interactive level of the

course, NCST = number of online courses taught during the same term, FT = formal training in online teaching, YTO =

years teaching online courses.

*p < 0.05. **p < .01.

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Class Size and Interaction in Online Courses 241

to teach online, therefore smaller classes are

needed—the “more-work myth” usually advo-

cated by instructors; and (b) as long as the

course is organized right, it does not matter

how big the class is because there is no physi-

cal space limitation—a myth usually advo-

cated by administrators. Results from this

study seem to support the more-work myth of

distance education.

Respondents indicated that, on average, an

optimal class size (OCS = 18.9) should be

smaller than the actual class size (CS = 22.8).

Results indicated a strong positive correlation

(r = .79) between CS and OCS to support this

conclusion. On the other hand, a very low neg-

ative correlation (r = −.18) between the inter-

active level and OCS seems to indicate that the

higher the interactive level the smaller the

OCS. Hence, it can be concluded that, in gen-

eral, respondents perceived that a smaller OCS

than CS was needed to allow for moderate and

high levels of interactive qualities in their

online courses. Table 5 presents more detailed

descriptive statistics for optimal class sizes for

online courses.

A more detailed analysis of the data

revealed that 23% of respondents believed that

the optimal class size should be greater than

the actual class size. Out of this 23%, 73%

taught courses with an actual class size less

than or equal to 15. Most of these courses

(74%) were perceived as highly interactive.

This might indicate that, for class sizes of less

than or equal to 15, most respondents felt that

more students were necessary to better achieve

the highly interactive qualities present in their

online courses.

Hence, from the results of this study, it can-

not be absolutely determined that higher inter-

active courses, as measured by the RAIQ,

require small classes. These findings might be

an indicative that instructors perceived that

TABLE 5Descriptive Statistics for Optimal Class Sizes for Online Courses According to Respondents to the Class Size

and Interaction Questionnaire (N = 131)

OCS OCSL5

Category Min. Max. M SD Min. Max. M SD n

Interactive Level of Online Courses

Low 15 25 20.0 7.1 6 15 10.5 6.4 2

Moderate 10 80 21.1 15.9 5 40 15.6 6.2 43

High 7 50 17.7 7.6 6 50 16.1 6.9 86

Carnegie Classification of Institution

Doctoral 7 80 19.4 10.1 5 50 16.4 6.9 90

Master’s 8 40 18.2 6.3 8 40 15.1 6.6 29

Other 8 35 16.2 6.8 8 35 13.5 3.9 12

Academic Level of Online Courses

Bachelor’s 10 80 25.3 12.6 5 40 19.3 8.4 38

Master’s 7 50 17.0 5.7 7 50 14.8 5.8 70

Doctoral 7 20 14.0 3.4 8 20 13.5 2.8 23

Type of Institution

Public 7 80 20.2 10.1 5 50 16.6 7.4 94

Private F-profit 10 25 15.9 4.5 100 20 13.9 3.0 10

Private N-profit 8 25 15.5 4.1 8 20 13.9 3.4 24

Other 10 20 15.0 5.0 8 20 14.3 6.0 3

Note: OCS = Perceived optimal class size of online course according to its interactive qualities, OCSL5 = Perceived optimal class size of

online course if it had the highest level of interactive qualities in the questionnaire, Min = Smallest score reported, Max = Largest score

reported, M = Average of scores, SD = Standard deviation of scores.

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242 The Quarterly Review of Distance Education Vol. 7, No. 3, 2006

they needed smaller classes than what they

actually had in order to better achieve moder-

ate and high interactive level, but large enough

(e.g., larger than 15) perhaps to increase the

level of interaction in low-interactive courses.

In addition to identifying a smaller average

of optimal class sizes than average actual class

sizes, results indicated that online courses at

the highest interactive levels should have an

average class size of 15.9, which was smaller

than the average optimal class size (18.9).

Also, a strong positive correlation (r = .81)

between optimal class size and optimal class

size for highest interaction was found (see

Table 4). A closer examination of the data

revealed that every respondent perceived that a

smaller class size than the optimal class size

was needed to achieve the highest possible

level of interactive qualities in the RAIQ. The

latter might indicate that respondents per-

ceived that achieving the highest levels of

interaction in the RAIQ might demand from

them more effort per student and, thus, teach-

ing a course with the highest interactive quali-

ties would require a much smaller class size.

Results from this study seem to support the

literature that reports on instructors’ beliefs

that online teaching takes more time or effort

than face-to-face courses. On the other hand,

experimental studies have reported mixed

results about online teaching time or effort.

The literature has also suggested that perhaps

this more-work perception is because of

instructors’ unfamiliarity with technology, or

little experience in online teaching. Perhaps

less-experienced instructors prefer smaller

classes. However, results from this study indi-

cated no relationship between instructors’

level of expertise and both types of perceived

optimal class sizes (i.e., OCS and OCSL5).

The before-mentioned precludes concluding

that teaching experience is related to instruc-

tors’ perceptions of smaller classes to allow for

higher levels of interactive qualities in online

courses.

On the other hand, as seen in Table 4, a very

low negative relationship resulted between

respondents’ age and CS (r = −.25), between

age and OCS (r = −.19), and between age and

OCSL5 (r = −.20). These correlations indicate

that older instructors perhaps prefer smaller

classes than do younger instructors. No statis-

tical relationship was found between respon-

dents’ age and their perceived level of

expertise in online teaching. Also, the number

of years teaching in higher education, the num-

ber of online courses taught, the number of

years teaching online courses, and the level of

expertise were not related to any measure of

class size. In traditional face-to-face settings, it

is customary for department heads to assign

larger classes to new instructors and smaller

classes to instructors with more years teaching

experience. Nonetheless, results of the study

indicated that for online teaching, regardless of

any of the studied indicator of teaching experi-

ence in higher education, instructor’s age was

the factor related to CS. These results might

indicate that, regardless of instructors’ level of

expertise in online teaching, older instructors

taught smaller classes, and preferred smaller

OCS and OCSL5 than younger instructors.

IMPLICATIONS FOR RESEARCH

AND PRACTICE

The theoretical framework for this study was

Roblyer and Wiencke’s (2004) RAIQ, which

was based on several theories of interaction.

Because of the applied nature of the study,

results had implications for practice. Such

implications are mainly related to the decision-

making of class size-related policies that meet

accreditation standards for online programs.

Accreditation is the means by which Amer-

ican higher education institutions are evaluated

for quality. Institutions seek accreditation

through their policies, among which are class

size-related policies. As stated in the literature

review, regional accrediting commissions have

developed a set of guidelines, or quality assur-

ance standards, to reflect current best practices

in electronically offered programs that affect

more than 3,000 colleges and universities in

the United States (CHEA, 2001). The follow-

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Class Size and Interaction in Online Courses 243

ing standard exalts the importance of interac-

tion in the design of distance courses and

programs: “The importance of appropriate

interaction (synchronous or asynchronous)

between instructor and students and among

students is reflected in the design of the pro-

gram and its courses, and in the technical facil-

ities and services provided” (WCET, 2000,

p. 8).

From the mentioned standards, a main

aspect that can be related to results of the study

is how appropriate interaction and effective

teaching can be achieved through the design of

online courses. Interaction has been a concept

defined and measured in multiple ways in dif-

ferent practical and theory-based publications.

Hence, the appropriateness of interaction can

be a vague term that may be measured in any

way an institution decides. If the appropriate-

ness of interaction is to be measured by the

RAIQ, and moderate and high interaction were

appropriate levels, then almost all online

courses studied had an appropriate interaction.

However, if the appropriate level is the highest

possible level in the RAIQ, then very few

courses met this standard for quality. More-

over, most respondents commented that the

highest level in the RAIQ was not necessarily

needed, feasible, or desirable.

Hence, two major implications for practice

can be derived from this study: accrediting

organizations might need to clearly indicate

how they expect institutions to measure the

appropriateness of interaction; and the highest

interactive level of the RAIQ is not always an

appropriate level of interaction for an online

course. Inherent to these implications is that a

design of the online course that reflects the

appropriateness of interaction is subject to the

characteristics the course. Once again, if the

RAIQ is to be used to assess the design of the

course through each of its five elements, then

multiple combinations (i.e., scores for each

element in the RAIQ) yield a certain level of

interaction. That is, each element contributes

to determine the level of interaction of the

course. Thus, determining whether the design

reflects an appropriate interaction is a complex

task.

Results from this study, in addition to the

literature about interaction and class size,

could be used by accrediting organizations to

indicate that different levels of interaction can

be appropriate for an online course, and that

different course designs can allow for appro-

priate levels of interaction. Furthermore, the

literature and research does not support that

more interaction in online courses is necessar-

ily more conducive to learning, party because

of the different ways to define and measure

interaction.

Regarding class size and interaction, com-

mon wisdom has held that smaller class sizes

for online courses allow for more interaction.

In their recommended standard for distance

education courses, the AFT (2000) stated that

“class size should encourage a high degree of

interactivity [and that] given the time commit-

ment involved in teaching through distance

education, smaller class sizes should be con-

sidered, particularly at the inception of a new

course” (p. 11). However, experimental

research has not supported that smaller classes

allow for a high level of interactivity. Further-

more, it has not been agreed upon in the litera-

ture what actually constitutes a large or small

online class. In essence, determining what

actually constitutes a large or a small class is a

complex task that does not depend on absolute

criteria, but the perceptions of instructors

might give some insight to approaching the

problem. In this sense, results from this study

could be used to set practical lower and upper

bounds of class sizes for online courses with

moderately interactive and highly interactive

levels.

Other implications for practice are similarly

related to institutional policy-making. Results

indicated no statistical relationship between

actual class size and the interactive level of the

studied online courses, but results did indicate

a low negative correlation between optimal

class size and interactive level. Generally

speaking, respondents seemed to have per-

ceived that they would require more time and

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244 The Quarterly Review of Distance Education Vol. 7, No. 3, 2006

commitment if the number of students

increased, when they indicated smaller optimal

class sizes to achieve the highest levels of

interaction in the RAIQ. However, it cannot be

concluded from these results that class size

alone determines the levels of interaction in an

online course.

Respondents to the CSIQ commented that

other factors might determine the level of

interaction in online courses. Some of the men-

tioned factors were instructors’ time commit-

ment, instructors’ workload in face-to-face

traditional activities, and the role of the adjunct

figure as part-time faculty. In this regard, Gell-

man-Danley and Fetzner (1998) considered

that policies related to labor-management

(e.g., class size, assignment of full-time or

adjunct faculty, and workload) were among

the most difficult to develop and included the

toughest questions to ask. Johnstone (2004)

raised the question on whether full-time fac-

ulty members are completely ready to adapt to

online teaching, or whether they were really

the best ones to assist students online. The fig-

ure of readily skillful professionals, as part-

time adjunct faculty, is an alternative for insti-

tutions to fill this possible gap. As Johnstone

pointed out,

One institutional practice that is challenged

by distance learning focuses on who should

be doing the “teaching” [and that] if part-

time faculty members, or adjunct faculty,

are to be the core workforce for online

instruction, then institutions that use a lot

of online teaching may need to develop a

new category of professional employees.

(p. 396)

Nonetheless, adjuncts usually hold other

full-time jobs that prevent them from trying to

reach higher interactive levels in their online

courses, regardless of class size. Respondents

to the CSIQ commented the following: “If I’m

teaching a class (as an adjunct) in addition to

my ‘regular’ full-time job, I may not incorpo-

rate as many interactive activities, regardless

of class size” (Respondent 32); and “most

adjunct professors have other jobs and tend to

do feedback two or three times a week … not

daily” (Respondent 7). Incorporating this kind

of professional workforce, in addition to the

new required roles of full faculty, suggest that

institutions need to develop better ways to

determine teaching workloads that adequately

measures the effort, time-commitment, and

dedication of the instructor in online teaching

tasks, especially interacting with individual

students.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR

FUTURE RESEARCH

More research in online education is needed to

support or reject the assumption that smaller

class sizes are needed for higher interactive

levels, or even that higher interactive levels are

more conducive to learning than lower interac-

tive levels. Examining the following questions

might support or reject the commonly held

belief that more interaction is better for learn-

ing, and might also help examine whether what

instructors perceived as optimal class size is

better for interaction and learning outcomes: Is

there a relationship between class size and

learning outcomes? Is there a relationship

between the level of interaction, as measured

by the RAIQ, and learning outcomes? Are

there significant differences in levels of inter-

action and learning outcomes among different

online courses with the same perceived opti-

mal class size? Are there significant differ-

ences in levels of interaction and learning

outcomes among similar online courses with

different perceived optimal class size?

On the other hand, respondents’ perception

of smaller optimal class size than actual class

size, on average, might be an indicator that

instructors believed that a larger class size

implies more time commitment and workload.

Nonetheless, class size itself might not be an

aspect that affects online-learning outcomes.

The literature in traditional education has sug-

gested that what happens in the class is what is

actually affected by the class size. Respon-

dents commented that the characteristics of the

online course and of the students, as well as

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Class Size and Interaction in Online Courses 245

instructor’s workload, are elements that affect

interaction in an online course. As the IHEP

(2000) suggested for online courses, “Maxi-

mum class size relates more to faculty course

workload than student outcomes. It appears,

therefore, that a specific benchmark for class

size is ill advised, and much more experimen-

tation needs to be conducted” (p. 18).

Hence, additional research questions can be

examined to determine relationships between

instructor’s workload and online class size: Is

there a significant difference between online-

teaching time commitments among online

courses with the same class size and taught by

instructors with different workloads? Is there a

significant difference between online-teaching

time commitments among online courses with

different class sizes and taught by instructors

with similar workloads? How is online teach-

ing time-commitment affected by class size?

How is interactivity affected by the overall

workload of instructors?

Results of this study did not support the

commonly held assumption that graduate stu-

dents interact more than undergraduate stu-

dents. Considering students’ characteristics is

paramount when designing any instruction.

Online instruction poses new challenges to

designers because younger generations of stu-

dents have practically embraced communica-

tions technology as living style. Online

education requires a self-motivated student

capable of using communications technology,

regardless of the program’s academic level.

Both types of students (i.e., graduate and

undergraduate) in online courses that were

offered no more than 5 years ago were perhaps

more technology savvy than students of online

courses that were offered longer ago. Results

indicated a larger average class size for under-

graduate online courses, and that undergradu-

ate online courses were also moderately and

highly interactive, as measured by the RAIQ.

Future research could be conducted to support

or reject the assumption that larger class sizes

are adequate for younger undergraduate stu-

dents because, perhaps, they do not interact as

much as older graduate students.

Some of the before recommended research

issues involve exploring the interactive level

of online courses, as measured by the RAIQ.

Other instruments that have been reported in

the literature can also be used to measure inter-

action. Moreover, respondents to the CSIQ

commented about possible limitations of the

RAIQ to measure interaction. Results of this

study indicated no relationship between actual

class size and interactive levels of the studied

online courses, but perhaps different indicators

of interactive levels would show a relation-

ship. Thus, future research is recommended to

examine the relationship between interaction

and class size as measured by other instru-

ments.

Qualitative research can also contribute to

examine the optimal class-size problem. From

the standpoint of quality in online courses, stu-

dents and instructors might have different per-

spectives of what is an optimal class size. On

the other hand, as respondents to the CSIQ

commented, administrators usually establish

class-size limits and then the instructor must

accommodate the teaching methods accord-

ingly. If results of optimal class size from this

study are taken as benchmarks, a qualitative

study might examine the question: How do

instructors and students behave in similar

online courses with the average optimal class

size?

An assumption that was derived from the

literature is that perhaps less experienced

instructors prefer smaller classes. Results of

this study indicated that regardless of instruc-

tors’ level of expertise in online teaching, older

instructors taught and preferred smaller classes

than did younger instructors. Also, more expe-

rienced instructors seemed to have perceived

their courses as having higher levels of interac-

tive qualities. Some research questions that

arise from these results are related to instruc-

tor’s age: If older instructors perceive them-

selves as having similar levels of experience in

online teaching than younger instructors, why

do they prefer teaching smaller classes? If

older instructors can achieve similar interac-

tive levels in their online courses, why do they

CLASS SIZE AND INTERACTION IN ONLINE COURSES - [PDF Document] (18)

246 The Quarterly Review of Distance Education Vol. 7, No. 3, 2006

prefer teaching smaller classes? Should depart-

ment heads assign larger classes to younger

faculty members?

CONCLUSIONS

Results of this study were intended to be prac-

tical. Optimal class sizes from the perspective

of the instructor were thought to be helpful to

policymakers who are trying to establish class-

size limits for online courses. Limitations of

the study were inherent to the research method

employed (i.e., recruitment of participants,

availability and credibility of respondents, and

limitations of the instruments), and results are

likely to be applicable to online courses as

defined in the study. Future research is recom-

mended to examine class size and interaction

from the perspectives of administrators and of

students.

Findings indicate that, even though the

actual class sizes of the studied online courses

were not related to their actual interactive

qualities and that most respondents perceived

their online courses as moderately and highly

interactive, respondents still believed that they

needed smaller classes to achieve higher inter-

active levels (i.e., an average class size of 22.8

versus a perceived average optimal class size

of 18.9). Furthermore, the data indicate that

every respondent believed that even smaller

class sizes were needed to achieve the highest

interactive level possible in the RAIQ (i.e., an

average of 15.6).

Because interaction is a concept that has

been measured in different ways in research

and practice, accrediting organizations might

need to clearly indicate how an institution is to

measure for appropriate interaction reflected in

the design of the online course in order to meet

quality standards. Also, institutions should

take recommendations from consortia cau-

tiously. Specifically, recommendations of hav-

ing smaller classes to allow for high

interactivity because it has not been supported

by research and it has not been agreed upon

what actually constitutes a large or a small

online class. However, respondents perceived

that smaller classes were needed to achieve the

actual interactive level in their online courses.

This might be because of a perceived increased

effort if they had more students. Hence, for

future research, it is highly recommended to

examine the relationship between class size

and instructors’ workload and between class

size and online teaching time commitment.

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CLASS SIZE AND INTERACTION IN ONLINE COURSES - [PDF Document] (2024)

FAQs

What is classroom interaction pdf? ›

Classroom interaction is one of the most commonly used teaching methodologies that can be applied to develop linguistic competencies in second language instruction. Interaction in the classroom refers to the conversation between teachers and students, as well as interactions between the students.

What is the ideal class size for online learning? ›

A recent Online Learning Consortium blog post by Rebecca Thomas states that class sizes less than 30 are “optimal for certain pedagogies and course designs.” Much of the asynchronous course designs incorporate best practices from constructivist learning theories such as the Community of Inquiry.

How do you make students interact in online classes? ›

Below are specific approaches you can take to build a hospitable online course and foster student-student interaction.
  1. Begin with an Icebreaker. ...
  2. Incorporate Group Work. ...
  3. Craft Thoughtful Discussions. ...
  4. Open Multiple Communication Channels. ...
  5. Encourage Social Connection. ...
  6. Include Collaborative Writing and Peer Review.

What is the the importance of interaction in online courses? ›

Student-to-Student Interaction

Social interaction in online learning allows students to share their ideas on various subjects with each other. Student-led online discussions typically motivate deeper understanding as well as yield interesting personal applications of course concepts and theories.

What are the three types of interactions in the classroom? ›

The types of classroom interaction are teacher-student interaction, student-teacher interaction, and student-student interaction.

What is an example of a class interaction? ›

Activities such as class debates, discussions, or review games, are examples of full-class interactions. These activities are a great way to end a lesson or unit, and also serve as an alternative formative assessment method.

What is the most effective class size? ›

It's Smaller Than You Think. First, a closer look tells us that reductions from “extra large” class sizes to “large” class sizes won't do the trick. Researchers generally agree a class size of no larger than 18 students is required to produce the desired benefit. You read that right—the ideal class size is 18 kids.

What is the ideal group size for online learning? ›

Sieber & Tomei recommended class size of 12 for instructors new to teaching online whereas Colwell and Jenks (as cited in Burruss, Billing, Brownrigg, Skiba, & Connors, 2009) set the upper limit for a desirable class size as 20 for an undergraduate course and between 8 and 15 for graduate courses.

How many students should be in an online class? ›

Sieber (2005) recommended a class size of 12 for instructors new to teaching online; Tomei (2006) also recommended a class size of 12 in relation to the course level (for a graduate-level course) rather than the amount of experience the instructor had teaching online.

How to make an online class more interactive? ›

Tips on How to Make Online Classes More Interactive
  1. Let People Choose What They Want to Discuss. ...
  2. Combine Different Media Types. ...
  3. Check Students' Progress More Often. ...
  4. Invite Students to Contribute. ...
  5. Give Homework Assignments. ...
  6. Ask Questions During Online Classes. ...
  7. Try Running a Cohort-Based Course. ...
  8. Micro-Learning.
Apr 8, 2023

How can you improve classroom interaction? ›

Teachers can improve their classroom interaction with students by focusing on emotional support, classroom organization, and instructional support. Research suggests that teachers' improvement in classroom interaction is dependent on their own knowledge or their colleagues' strong knowledge of classroom interaction .

How do you get a class to interact? ›

10 Tips to Make Your Classes More Engaging for Students
  1. Ask questions and seek your student's opinions. ...
  2. Assess the level of knowledge in the room and tailor your teaching accordingly. ...
  3. Get students to present work themselves. ...
  4. Use multimedia like video or audio clips. ...
  5. Encourage group discussion.

What are the three types of interaction in online learning? ›

This study is inspired by Moore's transactional distance theory and will, therefore, focus on all the three types of interaction that Moore (1989) cited: learner-content interaction, learner-instructor interaction, and learner-learner interaction.

Why is classroom interaction so important? ›

Equal peer interactions can enable students to create zones of proximal development for each other, with their interactions giving rise to ideas, which are then shared with peers and then further advanced and developed through collaboration.

What factors impact student content interaction in fully online courses? ›

The way courses are managed has a strong impact on student content interaction. The main two factors that impact course management are the assessment and course notes and when to release them. Around 65% of the survey respondents in the IT course voted for early release whereas this number is only 26% for IP students.

What is the meaning of classroom interaction? ›

Classroom interaction is an interaction that takes place either between teacher and students. or among the students in the class. Brown (2000)defines, “Interaction is the collaborative. exchange of thoughts, feelings, or ideas between two or more people, resulting in a reciprocal. effect on each other” (p.

How would you describe the interaction in the classroom? ›

Classroom Interaction is a practice that enhances the development of the two very important language skills which are speaking and listening among the learners.. Classroom interaction refers to the conversation and interaction between teachers and students, as well as interactions between the students .

What is the objective of classroom interaction? ›

Classroom Interaction helps the learner to be competent enough to think critically and share their views among their peers. It also aims at probing into the learner's prior learning ability and his way of conceptualizing facts and ideas.

What are the characteristics of classroom interaction? ›

The findings reveal that all teachers performed two characteristics of classroom interaction namely language accuracy and classroom discourse.

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