A Comparison of Web-Enhanced vs Traditional Classroom Teaching in Women's Health Nurse Practitioner Education

Deborah J. Stiffler, PhD, RN, CNM


Topics in Advanced Practice Nursing eJournal. 2008;8(3) 

In This Article

So... Which Format Did Students Prefer?

When asked which course format the students preferred, 3 preferred the Web-enhanced format and 5 preferred the traditional lecture format. When asked which course format suited their learning style or needs best, they were equally divided: Four students selected the Web-enhanced format and 4 selected the lecture format.

When asked whether the content of the 2 courses was suitable for online learning, the students waffled. Most believed that the content was suitable for online learning; however, they believed that the interactions that they had during class time added to their learning. One student wrote, "The interaction we had as a class, the brainstorming that we did on case studies, and sharing our own cases with one another could not occur nearly as easily in an online-only course." Another stated, "Both are suitable, but I would not like an exclusively online venue. I liked meeting up with the class and comparing notes with other students and asking live questions and getting live clarifications to things I was unsure of."

Finally, the students were asked: If they had been given the opportunity to take all courses in the WHNP program online, would they have done so? Their answers were again divided. Those who said yes, that they would have liked to take the program entirely online, said so mainly because of the convenience. Those who said no preferred the personal contact with the other students and the instructor. One said, "I think the contact with the other students and professor who is clinically active helps to make the theory and new material easier to understand."


The findings of this course comparison project were somewhat surprising. Students didn't have a distinct preference for either the online course or the traditional lecture format course. Their comments indicated that they found the Web-enhanced format more difficult, more time-consuming, and more stressful. However, they believed that they learned more by completing the weekly assignments required by the online course. The students seemed to enjoy the more passive lecture format, but they got more out of the active learning that they had to do in the Web-enhanced format.

Contact with other class members and the faculty member was very important to the students. Students clearly like getting together and discussing topics in a classroom setting. Optional discussion forums were set up in the Web-enhanced course, but few students took advantage of them. Discussion forums were primarily to be used for students to communicate with each other. The students also had frequent access to their instructor during the Web-enhanced course because they would meet together on occasion for special guest speakers. I was also available by email and phone.

This comparison project suggested that students would prefer a mixed format for their graduate nursing courses. Even though many judged all of the content suitable for online learning, they believed that courses should be taught "half and half," not entirely online but not entirely in the classroom either. In the classroom format, weekly assignments, such as those used in the Web-enhanced course, may increase students' participation and preparedness for class.

For those students who would have preferred an entirely online program, I was disappointed that they would take the online courses solely for convenience. Convenience appeared to be more important than learning. Although the students did seem to learn more, or at least were better prepared by the active learning required by the Web-enhanced format, learning was not the motivation for desiring an online program.

Meso- and Microlevel Evaluation

When evaluating the courses at the mesolevel, it appeared that both the Web-enhanced and the lecture format were effective in teaching the content because the student grades for each course did not differ significantly. Students commented that the active learning activities in the Web-enhanced course provided better preparation and understanding of the material. The microlevel evaluations were mixed. The students learned and perceived their learning as better with the Web-enhanced format, but they did not appreciate having to work harder to do the learning.

With regard to the 3 types of interactions necessary for a successful online course, as described by Smith and colleagues,[5] it appeared that the students received enough learner-content interactions. However, the students were not satisfied with the learner-instructor and learner-learner interactions with the Web-enhanced format. This was evident in their preference for the lecture format, and their many comments related to discussing and sharing with the other students.

Instructor's Perspective

I enjoyed the process of developing the Web-enhanced course, and I am pleased with how it turned out. Grading the weekly online assignments was more time-consuming than the traditional lecture course, but the investment was worth it. Although the grades between the 2 courses were not different, my personal belief is that the students learned more by completing the modules and the assignments. In the future, I plan to restructure the gynecology course into a similar Web-enhanced format with weekly management assignments.

My evaluation of the new course had several limitations. First, it was limited by a very small sample. There were only 14 students who took the course during the evaluation period, and not all of the students completed every survey. Another limitation was that I was evaluating the new online course by comparing the method of delivery of 2 courses with dissimilar content and student workload. In retrospect, it would have made more sense to do the evaluations before and after making changes to the same course. Also, I may have introduced bias in the course evaluations. As the course developer, I had put a lot of time and effort into the new course, and I wanted the students to appreciate my efforts.

For other faculty who are thinking of making similar changes, I would encourage them to do so, but I would caution them to not take this lightly. It is not necessarily easier to teach an online rather than a traditional course. It takes a lot of time to transition a course from a face-to-face format to an online format, and once the course is online, it is time-consuming to maintain it. I would also encourage faculty to use their campus resources to assist them in making these changes. I could not have revised this course on my own. The Center for Teaching and Learning on our campus was invaluable to me.


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