Common Traits of the Best Online and Face-to-face Classes: Evidence from Student Surveys

28 January 2020, Version 1
This content is an early or alternative research output and has not been peer-reviewed at the time of posting.


Increasingly, college students are enrolling in both online and face-to-face classes, while college instructors are teaching both online and face-to-face classes. What are the key similarities and differences in quality instruction across these formats? Instructors can benefit from knowing what the best classes have in common, and how to adjust their teaching to best fit the medium of delivery. We surveyed 2,007 undergraduate students at a public, metropolitan university and asked them about the best and worst classes they have ever taken. The resulting qualitative and quantitative data reveal some important consistencies across modalities—like effective communication and instructor availability. Other factors, however, differ by course format. Instructors seem to matter more in face-to-face courses, where they can establish personal relationships with students, whereas assignments are more important in online classes. Our findings can help college instructors in any modality reach students with instruction they will remember as truly excellent.




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