Composite Learning Objects in Geographical Sciences: A Comparison Study of the Learning Process between a Costa Rica and United States University Classroom
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This study systematically evaluated the learning process of post-secondary students in the U.S. and Costa Rica using a technology enhanced lesson. A composite Learning Object (cLO) was created for this research study which was organized around a website, and taught using social constructivist pedagogical setting. Evaluating the learning experience consisted of comparing cognitive and affective learning of students from both locations. Student attitudes toward the facilitator, the person responsible for guiding students through the lesson, were also assessed as they can be strong influences on the learning experience. Student attitudes toward technology were assessed because of the online delivery mechanism. This study was a mixed methods approach with more emphasis on the quantitative analysis. The evaluation instruments used to measure quantitatively the learning experience was a cognitive test, a survey instrument, and student’s grades on activities performed. Qualitative analysis consisted of content analysis of open comments from the survey and personal on-site interviews. The nonparametric statistics used in the comparison were the Mann-Whitney-Wilcoxon and the Chi square Test for independence. The exam data indicated significant difference between pre- and post-test scores between the two groups, with U.S. students scoring higher, but no significant difference in improvement scores between the groups was indicated. Furthermore, improvement in cognitive learning did occur, but the gap could not be closed between the two groups despite having participated in the same lesson. This has detrimental implications for international students taking classes online and prompts further questions of why the gap in post-test scores between the two groups could not be eliminated. Affective learning did not differ between the two groups except for the future use category. Furthermore, the difference in the future use category is linked with the majority of Costa Rica students being geography majors. The prominent use of the English language on the Internet also had a negative effect on the Costa Rican group. Survey results support this conclusion where 70% of students believed they could have done better if Internet material were in their native language. It is recommended that more Spanish educational material be available on the Internet for this population.
Survey results and personal interviews indicate that the Costa Rican students and U.S. students had a positive learning experience with the online constructivist lesson. Regarding motivation, 78% of the Costa Ricans and 75% of U.S. students agreed that the cLO stimulated their interest. In each group, at least half indicated that the lesson motivated them to spend more time with the subject than they normally would. The open comments analysis also supported the positive response to the approach of the lesson by the Costa Rica group. Despite lower cognitive scores and a secondary educational system focused on didactic methods, the Costa Rican students are amicable to the use of geographic technology presented in social constructivist pedagogy.
Field data are lacking on the topic of culture and online learning. This study provided some insight into the subject but much more research is needed. The mass marketing of global online education by developed countries is already in progress and in order for students to have an enriching experience care should be taken in development of these courses. Future topics that currently need exploration include how student-teacher and student-student interactions affect the learning experience in different cultural settings, how language affects the learning experience for second-language learners, and development of best training methods for instructors with a global audience.