At the University of Georgia, HORT 3020 (Introduction to Fruit Crops) is a two-credit survey of the botanical characteristics, taxonomy, and production practices of the world's major fruit crops. It is offered via traditional classroom instruction, and as a distance education (DE) course through the University System of Georgia Independent Study program. The DE version of the course is designed to be identical in content, final exam, and grading scale. However, due to the nature of independent study, the end-of-topic evaluations are open-book, written assignments in the DE course, whereas students in the classroom version have closed-book quizzes at the end of each topic. Student performance in the two versions of the course was compared over a 3-year period (May 1998 to May 2001) by analyzing scores on end-of-topic evaluations, final exams, and overall course grades. Students in the DE version had higher scores on end-of-topic evaluations in all 3 years, higher scores on a comprehensive final exam in 2 of 3 years, and consequently higher overall course grades than classroom students in all 3 years. Better performance of DE over classroom students may have been related to 1) qualitative differences in end-of-topic evaluations (written assignments versus quizzes), 2) differences in student demographics (nontraditional students in DE, traditional undergraduates in classroom), 3) the elective (DE) versus required (classroom) nature of the courses, or 4) differences in course duration (1 year for DE, 15 weeks for classroom). Equal or better performance of DE students suggests that survey courses such as Introduction to Fruit Crops can be offered via distance education without compromising learning outcomes.
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