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Non-positive or non-significant findings related to class size studies

Not all researchers have determined positive significance related to class size. For example, Jiang and Ting (2000) analyzed 19 online courses and compared class size to variables of students’ perceptions of (a) achievement, (b) level of interaction with the instructor, and (c) level of interaction with other students, as well as the number of notes written by the instructor. No significant correlations were found between class size and any of the four variables listed. Arbaugh and Duray (2001) found that class section size was negatively associated with student learning using a sample of courses with enrollments of up to 50 students. In other studies with class sizes of 30 or fewer students, it has been determined that class size was not a significant predictor of student learning or satisfaction (Arbaugh, 2002). Drago and Peltier (2004) studied the effect of class size on the evaluation of teaching effectiveness. The class sizes among 31 online business courses ranged from 22 students to 83 students. They determined that size had little impact on overall course effectiveness; however, data were limited by a potential non-response bias in that only 53% of the students returned the survey.

Concluding remarks

Only a handful of researchers since 2000 have attempted to determine optimum class size in online courses. Of those published studies, perhaps only one or two of the studies can be considered generalizable. This is the first gap in knowledge—a lack of generalizable studies published for consumption and adoption. Numbers of students in online sections, based on anecdotal data (excluding extreme outliers) appear to mirror the numbers of class sizes reported within the available studies as noted in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Numbers of students in online classes mentioned in anecdotal and research studies with the exception of major outliers of over 2000.

More stringent research studies are needed in terms of understanding the optimum number of students for an online class. The second gap in knowledge, therefore, is the need for the development of a formula for determining optimum class size under specific and varied conditions in higher education. Probably most important to the research of online class size is the impact it is having on learning outcomes. That represents a third gap in knowledge related to online class size. Finally, since this review is appearing in a handbook related to the educational administration discipline, we must add a fourth gap. There are no researchers who have provided data, to date, on class size optimization in educational administration programs. Certainly, these gaps in the literature on online class size are-- as Li and Irby (2006) indicated-- “undiscovered territory waiting to be explored” (p. 457).


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Source:  OpenStax, Ncpea handbook of online instruction and programs in education leadership. OpenStax CNX. Mar 06, 2012 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11375/1.24
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