The Design and Delivery Online of a Quantitative Management Course

Claude R. Superville  csupervi@valdosta.edu is an Associate Professor in the Department of Management, Valdosta State University. Sampson E. Gholston gholston@ise.uah.edu is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering and Engineering Management, University of Alabama in Huntsville.

The article explores the redesign of a quantitative management course, "Management Science," for delivery via the worldwide web to students at Valdosta State University. (A unit of the University System of Georgia, Valdosta State is located in the City of Valdosta.) All management majors are required to take this course. It was offered entirely online for the first time in the summer semester of 1999. The redesign of the course is traced from downloadable slides accessible from a course homepage, to the "interactive classroom" feature of a discussion board and e-mail as the mechanism to facilitate the flow of assignments. A survey explores student perceptions of the delivery method in facilitating student learning and compares their perceptions on this delivery method to the traditional lecture-delivered format.

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

To satisfy the needs of non-traditional students, the College of Business Administration at Valdosta State University has offered the management major by interactive video to students in South Georgia, since 1994. While delivering classes by interactive video offers students the possibility of continuing their education at home, it does require their presence in classes for lectures and discussions. Walsh and Reese (1995) suggest that the offering of degree programs by distance-learning provides educational opportunities at a distance or at "disadvantaged" locations. It also allows schools to tap into new market segments. Certainly a significant advantage of distance education is that it does not have to be constrained by either location or time. It may include any method for providing instruction to students through electronic or print media at a time or in a location that may differ from that of the instructor. [Moore 1990] The offering of Management Science, a quantitative management course required of management majors, via the worldwide web is an initial attempt to offer further locational flexibility and convenience to students.

Typically, the curriculum for an undergraduate management degree at most universities includes a senior-level, advanced quantitative course. This course has a number of titles of which Management Science, Decision Sciences, Quantitative Business Analysis, and Operations Research are the most common. The course content tends to be similar regardless of its title. Covered in the typical course are applications of mathematical and statistical tools to managerial decision-making. Topics covered tend to include, but are not limited to, linear programming, decision theory, probability applications, forecasting, transportation problems, and assignment problems, and project management.

This article explores the objectives of this alternative, web-based delivery method; the development of the redesigned course; and instructorís experiences that are unique to this course.  Discussed first is a feedback survey used to explore student perceptions. This is followed by an analysis of the results and conclusions.

 

LEARNING OBJECTIVES

 

The objectives of the redesigned course are:

  1. Convenience of access to students: The only limitation to accessing course materials is the availability of an Internet connection. Students may download course materials at a time and location that is convenient to them. This is substantially more user-friendly and time convenient when compared to the traditional lecture-based classroom delivery method and to the interactive audio-visual distance delivery method that limits access to course materials to in-class time.
  2. Avoidance of class conflicts: The availability of the course at a time and location of the studentís choice eliminates the possibility of a time conflict with an on-campus course.
  3. Increased student proficiency in the use of the computers, the worldwide web and e-mail: It is hoped that students will further enhance their computer and internet-access abilities while fulfilling class requirements. Distance delivery of courses introduces students to the use of information technology used by businesses. [Leidner and Jarvenpaa 1993]
  4. Greater availability of the instructor for providing assistance to students: The provision of a discussion board facilitates student-to-instructor and student-to-student interactions, substantially increasing possible access to the instructor beyond normal office hours for students in need of assistance.
 

COURSE DEVELOPMENT AND INSTRUCTOR'S EXPERIENCES

 

By accessing the course homepage, students may access a course syllabus that details course policies and the logistics of the web-based delivery method, power point slides, and a discussion board. PowerPoint slides supplied by the textbook publisher contain required concepts and worked examples and can be unzipped from the course homepage. Packaged lectures are occasionally supplied to students by e-mail or placed on the discussion board.

The discussion board is the primary mode of interaction among students and between students and the instructor. The keys to interactivity in the online classroom are interactions between the faculty member and students, interactions among students, and the learning collaboration that comes from these interactions. [Palloff and Pratt 1999] All assignments are posted on the discussion board. Class discussions are posted on the discussion board where all students can see the posted comments and respond at their convenience. Occasionally, short lectures are posted on the discussion board, while longer lectures are sent to students by electronic mail.

A few issues unique to this course occur as the course progresses. First, the teaching of "Linear Programming" presents a special challenge to the instructor. This topic involves the solution of simultaneous equations to obtain an optimal solution that is to be used as an aid in managerial decision-making. Many students find it difficult to solve equations simultaneously despite an excellent presentation of the topic on the PowerPoint slides. An optional in-class session has been added to provide assistance with this topic. Second, scientific notation and Greek symbols that are originally typed in using the word processing package "Word for Windows" appear as unknown symbols when pasted onto the discussion board. Also, items on the discussion board could not be made bold or underlined. It appears that the solution to these problems lies in saving the documents as HTML, a language that is readable when posted on the web. Thirdly, the unavailability of on-line testing software creates a need for an alternative method of testing. As a temporary solution, students are asked to take tests on campus. Despite these issues, the discussion board, as a device for student/instructor interaction continues to be extremely useful in the delivery of this course.

 

WEB-BASED STUDENT EVALUATIONS

 

Students enrolled in "Management Science" in the Summer 1999 session were required to complete a "web-Based Student Evaluation" questionnaire at the end of the semester. The questionnaire contained ten questions with responses on a five-point Likert scale that address issues such as the ease of access and usefulness of class slides, student preferences for packaged lectures instead of class slides, the adequacy of the delivery method, studentsí willingness to take another course on-line, and the usefulness of the course. Responses were examined for twenty-two students enrolled in the course.

The following is the scaling used on the Likert scale, the questions asked on the evaluations, and student responses to the questions, including the average value (m ) and standard deviation (s ) of the numerical values of their responses:

Strongly Disagree = 1

Disagree = 2

Neutral = 3

Agree = 4

Strongly Agree = 5

PowerPoint slides, supplied by the textbook publisher and accessible from the course homepage, is the primary method of delivering course content. The effectiveness of the PowerPoint slides depends on their ease-of-access by students and their usefulness in delivering course content. This led to the following questions:

1. Are textbook-based class slides easily accessible from the instructorís homepage?

Students strongly agree/agree (m = 4.48, s = 0.59) that the class slides are easily accessible from the instructor's homepage.

2. Are textbook-based class slides useful in understanding course materials?

They agree/are neutral (m = 3.33, s = 0.94) that textbook-based class slides are useful in understanding the course content.

After posting the first instructor-supplied lecture on the discussion board, a number of students voiced the opinion that the packaged lectures are more easily understood that class slides. This led to the following question:

3. Are packaged lectures posted on the discussion board or delivered by e-mail preferred to class slides?

Consistent with expectations, packaged lectures posted on the discussion board or delivered by e-mail were preferred to class slides for delivery of course materials (m = 4.14, s = 0.99).

One of the objectives of the course is to increase student proficiency in the use of the Internet and e-mail. This led  to the following question:

4. Have you learned more about the Internet and e-mail as a direct result of taking this course?

Students agree/are neutral (m = 3.67, s = 1.04) that they have learned more about the Internet and e-mail as a direct result of taking this course.

According to Palloff and Pratt (1999), the keys to interactivity in the online classroom are interactions between the faculty member and students, interactions among students, and the learning collaborations that comes from these interactions. The discussion board is the primary medium for facilitating this interaction in the web-delivered course, replacing the class discussions of the traditional classroom. This led to the following question:

5. Is the discussion board useful in facilitating interaction with the instructor and with other students?

Students strongly agree/agree (m = 4.36, s = 0.78) that the discussion board is useful in facilitating interaction with the instructor and with other students.

Distance delivery is sometimes seen as an inferior learning alternative to the traditional in-class model. [Sherron and Boettcher 1997] Russell (1992) believes that there is no significant difference in the effectiveness of the delivery methods. This led to the following question:

6. Does this web-based method of delivery compare favorably to traditional lecture-delivered courses?

Students are neutral (m = 3.04, s = 1.36) in viewing this web-based delivery method favorably relative to traditional lecture-delivered courses.

It is believed that because of the convenience of access that this online course students may be willing take another online course. This led to the following question:

7. Would you be willing to take another course online?

Students agree/are neutral (m = 3.36, s = 1.30) in their willingness to take another online course.

Finally, student perceptions of the effectiveness of the delivery method and the achievement of the learning objectives of this course were examined. This led to the following questions:

8. Has the course been effectively delivered using this web-based format?

Students agree/are neutral (m = 3.18, s = 1.23) that the course has been effectively delivered using this web-based format.

9. Have the learning objectives of the course been achieved using this web-based format?

Students agree/are neutral (m = 3.18, s = 1.23) that the learning objectives of the course have been achieved using this web-based format.

 

CONCLUSIONS

 

To summarize student perceptions based on the survey: students seem to prefer instructor-provided lectures that are delivered on the web or by e-mail as opposed textbook-based course slides. Possibly this is because lectures tend to be more focused in the coverage of course content. While students may be willing to take other courses online, they are neutral in regard to the view that web-based delivery, while convenient, is as desirable as traditional lectures. This may be due to the quantitative nature of this course.

This initial effort at web-based delivery of a required quantitative management offered students the convenience of accessing course materials at a time and location of their choice; the avoidance of class conflicts; greater ability to receive instructor assistance beyond office hours; and increased their proficiency with computers, the worldwide web, and e-mail. The mathematical nature of the course may make it more feasible to teach certain topics, in particular Linear Programming, in a traditional lecture-format, where hands-on assistance can be provided by the instructor. Other topics that are less mathematical in nature seem to be well suited to delivery online.

 

REFERENCES

 

Leidner, D.E. and S.L. and Jarvenpaa (1993). "The Information Age Confronts Education: Case Studies on Electronic Classrooms," Information Systems Research, 4, 24-54.

Moore, M.G. (1990). "Contemporary Issues in American Distance Education, New York: Gannon.

Palloff, R.M. and K. Pratt (1999). Building Learning Communities in Cyberspace," San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Russell, T. (1992). "Television's Indelible Impact on Distance Learning," Research in Distance Education, 3(4), 2-4.

Sherron, G.T. and J.V. Boettcher (1997). "Distance Learning: The Shift to Interactivity, Boulder, Colorado," CAUSE, 1-39.

Walsh, J. and B. Reese (1995). Distance Learningís Growth Reach," Technological Horizons in Education Journal, 22(11), 58-62.