Date of Award:

5-2017

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)

Department:

Nutrition, Dietetics, and Food Sciences

Advisor/Chair:

Heidi Wengreen

Abstract

Higher student enrollment rates and evolving student expectations are current challenges for many universities.Today’s students expect teaching pedagogy that integrates technology and offers flexibility. Blended course designs provide both of these things because they include both face-to-face and online learning opportunities.Utilizing web-based learning platforms, now offered by many college textbook publishers, can also enhance a student’s online learning experience and performance.

This research focuses on a blended-design general education nutrition course offered at Utah State University(USU). Prior to Fall 2015, “Mastering” (Pearson Publishing)was the web-based learning platform being used in this course.A separate study, completed in 2015, assessed the efficacy of Mastery over two consecutive semester periods and concluded that it was ineffective in increasing students’ final letter grade or improving knowledge retention. As a result, Mastering was replaced by anew web-based learning platform,called “Connect” (McGraw Hill Publishing).

One of the purposes of this study was to evaluate Connect.Students who used Connect earned higher final grades and showed increased knowledge retention rates at the end of the semester compared to students who had used the old platform (Mastering). When below-average and above-average pre-test score groups were compared, there was no statistical difference between Mastering andConnect on students' knowledge retention rates on a post-test administered 4 months after course completion. We also found that, like Mastering, the knowledge retention rate for students who used Connect increased the most among the students who scored the lowest on an initial assessment of nutrition-related knowledge.

One complaint of blended courses that students often report is a feeling of disconnection or decreased engagement.A second part of this research measured self-reported rates of student satisfaction and engagement to determine the effect, if any, of additional technological tools (Google+, for example) and greater interaction and support from a graduate-level teaching assistant(TA).

Compared to the class without the additional tools and TA support, final grade, course satisfaction level,and student attendance rate improved in the classes that did incorporate these things. A student engagement survey was given at the beginning and end of the semester to measure the change in the engagement level during the semester.Interestingly, freshman students earned higher final grades than upper classmen and student engagement rates decreased as the semester progressed.

Overall, the Connect platform and the additional tools and TA support had desirable effects, including greater student-reported levels of course satisfaction and improved academic performance. Also, it appears that these additional components helped at-risk students the most–especially freshmen students and students who scored low on the pre-test that measured existing nutrition knowledge at the beginning of the course.

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