Mary Ellen Dello Stritto, Assistant Director, Ecampus Research Unit

Online Learning Efficacy Research Database

Person looking at the research database on a computer screen

Despite the prevalence of online and hybrid or blended courses in higher education, there is still skepticism among faculty and administrators about the effectiveness of online learning compared to traditional classroom learning. While some individuals may have a basic awareness of the published research on online learning, some want to know about the research findings in their own home discipline. The Ecampus Research Unit has developed the Online Learning Efficacy Research Database, a tool to help address these needs and concerns. This searchable database contains research published in academic journals from the past 20 years that compare student outcomes in online, hybrid/blended, and face-to-face courses.

Using the Database

Screenshot of Research Database

The database currently includes 206 research citations across 73 discrete disciplines from 153 different journals. The database allows users to find discipline-specific research that compares two or more modalities (e.g. online versus hybrid). Users can search the database by keyword, discipline, modality, sample size, education level, date range, and journal name. The database also includes the ability to filter results by discipline, modality, sample size, and peer review status.

This new database improves upon other older searchable databases by adding the capability to search by specific disciplines. On a monthly basis, the database is updated with the latest published research. To learn more about scope of the database, sign up for monthly database updates, or to suggest a publication for inclusion in the database, see our FAQ page.

The database is also a valuable tool for those who are interested in or are currently engaging in research on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. It will provide users with an efficient way to find gaps in discipline specific literature and pursue research to fill those gaps.


How do you help your students reflect on your course and integrate what they’re learning into their subject knowledge and worldview? If you want your students to develop metacognition and self-understanding, or to articulate professional identity or a disciplinary perspective – reflection and reflective practice can help them integrate what they learn in your course into how they think.

Self is the Reflection
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The Theory

The role of reflection in personal development and academic practice is widely acknowledged as a part of higher order thinking in general and also particularly in AACU’s VALUE rubric for Integrative Learning and rubric for Foundations and Skills for Lifelong Learning . The question is how we incorporate reflection in course design.

Adding it in

Adding reflection as a self-contained activity can be a great step, but we often add such activities as small items at the end of a course, or – from the student point of view – as an afterthought or the extra bit they need to do after they’re finished. Reflections done this way, though of potential benefit, can often easily lapse into superficial form-filling. A better approach is to build reflection into the course, and to scaffold student engagement with the process. This can be much more effective and changes how a student interacts with the reflective activity.

Utah is in the Rear View Mirror
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An example: Current Problems in Sustainable Living (PS 399)

In PS 399 Current Problems in Sustainable Living (in the future to be offered as PS 374) Dr. Erika Wolters set out to engage students with the issue of their personal role in sustainability within the context of huge global political systems. The course description is as follows:

“Exploration of the role of individuals in sustainability practices and policies. Special focus is given to an examination of how individuals can make sustainable lifestyle choices in light of policy regulations, technologies, socio-economic conditions, and cultural values.”

The Final Paper

Dr Wolters had set set up her course with three major papers alongside other activities and assessments. Originally, the reflective activity was contained in the final paper which required

“By the end of week 2, please select three personal behaviors […] that you will try to change in order to live more sustainably. Document your starting point and each step along the way. Your final paper will require you to discuss your step-by-step attempts where you were successful, where you met with unexpected difficulties, or any other surprises along the way. Place your personal sustainability experience into the context of your readings about individual actions and impacts.“

This paper sought to integrate practice, reflection, and critical disciplinary analysis. As Dr. Wolters and I discussed the course design and how to help students engage with this activity in an online environment, we were aware of two pitfalls to avoid: students reaching the end of the course and struggling to remember their experience and students spending all of their final paper recounting their experience rather than critically engaging with it.

The redesign

The solution we came up with was to ask students to create journal entries throughout the course documenting and beginning to reflect on their practice. In the ten-week course, they identified their sustainable practice by week 2 and journaled about it in weeks 4, 6, and 8 before writing their final paper in week 10. The journal could either be in written or video diary format. There were any number of tools that could be used to support the video option, but using Canvas’ integrated tools and video recorder enabled students to do so easily and without the cognitive overhead of learning an external tool.

The journal could have been set up in a Canvas discussion board. This setup would have created a shared experience across the class in which students reflected and shared together. However, because the focus of this course was personal reflection, the journal activity was set up using the assignment tool. The video or text reflection was shared only with the professor. The reason for doing this was to create the opportunity for more personal reflections than the student might have felt comfortable posting in a forum.

Prints Mirrors
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Work in progress

The course is still underway but halfway through I was able to catch up with Dr. Wolters to find out how it was going. Her key observations so far relate in large part to the changes developed through the availabilty of video as an option for this journal activity. She reported the following:

“I do think it is helping them think about the course differently. It is great having them undertake behavior/habit changes and reflect on the costs vs. benefits. It is really exciting to see how they are embracing the project!”
“[I]t is definitely helping me connect with the students differently. I really enjoy seeing and hearing them vs. just having the one-dimensional responses of the discussion boards.“
“[The video posts] were so much fun I responded with a video comment and then posted bi-weekly announcements as a video. It was fun! I definitely feel more connected to the students this way.”

Interim Conclusion

Although this activity needs further evaluation, it illustrates a way to engage students with academic reflection through encouraging dialogue early and throughout the course. From the initial feedback it seems clear that from the instructor’s perspective it offers opportunities to connect with students throughout the course and enable them to engage with the topic.

Image Credits

All images by Alan Levine (Flickr user Cogdog), used under a CC- BY licence.

Are you looking for a new way to engage your online students without leaving your Blackboard course site?  Consider using a wiki, blog, or journal!  Wikis allow your students to collaborate on a single document within Blackboard and you are able to track their participation.  This is a great tool for brainstorming, collecting research, or producing a student-created FAQ or glossary.

A blog is meant to be a place where students can post their opinions or climb on a ‘virtual soapbox’ and deliver a message.  There are opportunities for others to comment, but the focus is on the initial posts and what the student had to say.

A journal is usually intended to be used as a private space for reflection.  It is a space that can only be ‘written’ on by the student and the instructor, although you can control whether the rest of the class can read each others’ journals or not.

Sometimes using a different tool for a week or two gives the students a break from the traditional discussion board routine – -and that in itself can improve student engagement in a class.  Instructions for setting up a wiki, blog, or journal are found here.