Teaching and Learning Forum 2000 [ Proceedings Contents ]

A comparison between the use of the Internet and conventional lectures in education

Janelle D'Souza and Stuart Bunt
Department of Anatomy and Human Biology
The University of Western Australia
    The aim of this study was to compare the pedagogical value of using the Internet for teaching with the use of standard lecture courses. Second year university students were rotated through: a) a conventional didactic lecture with Microsoft PowerPoint slides b) PowerPoint slides on a website (passive website) and c) an interactive, graphics intensive web site (active website). Each student took one subject presentation in each of the above conditions. The student's demographics and baseline knowledge were collected prior to the study. Students were tested on the knowledge they had retained immediately after each teaching condition. At the completion of the study, attitudes to, and perceptions of, the three teaching methods were surveyed. Female students achieved significantly lower standardised post standard lecture quiz scores than males (mean(female)=-0.21, mean(male)=0.5, t=2.710, df=26, (rho=0.012). A trend in the post standard lecture quiz scores suggested that right handed students recalled less than ambidextrous students. Students who answered 'yes' to Internet confidence performed significantly better in the passive web lecture condition compared to students who answered 'no' (mean(yes)=0.40, mean(no)=-0.38, F=5.992, df=1, (rho=0.021). Across all students, handedness and computer confidence had no significant effect on retention tests, however there were relationships between post teaching quiz scores and gender.
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The use of the Internet to deliver educational material has the advantage of providing a non-linear (Yang, 1996), multimedia (El-tigi & Branch, 1997), interactive presentation (Acovelli & Gamble, 1997) and reduces the geographic and temporal aspects of physical isolation, (Lake, 1999). This is particularly important in countries like Australia where the option to have a human tutor may not be available to students living in remote areas.

There has been concern about the effect of having to obtain information from a computer on different groups of users. Females have been reported to be know less about information technology than males (Reinen & Plomp, 1997, Durndell & Thompson, 1997). However, other studies show that there is no correlation between students' confidence in computing and gender (Ward & Newlands, 1998, Kirkpatrick & Cuban, 1998) or preference for computer aided learning over normal education (Inoue, 1998). However it has been found that unlimited access to an online course rather than a normal lecture based course produced no difference in student grades (Smeaton & Keogh, 1999). Another study that evaluated the combined effects of audiovisual and Internet delivery of high school content, showed that this was as effective a medium as traditional course delivery (Urven et al., 1997).

The level of computer usage may affect the grades that students gain as well as their attitudes toward computers (Selwyn, 1998) computer experience had a positive effect on computer confidence, attitudes towards computers (Levine & Donitsa-Schmidt, 1997) and computer based learning. Conversely, computer confidence exerts a strong negative effect on commitment to learn new computer uses (Levine & Donitsa-Schmidt, 1997). Handedness and brain dominance may also influence productivity on computers (McCluskey, 1997).


Students were recruited from second year Neurobiology, 'cohort 1', and Human Functional Anatomy, 'cohort 2', courses. Prior to the start of this experiment each student received a questionnaire that surveyed gender, handedness, computer usage and academic record for first semester. Students within each cohort were divided into three groups designated A, B, C or X, Y, Z. Each of these groups (within each cohort) were subjected to three different teaching conditions:

Figure 1

Figure 1: Experimental design. Diagram showing division of students, possible combinations and timings of questionnaires. S=standard lecture, P=passive website, A=active website.

  1. Standard Lectures (S)-Standard didactic lecture from the unit lecturer with accompanying PowerPoint slides.

  2. Passive Website (P)-PowerPoint slides from lecture online (See Figure 2). This included a lecture navigation bar (Figure 2, A), back and forward buttons for linear movement through the lecture (Figure 2, B), the PowerPoint slide of that topic (Figure 2, C), notes from the lecturer (Figure 2, D) and the active email address of the lecturer (Figure 2, E).
Figure 2
Figure 2: Passive website interface
  1. Active Website (A)-Website based on lecture material that incorporated novel design features. Design features included animations, interactive tests, a glossary of related terms (Figure 3, F) and internal and external links, while also including a lecture navigation bar (Figure 3, A), the lecturers notes (B) and the active email address of the lecturer (Figure 3, E).
Figure 3
Figure 3: Active website interface

Three different topics (T1, T2, T3) were presented using the three teaching conditions (S,P,A) for each cohort. Thus, one group of subjects (A, B, C) completed one lecture topic (T1, T2, T3) under one teaching condition (S, P, A) for each cohort.

At the end of each class, a quiz requiring short answers, one-word answers, illustrations or labeling of a diagram was administered to each student in order to test the knowledge retained. A Student Perception Of Teaching (S.P.O.T.) survey was administered at the end of the experiment.


Student demographics

Table 1: Participation statistics of students in the experiment.
For the extended group (n=47) and the group that completed all three presentation
conditions (n=18). Where n is not 47 or 18 respectively, assume missing data.

Overall GroupThree Conditions Group
No MeanStd devNo MeanStd dev
Uses44 3.431.9617 2.652.18
Computer hrs42 5.334.7816 4.133.79
Internet hrs42 3.223.3916 2.102.26

Table 2: Students' demographics in the experiment

Overall GroupThree Conditions Group

Groups FrequencyPercent FrequencyPercent
GenderMale 1125 527.8
Female 3375 1270.6
Internet confidenceNo 1943.2 1055.6
Yes 2556.8 1844.4
HandedRight 3888.4 1482.4
Left 24.7 00
Ambidextr. 37.0 317.6

Prior grades

There was no significant relationship between grades of the prior semester and any of the demographic variables.

Quiz scores

Post condition quizzes did not vary significantly with prior grades, or Internet use.

Presentation topic

The conditions were spread across 6 lecture topics. No significant difference, amongst topics nor between topics and lecture condition, was found for post lecture quiz scores (ANOVA). Therefore, quiz scores across all topics were pooled to make comparisons between conditions.

The effect of presentation condition on immediate recall of subject material and the relationship with student variables

The overall post condition quiz scores did not differ significantly between teaching method, for either the students that participated in all three conditions, or the extended group. However, the post condition quiz results for the various teaching conditions were different for students with different demographics.

Gender variations in the standard lecture condition

In the extended group females had significantly lower immediate recall after the standard lecture (mean (female)=-0.21, mean (male)=0.5, t=2.710, df=26, rho=0.012).

Figure 4
Figure 4: Gender differences in post lecture quiz scores

Handedness variations in the standard lecture condition

In the three condition group, students who declared themselves ambidextrous scored higher in the standard lecture condition compared to students who were right handed (mean (right)=0.46, mean (ambi)=0.71, F=4.871, df=1, rho=0.043).

Figure 5
Figure 5 Handedness differences in post lecture quiz scores

Internet confidence variations in the passive lecture condition

Students who attended all three teaching sessions and declared themselves Internet confident tended to have higher scores after using the passive website (F=3.791, df=1, (=0.069. The complete participant group differed more significantly (mean (no)=-0.38, mean (yes)=0.41, F= 5.992, df=1, rho=0.021). See Figure 6.

Figure 6
Figure 6: Effects of quiz score versus Internet confidence for different conditions

The results did not show any relationship between breadth of uses, hours spent on the computer or hours spent on the Internet and the amount recalled after each condition.

The S.P.O.T. survey

The S.P.O.T. survey showed no significant differences between the different teaching conditions when the participants were asked to grade the organisation of the class, ability to ask questions, being in control of one's own learning, pace of the class, the amount of material covered and the level of the material provided as perceived by students. The students scored the effectiveness of the passive website significantly lower (mean=2.67) than the standard lecture (mean=4.07) and active website (mean=4.00). The student interaction in the standard lecture (mean=3.33) scored higher than the passive (mean=2.47) and active website (mean=2.67). The passive website scored significantly for interest (mean=3.27) than both the standard lecture (mean=4.2) and the active website (mean=4.27).

The responses to the statement 'the teacher has been an effective instructor' (mean=4.0) demonstrated that the lecturers in the study were of an average to high standard compared to the database of S.P.O.T. results, collated by the Centre for Staff development at the University of Western Australia.

Figure 7
Figure 7: Results from the student perception of teaching survey


The major finding of this study was that the differences in effectiveness of the various teaching methods, while not great, does vary between different student groups. However, when results from all the students who participated were grouped there was no significant difference in post class quiz scores after the various teaching methods. This result suggests that, in this particular situation, teaching via the Internet appears as effective as teaching via a didactic lecture.

The few subjects who declared themselves ambidextrous right handed achieved significantly higher marks in sort term memory task of immediate recall after the lecture (in contrast there was no relationship between previous semester grades and declared handedness which may be indicative of long term retention). However, the small base of quiz scores from left handed students (n=4) and ambidextrous students (n=9) and the crude measure of handedness i.e. "Are you left handed, right handed or ambidextrous?", reduces the significance of this result.

Those who stated that they were "Internet confident" achieved significantly higher quiz scores after using the passive website. This may be because the passive website was not as user friendly as the active website. Therefore some knowledge of the Internet, or the confidence to investigate the different ways to gather information may have been advantageous. Increasing the interest of the website by adding interactive tests, animations and outside links improved the less "Internet confident" student's short-term recall of class content. The S.P.O.T. survey also demonstrated that all the students perceived the effectiveness of the passive web site to be less than that of the standard lecture or active web site even though this affected one group of students more than the other.

In this study it was found that females did not recall as well as males after the standard lecture. This was independent of whether the lecturer was male (cohort 1) or female (cohort 2, in agreement with Hartley et al. (1989), who found no correlation between the sex of lecturer and the amount learned. This result may be a reflection of the fact that females perform significantly better in an open learning environment (Darwazeh, 1998). Gender studies have shown that females have a better visual memory than males (Trahan & Quintana, 1990; McGivern et al., 1998), while other studies have shown no differences in verbal or visual memory across gender (Savage & Gouvier, 1992) or hemisphere dominance (Gadzella et al. 1991).

Considering that students achieved the same results across the three different types of lectures, it can be concluded there is no disadvantage in using the Internet for distance learning. The finding that females had significantly lower scores in the standard lecture, yet no difference was seen between sexes using the websites should be a reason to explore this teaching medium, to provide a fair learning environment. Particularly as the previous semester grade average was significantly lower for females than for males, suggesting that the standard lecture could be a detriment to female learning.

It could be argued that if web sites are no more effective overall than a standard lecture, then there is no need for change. The standard didactic lecture system is effective and takes far less time (and therefore cost) to prepare and maintain than a web site based system. If the Internet is to be used in education it should be used where its advantages such as access, time and geographical independence, and interactivity outweigh the extra costs involved in its production.


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Please cite as: D'Souza, J. and Bunt, S. (2000). A comparison between the use of the Internet and conventional lectures in education. In A. Herrmann and M.M. Kulski (Eds), Flexible Futures in Tertiary Teaching. Proceedings of the 9th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 2-4 February 2000. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2000/dsouza.html

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