Hybrid solution did not affect SSE students’ grades, research shows
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, SSE adopted a hybrid model of education for the first study period, running from early September to late October. The hybrid model emphasized social distancing while allowing for a limited degree of in-person interactions to remain in place. A limited number of students were allowed to attend lectures and tutorials in person, while the remainder of the students could attend the teaching activities via Zoom.
While previous research suggests that during normal times online education can achieve the desired learning outcomes, the unprecedented and quick switch to online learning at many educational institutions has led to worries that student learning might suffer. But perhaps there isn’t cause for concern in all situations, according to researchers Felix Schafmeister and Erik Merkus at the Stockholm School of Economics, who have conducted a study on the effects of hybrid education at SSE.
“The purpose of this research was explicitly to compare online vs in class methods of teaching. We find no indication that the mode of instruction had an effect on students’ test scores,” the researchers conclude in their working paper.
No difference in exam results
For comparison, the researchers wanted a course taken by as many students as possible. They picked one of the early bachelor courses in International Economics, consisting of a total of 258 students. In the course, the lecture component – attended by all students at the same time – was entirely taught on Zoom in order to reduce risk of contagion.
The weekly seminars or tutorials, however, were at the time possible to hold both in person and online, with around two-thirds of students being allowed to attend in person any given week. The schedule was designed so that each student had the opportunity to attend at least two out of five seminars in person and the remainder online.
The content taught in any given tutorial was then tested through a direct and unique link to specific questions on the final examination. This made it possible to compare the exam results across portions of the course that were taught online for some students and in-person for others. Based on this, the researchers conclude that moving the seminarsonline did not have a negative effect on student learning, measured by exam performance.
Flexibility and motivation
While the study of just one course can’t distinguish between the effects of different approaches to hybrid education, the researchers believe that some design features of the course contributed to the fact that students still managed to perform well.
“One important feature of the International Economics course was that all students had access to recorded materials that facilitated self-study and thereby increased the students' flexibility in studying for the course,” Schafmeister and Merkus explain, adding:
“We think the most important takeaway from our study is that under the right circumstances and with a motivated team of teachers, online education has the potential to achieve similar learning outcomes as traditional teaching methods, although further research is needed about exactly which design choices are most important for hybrid teaching to work.”