Classroom Versus Online Learning: Experience with Pathology Remedial Course

Sharon L. Wenger, Ph.D., Scott Cottrell, Ed.D., Barbara S. Ducatman, M.D.

West Virginia University

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A remedial course for pathology was created and administered during the past four summers; two years as a classroom lecture course, and two years as an online course. Currently, West Virginia University School of Medicine is the only U.S. medical school that offers a summer remedial experience for a second-year medical school pathology course.

Objective: The objective of this study is to ascertain any differences in student learning between the online and the lecture-based remedial courses.

Plan of study: At the end of the summer courses, we asked students to evaluate the course and provide input about the course regarding what was done well and what could be improved. Weekly and shelf examination scores were also compared between students in the lecture-based and online remedial courses.

Results: Students in both the lecture-based and online remedial courses participated to the same extent in the learning experiences (p<0<0<0Conclusion: Overall, students had more positive comments about the online learning experience, which could be offered at a lower cost due to reduced faculty time. However, future modifications of the online learning experience will be necessary in order to maximize student performance on the standardized pathology shelf examination.


A summer remedial course was developed by pathology faculty at West Virginia University. For the first two years, this course was designed as a didactic, lecture-based course. As with most academic departments, clinical responsibilities have increased, subsequently limiting time that the faculty has for teaching, particularly during the summer months. In order to ameliorate the demand for faculty time, lectures were recorded from the traditional second-year medical school pathology course. These lecture recordings made it possible to create a remedial course online. Although several lecturers had to rerecord lectures initially, overall, it greatly reduced faculty time, and we could therefore reduce tuition costs. We compared students’ experiences in the classroom and the online course by examining differences between three sources of information: course evaluation results, students’ performance on weekly examinations, and students’ performance on pathology shelf examination


Classroom and online courses were set up in a similar manner. Both courses were designed to cover one chapter per day using Robbins (Kumar et al., 2005), a standard pathology textbook, for a four hour lecture. In the classroom, faculty members were available for students’ questions the day of the lecture. PowerPoint presentations were printed and handed out to students. For the online course, PowerPoints could be printed, and recorded PowerPoints with voice over were available, the latter were compressed using software for online usage (Impatica Inc, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, and Camtasia, TechSmith Corporation, Okemos, MI). In addition, daily quizzes for each chapter were available for self study, and students could post questions to the faculty on the website. Weekly examinations were given in both the lecture-based and the online remedial courses. In class, all questions were reviewed with the students after the examination; online, the questions and answers were made available to the students for 15 minutes, followed by an hour in which they could ask questions of the faculty in a “live” chat room. In order to pass the course, students had to pass the seven weekly examinations at 75% or better, as well as pass the NBME pathology shelf examination at the 12th percentile or higher. The scoring is based on standardization of national performance of medical students taking the examination, ranked in percentiles. For the 12th percentile rank, 12 percent of all medical students scored at or lower than this score.

Prior to taking the final shelf examination, students were asked to provide feedback regarding the course. The questions asked were: 1) What percentage of lectures did you attend/view?, 2) Did you feel the course helped you learn the material?, 3) What did you like about the course?, and 4) What suggestions would you make to help improve the course? Anonymous questionnaire responses were compiled regarding the classroom and online experiences. A Student t-test was used to compare the average of weekly examination scores, shelf scores and answers to the questions regarding lecture attendance or viewing, and adequacy of course for learning the material.


Most students in both the classroom and the online remedial courses reported attending or viewing greater than 75% of lectures (p<0<0<0<0REFERENCES

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