Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering

First Advisor

D. Raj Raman


In 2007, a Virtual Education Center for Biorenewable Resources was initiated (Raman, Brown, Brumm, Anex, Euken, Nokes, Crofcheck, Van Gerpen, and He, 2006). The Center offered three courses through distance education, including Biorenewable Resources and Technology (BRT) 501 - Fundamentals of Biorenewable Resources and Technology. The main objectives for this study were to:

1. Determine if student learning in BRT 501 was influenced by course delivery method. Two methods were used - video lecture and menu-driven autotutorial presentations (MDAP) delivered via Flash. The influence of student major and gender on learning were also studied.

2. Assess student perceptions of the two delivery methods.

3. Compare instructor time commitment for classroom lecture, video lecture, and MDAP delivery methods.

Student learning experience was measured in the online course of BRT 501 at Iowa State University during spring semester 2010. Data were gathered from the WebCT grade book and student survey, which were supplemented by online research.

The sample size was 46 for delivery method, student major, and gender comparisons. Students were divided into two academically equal groups, one receiving lecture content in a video lecture format and the other in a MDAP format. We found that BRT 501 student learning was not significantly affected by the module delivery method. Students with agricultural majors were outperformed by students with non-agricultural majors, most of whom were engineering students, on the midterm and final exams, and course grade. Female students scored significantly lower on biomass module first attempt quiz total than male students, but this difference was driven by a single low score and the small sample size. Furthermore, this difference between genders disappeared for the highest quiz score attempt total, and no other assessment showed a significant difference between scores achieved by female and male students.

Twenty students completed a survey of the qualitative aspects of student experiences in BRT 501. The biomass production module brought students without a farm background closer to the knowledge level of students with a farm background as demonstrated by students' self-assessed knowledge and their BRT 501 assessment scores. Students desired a stronger connection with the course instructor and peers, whether electronically or in-person.

The instructor time commitment for module development and delivery were gathered for classroom lecture, video lecture, and MDAP formats. These values were compared to determine the instructor time commitment of the three delivery methods. The study results indicate that a classroom lecture takes less instructor time commitment than a video lecture or a MDAP delivered online for the initial course offering. The video lecture and MDAP required coordination with the online delivery staff. The MDAP also took significantly longer to develop. For subsequent course offerings, both the video lecture and MDAP delivered online have the potential to take similar or less instructor time commitment than a classroom lecture.

For BRT 501, the best choice for content delivery appears to be online video lectures. The instructor needs to be visible on screen part of the time to fulfill student desires for a connection to the instructor and an opportunity for them to gather nonverbal cues. A hybrid course using video lectures and a limited number of classroom meetings (two to four per semester) also has the potential to fulfill the connection need (Mills and Xu, 2005-2006). Both formats would minimize instructor time commitment and offer a good learning environment for students. The MDAP took too much instructor time, some of which could be shifted to support staff. This shift would require significant support staff time to develop high quality presentations and would carry a significant cost. As instructional technology becomes easier to use and more powerful, the focus of online education will continue to shift from delivery technologies to successful student learning strategies.


Copyright Owner

Darren Jarboe



Date Available


File Format


File Size

140 pages