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James Gibbons’ research shows online learning can work better than in-person

image of professor emeritus James F. Gibbons
August 2020

James Gibbons has always been ahead of the times.

 

In a Q&A conversation with Stanford Engineering, Professor Emeritus James Gibbons shares lessons in remote learning experiments from the 1970s.

At the time of the research, James was asked to join President Nixon's Science Advisory Council, which was studying the effectiveness of televised education – dubbed "Tutored Video Instruction, or TVI".

A subset of the Science Advisory Council started by reviewing a very large study comparing televised classes with live classes. The study covered every subject matter from math to arts, from kindergarten to a baccalaureate degree. It was a huge study, 363 different experiments.

The overall answer was: There is no significant difference in student learning between TV and live instruction.

As the technology evolved, James and his colleagues began working with Sun Microsystems to create what was called distributed tutored video instruction – DTVI. He reports:

 

"We imagined the students to be remote from each other. We provided each of them with a microphone and a video camera to support remote communication within the group. We did an experiment at two campuses of the California State University system where we had 700 students at the two universities. We ran a regular lecture, a TVI group and a DTVI group for every class. The DTVI students were in their own rooms, connected to each other through our early version of the internet."

image of Gibbons' TVI research

"Sound familiar? Well, it should. This is exactly what Zoom does, right? In fact, it looked just like Zoom in the gallery view, with everyone wearing headsets and so forth. The results showed about the same performance academically, between TVI and DTVI, with each of them being superior to the live lecture class over a range of subjects."

 


In these days of COVID-19, everyone from parents to teachers to school administrators, not to mention the students themselves, is worried how this nationwide experiment in online learning is going to work out.

And from James' research findings, there should be no significant difference between online and in-person learning.

 

To read Stanford Engineering's Q&A article in its entirety, see "Lessons in remote learning from the 1970s: A Q&A with James Gibbons".