Note: This was originally posted in my OU Course Blog on 6th May 2010
One of the things which stands out in Richardson's 2009 article is that, from quite early on in the paper, he effectively holds up the findings of Price et al (2007) as the starting point for his own research and, by implication sets out to contest those findings. Price et al found that students who received online tutorial support reported poorer experiences than those receiving face-to-face tuition. Richardson concludes that there were no significant differences in students' perceptions of the quality of their academic tuition, regardless of whether they had received online tuition or face-to-face tuition.
Firstly, a minor, and possibly irrelevant point, but nevertheless an interesting one. Richardson was actually a co-author in the Price et al paper, so despite the fact that he appears to distance himself from the 2007 findings, he was jointly responsible for producing them.
On p82 of the Richardson paper he suggests that Price et al's findings were influenced by the fact that the students who participated in the study were on a multi-disciplinary course. Earlier in the paper (p71) he suggests that such students have to "grasp concepts, methods and theories from several different academic disciplines". However, there is no real explanation of why or how this influences students' perceptions, other than an un-referenced claim (p82) that this is "borne out by the results of as-yet unpublished studies carried out in other disciplines". This seems to me to be a rather weak basis on which to question Price et al's findings.
On p76 of Richardson's paper he outlines why students chose their respective modes of study. The most common reason for choosing face-to-face tuition was that the students preferred face-to-face tuition, and similarly the most common reason for choosing online tuition was that students preferred that mode. Whilst Richardson acknowledges this point (on p82) I don't think he gives due weight to it. I personally think that this is a highly relevant factor and offers a strong possible explanation as to why there was no significant difference in students' perceptions of the quality of their tuition. If they had a pre-existing preference for one mode of tuition then it is highly likely that their views are going to be 'coloured' by that preference. In Price et al's study there was no consideration of why students opted for a particular mode of study.