MyITLab educator study explores an online, self-paced, pass-fail course delivery format at Virginia Commonwealth University

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MyITLab educator study explores an online, self-paced, pass-fail course delivery format at Virginia Commonwealth University

Key Findings

  • MyITLab enables VCU to offer seven Information Systems Digital Literacy courses through a fully online, self-paced, pass-fail model generating more than 4,400 credits annually, all coordinated by one individual instructor.
  • Self-paced classes using a custom MyITLab course allows VCU to minimize faculty and classroom expenses while also providing student cost savings on course materials.

School name
Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA

Course names
Digital Literacy: Computer Concepts, Word I, Excel I, Access I, PowerPoint I, Word II, and Excel II

Course format
Online, self-paced

Course materials
MyITLab®; Technology in Action, by Evans, Martin, and Poatsy, and Exploring: Microsoft Office 2013, by Poatsy, Mulbery, Krebs, Rutledge, and Grauer

Fall 2015

Submitted by
Wilma Andrews, Instructor


  • Locale: Large, four-year, urban, public research university
  • Enrollment: Approximately 31,000 students
  • Undergraduates: 77 percent
  • Full-time students: 82 percent
  • Student-faculty ratio: 16:1
  • Class headcount: 20 or fewer students–34 percent, 50 or more students–16 percent
  • On-time graduation rate: 34 percent
  • Overall graduation rate: 59 percent
  • Freshman retention rate: 86 percent
  • Gender: 57 percent female
  • Ethnicity: 44 percent minority

About the Course

Wilma Andrews has been at Virginia Commonwealth since 1999, teaching a series of seven Information Systems courses (INFO16X), including Computer Concepts, Word I and II, Excel I and II, Access I, and PowerPoint I. They are self-paced, pass/fail, one-credit courses that require a score of 80 percent or higher on the comprehensive final exam in order to earn one academic credit. Total enrollment for the seven courses is over 4,500 academic credits per year. Beginning Fall 2014, business majors must take a minimum of four credits but the courses are open to all students. 76 percent of students taking the courses in Fall 2015 were business students. For more information about the courses, please see the VCU School of Business INFO16X homepage.

Challenges and Goals

In spring 2002, School of Business administrators were looking for opportunities to realize cost-savings. At the time, the INFO16X courses were traditional five-week, one-credit courses with assigned homework, testing, and letter grades taught by multiple adjuncts. The series used classroom space and represented a significant budget line item. Moving from an instructor-led series to an online, self-paced, pass/fail model of course delivery was an attractive fiscal option. Andrews was hired as the sole instructor and administrator to institute the new model of instruction. Initial registrations in all courses totaled around 400 per semester.

In spring 2007 with student registrations expanding to approximately 1000 per semester, Andrews learned the online training program they were using, provided by another publishing company, would not be ready for Fall 2007 classes. She found MyITLab with its Training Simulations to be a great option for these self-paced courses, and worked with Pearson to create online versions of each course, which were rolled out to students for the first time in Fall 2007. As registrations increased to more than 2000 per semester, MyITLab has proved to be a product that complements the goals of the INFO16X program. In addition, students taking more than one course each semester, or up to all seven courses over a four semester period, need only purchase one MyITLab custom access code/account, significantly reigning in student course material expenses.


Andrew’s use of MyITLab is required; the program is used both at home on a personal computer and on campus in labs and the library. Students use the program for learning new concepts and content understanding, practice, exam preparation, and the final course assessment. As the only course instructor, Andrews is responsible for all student assistance; she assigns the content and work, performs remote course monitoring and support, and completes all course grading functions.

Students at VCU are required to take Computer Concepts, Word I, and Excel I, along with one additional course, which varies by department. Students may take more than one course at a time, some will even take all seven courses at once, but the average student usually takes two courses simultaneously. A voluntary Fall 2015 end-of-semester survey of students in all seven courses (17 percent response rate) identified that 33 percent of the students had taken one course, 47 percent of students had taken two courses, and 17 percent of students had taken at least three courses during this session. The courses have an 80 percent pass/fail grading format; no incomplete grades are given. Earning a passing grade does not impact student GPA, but it does give them academic credit toward graduation. However, a failing grade will impact a student’s GPA until they retake the course and eventually earn a passing grade. The program provides an additional benefit to students who must maintain full-time status but are failing another course; they have the option to late-add the INFO16X courses after the drop/add date through the withdrawal date.

Andrews creates a common course for each of the seven Information Systems courses before each semester begins. There are no classes to attend and no assignments to turn in. It is up to the student to study and practice on their own, using the MyITLab tutorials and eText, along with a guided syllabus that includes chapter readings and MyITLab Training Simulation assignment suggestions. Students have the option to purchase a print copy of the textbook if they prefer, but the only required course content is access to MyITLab, which includes an eText for each course. On the end-of-semester survey, 45 percent of students indicated they did not use the eText. Of the 55 percent of students who did use the eText:

  • 70 percent liked using the eText.
  • 74 percent used the eText to read the assigned chapters.
  • 4 percent opted to also purchase a print textbook.

Students are guided through the self-paced process in several ways. Andrews provides students with complete information at the start of each course, including:

  • a link to written course documents on Blackboard, the school Learning Management System;
  • online instructions explaining how to create an account for new users and how to enroll in a new course for returning users; and
  • the MyITLab course which includes an eText folder for each course for reading assignments, a training folder organized by textbook chapter for the MyITLab Training Simulation assignments, and an exam folder.

Students are given a deadline for account creation, a deadline for the first exam attempt with the retake option, and a deadline for final exam attempts. In order to pass the course, students must take and pass one comprehensive final exam per course, earning at least an 80 percent on the exam. Students are given two attempts at the final exam, but can only take the second attempt if they score a minimum of 40 percent on the first attempt, and if the first attempt at the final exam is taken prior to the first attempt deadline. The highest score is recorded as the final exam grade. Students must sign up online to take an exam using the exam sign-up website developed for the program, and failure to show up for a scheduled exam will count toward a student’s number of exam attempts.

Exams for the Computer Concepts course have subjective questions based on content covered in the eText. Students have one hour to complete the 120 point true/false, multiple choice, matching exam. Exams for the Office application courses have 40 performance based questions similar to the MyITLab Training Simulations which students are encouraged to complete for each assigned chapter in the eText.  Students have six attempts per task and one hour to complete the exams. Once a student begins an exam, they are committed to the results from that sitting. Only MyITLab can be used, no other digital devices or websites are allowed during the exam. Exams are administered on campus during scheduled exam times only and all seven course exams can be offered during this time period. Each semester, 60–80 exam sessions are scheduled.


  • 100% MyITLab final exam

Results and Data

Figure 1 looks at pass, fail, and withdrawal rates for all seven courses.

  • Average percent of students taking any course in Fall 2015 earning a passing grade: 71 percent
  • Average score on a passing exam: 89 percent
  • Percent of students who never took an exam: 7 percent

Figure 2 is a comparison of pass rates for business majors who are required to take the course and students from all other majors who are taking the course as an elective.

  • Average pass rate for business majors across all INFO16X courses: 73 percent
  • Average exam score for business majors earning a passing grade across all INFO16X courses: 89 percent
  • Average pass rate for majors other than business across all INFO16X courses: 62 percent
  • Average exam score for majors other than business earning a passing grade across all INFO16X courses: 89 percent

Table 1 outlines pass rates by class.

  • Average percent of freshmen earning a passing grade across all INFO16X courses: 71 percent
  • Average percent of sophomores earning a passing grade across all INFO16X courses: 75 percent
  • Average percent of juniors earning a passing grade across all INFO16X courses: 76 percent
  • Average percent of seniors earning a passing grade across all INFO16X courses: 78 percent

Figure 3 looks at the pass rate per number of exams.

  • 81 percent of students taking one exam earned a passing grade.
  • Average exam score for students earning a passing grade on first attempt: 89 percent
  • 74 percent of students taking two exams earned a passing grade.
  • Average exam score on first attempt for students earning a passing grade on second attempt: 62 percent
  • Average exam score on second attempt for students earning a passing grade on second attempt: 89 percent
  • 10 percent of students did not take an exam.
  • 34 percent of students who did not take an exam officially withdrew.

Pass, fail, and withdrawal rates


Figure 1. Pass, Fail, and Withdrawal Rates Per Course, Fall 2015 (n=2452)

Pass rate by major


Figure 2. Pass Rate by Major, Fall 2015 (n=2452)

Pass rates per course by class


Table 1. Pass Rates per Course by Class, Fall 2015 (n=2452)

Pass, fail, withdrawal rates per number of exam attempts


Figure 3. Pass, Fail, and Withdrawal Rates per Number of Exam Attempts, Fall 2015, (N=2452); One Exam Attempt (n=1594); Two Exam Attempts, (n=604); Did Not Attempt an Exam, (n=254)

The Student Experience

Responses from a Fall 2015 end-of-semester, voluntary survey of Andrew’s students indicate that the majority of responding students recognize the value of MyITLab:

  • 93 percent of students agree or strongly agree that the use of MyITLab positively impacted their quiz and exam scores.
  • 94 percent of students agree or strongly agree that their understanding of the course material increased as a result of using MyITLab.
  • 90 percent of students agree or strongly agree that they would recommend use of MyITLab to other students.

Student survey responses to the question “What did you like most about MyITLab?” include:

  • “I liked being able to access the text from any location without having a physical book in hand.”
  • “The three features [learning aids] which allowed you to read, watch, and practice the modules, the self-tests, and the power-point videos.”
  • “Everything in MyITLab. I wouldn’t have passed without it!”
  • “The chapters were organized, and I learned interesting information about computers, and the different tools to better understand the materials. It has self-tests!”
  • “The practice ability. I learn by doing so the practice allowed me to get the hang of it.”
  • “MyITLab provided a substantial, self-paced learning experience.”


Andrews cautions those considering a similar fully online self-paced model for delivering these Information Systems type courses to expect some growing pains in the beginning. The first semester was challenging as she worked through the different options for each course, identifying what worked well and what didn’t, making changes on the fly, and managing thousands of students, many of whom had never taken an online course. In fact, 51 percent of students responding to the end-of-semester survey indicated the course they were taking in Fall 2015 was their first online/self-paced course experience. Each semester, the process has become more structured and procedures become more comfortable as students work through additional courses and become more secure with the process. 79 percent of students on the end-of-semester survey indicated they found the exams to be somewhat challenging or difficult; Andrews takes this feedback seriously, and uses MyITLab reports to revisit exam content, such as the Exam Frequency Analysis report. Using this report, she identifies exam questions that most students got incorrect and therefore might be too challenging. Andrews suggests that acknowledging changes will need to be made to both the courses and the exams, as well as other course procedures and processes, should lead to a more effective self-paced model implementation.

Benefits of the self-paced model of learning are numerous—cost savings, convenience, development of intellectual independence, and accessibility. Interestingly, students at VCU identified an additional benefit that often goes unrecognized. Students on the end-of-semester survey were asked what they did with the extra time they had if they took their exam before the semester ended—over 70 percent of students responding to the question said they used the additional time to focus on and study for their other classes!


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