|Australasian Journal of Educational Technology
2004, 20(1), 114-136.
This paper describes findings from a 2002-03 research project which sought to establish what the barriers were to the adoption or extended use of the centrally supported online learning management and content creation system by academic staff at the University of Adelaide. The research was conducted using semi-structured interviews and a survey administered to all teaching staff at the University. The survey canvassed respondents' use of and the value they placed on web supported teaching (particularly the centrally supported learning management system MyUni) and barriers to its adoption and further use. Respondents reported a higher valuing of and future intention to use than their current use of the Internet to support teaching. Factors that constrained their adoption or expanded use of web supported teaching included time and workload pressures, concerns about knowledge and skills, conceptions of teaching and the value of web supported learning for improving student outcomes, and the perceived stability and integration of the University infrastructure and learning management system. Respondents' views of priorities in addressing these concerns related to improved support from the University for web supported teaching, including staff development and training, IT and administrative support, and management support. This paper discusses some staff development implications of the findings.
Despite claims (and evidence in some situations) of improved learning and teaching outcomes, increased flexibility and cost savings (DEETYA, 1998; Bell et al, 2002), many academics seem reluctant to adopt web supported teaching (Dearn, Fraser & Ryan, 2002). Factors that have been seen to influence levels of adoption include:
The responses of universities to overcoming barriers to the use of computers in teaching have included many different approaches to policy and strategy, quality assurance and evaluation, and staff development. However, Dearn et al (2002) note that, while there are many staff development programs available in the practice and theory of higher education, the majority of academic staff are reluctant to engage in them, and the provision of staff development in Australian higher education is 'uneven and unsystematic'. Other studies note a relative emphasis on training in the use of technology, at the expense of staff development that focuses on pedagogy and embedding technology use into teaching and learning practices (McNaught et al, 2000; Gruba, 2001).
Approaches to staff development and other support may be more successful if taking into account the positive intentions of teaching staff with regard to web supported teaching, and the value they place on the use of computers, the Internet and web based teaching. Based on the research findings, this paper discusses potential staff development approaches for a research intensive university such as the University of Adelaide. It reports findings from a 2002-03 research project which sought to establish:
In Semester 2, 2002, 11% of University of Adelaide courses had MyUni content in addition to that uploaded by the University administration. In Semester 1, 2003, this figure had risen to 16%. The barriers to the uptake and extended use of web supported teaching identified in this research provide information about some of the reasons for low levels of uptake. The findings of the project led to a set of recommendations, many of which related to staff development strategies the University might consider, to minimise barriers to adoption and further use of web supported teaching. The focus of the paper is staff development responses that the University may adopt, taking into account the large proportion of respondents who would like to use web supported teaching, and the research intensive nature of the University of Adelaide.
The questionnaire included structured (fixed response and Likert scale) and open ended questions on topics including:
Consideration was given to distributing the questionnaire electronically, through email notification and a web link. However, there was concern that teaching staff who did not regularly access their email, and those who were not accustomed to linking to the University intranet, might not receive the questionnaire or might be discouraged from completing it. Therefore the questionnaire was sent by internal mail. There were 156 usable responses, a response rate of 14.5%. The response rate was considered adequate for the purposes and resources of the project, and commensurate with another simultaneous whole of staff survey conducted centrally by the University's Surveys Office, and no follow up was done.
Thus, the sample had a higher proportion of tenured staff, women, and staff with less teaching experience than the University as a whole. Nevertheless, non-tenured staff, men and more experienced teachers were well represented in the sample.
|Extent of web|
|7 A lot||51||33.1||23||14.7||15||9.7|
It is noteworthy that 27% of respondents used computers in their teaching not at all, or to less than a moderate extent. There may be a wide range of definitions among respondents concerning what constitutes 'using computers in teaching', but this is unlikely to wholly account for the response. An even greater proportion of respondents (32%) used the Internet to less than a moderate extent in their teaching, and a greater proportion again (55%) said they had used web based teaching to less than a moderate extent. The greatest differences between computer use, Internet use and web based teaching were at the level of 'a lot' of use: 33% of respondents used computers a lot, 15% used the Internet a lot in their teaching, and 10% had used web based teaching 'a lot'.
Among the respondents, 76.9% had used or were using web teaching tools. This level of use may not be representative of teaching staff as a whole at the University, since, in Semester 1 2003, only 16% of all University of Adelaide courses had any MyUni content apart from that uploaded by University administrators. There were no significant differences in the use of web teaching tools among respondents on the measures faculty, tenure status, gender, or length of time respondents had taught at university. But full time employees were significantly more likely to have used these tools than part time employees.
When respondents were asked how much (on a scale of 1-7) they knew about MyUni, 26% claimed to know less than a moderate amount, with five respondents saying they knew nothing at all. The mean was 4.65.
Respondents were asked to indicate the years in which they had used web teaching tools (from 1995 to 2002), and the number of years they had been using them was calculated (Table 2).
|Years of use (used since)||Frequency||Percent|
|0 (never used)||36||24.0|
|8 or more (1995)||4||2.7|
|Note: Missing cases = 6.|
Forty-eight per cent of all respondents had been using web teaching tools for one year or less, or not at all. Among the respondents who had used web teaching tools, 68% had been using them for longer than one year. The mean length of use among this group was 2.85 years. The centrally supported system, MyUni, became available for all courses taught at the University in 2002. Before 2002, tools available for web supported teaching included the MyUni pilot and an earlier central system, Adelaide University Online, as well as individual, school or department systems or web pages. Thus the majority of respondents had used one of these systems (see also Table 3).
Respondents who had used web teaching tools were asked what types of tools they had used, and teaching activities for which they had been used (Table 3). For each question a series of binary options were presented and respondents could select any number.
The majority had used MyUni, but many had also used other tools - 46% had used the previously supported system Adelaide University Online, and around one-quarter had used their own or a departmental system. These, and the figures in Table 2, tend to suggest that many of the respondents who were MyUni users were early adopters who had previously used other web based teaching tools. The most common uses of web teaching tools were communication, including announcements, and delivering course content (Table 3). Administration of the course and assessment and groups administration had been used by less than half of the respondents. 'Other' uses included discussion groups and tutorials (n=12), and interactivity and multimedia (n=3).
|Tool used*||Frequency||Per cent|
|Adelaide University Online||53||46.1|
|Own web pages||31||25.8|
|Department provided system||25||21.7|
|Faculty provided system||12||10.4|
|Other University of Adelaide tools||3||2.6|
|Content delivery - lecture handouts||95||83.3|
|Content delivery - whole lectures or topics||61||53.5|
|Administration of course||53||46.5|
|Notes: * missing cases = 5. ** missing cases = 6.|
Thus, while the respondents who had used web teaching tools tended to be early adopters, they had also not commonly extended their use to the more interactive, complex uses of these tools.
The mean of the value the respondents placed on the use of computers in higher education (5.34) was higher than the mean of the value they placed on the use of web teaching tools (4.53). There was a large gap between the 76% of respondents who valued computers in tertiary education to more than a moderate extent, and the 54% who valued web teaching tools to more than a moderate extent.
More revealing is a comparison of the valuing of these tools with their actual use (see Table 1). The mean of the value respondents placed on computers in higher education (5.34) was higher than the mean for their use of computers in teaching (4.95). Only 13% of respondents valued computers in teaching to less than a moderate extent, while 27% used them to less than a moderate extent. The mean value placed by respondents on the use of web teaching tools in higher education (4.53) was also higher than the mean for their use (3.45). Twenty-eight per cent of respondents valued web teaching tools in higher education to less than a moderate extent, while 55% used them to less than a moderate extent.
|Value of web teaching|
|7 Very high||43||27.9||19||12.7|
|Notes: * missing cases = 2; mean = 5.34; SD = 1.510|
** missing cases = 6; mean = 4.53; SD = 1.617
|First choice*||Second choice**|
|Use University platform (MyUni)||132||88.0||1||2.3|
|Use other web teaching tools||5||3.3||38||88.4|
|Never use web teaching tools||5||3.3||0||0.0|
|Notes: * missing cases = 6 ** missing cases = 113|
Eighty-eight per cent of respondents indicated for their first choice that they would use MyUni in the future for web supported teaching. Among the respondents who had not used web teaching tools, 74% said they would use MyUni in the future. Thirty-one per cent of all respondents said they intended to use other web teaching tools, either in addition to MyUni or instead, including three from the 'other' responses who said they would 'Use department/school web pages or system'. For the whole sample there were 10 respondents (7%) who, for their first choice, did not intend to use some kind of web teaching tool in the future (including five respondents for 'other').
Respondents were asked what teaching or related activities they would like to be able to do with MyUni. Up to three comments were coded. Sixty-six respondents (42.3%) commented, giving 86 responses (Table 6).
|Features / uses|
|More advanced features / activities||41||47.7|
|Currently available basic activities (basic communication, content delivery)||16||18.6|
|Course administration, management, evaluation||7||8.1|
|Would like no change||4||4.7|
|Use for particular students or courses||2||2.3|
|Negative perceptions of MyUni||8||9.3|
|A new teaching challenge||2||2.3|
The most common open comments concerned respondents' desire to do more 'advanced' activities which they had not yet done themselves or which they perceived could currently not be done with MyUni: these related principally to the assessment capacity of MyUni (n=17), to other interactive features such as discussion groups and multimedia (n=20), and to course administration matters (n=7):
The ability to somehow put software - Java applications? Microsoft applications? - onto the [MyUni] web site would be beneficial. Can this be done?Thus, while some respondents would like to use the more basic MyUni features, many respondents were keen to extend their use to more advanced features, and in some instances also to see the capacity of MyUni extended. It is also clear that many respondents were not fully aware of the current functionality of MyUni. Some respondents used the opportunity for comment to convey negative perceptions about the MyUni system.
I would like to have assessment questions in MyUni to which seamless, password controlled access is available, with the ability to return to the external text clearly pathed at the MyUni end (and customisable there).
Have more discussion to broaden student experiences.
|Comment category||Web teaching tools||MyUni|
|Workload / time||25||25.5||17||17.7|
|Skills / knowledge||5||5.1||4||4.2|
|Tools / web based teaching system||7||7.1||23||24.0|
|Infrastructure / integration (including for students)||8||8.2||13||13.5|
|Training / staff development||15||15.3||9||9.4|
|Policy / management support||5||5.1||4||4.2|
|Conceptions of learning and teaching|
|Quality/ benefits/outcomes concerns||14||10.2||6||6.3|
|Students (excluding infrastructure, access)||4||4.1||2||2.1|
The individual concern most frequently mentioned was time and workload, although this was more common in relation to the uptake of web teaching tools than in relation to the use of MyUni. Respondents mentioned both lack of time due to other responsibilities, and the perceived extra time needed to learn about and develop web supported teaching:
Time pressures make it very difficult to be able to:Half of the comments related to aspects of support that the University could provide, most prominently concerning the MyUni system or other tools and the University infrastructure:
(a) acquire the necessary skills to do a good job
(b) invest the extra time needed to prepare good quality materials.
Delivering materials / courses online takes a lot more time for the facilitator. My experience has been that institutions see web based learning as a cost reduction strategy. It actually costs more - materials have to be of higher quality, it takes more facilitation time and requires more frequent updating.
It [web based teaching] needs to be presented in a better manner which requires far less investment of staff & student time to achieve gains.
I think I could make good use of MyUni in my teaching but I would need to be free to put my time and energy into learning how to use it and then re-conceptualising my curriculum to make it effective in MyUni.
Release time to learn about it and think about ways to use it effectively.
Spreadsheet editing in online gradebook unacceptably slow!The need for support from IT services, department or University was also commonly expressed, in this case more commonly in relation to the use of web teaching tools:
I have fully established web based teaching units. The installation of MyUni is an excellent base for course organisation but is limited for web based teaching material.
All current access problems, course merging, understanding that e.g. [Campus name] does exist, does teach out of semester, does teach as many external as internal students - must be fixed.
It will not work unless schools have local IT people to assist staff with software and hardware problems.Another common support issue was the need for staff development / training and a related concern about lack of skills / knowledge, especially in relation to the use of web teaching tools, probably reflecting the higher proportion of respondents who had not used web teaching tools at all in this group.
I do use web teaching tools, but I think there needs to be more support & understanding & foresight from management.
I need IT and admin support because web based teaching can be more resource intensive.
Active support of department.
I would use MyUni more if ... I had more training/information on what the good things are about it. Workshops with like minded colleagues would help.Twenty comments expressed particular conceptions of teaching or concern about the quality of learning that can be achieved using web support, again more commonly in relation to the use of web teaching tools, and more likely to have come from non-users of such tools:
I would really like to have workshop etc where other staff from other areas/faculties can show us how they used MyUni.
I realise that IT runs training sessions but during semester, trying to find a whole morning or a day is just not easy. Perhaps a few shorter in house sessions may be useful.
I need to know more about it; I am ignorant of what else is going on.
I need to be convinced that [web teaching tools] contribute a real advance. So far no one has done this.
It would need to become a higher priority than all other things we are expected to do, or produce significant benefits over existing methods.
My topics are not suitable for online assessment. Students require mentoring and guidance not rote learning.
I do not believe in web based teaching. Things do not have to be done simply because they can be done. Nothing can replace the direct contact between teachers and students.
The respondents in general valued the use of computers and the web in teaching more than they actually used them, and most intended to use web supported teaching in the future. Commonly, respondents were keen to adopt or increase their use of the centrally supported platform, MyUni, to more of the basic features or to more advanced, interactive uses, particularly in relation to assessment and assessment management. One-third of respondents intended to use other tools, in addition to or instead of MyUni. If this figure is indicative of teaching staff as a whole at the University, it indicates the need for staff development and other support for staff using other systems. It also indicates a need for the University to explore means to remove the barriers to the adoption of the central system. From respondents' comments, important perceived areas of change for this group are the functionality of MyUni and the IT infrastructure of the University. Others have also found that the demand for and expectations of IT infrastructure 'are constantly outstripping supply' (McNaught et al, 2000; Scribbins, 2002). Breen (2001) found that the infrastructure at Oxford Brookes University was not keeping up with the developments taking place in web based learning.
The barriers to respondents' adopting web supported teaching or using it to a greater extent were dominated by the perceived need for more support, whether expressed directly or implied in comments about time and workload or skills and knowledge. Barriers also included conceptions of teaching and concerns about the quality of the learning and teaching possible using the Internet as a support. Time and workload and knowledge and skills are commonly cited as barriers to the adoption or further use of web supported or computer facilitated teaching. Scribbins (2002), for example, found instances of staff in the further education sector in the United Kingdom not having time to learn the new skills required to use information & learning technologies. Gruba (2001), Scribbins (2002) and Hansen and Salter (2001) found lack of knowledge and skills to be important inhibitors of the uptake of web supported or computer facilitated teaching. Conceptions of teaching and doubt about the quality of learning that can be achieved using the Internet as a support are also commonly found to be barriers. The increasing emphasis on learner centred approaches and processes of education that is encouraged by online learning is uncomfortable for many teachers (Schifter, 2000); teachers are concerned about loss of work and that their roles are under scrutiny (Brennan et al, 2001); academics are concerned about the effectiveness of online delivery, of itself and in comparison with face to face teaching (Salter & Hansen, 1999; Gruba, 2001). Thus, the literature indicates that the concerns felt by the respondents are likely to be widely felt among staff at the University of Adelaide.
The gaps identified in this study between the value placed on and the actual use of computers and the Internet to support teaching, and the professed desire of most respondents to use web supported teaching to a greater extent indicate that their potential motivation was high, but was being constrained by the identified barriers. If this finding is indicative of the University as a whole then strategies to increase personal motivation may not be as important as they have been reported to be in previous studies (for example, McNaught et al, 2000; Schifter, 2000). McNaught et al (2000) and Oxford Brookes University (2002), however, did note lack of time or increased workload as a reason given for non-adoption even if staff were otherwise motivated.
To encourage broader use of web supported teaching and learning at the University, additional and/or more accessible support strategies are needed to alleviate staff concerns. The findings suggest the need for staff development support for a variety of levels of web supported teaching, from support aimed to attract and inform non-users, through staff development and training in basic uses and the pedagogy of using web teaching tools, to staff development and training for more advanced, interactive and administrative, uses of web supported teaching. Evidence of lack of adequate access to existing staff development, and the prevalence of time and workload issues as barriers, suggest the need for more flexible arrangements for staff development opportunities.
All universities provide staff development, and there is a wide variety of approaches to it in relation to the pedagogy and skills of web supported teaching, and in relation to managing the changes that are required for staff to adopt 'the new technologies' in their teaching. The University of Adelaide has policies and strategies in place to encourage web supported teaching and learning. However, the findings of this study indicate that many staff at the University do not have adequate access to the currently available support. Most staff development for teaching at the University of Adelaide is provided by a central unit, the Learning and Teaching Development Unit (LTDU). Apart from a foundation Teaching at University course for new academic staff, which includes a unit on online teaching and an introductory workshop on using MyUni, staff development for teaching is not compulsory, and staff development activities are not accredited as part of a formal qualification.
Most teacher development is provided through one off workshops and training sessions, which can be provided in a central location across disciplines, or in a discipline setting (often by request from a school or faculty). In 2002 the LTDU provided training in the basic and advanced features of MyUni to 205 staff (less than 20% of all University academics) and pedagogical support for web supported learning and teaching was provided by a website devoted to online education (Learning and Teaching Development Unit, 2003). Other staff development was provided to 108 staff through faculty based workshops and the Teaching at University course (LTDU, 2003). This seems to be a similar situation to that at most other Australian universities, where preparation of staff for teaching is 'largely unsystematic and ad hoc' and participation is low (Dearn et al, 2002).
Several different approaches to embedding learning technologies into higher education teaching and learning are revealed in the literature. Most involve institution wide support for professional development, with varying models recommended or shown to be effective in certain circumstances. These models have much in common, such as the need for collaboration and consultation, a combination of top down and bottom up strategies, and the need for a variety of staff development initiatives to meet different and changing needs.
Dearn et al (2002) see the professionalisation of teaching in higher education to be the key to improving university teaching. They recommend several staff development initiatives to foster this professionalisation:
Reid (2002) reviews several models for the delivery of staff development and recommends an integrated model, based on a theory of conceptual change (in regard to teaching). In this model, staff developers from central units and academic teachers in departments collaborate to provide appropriate staff development in teaching for all levels of need in any department. Departments eventually assume responsibility for conceptual change that leads to teaching development, while still receiving support from the central staff development unit. A key to the effectiveness and acceptance by teaching staff of this approach is that it is developed in consultation with departmental managers. It is thus likely to be aligned with the department and the university's strategic directions. Dooley (1999) emphasises the effectiveness of consulting teachers about their staff development and other needs in relation to the adoption of technological innovations. Staff development opportunities that build on staff's intention to use web supported teaching would seem appropriate in this context.
Using an integrated model, particular activities and approaches to their delivery can fall within the widest range possible: they show 'a fluidity of application' (Reid, 2002), but are based on the premise of changing academics' conceptions of teaching. In relation to web supported teaching this would involve embedding the use of technology into teaching and the curriculum at all levels (McNaught et al, 2000). The findings of this study indicate that it would also involve an institution wide approach and institutional support to meet the needs of:
The scholarly nature of the work involved in developing quality in teaching and learning needs to be recognised as legitimate academic work. (Reid, 2002, p. 9)At a research intensive, Group of Eight (GO8) university, the value of formal or informal teaching qualifications and the overall valuing of 'teaching' as an academic activity are generally subsumed to a valuing of research. In a survey of values at the University of Adelaide conducted in January 2003 (Sarris, Taplin & Reilly, 2003), the respondents' (18% of University staff) assessment of the characteristics that distinguished the University of Adelaide from other universities in South Australia and elsewhere did not include teaching and learning. While teaching was not mentioned in relation to this question, when respondents were asked what they thought the key values of the University should be in the future, their most prominent response was 'continuing to achieve excellence in research, teaching and innovation'.
In a research intensive university, where research informs teaching, a research base for web supported teaching is likely to be valued. Kearns (2003) endorses a research focus to extend the role of information and communication technologies in education. He suggests 'Strengthening and focussing the research and development role and linking this more closely to policy and practice' (Kearns, 2003, p. 45) as one of four strategies to achieve this purpose. Reid (2002, citing Fletcher & Patrick, 1998) also refers to calls for 'research on the impact of teaching strategies for student learning' to lead to a change in academic culture in terms of teacher related activities.
A larger body of research evidence for the academic benefits of web supported teaching and learning for staff and students is needed. Since academic staff find time for the activities they value, promotion of such research may influence staff to adopt or extend their use of web supported teaching from an evidence base. In this context, three types of staff development are suggested, to encourage:
The current study was limited by the small size of the sample, the high proportion of respondents who were current users of web teaching tools (when a low proportion of staff as a whole used them), the difference between the sample and the academic cohort in some key areas (tenure, sex and teaching experience), and the lack of resources to do further analysis of the data. In addition, the centrally supported universal online learning management system, MyUni, had been available for only one year when the survey was conducted, and the Learning and Teaching Development Unit was in the early stages of developing an online learning and teaching program. Further research in two or three years at the University of Adelaide would enable useful comparison of the current findings with the situation after the anticipated growth in adoption. Such an approach would avoid many of the variables that exist in cross-institutional comparisons.
This research was funded by a University Learning and Teaching Development Grant 2002 awarded to Susan Shannon by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost to promote the enhancement of learning and teaching at the University of Adelaide.
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|The full report Factors influencing the adoption and use of web supported teaching by academic staff at the University of Adelaide is available from the corresponding author. Address for correspondence: