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[ 2004 Proceedings Contents ] |
More and more tertiary education delivery includes the use of a Managed Learning Environment (MLE). Within this environment academic lecturers are known as 'Instructors'. The purpose of a MLE is to facilitate and enhance flexible online learning in a period of extraordinary growth of technology mediated or technology assisted learning. Instructors have been encouraged to respond positively by applying the various strategies the tools within the MLE software provides. Many instructors have published papers on the results of their efforts. However, the majority of the research to date has been focussed on case studies or, what instructors feel is valuable about flexible learning versus traditional teaching and learning. There is a gap regarding what strategies the students perceive as most valuable and useful to them. This paper describes the results of a pilot study conducted with Masters computing students (MComp) in New Zealand. The writer asked and documented what teaching and learning strategies the students considered as most valuable and, consequently more motivated to use.
Whilst the writer has been unable to find equivalent published research figures for comparison with the DEST report a quick search of university web pages confirms that all New Zealand universities and most tertiary institutions facilitate online instruction through either a website or MLE software. In theory, these MLEs should enable any instructor to transfer material to the website and transform their teaching materials into an interactive resource based flexible e-learning experience for students. In reality, many of these MLE 'shells' become a holding pen where lecturers 'park' their PowerPoint slides or course notes. The challenge is to encourage and train educators to use technology to better advantage whilst implementing changes campus wide (Northover, 2002; McNaught, 2002).
In Unitec, New Zealand, flexible e-learning has been in place since 1998, and instructors participation encouraged by putting resources online through the MLE (Northover and Donald, 2002). Students report that they find online resources useful (Northover and Donald, 2002; Kenny, 2001). Instructors constantly strive to use strategies they can only sense will be used by students to enhance learning. Whilst research into how well students learn from online strategies is important, we must also we extend our comfort zones by asking students what strategies they actually use and perceive as most important to them. Students are, after all, the 'consumers'.
Technology is widely used now therefore in reality, many teachers use some sort of electronic communication to facilitate their teaching (Palloff and Pratt (2003). Consequently examining and comparing classroom based with online delivery is no longer appropriate because the distinction between traditional classroom and online is diminishing due to the ubiquity of technology (Frey et al.2003). Other researchers argue that measured satisfaction or measured achievement studies conducted comparing online learning with in-class learning is simply no longer fashionable. Simonson, Smaldino, Albright and Zvacek, (2000) further claim that it simply makes no difference and that students learn no better and no worse, at a distance (2000, p iii). On the other hand, Hutchins (2003) reports, providing references, that "Countless studies have found student achievement in web based classes is comparable or better than that found in face to face instructional settings".
Given that a number of instructors remain concerned that Web assisted delivery is not always helpful in transferring knowledge to students, it is imperative that any strategy used by the instructor is perceived as useful by the students, otherwise, the instructor's efforts are valueless. Changing is not easy. Clay (1998) identified four stages in teachers' experience, together with levels of concern, as they adapt to the new practice (Clay 1998, p.3). These stages are awareness, consideration, implementation and innovation. The awareness stage is past, consideration and implementation are in advanced stages. We therefore need to make informed decisions regarding the strategies expected by students. According to Choy et al., (2002) the top five expectations are:
Since this investigation echoes only part of the Frey et al., (2003) American study, Table 1 displays a selection from the original American findings to aid comparison. Note that the top priority, grades, is not a teaching strategy, but a convenience because it is part of the resource supply grouping.
|Strategy||Perceived ranking value: |
American Social Work students
|Posting of grades online||1|
|Posting of detailed assignment instructions online||2|
|Online feedback regarding assignments||3|
|Email communication with the instructor||4|
|Posting of lecture notes online||5|
|Posting of Syllabus (course prescription) online||6|
|Posting of course calendar online||7|
|Provision of computerised study guides||8|
|Submission of assignment online||9|
|Posting of task lists linked to reminders||11|
|Provision of links to online resources||12|
|Availability of email address of all class members||14|
|Multi media assignments and tests to complete||15|
|Mandatory interactive email assignments||16|
|Online academic discussion groups||17|
|Availability of homepages for posting personal information||18|
The pilot sample is small but Unitec New Zealand records indicate that the sample is representative of the Masters Student cohort. No effort was made to ascertain students' particular learning styles since the Frey et al., (2003) study concluded that there appeared to be no difference in student experience of the online learning regardless of their learning style. As stated above, because the New Zealand study subjects are post graduate computing students, the CAS used by Frey et al., (2003) also was considered unnecessary.
Unitec records were consulted for MComp students. These records show that the MComp cohort age group ranges from 25 to 50 and that they come from a diverse ethnic group of mainly males (80 - 85%). The number of students taking the MComp degree is small but growing. Female participation varies each semester from 15% to 20%. For further information regarding these students, a previous study featuring MComp students entitled Factors Affecting Contributions to Electronic Discussion Boards (Joyce, 2002), could prove useful.
In the next section under the results in Table 2 displays the strategies New Zealand MComp students perceive as having the highest value in rank. Scores rated between 1 (no value) to 5 (very valuable). The New Zealand rankings are displayed against the American Ranking to allowing comparison.
|Themes/ Strategies||Perceived ranking value: MComp |
students versus American students
|NZ MComp||USA Social |
|Email communication with the instructor||4*||4|
|Online announcements posted on Blackboard (Web)||2||13|
|Availability of email contact for all class members||6*||14|
|Availability of homepages for posting personal information||16||18|
|Posting of detailed assignment instructions online||1||2|
|Posting of course prescription (syllabus)||5*||6|
|Posting of course calendar online||19||7|
|Posting of task lists that are linked to reminders||11||11|
|Posting of lecture notes online||3*||5|
|Provision of computerised study guides||14||8|
|Online self assessed quizzes||17||10|
|Provision of links to online resources||12||12|
|Online topic discussion groups||7||17|
|Example tests and exams (including multimedia)||13||15|
|Submission of assignments via Blackboard or email||10||9|
|Online feedback regarding assignments||9||3|
|Posting of grades online||8||1|
|Recognition for peer email and chat||15||16|
|* Denotes that New Zealand Instructors all claimed they used this strategy|
Many New Zealand students study part time and find flexible web assisted courses useful when organising a busy life style. The pattern of increased part time life long learning is also noted in Australia, (McNaught 2002). The need for flexibility is exacerbated by recent immigrants as they strive to increase their employability. The New Zealand government encourages online learning as an 'export education industry' (Maharey, 2002). Online delivery is new to many New Zealand students therefore they, like the instructors, have to extend their comfort zones by taking responsibility for their own online learning. As instructors move beyond 'resource based' online learning and experiment with different online pedagogical strategies, students, for their part, must also learn to adapt.
By examining the strategies some MComp students perceived as valuable, convenient and useful to them, instructors should be able to focus on the organisation of their arsenal of teaching and e-learning strategies. Instructors should provide students with what the students perceive as valuable in the first instance. When this first stage is established, instructors must concentrate on the development of student use of more advanced strategies as they, and students, grow and mature within the online teaching and learning environment. If, for instance, students rank clear detailed written assignment instruction then we must learn to communicate online as clearly as we do in class. In Face to Face (f2f) communication with a student, visual clues or verbal queries are used to identify that both parties understand exactly what is meant. In written communication it is easy to misconstrue ambiguous instructions resulting in students taking the wrong path. Clearly written instructions may take longer to prepare but the effort is worth it and saves time in the long term. Communication is the key according to Rossett, Douglis and Frazee (2003) who claim that we, as instructors, focus more on what resources to provide when learners really want clear just in time guidance (2003 p.5). In some instances online management, technical and or pedagogical experts are available to provide appropriate guidance for instructors. However, instructors must begin with what their students will appreciate most and, more importantly, use.
Choy, S., McNickle, C. & Clayton, B. (2002). Learner expectations and experiences: An examination of student views of support in online learning, ANTA (Australian National Training Authority, ANTA, Brisbane. [verified 21 Oct 2004] http://www.ncver.edu.au/students/publications/806.html
Clay, M. (1998). Development of training and support programs for distance education instructors. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 2(3). http://www.westga.edu/~distance/clay23.html
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Frey, A., Faul, A. & Yankelov, P. (2003). Student perceptions of web-assisted teaching strategies. Journal of Social Work Education, 39(3), 443-457.
Hutchins, H.M. (2003). Instructional immediacy and the seven principles: Strategies for facilitating online courses. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 6(3). http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/fall63/hutchins63.html
Joyce, D. (2002). Factors affecting contributions to electronic discussion boards: A preliminary analysis, In Kinshuk, R. Lewis, K. Akahori, R. Kemp, T. Okamoto, L. Henderson, & C.-H. Lee (Eds.), Proceedings of International Conference on Computers in Education (pp. 433-434). Los Alamitos, California: IEEE Computer Society. Paper presented at the Conference, 3-6 December, Auckland.
Kenny, J. (2001). Where academia meets management: A model for the effective development of quality learning materials using new technologies. In G. Kennedy, M. Keppell, C. McNaught & T. Petrovic (Eds), Meeting at the Crossroads: Proceedings of the 18th ASCILITE Conference (pp.327-334). University of Melbourne. http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/melbourne01/pdf/papers/kennyj.pdf
Kenny, J. (2003). Student perceptions of the use of online learning technology in their courses. ultiBASE, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) [verified 31 Oct 2004] http://ultibase.rmit.edu.au/Articles/march03/kenny2.htm
Maharey, S. (2002). Exploring New Zealand's E-Learning Opportunities: Challenges to the sector. Highways and Pathways - Exploring New Zealand's E-learning Opportunities. The Report of the E-Learning Advisory Group March 2002. [verified 31 Oct 2004] http://www.executive.govt.nz/minister/maharey/highways/exploring.htm
McNaught, C. (2002). Effecting change in higher education: Managing the essential factors. Inaugural Professorial Address at UNITEC, Auckland, New Zealand, 9 July.
Northover, M. (2002). Online discussion boards - friend or foe? In A. Williamson, C. Gunn, A. Young & T. Clear (Eds), Winds of change in the sea of learning: Proceedings 19th ASCILITE Conference, pp. 477-484. Auckland, New Zealand, 8-11 December. http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/auckland02/proceedings/papers/193.pdf
Northover, M. & Donald, C. (2001). The development of online learning at UNITEC - same environment, new landscape. In G. Kennedy, M. Keppell, C. McNaught & T. Petrovic (Eds), Meeting at the Crossroads: Proceedings 18th ASCILITE Conference, pp. 443-451. Melbourne: The University of Melbourne. http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/melbourne01/pdf/papers/northoverm.pdf
Palloff, R. M. & Pratt, K. (2003). The Virtual Student: A profile and guide to working with online learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Rossett, A., Douglis, F. & Frazee R.V. (2003). Strategies for building blended learning. Learning Circuits, July. http://www.learningcircuits.org/2003/jul2003/rossett.htm
Shea-Shultz, H. & Fogarty, J. (2003). Online Learning Today: 7 Strategies that Work. LTI Magazine, January. [verified 31 Oct 2004] http://www.elearningmag.com/ltimagazine/article/articleDetail.jsp?id=42799
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M. & Zvacek, S. (2000). Teaching and Learning at a Distance: Foundations of Distance Education. New Jersey, Prentice-Hall Inc.
|Authors: Mae McSporran can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
Please cite as: McSporran, M. (2004). Online learning: Which strategies do New Zealand students perceive as most valuable? In R. Atkinson, C. McBeath, D. Jonas-Dwyer & R. Phillips (Eds), Beyond the comfort zone: Proceedings of the 21st ASCILITE Conference (pp. 647-653). Perth, 5-8 December. http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/perth04/mcsporran.html
© 2004 Mae McSporran
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