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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Repost from the AECT BlogTrack - Student Perceptions of Online Learning

This entry from the AECT BlogTrack is the fifth entry from the month of June, the fifth in the series where I described the research work that I have done to date in virtual schooling, and the thirteenth overall in the re-posts from this series.

This was the first study that I conducted after joining the online learning research group that Dr. Hill had established here at the University of Georgia - yes, this is the same group that is sponsoring this BlogTrack. The actual research projet was one that had been originally conducted by Liyan and Ernise Singleton (Higher Education) with a group of online students in one of our Master’s programs. This was first replicated by Frankie Jones (Corporate Settings) in a corporate setting in the United States and then by Myung Hwa Koh (Trends & Issues) in a corporate setting in South Korea. So my version of the students was the fourth different population.

Over the years we have talked about writing up something that compares the findings of the four different studies (I believe that Frankie and Myung Hwa did this with their two corporate versions), however, I suppose before that can happen I will need to actually present or publish the findings from my study - which I hope to have written into manuscript form and submitted somewhere over the summer.

The purpose of this study was to investigate the perceptions of students who have completed courses from the CDLI on helpful and challenging components of web-based learning, specifically to explore web-based learning from the secondary student’s perspective to inform the creation of strategies that can be implemented to assist web-based learning designers. A mixed methods approach, using both quantitative (survey) and qualitative (interview) data collection methods, was adopted. Eighteen different schools, representing all four school districts in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, agreed to participate in this study. During the 2004-05 school year, a total of thirty-eight participants completed the survey and eight participated in a follow-up interview.

While a complete analysis of the data is still being conducted, some of the preliminary results from the survey portion indicate that overall students are fairly pleased with their web-based learning experiences. When asked “overall, I am satisfied with taking web-based courses,” 87% of the students indicated they were. This is a particularly positive result, given that two thirds of the students who completed the survey had only taken one or two web-based courses. As a possible explanation for that satisfaction, one of the themes from the interviews was the ability of students to access courses that had previously been unavailable in their school. This increased access was seen by the students as the greatest benefit of the CDLI. In addition to this, students also mentioned factors such as being able to interact with students from different parts of the province, the ability to increase their technology skills, and the opportunity to become more independent in their learning as other benefits.

The two initial challenges identified in the survey data were a lack of time and technical problems. Half of the students who completed the survey indicated that there was generally a lack of time to get everything that was required in their web-based course completed by the assigned deadlines. To re-enforce the first of these, one of the themes from the interviews was that students were simply unable to complete all of the seat/practice work that is assigned to them and often submit their graded work after the assigned deadline. Also, more that two third of students expressed that technical problems was the main challenge faced in their web-based learning. This was also a theme from the interviews, technical problems were common when it comes to the hardware, and particularly the software used for synchronous classes. In addition, many students expressed difficulties with being able to complete work at home due to the lack of necessary software or the fact that much of the asynchronous content is designed to be used at higher bandwidths than is typically available in these rural areas.

Finally, when asked which factors are important for success in a web-based course students selected well-organized content, motivation, and time management as the most important factors. Other factors that were seen as important were clear objectives, exercises, quizzes, technology comfort level, although not to the extent as the first three. Interestingly, students indicated that feedback was the least important factors in their success in this web-based learning environment.

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