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This issue of CDTL Brief presents the last instalment of a two-part discussion on the issues surrounding IT-supported Learning Strategies.

September 2003, Vol. 6, No. 9 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
A Study Investigating the Impact of Web-enhanced Learning on Student Motivation
 
Mrs Vaanathi Rajandran
Lecturer, Communication Skills,
Design Integrated Studies
Temasek Design School, Temasek Polytechnic
 

Background

In the last decade or so, educationists have used Information Technology (IT) in the classroom to help motivate students to learn, and are aware that with IT, education will change dramatically (Kearsley, 2000). This paper outlines a research study I undertook to investigate the extent to which a combination of face-to-face teaching and online learning motivated a group of second year students at Temasek Design School (Temasek Polytechnic) to learn Language and Communication (L&C). 22 second year students from the Apparel Design and Merchandising (AD&M) Course at Temasek Polytechnic’s Design School were chosen for this study.

The L&C programme, which combined face-to-face teaching with online learning (also known as web-enhanced learning), lasted from July 2001 to February 2002. The online programme was developed using the software, Blackboard. Lessons were organised such that about half the lesson time was spent in class and the other half in the computer laboratory where students could do the online assignments.

The classroom sessions were devoted to going through the course notes and addressing any problems that arose during the online classroom. For the online component, I directed students to interesting and informative websites that they could visit to get more information about the topics dealt in class. I also posted extra notes on creative and critical thinking tools that I felt would help them to do their L&C projects. Mini online exercises that would give students the opportunity to apply these tools were also set; on average, students were given one online exercise every other week. In addition, students were encouraged to participate in discussion forums that were set up to facilitate a spontaneous exchange of ideas amongst students.

Data for the research study was gathered through online focus group discussions. The data gathering took place from 2 January 2002 to 30 April 2002.

Key research findings

A number of significant findings emerged from the study. 100% of the students found online learning as a fresh, interesting and enjoyable mode of learning. Students regarded certain features of Blackboard to be particularly appealing, such as the discussion forums, which allowed them to share their views about topics related to L&C with their classmates.

The greatest draw of online learning is the flexibility it allows (Jolliffe, Ritter & Steven, 2001). The research subjects also cited this as an advantage, stating that what had attracted them to the online learning mode was the flexibility and convenience it afforded: with Blackboard, most students found that they could learn L&C anytime, anywhere. One student reflected thus:

“Previously, a fixed time was allocated to us to discuss the given topics and do the set assignments…which I feel was very unconstructive because mornings are not the best time for me to think. Rather, I am the kind who works and thinks better at night. Therefore, the time given to us during L&C served very little purpose, as I feel forced to do L&C assignments. Blackboard allows me to answer questions at times that I feel most at ease, which also means that I will spend more time on this subject.”

There was further evidence to show that the majority of the students surveyed were more motivated to learn L&C after the introduction of web-enhanced learning. Of the 22 students surveyed, only two stated that there was no difference to the time they spent on L&C before and after the introduction of web-enhanced learning. The rest mentioned that they had spent more time doing the L&C assignments after they started the online learning via the Blackboard. Most of the students seemed to have spent more time participating in the discussion forums, as they wanted to find out what their classmates had to say about the different forum topics and to contribute their views at the same time.

What was gratifying to know was that students did not merely participate in the forums because it was fun to do so, but actually thought through their ideas and read what others had to say before responding online. They became more critical and reflective. As one student said,

“I do spend more time giving my opinions to the questions posted. If you were to give them to me during lessons, I might just do them in a hurry and hand them up. But with online learning, I do give more thought in writing my views.”

What was surprising was that some of the students continued to contribute to the discussion forums even though the L&C subject had completed its run for the academic year and students had gone off for their internship programme. Many took the opportunity to share and give moral support to their peers who were not enjoying their internships or who were having a difficult time.

The sample group of students also felt that since the introduction of web-enhanced learning in L&C, there had been greater participation among the group. They noted that even the quiet ones who rarely spoke up in the classroom were willing to express their views through the online forums. As noted by Palloff & Pratt (2001), such students feel liberated in the ‘faceless’ online classroom and are more inclined to participate. One of the quieter students in class admitted: “Through Blackboard, I can convey my thoughts more freely and the immediate effect of being condemned is lowered.” She also felt that the online forums enabled her to clarify her views if they had been misunderstood and that she need not be overwhelmed by criticisms of her views. This might have been a problem in the traditional classroom context.

Finally, since the introduction of Blackboard, students seemed to have also taken a more active interest in L&C. Some students indicated that they had started reading more and referred more frequently to the L&C lecture notes.

Despite all these positive views students had about online learning, many were quick to point out that they would not want this subject to go totally online. Students felt that this might lead to the loss of the lecturer’s personal touch.

Conclusion

With the positive feedback from the students who participated in this research study, there is a possibility of opening this form of web-enhanced learning to more students who might stand to benefit from this mode of learning.

References

Jolliffe, A.; Ritter J. & Stevens, D. (2001). The Online Learning Handbook: Developing and Using Web-based Learning. London: Kogan Page Limited.

Kearsley, G. (2000). Online Education: Learning and Teaching in Cyberspace. Ontario: Thomson Learning, Inc.

Palloff, R.M. & Pratt, K. (2001). Lessons from the Cyberspace Classroom: The Realities of Online Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

 
 
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Inside this issue
The Value of Online Student Peer Review, Evaluation and Feedback in Higher Education
   
ICT-supported Learning Strategies and Learner-centred Instruction
   
A Study Investigating the Impact of Web-enhanced Learning on Student Motivation