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
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
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.
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.