Students' Perception of Online Learning Resources

Steve Love, University of Portsmouth,  UK.

This paper describes a pilot study designed to evaluate students' perception of a unit of study organised around an online learning resource. In addition, students were asked to evaluate "face-to-face" versus the chat-room as a learning environment.

The participants in this study were final year undergraduate Psychology students from the University of Portsmouth who had chosen to take a course on Computer-Mediated Communication. This course was organised around an online managed learning environment called WebCT.

The students were informed, from the outset, that all information about the course would be found on the course web site on WebCT. This included information about the course aims and expected learning outcomes, assessment criteria, reference links to other relevant web sites and a calendar of dates for student presentations (which formed part of the coursework
requirement for this unit).  In addition, students used the bulletin board facility to provide information to the rest of the group about their presentation topic (e.g. title, useful references) and introduce what the seminar topic for the week would be. Students were also encouraged to add any relevant web links that they came across during their own independent
study and use the email facility to contact the course leader or other group members if they had any questions or comments to make about the course.

The second aim of the pilot study was to evaluate "face-to-face" versus the chat-room as a learning environment. Each week students held a seminar either in a room, "face-to-face" around a table or the seminar would take place online, using the WebCT chat-room facility.

To evaluate the online learning resource students were asked to complete a 5-point, Likert-type attitude questionnaire at the end of the course. The questionnaire covered topics such as presentation of the online materials, navigation around the online learning resource and overall user satisfaction. For the comparison of   "face-to-face" versus the chat-room as a learning environment, students were given a series of open-ended questions to answer (the open-ended questions were also presented to students at the end of the course). These included questions asking students about what they liked and disliked about the two types of seminar set-up and which one they preferred as a learning environment.

The results obtained from the Likert questionnaire analysis indicated that students' found the online learning resource informative and easy to use.  When "face-to-face" was compared to the chat-room as a learning environment, students preferred the "face-to-face" environment. The students listed turn-taking problems, social isolation, and a deeper level of understanding
obtained in the "face-to-face" environment as factors that would inhibit them from using the chat-room facility.

This paper will present, in detail, the results obtained from the pilot study and discuss the implications for those designing online learning resources for undergraduate units of study.

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