Approaches to Studying and the Perception of E-Seminars

Dr Jacqueline Taylor,   Bournemouth University,  UK                        

Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) is increasingly being used to support the administration of coursework and as a mechanism to deliver distance education (Mason & Bacsich, 1998).  This paper discusses issues related to the adoption and implementation of a computer conferencing system to mediate seminar discussions (e-seminars).  The focus here is on asynchronous electronic discussion, which although not directly equivalent to traditional forms of (synchronous) seminar discussion, enable flexibility of attendance (an important issue with many students now undertaking paid work during
traditional teaching hours) and encourage critical reflection. An important question arising from a review of previous research is whether all students benefit equally when traditional seminars are converted to e-seminars (Wilson, 2000). Many ambitious claims have been made regarding the use of CMC to explore new models for student learning (Pickering, 1995), however
this assumes that all students are self-motivated and willing to accept responsibility for their learning. Clearly, there are a number of individual differences involved in learning styles, and communication and groupworking skills which need to be considered. This paper reports an evaluation conducted to explore the relationship between approaches to studying and
students' perception of e-seminars.

The pedagogical aims of the e-seminars were given to students as: to encourage reflection on the learning process at the same time as learning about the key topics of the Unit (communication and group processes) in an experiential way. Students were required to participate in a series of five e-seminars, each lasting approximately two weeks. They were divided into groups of five and each student was allocated a two-week session in which they would present a seminar paper on a given topic and lead the resulting discussion. In the remaining four e-seminars, students were required to respond to the seminar paper and to participate in the discussion. The seminar paper and participation were assessed. An evaluation questionnaire was produced to collect data regarding their perceptions of the e-seminars, compared to traditional seminars. The shortened version of the Approaches to Study Inventory (Gibbs, 1992) was also used as it is quick and easy to complete. This comprises six items per sub-scale: meaning orientation, reproducing orientation and achieving orientation. The evaluation questionnaire and the Approaches to Study Inventory were distributed on completion of the last e-seminar and were completed by 29 students (63%).  A correlational analysis of the data was conducted to investigate the relationship between the perception of e-seminars and a range of individual differences, however this paper will focus on approaches to studying. 

The analysis revealed a number of significant correlations. Levels of satisfaction were negatively correlated with scores on the reproducing orientation sub-scale: such that students with high scores on this sub-scale perceived the e-seminars as not satisfying. Students with higher scores on the meaning orientation sub-scale perceived the most benefit from the e-seminars, in terms of finding them more stimulating and gaining more understanding of the key topics of the Unit. There was a nearly significant correlation between high scores on the achieving orientation sub-scale and a reported increase in using literature sources to support points of view expressed during the e-seminar. In conclusion, e-seminars were perceived as a positive support to learning for students scoring high on achieving and meaning orientation but were perceived more negatively by those scoring high on reproducing orientation. The results have implications for the widespread use of e-seminars - clearly more research is required to investigate whether the same student characteristics lead to academic success using CMC as with
traditional methods of teaching and learning.

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