In a previous post I laid out some rationale for an organisational approach to increase the usage of course websites. In this post I provide more detail on the rationale behind the pragmatic approach, which was described this way in that previous post.
- Pragmatic – ad hoc changes to particular aspects of a course website.
Most academic staff make these changes in an unguided way. I’ll suggest that you are likely to obtain greater success if those ad hoc changes are guided by theories and frameworks such as the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) and related work (Davis, 1989), Diffusion Theory (Rogers, 1995) and the 7 Principles for Good Practice in Education (Chickering and Gamson, 1987).
I’ll describe each of the three theories that form the foundation of this idea. In a later post, I’ll try and take up the idea of how this could be used in the design of a course website.
The fundamental idea is that these three theories become the basis for guiding the design of a standard course website which becomes the minimal online course presences for an institution. These theories are applied with close attention to the local context and consequently there will be differences between contexts, perhaps even between disciplines or types of courses.
Technology acceptance model
The Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) suggests that there are two main factors which will influence how and when people use an information system (the assumption is that a course website is an information system):
- Perceived usefulness.
“The degree to which a person believes that using a particular system would enhance his or her job performance” (Davis 1989).
- Perceived ease of use.
“The degree to which a person believes that using a particular system would be free from effort” (Davis 1989).
Some more discussion about the use of TAM within e-learning can be found in (Behrens, Jamieson et al, 2005).
The questions that arise from this idea for the design of a standard course web might include:
- What do the students currently find useful?
- What additions might they find useful?
- The same questions applied to all staff, both teaching and support.
- How can these requirements be fulfilled in a way that is easy to use?
- How just do you determine that?
Diffusion Theory (Rogers 1995) encompasses a number of related theories explaining why people adopt (or don’t) innovations. The best known of these related theories are the perceived attributes.
The idea is that the how a potential adopter perceives an attribute influences whether or not they will adopt. The perceived attributes that have the biggest influence on adoption are:
- Relative advantage.
The degree to which an innovation is perceived as better than the idea it supersedes.
The degree to which an innovation is perceived as being consistent with the existing values, past experiences, and needs of potential adopters.
The degree to which an innovation is perceived as difficult to understand and use.
If you want students to make use of an online course presence then they must perceive the services offered by that course presence to be useful (relative advantage), easy to use (complexity) and something that meets their expectations of a university experience (compatibility).
The questions which arise from this include
- What do students expect from their university learning experience?
- What are their capabilities when it comes to technology and online learning?
- What do they find useful?
This is one theoretical explanation for why you would expect online lectures, especially if implemented with a YouTube like interface, to be seen as a positive thing by students. In particular because most students still see lectures as a core component of a university education. They expect to have lectures.
This prediction is backed up by the findings of the Carrick Project examining the impact of Web-based lecture technologies. You can find particular mention of this in the projects publications.
Jones, Jamieson and Clark (2003) talk more about the use of diffusion theory for choosing potential web-based educational innovations.
This paper moves beyond the perceived attributes component of diffusion theory. These other components of diffusion theory offer a range of insights and potential advice for other aspects of this type of project. For example,
- Innovation-decision – is the decision to adopt a particular innovation an optional, collective or authority decision.
Authority decisions enable the fastest adoption, but may be circumvented.
- Communication channels – the nature of how information is communicated to people impact on the level of adoption.
The 7 principles
The 7 principles for good practice in undergraduate education were drawn from research on good teaching and learning and were intended to help academics address problems including apathetic students.
The 7 principles are that good practice in education:
- encourages contact between students and faculty,
- develops reciprocity and cooperation among students,
- encourages active learning,
- gives prompt feedback,
- emphasizes time on task,
- communicates high expectations, and
- respects diverse talents and ways of learning.
It could be argued that the 7 principles are very specific, research informed advice about how to design activities and resources which students perceive to be useful and provide them with relative advantage. Which has obvious connections with the diffusion theory and TAM.
For example, principle 4 is “gives prompt feedback”. A design feature derived from that might be to return marked assignments to all students within 2 days. Based on my experience with students, they would perceive this as very useful and believe they gain an advantage from it.
This connection suggests that appropriate use of the 7 principles could significantly increase the use of an online course presence.
Implementation considerations – what about the staff?
The insights from diffusion theory and TAM also apply to the teaching staff and even the organisation. Teaching staff are critical to learning and teaching. If they aren’t positively involved it won’t work well. From an organisational perspective, anything that is planned needs to be doable within the resource constraints and also needs to be compatible with the organisation’s current structure.