What do students find useful?

In a growing category of blog posts I’m expanding and attempting to apply my interest in diffusion theory and related theories to increase the use of course websites. A major requirement, as outlined in the previous post, in achieving this requires and understanding of what students find useful?

In this post, I’m trying to bring together some research that I’m aware of which seeks to answer this question by actually asking the students. If you know of any additional research, let me now.

Accessing the student voice

Accessing the student voice is the final report from a project which analysed 280,000 comments on Course Experience Questionnaire’s from 90,000 students in 14 Australian Universities. The final report has 142 pages (and is available from the web page). Obviously the following is a selective synopsis of an aspect of it.

The report summarises (pp. 7 and 8) the 12 sub-domains which attracted the highest percentage of mentions which it equates to those that are important to students. In rank order they are

  1. Course Design: learning methods (14.2% share of the 285,000 hits)
    There were 60 different methods identified as the best aspect of their studies which fell into 5 clusters

    • 16 face-to-face methods that focused on interactive rather than passive learning
    • 7 independent study and negotiated learning methods
    • 20 practice-oriented and problem-based learning methods
    • 6 methods associated with simulated environments and laboratory methods
    • 11 ICT enabled learning methods
  2. Staff: quality and attitude (10.8%)
  3. Staff: accessibility (8.2%)
  4. Course Design: flexibility & responsiveness (8.2%)
  5. Course Design: structure & expectations (6.7%)
  6. Course Design: practical theory links (5.9%)
  7. Course Design: relevance (5.6%)
  8. Staff: teaching skills (5.4%)
  9. Support: social affinity (3.8%)
  10. Outcomes: knowledge/skills (3.8%)
  11. Support: learning resources (3.5%)
  12. Support: infrastructure & learning environment (3.4%)

Going into totals

  • Course design – 40.6%
  • Staff – 24.4%
  • Support – 10.7%
  • Outcomes: knowledge/skills – 3.8%

Link to the 7 principles

A quote from the report

The analysis revealed that practice-oriented and interactive, face-to-face learning methods attracted by far the largest number of ‘best aspect’ comments.

Of the 7 Principles for Good Practice in Education mentioned in the last post, #3 is “encourages active learning”

What about CQU students

In late 2007 we asked CQU’s distance education students three questions

  1. What did you like or find useful?
  2. What caused you problems?
  3. What would you like to see?

Students were asked to post their answers to an anonymous discussion forum. This means they could see each others posts and respond.

An initial summary of the responses is available and CQU staff can actually view a copy of the discussion forum containing the original student comments.

A simple analysis revealed the following top 10 mentions

  1. 106 – Some form of eLecture – video, audio etc.
  2. 86 – Quick, effective and polite responses to study queries.
  3. 66 – Clear and consistent information about the expectations of the course and assignments e.g. making past assignments and exams available.
  4. 55 – Study guides.
  5. 53 – Good quality and fast feedback on assignments.
  6. 33 – For resources that are essentially print documents to be distributed as print documents.
  7. 30 – A responsive discussion board.
  8. 27 – Online submission and return of assignments.
  9. 25 – More information about exams, including more detailed information on how students went on exams.
  10. 21 – Having all material ready by the start of term.

CQU Students – 1996

Back in 1996 CQU staff undertook a range of focus groups of CQU distance education students aim at identifying issues related to improving distance education course quality. This work is described in more detail in a paper (Purnell, Cuskelly and Danaher, 1996) from the Journal of Distance Education.

Arising from this work were six interrelated areas of issues. These issues were used to group the suggested improvements from the DE students, these improvements are explained in detail in the paper and are summarised below.

  1. student contact with lecturers/tutors,
    • Easy access to people with relevant expert knowledge and skills (usually the lecturer).
    • Flexible hours for such access.
    • Some personal contacts through telephone and, where possible, some face-to-face contact.
    • Additional learning resources, such as audio- and videotapes to provide more of a personal touch.
  2. assessment tasks,
    • Detailed feedback (approximately one written page) on completed assessment tasks indicating how to improve achievement.
    • Timely feedback so that students can utilize feedback in future assessment tasks in the unit.
    • A one-page criteria and standards sheet showing specific criteria to be used in each assessment task and the standards associated with each criterion (statements of the achievement required for a high grade, etc.).
    • Clear advice on assessment tasks in the unit resource materials and in other contacts such as teleconferences.
    • Where possible, the provision of exemplar responses to similar assessment tasks be provided in the study materials.
    • Lecturers to be mindful of the differences in resources available to rural students compared to those in larger urban areas when setting and marking assessment tasks.
  3. flexibility,
    • Non-compulsory residential schools available at various locations of no more than three days’ duration and incorporating use of facilities such as libraries.
    • Greater consideration of the complexities of lives of distance education students by encouraging, for example, more self-paced learning.
    • Access to accredited study outside traditional semester times.
    • Lecturers/tutors to consider more fully the needs of isolated students in rural areas in support provided.
  4. study materials,
    • Ensure study materials arrive on time (preferably in the week prior to the commencement of a semester).
    • Efficient communications with students-particularly with the written materials provided in addition to the study materials.
    • Ensure each unit’s study guide matches other resources used in a unit, such as a textbook.
    • Lecturers should be mindful of extra costs for students to complete a unit in which, for example, specialized computer software might be needed; if a textbook must be purchased, it should be used sufficiently to justify its purchase.
    • Lecturers should cater to the range of students they have, especially from rural areas, with the study requirements for each unit (many participants reported that self-contained study materials in which there was little or no need to secure other resources to achieve high grades were valued).
  5. mentors, and
    • Having access to mentors is desirable but should be optional for students.
    • Issues about the role of a mentor need to be clarified.
  6. educational technology.
    • Continue to use and make more effective use of technologies familiar to students, such as the telephone and audio- and videocassettes.
    • Examine ways of minimizing access costs to the Internet for students, especially in rural areas.
    • Provide appropriate technical support for students to be able to access and use the Internet.
    • Provide professional development for staff to meet individual needs for using educational technologies involving, for example, interactive television, audio graphics, CD-ROM, e-mail, and the World Wide Web.

The commonalities between this list, from 1996, and the list generated in 2007 are not small.

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