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A Study of Student and Staff Attitudes to IT 

Resources and Increasing C & IT in the Curriculum

by

Rebecca Osselton   BA Hons MSc

rebecca.osselton@unn.ac.uk

 

        The University of Northumbria is currently in the process of reviewing several online learning systems; one of which is being trialed internally as part of a Teaching and Learning Technology Programme Stage 3 project (TLTP3-86). This collaborative research project is being developed by a consortium of universities, including the University of Newcastle, Durham, Nottingham and Sheffield; Newcastle being the lead site.

         The "Networked Learning Environment" is being implemented by the University of Northumbria in the area of Health Sciences Allied to Medicine, although it has primarily been developed in the context of Medical Schools. One focus of the project is to evaluate existing Communication and Information Technologies (C&IT) in use at universities, so that they can be extended and supported.

         To meet the aims of the project, research was undertaken to assess the attitudes of some of the students at the University of Northumbria to current online resources, in advance of the introduction of the Networked Learning Environment. Several groups of students were issued questionnaires, the largest group being those taking the third year of the Nursing Diploma. Slightly later, staff were also issued a questionnaire to gauge attitudes towards the increasing use of Communication and Information Technology in teaching.

         The first questionnaire was formulated and distributed to a selection of students within the Faculty of Health, Social work and Education based at Coach Lane.

The questionnaire consisted of ten questions designed to provide a qualitative interpretation of student attitudes to online facilities at the Coach Lane Campus. The following is a summary of the questions and results.

 

Student Questions

 

1.         How would you describe yourself - unfamiliar/computer literate/confident user

 

2.         How difficult/easy is it to find what you want on the system? - easy/takes a little time/quite difficult

        

3.         Do you enjoy using computers? - yes/indifferent/no

 

4.         What do you think of the facilities currently available, e.g. University web pages - good, informative/don't know/not very helpful

 

5.         Do you ever access Faculty web pages remotely? - yes/no

 

6.         Would you like to have more interactive learning material available online, e.g. animation/video? - yes/don't know/no

 

7.         Would you like to see interactive multiple-choice questions for your course online? - yes/don't know/no

 

8.         Do you generally prefer printed formats to electronic documents? - yes/don't know/no

 

9.         How often do you use e-mail? - frequently/sometimes/never

 

10.       If you use e-mail, who is it for? - personal use/to contact tutors

 

There were 5 main groups surveyed:

 

           Nursing Diploma yr3

           MSc Health Studies yr2

            International Health and Development Studies yr1

            International Health and Development Studies yr2

            Occupational Therapy yr3 / Health Sciences

 

Results by group

 

Nursing Diploma

 

        There were some generalizations that could be made from the results of each group. For example, the number of nurses who described themselves as confident users was very small, only 5% of the total sampled. 32% of nurses also thought that it was difficult to find things on the system. Their response to the 'yes' option in question 3, was the lowest of all the groups, but many also classed themselves as indifferent rather than give a negative answer.

 

        Half the group were unsure of what they thought of the University web pages and a mere 9% claimed to access Faculty web pages remotely. Their responses to questions 6 and 7 were very much in accord with the overall average; question 8 revealing that even more than average numbers preferred printed formats.

 

        Finally, the nurses stood out from the other groups surveyed, in their low use of e-mail. Only 5% said they used it frequently, with a large 77% never using it at all. Of those that did use e-mail, it was largely for personal use, only 1 out of 22 nurses used it to e-mail their tutors.

 

MSc Health studies

 

        The MSc studies group displayed fairly high levels of confidence in the first 5 questions. However they were less enthusiastic about the possibility of more interactive learning material online and multiple-choice questions. They were also slightly higher users of e-mail and used it to contact tutors as well as for personal use.

 

International and Health Development Studies yr1

 

        The IDH yr1 students mostly felt they were computer literate and could find things without too much difficulty. However, out of all the groups, they gave the highest 'no' response to question 3, (27% compared to the average of 13%). Despite this fact, they also gave the highest 'good/informative' response to question 4 and were most likely of all the groups to access web pages remotely, (73% compared to 39% average).

 

        They were mostly positive in response to more online material and seemed more comfortable with a web-based format, as the vast majority felt they were not sure if they preferred print to web. Out of this group, 64% used e-mail frequently, which was much higher than the average response, although 91% of this was for personal use only.

 

Occupational Therapy yr3/Health Sciences

 

        These two groups were very small in number, so were amalgamated to our third group. They had the highest number of confident users and gave very positive responses to the first 5 questions. They also responded highly to questions 6 and 7. They were the second largest users of e-mail, and 25% used it for both purposes.

 

International and Health Development Studies yr2

 

        This group reported the highest number of unfamiliar users, (39%), compared to the average, (28%) but had levels of confidence in line with the average, (question 2). They also had the highest numbers of students who said they enjoyed using computers. They were generally positive about the web facilities, although a large percentage marked 'don't know'. Out of these students, two specifically added to the questionnaire that they felt the facilities were 'not bad' but not really 'good'. Half the students claimed to access web pages remotely.

 

        Like the majority of students surveyed, this group were keen to see more interactive web-based material and preferred printed formats. Although the majority used e-mail, it was 'sometimes', rather than 'frequently'. All those that did use e-mail, used it for both purposes.

 

General results

 

        Some of the sample groups were smaller than originally hoped and time constraints prevented the sampling of a greater cross section of students across courses. This may have had the effect of creating a biased set of results. Despite this, a general flavour of student attitudes to IT services were revealed.

 

        Most users classed themselves as computer literate, (a subjective question in itself), though more users were 'unfamiliar' than 'confident'. More users also found it 'difficult' to access facilities than those who found it 'easy' although the majority were reasonably comfortable with accessing resources. Despite these rather negative findings, the majority answered yes to the question about enjoying using computers and thought that university facilities were 'good/informative'.

 

        The level of users appear to be logging in remotely was shown to be less than half, although how many have access to other computers is not known. The vast majority of the students wanted to see more interactive learning material online and interactive multiple choice questionnaires. The majority also preferred printed formats, a mere 6% liking electronic formats.

 

        Finally, the use of e-mail seemed to vary greatly across student groups. Almost 1/3rd fell into each given category. Of those that did use e-mail, the majority was for personal use, although some did use it to contact their tutors.

 

Conclusions

 

        A sample group of 67 students at Coach Lane Campus is possibly just enough to give an indication of student attitudes to the available IT services. Many of the results were positive and there did seem to be a general level of satisfaction amongst most students. However, there were pockets of students who were not content with IT services and thought that many UNN web pages were "not very helpful". Many students also felt unable to comment positively or negatively about then current IT facilities, for whatever reason.

 

        At the time of this study it was indicative that many facilities could be improved. The University of Northumbria has since redesigned and improved its entire web site. The aim of questionnaire was to provide a base level from which to compare future questionnaire responses.

 

        The questionnaire was designed to be short to maximize student response, but it would have been useful to extend many of the questions further. For example, it would have been interesting to find out why third year Nursing Diploma students had such a low uptake of e-mail, or why Faculty web pages were liked or disliked by particular students.

 

Staff Questions

1.         Do you personally make use of IT to prepare teaching materials such as handouts and slide presentations? - Yes/No

 

2.         Have you ever written your own World Wide Web (WWW) pages for any reason?  - Yes/No

 

3.         Do you currently make use of email to communicate with students? - As individuals/As student groups/No

 

4.         Do you make use of interactive teaching materials developed by yourself or others? - Yes/No

 

5.         Have you identified any interactive teaching materials that you would like to make use of, but are unable to either because of prohibitive cost or incompatibilities? - Yes/No

 

6.         Would you like to make the following available to students to download?

 

            Handouts

            Presentations/OHPs

            Images/35mm slides

            Videos

            None

            Other (please specify)

 

7.         Do you think that you would change the content of handouts, OHPs etc if they became available for students to access over the network? - Yes/No

 

8.         Are you content with the amount of Communication & Information Technology (C&IT) you make use of in your teaching? - Yes/No

 

9.         Would you use online resources to replace, or in addition to printed materials? - Replace printed material/Compliment printed material

 

10.       Greater use of C&IT in the curriculum will save time for:

               Students

            Staff

            No-one

 

11.       Any other comments?

 

Staff Results

 

        The large majority of staff claimed to make use of IT to prepare teaching materials (95%), but a much fewer number had written their own WWW pages (13%). Three quarters of staff used email to contact individual students, whereas only 9% used group emails. One quarter of staff however, claimed not to use email at all.

 

        Thirty percent of the staff said they used interactive teaching materials. In the context of the questionnaire it was assumed that this would be taken to mean IT materials, however it may have been unclear. The question did prompt several responses about how many forms of teaching can be considered interactive. When asked about whether IT materials had been identified but had unable to be used for prohibitive cost or incompatibilities, only 25% said that this had been the case.

 

        Members of staff were asked what materials they would like to make available to students via C & IT. 74% opted for handbooks, this being the most popular choice; presentations/OHP's were next best choice with a 59% response. Both images/slides and videos were fairly popular and were rated the same, (18%). A small percentage of staff (8%) said they would prefer not to make any of the above available and 1% were unsure.

 

        An open-ended question was provided to find out what other materials staff would like to make available. This led to the following list:

 

* Sound clips

* Discussion groups

* Online questions

* Course handbooks

* Other course info

* Distance learning units

* Interactive anatomy packages

* Application forms

* Unit booklets

 

        It was then asked if it would be thought necessary to change the contents of handouts, etc, if they were to be made available via C & IT. 50% of staff felt that it would be necessary, as opposed to 36% who did not and 8% who were not sure either way.

 

        Many comments were also provided in this section; they mostly qualified yes answers in terms of it being an opportunity to add further details to materials, to improve or update them. Some specified it would entirely on the nature of the material. Other comments given in this section have been amalgamated to the further additional comments section discussed in the final conclusions.

 

        When members of staff were asked if they were content with the amount of C & IT they were using in their teaching, 29%were satisfied, 67% were not and 4% were unsure. 11% of staff said they would use online resources to replace printed materials, while the majority, 71% intended them to compliment existing documents. 15% said they would do a combination of the above and 2% did not know.

 

        The last question concerning whether greater use of C & IT in the curriculum would save time, has been combined with the final comments section. It was in this area various concerns of staff were particularly revealed.

 

        Some staff felt that it would save time for staff and or students, but many felt that this was not necessarily the most important issue. No one thought that administration would be saved any time.

 

A variety of comments were raised

 

Re-Time

 

Creates different time pressures.

Requires a lot of time to input material, which would then have to be updated.

Re-distributes time.

Takes time initially, then saves time.

It will increase staff development time, but will improve the student experience, especially for part-time students.

That should be the foremost concern.

They take longer to prepare in the first place, but save time and storage space subsequently.

Using online resources may save time, but my experience so far at UNN shows that having to get approval for web pages causes unacceptable delays and deters me from using them in the future.

It hasn't saved any time yet. In fact itís more time consuming for students & lecturers having to learn typing skills, etc as you go along.

Developing some packages would take time initially but once completed would assist all.

Work will always fill the time available; student learning opportunities will be enhanced with greater use of C & I T.

It obviously takes much time to prepare C & IT material, but traditional teaching etc. goes on as usual. I feel teachers want to move forward but the pace is slow.

 

 

Re-Resources

 

Training! Technical support! Hardware!

Use of C & IT is limited due to very poor hardware available to them in HSWE, especially those in Pre. Reg Nursing.

Time? Money?

It's cheaper.

Use of IT is increasing daily and used for teaching purposes as often as availability of equipment will allow.

This university is incredibly tardy at making workable systems available to staff and students and when it does the bureaucracy and control makes development unbearable.

More time will be needed for students who do not have the benefits of additional computer memory.

It would be a useful way (if handouts were on the web), of saving paper and photocopying costs.

There's a need for adequate resource production of materials & to provide satisfactory mechanisms for students to access materials.

 

Re-Staff

 

The last question is unfortunate as it may suggest that to staff that the use of C & IT will mean less work and reduction in staff. This is not conducive to securing the commitment of staff to this type of development.

Staff need more access to support and information on how to use new technology.

Accessibility to C & IT is also a must for staff and students. C & IT needs to freely available at all times for Teaching and Learning - an impossible dream?

More staff training is needed to develop IT skills and to increase the repertoire of teaching aides/materials.

Because of my limited experience/skill everything seems to take an age to complete and I don't think I get the best out of the technology.

Staff will need to invest a lot of time in getting materials prepared and upgrading their skills.

I would like to be more confident about accessing and using the World Wide Web. At the moment I lack time, confidence, and technical skills.

 

 

Re-students

 

Some students entering courses with limited IT experience may be intimidated, but not those with experience.

Greater use of C & IT could disadvantage students who are poorer/less familiar with IT and who don't have computers, or have a computer and are just learning to use it.

Often older students find computers intimidating.

The cost of downloading will be passed onto the student; this is when the costs of H.E. are already high.

Some mature students (especially part-time) find its use intimidating, its difficult to strike the balance in that it would help students if they could overcome their fear & try learning new skills.

It may not save time if students have to book/queue for access to a PC.

Students will become self-reliant and develop key skills for life and work.

The only worry (with students) is that of 'plagiarism', which I understand is difficult to police.

There are 2 distinct camps, those who are "au fait" and those who are not.

Greater use of IT material for students to download would a) increase their workload and time spent waiting about b) reduce the amount of relevant material provided for student handouts - who would type/scan this in?

My own concern is the loss of interaction/rapport between student & teacher as a context for facilitating learning.

 

Conclusions

        Staff are well aware of the increasing pressures for the adoption of C & IT in the context of teaching and learning. They are also aware of the many constraints that apply to this area. The large majority are keen to include more C & IT in their teaching, but have found that for various reasons, they have found difficulties in doing so. There are also various implications for students and issues that need to be addressed across a university. Despite the problems, most staff seem committed to moving into a new era of curriculum delivery and can see the long term benefits for staff and students alike.

 

Acknowledgements

Dr. Megan Quentin-Baxter, Dr. Tony McDonald, and Mr. John Moss             

Faculty of Medicine Computing Centre, University of Newcastle.

Dr. Brian Bell 

Faculty of Health, Social Work & Education, University of Northumbria