I’ve just completed the first stage of my research project, looking at student satisfaction/dissatisfaction with the online aspects of their experience as  students within our programme.  A summary of these results follows.  Please note that I haven’t spent much time in preparing it for reading.  It’s really just a summary of the data with a few reflections thrown in.


Overall

The first years are much more satisfied with the course than the second years.

  • First year:  100% very satisfied/ satisfied

  • Second year:  80% satisfied / 20% dissatisfied

  • Possible reasons

    • Second-time delivery is always considerably smoother than first-time delivery.  Second year material is often being developed just-in-time which can lead to a lack of clarity at times.

    • With the implementation of the OP IT Induction process this year, and with more integrated support from the learning centre, the first year students have experienced an increased level of support for IT skill development & academic skill development.

    • The first year of online delivery was not smooth sailing.  We had a huge learning curve, which combined with a lower level of funding that was anticipated, resulted in a lot of change, which the students found frustrating.  In 2009, this group seems particularly resistant to changes, and are fairly unforgiving of any perceived lacks in their course of study.

Level & quality of interaction with staff

First year – Mostly satisfied (6.3% dissatisfied)

Second year – 60% satisfied / 40% dissatisfied

The concerns in this area are largely based around delayed scheduling for the clinic and Bioscience classes which has impacted on some students who are working part-time. As a staff group, we’ve decided to finalise all scheduling before we finish up at the end of the year to minimise this type of effect.

Some of the other concerns raised are duplicated in the section on clarity of direction, and are discussed here.

Level and quality of interaction with other students

Generally the students seem happy with this.

Quality and frequency of feedback on your progress

Generally the students are fairly happy with this.

How often do you feel clear on what you need to do to progress in your course work?

First year & second year: 50% always/usually, 50% sometimes/not often

Even though I’ve worked to improve clarity of information structures and processes (being aware that this was a problem with last year’s cohort), clarity remains the area of most concern for both first and second year students.  Clearly clarity of direction is key in being an effective student.

Common themes are

  • Difficulty with assessments – locating the assessments, knowing assessment due dates, not receiving assessments soon enough

  • Some of the first year students would like more explaining of where everything is and how to get at it (information structures, and processes). A screen movie would be the best way to efficiently provide for this need.  We can then cover this material at the start of the course, and students who are struggling to understand can view the movie repeatedly if need be.

  • Elluminate class times have been scheduled generally (e.g. this time is set aside for elluminate sessions). It would be useful for part-time students to have specific classes scheduled on the timetable.

  • Some complaints of delayed communication from lecturers. It’s somewhat difficult for lecturers to be highly responsive when they work for Polytechnic part-time. I do what I can to improve responsiveness when it seems important, but there is probably not much more we can do about this complaint at present.

  • Some students have expressed a preference for a simpler structure (i.e. Blackboard), but for reasons previously discussed, this is not an option that we are entertaining at present.

  • No reports of problems with clarity of instructions from lecturers.

It seems that the structure which is in place is workable with a few improvements. Making better use of the course calender by embedding assessment dates and scheduling specific elluminate classes should be very helpful. Also providing first year students with a little more opportunity to become familiar with the structure of the learning environment in the early stages should pay dividends.

Support for computer use

Students were fairly happy with computer support in the following areas – use of a computer, email, elluminate, using Microsoft products, Internet searching & Other computer use.

Two areas where there were a considerable number of dissatisfied students were in support of Blackboard & use of Google docs.

Blackboard use
Year 1: 31.3% dissatisfied/very dissatisfied
Year 2:   No dissatisfaction

Use of google docs
Year 1:  31.3% dissatisfied/very dissatisfied
Year 2: 2 0% dissatisfied/very dissatisfied

Students seem to perceive that there is a lot of support available, but it’s better in some areas than others. Blackboard & Google docs could be supported better.  We planned to run a session on Google docs in our first practical block, but I decided not to because I believed that the students were getting overloaded.

The community learning centre environment may not be ideal for high need students who are suffering from the convergence of the need to improve their computer literacy & the demands of their study (“Staff in the clcs will help but not that willingly,only one thing at a time and you 3 have to wait 10mins for them to come over to you”).

Suggestions range from suggestions for more IT tutorials to a comment that “the polytechnic has excellent resources to ensure anyone can understand computer use- people just need to use them!”

We plan to initiate a peer tutoring programme next year using some of the second year students.  This  should help.

Confidence with computer use

First year: 20 % sometimes confident/not confident
Second year: 20% sometimes confident

In the first year group, it appears from the feedback of most of the class that the technical difficulty of the computer work is not too high. It seems to be well within the capabilities of most of the class.

The second years have a high level of confidence with the use of any computer applications used previously, but are lacking in confidence with blogging. In particular issues around privacy & sharing thoughts/work openly have been discussed. Some students believe that the poorer students will coast through on the work of the better students.

Computer self-efficacy has been shown to improve with exposure to computer use, and this finding does seem to be reflected in my data so far.   I plan to adopt a wait and see approach – I expect that these figures will change by the next survey date.

Ability to avoid distractions and concentrate on studies

First years: 64.3% always/usually | 35.7% sometimes/not often
Second years: 50% always/usually | 50% sometimes/not often

These percentages are fairly high, and they may be considered a problem, but it would be interesting to compare these results to similar results from other tertiary environments where students have a reasonable amount of flexibility (e.g university style lectures).

There were fairly consistent messages from both groups about the reasons for distractions – good weather, socialising, family commitments, noises in the environment, tv, conflict in the student group, a lack of interest in the subject. some people alluded to juggling study with other commitments (training/work/hobbies),

One student stated that it was distracting when people were talking/typing in elluminate when the teacher is talking. This is distracting, and does take some time to get used to, but there are benefits to having those two communication channels going.

Summary of the summary

It seems that the area that most needs development work is in clarity of student direction.  To achieve this I plan to

  • Embed assessment dates within the course calender
  • Schedule specific elluminate classes within the calender
  • Work on minimising delays in student-staff communication
  • Create a blog page which contains links to the main course areas for the second year students (i.e. something which they can access through Google reader which provides links to everything they need).  This has been requested specifically by the class reps.

Now it’s just a matter of finding some time to do this in the mayhem of my life!!

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