Student attitudes toward web-enhanced instruction in an educational technology course

Student attitudes toward web-enhanced instruction in an educational technology course

Iman M. Alghazo

This study aimed at investigating students’ attitudes toward Web-enhanced instruction in an educational technology course taught in the College of Education at the United Arab Emirates University. The sample of the study consisted of (66) college female students. A survey with 5 point Likert-type items and open-ended questions was used to collect the data. Results revealed that students had positive attitudes toward most aspects of Web-enhanced instruction. They identified many advantages of web-enhanced instruction such as: discussions about course content through the discussion-board, communication with the course instructor, obtaining grades from the Web, easy access to course related materials, submitting assignments through the Web, and increasing course understanding, communication with classmates. However, students identified some obstacles to using web-enhanced instruction such as: low speed of the internet, difficulties in accessing the course from home, and limited access to computer labs.

Introduction

Advances in internet and World Wide Web capabilities challenge college administrators to incorporate computer-based technology as pedagogical tools (Karber, 2001; De Verneil, & Berge, 2000; Andrews, Gosse, Gaulton & Maddigart, 1999). Literature on the use of Internet has identified a number of benefits in using it for instruction such as convenience, speed of communication, quick and remote access to information, instant feedback, and cost saving (Madeen, Ford, Miller & Levy, 2005; Koch & Gobell, 1999; Pychyl, Clarke and Abarbnel, 1999).

One major advantage of the Internet that has been identified by researchers is the electronic discussion feature (Madden, Ford, Miller, & Levy, 2003; Tiene, 2000; Chandler & Maddux, 1998; Jiang & Ting, 1998). Communication is critical to the development of teachers. Through Internet discussions, students share their understanding of course content with one another to extend learning beyond the limits of the physical classroom. Researchers report many advantages of computer-mediated discussion. Ku (1996) and Copper & Selfe (1990) found that in computer mediated discussion, students feel a greater sense of remoteness. This feeling makes them tend to take more risks and enhance their roles in the electronics community.

Further more, in electronic discussion, opinions and reflections are submitted in written form, which enables students to read carefully, look back, and analyze as many responses as they want to understand an idea. Consequently, they can be more effective in writing their own responses (Tiene, 2000).

These advancements in technology and internet have encouraged college faculty to find new ways to incorporate technology into the curriculum as an extension of the syllabus to enrich the instructional experience and promote communication among their students (Karber, 2001; Green, 1996).

Student attitudes toward computers influence the future use of computers in instruction (Sanders & Morrison-Shetlar, 2001). This issue encouraged many researchers to assess students’ overall attitude toward computers. Variables such as gender, age and prior computer experience were found to influence students’ attitude toward computers (Hill, 2000; Price & Winiecki, 1995; Smith & Necessary, 1996; Moon, 1994).

Attitudes of students toward Web-enhanced instruction have influence over the future use of web-launched instructional materials. They, also determine the extent to which web-based resource are educationally beneficial for students in a classroom learning environment (Sanders & Morrison-Shetlar, 2001).

Some studies (e.g. Bangert, 2004; Foster, 2003; Hill, 2000; Chandler & Maddux, 1998; Jiang & Ting, 1998) have concluded that one important indicator of future Web use is providing useful information appropriate to the course being taught. Moreover, a positive correlation was found between instructor’s use of Web-based training materials and students participation in the use of Web-based resources, consequently influencing student learning through the Web.

Sanders and Morrison-Shetlar (2001) studied the relationship between student attitudes toward Web-enhanced instruction and variables such as sex, race, age, year in school, computer experience, and learning styles. The researchers reported positive effect of the Web-component on student learning. Females had significantly more positive attitudes toward Web-enhanced instruction than males and they used the Web more often than males. It, was also found that age, race, year in school, computer experience, and learning styles did not affect student use of the web.

In a study that investigated student use of instructor web pages, Chandler and Maddux (1998) found that students understood and appreciated the use of Web as an instructional resource. However, their actual use of the web was relatively low.

Jiang and Ting (1998) conducted a study to determine factors that influence students’ perceptions toward learning through Web-based instruction. They found that students’ active participation in online discussions depends on instructor’s emphasis on discussion time and quality. Also, student participation in online activities increased as the instructor participated actively.

Finally, the design and presentation of instructional materials determine the quality of the learning experience. This indicates that it is the responsibility of the instructor to provide students with useful information in an understandably engaging and accessible way (Bangery, 2004; Slattery, 1998).

The UAEU has made the learning management system (Blackboard) accessible to all faculty members. However, faculty members are still hesitant to use it not being convinced that it can improve student learning. This study which investigates students’ attitudes toward web-enhanced instruction would provide useful information regarding using this program. In addition, it contributes to world researchers’ efforts in clarifying issues related to adding web components to face-to-face instruction.

PURPOSE OF THE STUDY

The purpose of the study is to investigate female students’ attitudes toward Web-enhanced instruction in an educational technology course taught in the College of Education at the United Arab Emirates University. More specifically, the study aims at answering the following research questions:

1. What attitudes do female students have toward Web- enhanced instructions?

2. Do learning preferences affect student attitude toward web-enhanced instruction?

3. Does prior experience with web-enhanced instruction have effect on student attitude toward it?

4. What are the advantages of Web-enhanced instruction as seen by female students?

5. What are the obstacles to Web-enhanced instruction as seen by female students?

DEFINITIONS OF KEY TERMS

1. Web-enhanced instruction: use of the World Wide Web courseware to enhance the conventional face-to-face classroom environment.

2. Learning preferences: student preference to read either from a computer screen or from paper.

3. Educational technology course: one of the four core courses for the College of Education at the United Arab Emirates University in which students learn computer skills and study integration of technology in teaching.

METHODOLOGY

Participants

The participants of this study were (66) female students enrolled in 3 sections of an educational technology course at the college of Education, United Arab Emirates University with the same instructor. Students’ ages ranged between 19 and 21 years. Fifty eight (88%) of them own a personal computer, 17 (26 %) prefer reading from paper and 49 (74 %) prefer reading from a screen. All of them agreed to go through the process and evaluations that this study needed. It should be noted that UAEU classes are segregated by gender and that the percentage of male students at the college of Education does not exceed 5% of the whole students. At the time of the study, there were no sections of this course offered for male students.

The Course

The Educational technology course (3 credit hours) is one of the four core courses for the College of Education at the United Arab Emirates University. The course was developed based on the standards of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) to help students gain different skills and knowledge needed to meet the ISTE standards. The course is divided equally between the theoretical and the practicum parts. The primary teaching methods involves lecture, in-class discussion and hands-on experience with the integration of a web-enhancement component through BlackBoard in which students could (1) obtain the syllabus and have access to a calendar of class events and due dates for the different projects, (2) obtain outlines of the course material including PowerPoint presentations of theoretical lectures, description and rubrics of the projects, (3) take online quizzes and tests (midterm and final tests), (4) use a bulletin board and chat room to discuss a subject that is posted by the instructor every week, and (5) link to other Websites related to the course content.

The main objectives of the Web-enhancement component of the course were to (1) ensure that all students, regardless of their learning style, had the required material available to them (2) increase student-to-student, and student-to-instructor interaction using the Web, and (3) provide students with opportunities to access materials related to course content.

The web enhanced part of the Educational technology course is delivered with the use of the blackboard system. Blackboard is one of the strongest Learning Management Systems (LMS). The United Arab Emirates University adopted this system since 2002 and has been the official LMS used by all colleges in the university since then.

Blackboard is like a website template that allows the faculty members to post announcements for their students, publish class materials needed for the course, allow for posting class calendar, course documents, staff information, assignments, discussion board, online assessment and posting grades.

Students’ weekly participation in Black-board discussions was one of the course requirements and was worth 10% of the course grade. As recommended by Jiang and Ting (1999), the instructor participated actively in the discussion through posing issues for reflection and replying to all students’ inputs.

Instrument

The instrument used in this study was a researcher modified version of the Web-Based Instruction Scale developed by Sanders and Morrison-Shetlar (2001). The modified version consisted of (20) items. Four were demographic in nature, computer experience/owning a computer, reading preference(screen/paper) and age. Fourteen items used a Likert-type response scaling asking participants to specify the degree of agreement or disagreement with items about their attitude toward Web-based instruction. The last two items were free-response questions. One asked participants about the advantages they find in a Web-enhanced instruction. The second asked participants about obstacles associated with Web-enhanced instruction.

To establish content validity of the instrument, it was reviewed and modified by experts in the field of educational technology (university instructors). The reliability coefficient for the 14 items was found to be (0.81) which was considered high enough for the purpose of this study.

The response strongly agree was assigned a score of 5, agree a score of 4, uncertain a score of 3, disagree a score of 2, and strongly disagree a score of 1. Some items were written positively and some negatively, requiring reversing the scores for negatively stated items to obtain an accurate total attitude score for each student. The lowest possible attitude score was 14, and the highest possible score was 70. A higher score indicated a more positive attitude toward Web-based instruction. The sum of attitude scores from the 14 items represents the total attitude score for each student.

Procedure

In the first meeting of the course, the instructor introduced the female students to Blackboard and made sure that all of them can use it (participate in a discussion about what they expect from the course, send an e-mail to the instructor, view what is next in class calendar, view PowerPoint presentations for the theoretical lectures, send a temp file through digital drop box, read announcements by instructor and many other features). In the final class meeting at the end of the semester, female students were asked to complete the survey and were given 30 minutes at the beginning of the class to do so. All students completed the questionnaire including the open-ended questions.

RESULTS

This study dealt with the following issues: student attitudes toward Web-enhanced instruction, the effect of learning preference on attitude toward web-enhanced instruction, effect of previous experience with web-enhanced instruction on attitude, advantages of Web-enhanced instruction as seen by female students, and obstacles to Web-enhanced instruction as seen by female students. Therefore, results are presented in this section according to these issues.

(1) Student attitudes toward Web-enhanced instruction:

Generally, female students seemed to have positive attitudes toward Web-enhanced instruction. Individual attitude scores ranged between 28 and 70. The mean attitude score of all participants was 49.6 with a standard deviation of 9.21. Quartiles are shown in table 1. (A quartile refers to the percentages of respondents obtaining scores less than the corresponding score).

As shown in table 1, scores of 50% of the respondents exceeded 52, and scores of 25% of them exceeded 58.25.

To answer the first question stating “what attitudes do female students have toward Web-enhanced instruction?”, frequencies of student responses were calculated. Results are shown in table 2.

The most appreciated aspect of web-enhanced instruction was the enhancement of communication opportunities with the course instructor, followed by the availability of instructor’s presentations available on the internet, getting grades from the web, online submission of assignments, posing questions through the internet, saving time, deepening understanding of the course materials, and enhancing communication opportunities with classmates respectively. However, most female students preferred having a hard copy of the course syllabus rather than printing it from the web. As for the other negative statements (10 to 14 in table 2), most students disagreed or strongly disagreed with them.

(2) The effect of learning preference on attitude toward web-enhanced instruction:

Among participants, 17 (26 %) preferred reading from screen, and 49 (74 %) preferred reading from papers. Attitude mean score of the screen group was 56.6 (max. = 70), and of the paper group 50.6. To test the significance of the difference in the means, The t-test for Equality of means was performed. The analysis revealed significant difference (t= 2.697, p<0.01) favoring screen group.

(3) Effect of previous experience with web-enhanced instruction on attitude:

Among the 66 participants, 28 (42 %) had previous experience with web-enhanced instruction, and 38 (58 %) did not have such experience. Attitude mean score of those who had experience was 51.5 (max. = 70), and of those who did not have such experience 52.7. To test the significance of the difference in the means, The T-test for Equality of means was performed. The analysis revealed no significant difference (t= -0.563, p>0.05).

(4) Advantages of Web-enhanced instruction as seen by female students

Data regarding advantages of Web-enhanced instruction as seen by female students were collected through a free response question in the survey. Students’ responses to that question revealed that female students see many advantages of Web-enhanced instruction. These include:

1. Obtaining grades from the Web (n=66).

2. Communication with the course instructor (n=65).

3. Discussions about course content through the discussion-board (n=62).

4. Easy access to course related materials (n=61).

5. Submitting assignments through the Web (n=55).

6. Increase of course understanding (n=52).

7. Communication with classmates (n=42).

(5) Obstacles to Web-enhanced instruction as seen by female students

Data about obstacles to using Web-enhanced instruction were also collected through a free response question on the survey. The following obstacles were reported:

1. Difficulties in accessing the course from home (n=30).

2. Limited access to computer labs (n=17).

3. Low speed of the internet (n=10).

DISCUSSION

Results of this study revealed that female students had positive attitudes toward the web instruction component added to the conventional face-to-face classroom. This was reflected through the high percentages of participants who agreed (answered agree or strongly agree) on the positively stated items in the questionnaire, and high percentages of female students who disagreed (answered disagree or strongly disagree) on the negatively stated items. Enhancing communication with course instructor, the availability of instructor’s presentation on the Web, obtaining the grades from the Web, submitting assignments electronically, posing questions through the internet, saving time, deepening understanding of the course materials, and enhancing communication opportunities with classmates respectively were all appreciated by participants.

For “communicating with the instructor” to be on the top of all items means that the Web component played a big role in connecting female students with their instructor. The busy class time seems not to be enough for female students to communicate with the instructor about different issues related to the course.

Students, also, seemed to have enjoyed the services provided by the Web component of the course such as: the access to the electronic version of instructor’s presentations, access to their grades through the Web, and submitting their assignments through the Web without having to print them out and handing them to the instructor. It is important to note also that students reported that the web component increased their understanding of the course. It seems that discussing course materials and reflecting on class readings deepened students’ understanding of the course. Another factor might have increased students’ understanding of the course is the availability of links to websites related to course materials.

Students had positive attitudes toward other issues in the web instruction preferring to pose questions though the internet rather than in the classroom (77.2%), saving time (75.8%), deepening understanding of the course materials (75.8%), and enhancing communication with classmates (72.7%). Participants preferred to get a hard copy of the syllabus rather than printing it out from the Internet. However most of the them strongly disagreed or disagreed with the negative statements in the survey.

So generally, the Web component of the course can be considered a plus. The results of this study seem to be in agreement with those of Sanders and Morrison-Shtlar (2001).

Learning preferences seem to have effect on female students’ attitudes toward Web-enhanced instruction. T-test showed that students who preferred reading from screen had more positive attitudes toward Web-enhanced instruction than those who preferred reading from paper. This result agrees with those from many other studies that examined the effect of learning styles on attitudes (e.g. Lin & Davidson-Shivers, 1996; Ayersman & Reed, 1996). However, it contradicts the results of Sanders & Morrison-Shtlar, 2001).

Prior experience with Web-enhanced instruction did not have effect on female students’ attitudes toward it. This result is in agreement with that of Sanders and Morrison-Shetlar 2001). This might be explained by the ease of using Blackboard for accessing materials, communicating with others, submitting assignments and obtaining grades. Another explanation for this finding might be that students who had prior experience with using Blackboard might have not used many of the features that were used in this course. For example many faculty members use Blackboard only for posting course syllabus and staff information.

Qualitative data supported quantitative data. Students mentioned many advantages of Web-enhanced instruction. Those included discussing course content through the discussion board, communicating with the course instructor and classmates, obtaining grades electronically, increase of course understanding, having access to course-related materials, increase of course understanding, and submitting assignments through the Web.

Obtaining grades from the web, communicating with course instructor, and discussing course content were the most frequent answers given by participants. This highlights the importance of electronic discussions offered by Web-enhanced instruction. This issue received great attention by researchers (e.g. Tiene, 2000; Ku, 1996; Copper & Selfe, 1990). These findings support the notion that participation in electronic discussions make students feel a greater sense of remoteness, which in turn encourage them to take more risks and enhance their roles in electronic community.

However, students see some obstacles to web-enhanced instruction such as: low speed of the internet, difficult access from outside university labs, and the limited access to computer labs. They reported that these obstacles deprived them sometimes from participation in discussion and enjoying other features of the Web component of the course.

In summary, it can be concluded that the web-enhanced instruction is positively viewed by students and it seems to enrich the conventional face-to-face classroom environment. Therefore, this style of instruction should be encouraged among faculty members. Colleges of Education should take initiatives to implement web-enhanced instruction to its conventional courses. Of course, this will need planning professional development programs for faculty members that address critical issues such as the design of web components, their content, and the style of communication among students and between students and instructors. Also, it is important to improve the quality of internet access and provide faculty members with the proper technical support.

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IMAN M. ALGHAZO

United Arab Emirates University

Table 1

Quartiles of attitude score distribution

Quartiles Score

25 46

50 52

75 58.25

Note: maximum possible score is 70.

Table 2

Student Responses in Percentages to the Web-Based Instruction

Attitude Scale

Item SA A UD D SD

1 Teaching through the Internet 39.4 50.0 7.6 1.5 1.5

enhances communication

opportunities with the course

instructor.

2 I like to have instructor’s 51.5 36.4 1.5 9.1 1.5

presentations available on

the internet.

3 I prefer to get my grades 60.6 25.8 3 9.1 1.5

through the internet rather

that taking them directly

from the instructor.

4 I like to submit assignments 34.8 50 3 10.6 1.5

through the internet.

5 I prefer posing questions 24.2 53 9.1 6.1 7.6

through the internet rather

than in the classroom.

6 Web-enhanced instruction 37.9 37.9 12.1 9.1 3

saves time.

7 Discussions through the 25.8 50.0 9.1 12.1 3

internet deepen my

understanding of the course

materials.

8 Teaching through the internet 31.8 40.9 9.1 10.6 7.6

enhances communication

opportunities with my

classmates.

9 I prefer to get a hard copy 31.8 53 1.5 9.1 4.5

of the course syllabus rather

than printing it out from the

internet.

10 I prefer obtaining course 25.8 16.7 4.5 37.9 15.2

material through the Internet

rather than paper material

distributed in the classroom.

11 I don’t like taking a test 13.6 13.6 6.1 48.5 18.2

through the Internet.

12 I don’t feel comfortable 4.5 13.6 4.5 63.6 13.6

discussing course related

issues through the internet.

13 I don’t like my courses to be 1.5 9.1 16.7 51.5 21.2

on the internet.

14 Web-based instruction scares 3.0 10.6 7.6 53.0 25.8

me.

Note: SA = strongly agree, A = agree, UD = undecided,

D = disagree, and SD = strongly disagree.

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