Evaluating Student Use of Web-Based Course Material

By Heffner, Michelle; Cohen, Stanley H. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, March 2005 | Go to article overview

Evaluating Student Use of Web-Based Course Material


Heffner, Michelle, Cohen, Stanley H., Journal of Instructional Psychology


Course management software and on-line course material are becoming more available.. As a result, many instructors have developed WebCT course Web sites to deliver on-line course material that supplements lecture topics. The present study examined associations between student characteristics, course performance, and access of Web-CT course material. We tracked and coded patterns of Web usage by 154 students in a Psychology as a Profession course. Frequency of student access to Web-based material correlated positively with grades on course assignments. Females accessed the home page more often than males. Self-reports from students evaluated the course Website as highly valuable. These results suggest important advantages in supplementing lecture courses with on-line material.

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A national survey revealed that psychology faculty view the Internet as an effective teaching tool (Vodanovich & Piotrowski, 2001). The present study aimed to determine what features of Web-based course material relate to subsequent course performance and whether access to the material varied by student characteristics. Published examples describe the incorporation of Web-based assignments and course supplements to enhance introductory psychology (Waschull, 2001), social psychology (Goldstein 1998; Lawson, 2000; Sherman 1998) and experimental (Goolkasian, Wallendael, & Gaultney, 2003) or research methods courses (Couch 1997; Rosen & Petty 1997). Unlike the attendance roster in lecture or classroom courses, it is not always certain with Web-based course material how often students "attend" the Web site or interact directly with the on-line material.

One might ask from a skeptical point of view what value, if any, is associated with student utilization of a course Website. Couch (1997) designed a research methods course Web site to present lecture notes, handouts, and study guides. Previously, students had purchased a course packet containing these supplementary materials at the start of the semester. The Web site offered an immediate advantage to students, who no longer had to pay for a course packet or possibly lose it. Likewise, the instructor no longer needed to prepare the packet in advance: the instructor could add or revise materials on the Web site throughout the semester. Based on course evaluation results, students reported they accessed the course Web site an average of three times per week. All of the students liked having access to the lecture notes, and 95% of the students felt that other instructors should develop similar course Web sites (Couch 1997).

In another study, Rosen and Petty (1997) found that students who enrolled in a Web-supplemented research methods course rated on-line databases as more useful at the end of the semester than at the beginning of the semester. Goolkasian et al. (2003) intensely studied the response of students enrolled in a cognitive science course designed around 12 Web-based course material modules. In general, students favorably rated the Web site and the "readability" and "usefulness" of the modules. A high percentage (54%) of the students indicated that the Web site was more useful than a traditional textbook.

Other research has found that Web-based course material can be as effective as traditional teaching methods. In a research methods course, student response to an interactive, Web-based tutorial was compared to an in-class lecture demonstration of the sampling distribution (Aberson, Berger, Healy, Kyle, & Romero 2000). Students in both the in-class and Web tutorial conditions improved equally on pre/post-test quizzes on the sampling distribution, and students in the Web tutorial condition rated the tutorial as useful and educational as students in the in-class lecture evaluated the demonstration.

Other research has analyzed patterns of student use of Web-based course material to examine how it relates to student course performance or individual difference variables.

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