Student Perceptions of Web-Assisted Teaching Strategies

Article excerpt

This study determines which Web-assisted teaching strategies social work students from a single university experience and perceive as valuable. The results demonstrate that most faculty use email, post grades online, and give out student email addresses to the class. Students perceive email communication with the instructor and the online provision of course information as the most valuable strategies. The impact of several student characteristics on value perception is also examined, revealing varying levels of influence. These findings suggest that the strategies students report as the most valuable are not necessarily the strategies most frequently used by faculty.

THE USE OF COMPUTERS and the Internet is revolutionizing university teaching and radically changing some faculty's and students' approaches to teaching and learning. Although technological advancements have developed rapidly, research assessing the effects of this technology on students is just now starting to inform best-practice guidelines for educators. The use of computer technology may continue to increase as a result of demographic changes among students, rising education costs, and new technology. The student population is changing, and traditional student enrollment represents only 25% of all higher education students (Van Dusen, 1998). More individuals are working while taking graduate courses, and students are traveling longer distances to their programs. Additionally, the cost of education will continue to grow, and the number of students interested in participating in courses from home, both for convenience and for financial reasons, will increase. New technology will continue to support this home-based education, meeting the needs of the changing student population and reducing administration overhead without the expense of physical space requirements. Finally, using computer technology will allow universities to reach students who, for geographic reasons, cannot drive to campus. These advantages are offset by concerns regarding the quality of the educational experience as it relates to relationships and learning.

Background

The enthusiasm for technology in higher education has been matched with an abundance of research designed to determine if the effort required for using various technological tools and strategies produces outcomes that are desirable for students and instructors. The literature suggests that computer-assisted instruction has desirable effects on students' computer skill development (Cauble & Thurston, 2000; Finn, 1995; Stocks & Freddolino, 1998); reduces anxiety concerning technology and computer use (Maki, Maki, Patterson, & Whittaker, 2000); is at least equally as effective as the traditional lecture format for teaching (Stocks & Freddolino, 1998; 2000); and is perceived as helpful by students (Maki et al., 2000; Polloff & Pratt, 2001; Svanum, Chen, & Bublitz, 1997; Thurston, Denning, & Verschelden, 1996). Whether these positive results will endure once the novelty of technology in education wears off is uncertain.

Most technology-related research focuses on distance learning, which is also referred to as online or Web-based instruction. When participating in these Web-based courses, students spend little, if any, time in the classroom. Petracchi (2000) notes that numerous studies have examined global outcomes, such as satisfaction or achievement, or explored the experiences of students in distance courses versus traditional lecture courses. Several years ago, this comparison was appropriate because most of the traditional lecture courses used little computer technology. However, the distinction between distance learning and traditional courses is rapidly diminishing because most "traditional" courses now utilize computer technology to some extent. It is difficult to find an instructor who does not at least use email to communicate with students, and some instructors use online strategies to deliver content and facilitate instructor-student and student-student interactions without reducing the amount of time students spend in class. …