Students' Perceptions of Course Web Sites Used in Face-to-Face Instruction

Article excerpt

The use of technology in university and college classrooms has changed in recent years to include the use of course Web sites as a supplement to face-to-face instruction (Green, 2000). Despite this increase in the use of course Web sites in college courses, limited attention has been given to student perceptions of this pedagogical tool. This study explores students' use and perceived helpfulness of course Web sites (i.e., Web sites used to supplement traditional classroom instruction) in university courses. Four hundred seventeen university students were surveyed over three semesters in 2001-2002. Overall, students had positive attitudes towards course Web sites. The most helpful features listed were course documents, announcements, and gradebooks. Students indicated that the course Web sites increased access to course information that helped keep them organized and on task. In addition, the course Web sites facilitated communication with their instructors and peers outside of regular class time.

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The use of technology in university and college classrooms has increased in recent years (Green, 2000). According to the 2000 National Survey of Information Technology in US Higher Education, almost 60% of college courses use electronic mail (i.e., e-mail), over 42% use Web resources as a syllabus component, 23% of college faculty have a personal Web page, and over 30% of courses have a Web page that accompanies them (Green). Additionally, in 2000-2001, 56% of all 2-year and 4-year institutions offered distance education courses (National Center for Education Statistics, 2003). More and more research is being conducted on the use and effectiveness of these different types of instructional technology, particularly Web-based instruction. However, little is known about the effectiveness of Web-assisted instruction or the use of supplemental course Web sites as an "adjunct" to traditional face-to-face classroom instruction (Morss, 1999). The focus of this paper is on course Web sites that are "designed to assist face-to-face instruction" (Horton, 2000).

There is confusion over terminology, as terms such as distance education and Web-based instruction become a standard part of pedagogical discourse. Distance education, online only without face-to-face interaction, needs to be distinguished from the use of course Web sites that supplement traditional classroom instruction. Morss (1999) described these course assistant sites as virtual adjuncts, supplementing students' traditional classroom learning by providing opportunities to further explore class material, download course documents, access assignments and course information, and continue class discussions. These Web sites are sometimes called supplemental Web sites, course Web sites, or their use is referred to as Web-enhanced instruction, computer-enhanced learning, or Web-assisted instruction. In this paper, we refer to them simply as course Web sites.

Increasingly, instructors are using course Web sites in a range of ways from strictly a communication tool, to a virtual adjunct that supplements a face-to-face course, to complete online instruction. Course Web sites can be an effective vehicle for instruction if adult learning theory is taken into consideration (Sanders, 2001). Best practices in adult learning theory include faculty members having frequent contact with the students, facilitating a cooperative learning environment, encouraging active learning, giving prompt feedback, emphasizing time on task, communicating high expectations, and respecting diverse talents and ways of learning (Sanders). Tools provided on course Web sites help instructors to engage in these best practices. E-mail gives the students the opportunity to talk with the instructors and other students on an as-needed basis. The ability to pass messages to everyone in class facilitates continued conversations, prompt feedback, and a different way to communicate with students. …