College Students' Computer Attitudes and Interest in Web Based Distance Education

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Distance education continues to be

important to higher education as a Web

based delivery system for courses is

developed. Little is known concerning the

interest, attitudes, and computer skills

students need to participate in this learning

environment. This study investigated the

interest of undergraduate students in

enrolling in Web-based courses as well as

their computer skills and attitudes. Two

hundred and five undergraduates completed

an in-class questionnaire. Results show that

the students were relatively confident of their

computer skills and willing to enroll in Web

based courses. Internet activities, projects,

and curriculum content incorporated into

resident instruction may help to increase

computer attitudes and provide positive

learning experiences in Web-based activities.

A goal of education is to prepare students for lifelong learning, and graduates must be prepared to continually upgrade their skills after leaving the university. Many are returning to school to learn new skills that will help them advance in their careers. Distance education makes lifelong learning accessible for many (Krendl, 1998; Porter, 1997). Providing education at a distance, via technology, has become an important role for many universities. An increased need for workers with advanced degrees and updated skills creates a large enrollment potential.

Resident undergraduate students also need courses taught at a distance. Tight schedules and part-time jobs may make enrolling in traditional lecture courses difficult. Distance education expands access to new learners and may be a viable alternative to the more traditional class for many students.

Many colleges and universities have made substantial commitments to distance education. These universities offer courses in a number of formats, including the Internet and World Wide Web (WWW). A number of consortiums have formed to make access to these courses easier for the student. One new initiative is the Western Governors' University, a virtual university existing only in cyberspace. Courses originate from a variety of institutions in the member states.

New technologies have made Web-based courses and computer-assisted learning feasible. The first courses and modules were developed in programming language, a challenge for many instructors to learn. Today, a number of new software packages allow the instructor to develop the course or module in a reasonable length of time, and companies are continually developing new software. Software titles include First Class, Digital Chisel, Lotus Learning Space, Microsoft FrontPage, and Top Class. Most of these software packages require substantial computer power and considerable storage capacity.

While universities' efforts have been primarily directed to training faculty to develop courses, little interest has been shown in the students' attitudes and aptitudes. Limited information exists concerning the willingness of traditional undergraduate students to enroll in these courses and whether or not they have the computer skills and attitudes to successfully complete these courses. The purpose of this study was to investigate undergraduate students' perceived level of computer skills, their computer attitudes, and interest in Web-based distance education courses.

BACKGROUND

Whether called distance learning, distance education, or another name, it is an educational experience where the delivery of information or instructional programming is made to geographically dispersed individuals or groups (U.S. Congress, 1992). In one form or another, distance education has been a part of the American educational system for more than 100 years.

The development of distance education in the United States can be described in three major phases. …