Strategies for Increasing Student Participation in Web-Based Learning. (the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning)

By Spears, Iain R.; Portas, Matthew et al. | Academic Exchange Quarterly, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

Strategies for Increasing Student Participation in Web-Based Learning. (the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning)


Spears, Iain R., Portas, Matthew, Pettigrew, Alison, Academic Exchange Quarterly


Abstract

The first part of this paper presents the rationale and mechanisms by which web-based learning was implemented into a 1st year core module in Sport and Exercise at the University of Teesside (UK). After disappointing student feedback in regard to its usage in the first year of implementation, the second part of this paper describes some of the changes made to the module in order to increase student participation. These changes appeared to have the desired effect the following year. Although too many changes were made to pinpoint the exact reason causing this shift in student learning behavior, it is suggested that freeing up more learning time within the schedule could have had the most dramatic effect. These findings should have relevance to those responsible for teaching on large compulsory first year modules but may also have wider implications for anyone considering web-based resources to support their programs of study.

Rationale

From a pedagogical perspective web-based learning has many advantages over traditional techniques (Barnett et al., 1996). It has the potential to provide one-to-one teaching on a grand scale and allows students to work at their own pace in a fairly realistic and interactive way. The possibilities of fostering a deep-approach to learning in a safe environment are an attractive proposition and web-based learning is therefore undergoing considerable expansion in most higher education institutes. The University of Teesside is no exception. Amongst other priorities, the University plans to provide 33% of its modules via the web by 2003 (Learning, Teaching and Assessment Strategy, University of Teesside, 1999-2003). The module described in this study is entitled `Gross Anatomy and Kinesiology' and is the flagship for web-based learning in the Sport and Exercise Subject Group at the University of Teesside.

Sport and Exercise Science is comprised of three major disciplines; Psychology (the study of behavior and cognition), Physiology (the study of biological functioning of the body) and Kinesiology (the study of human motion). The multi-disciplinary nature and increased awareness of sport science support work in the UK has led to a huge rise in the popularity of such programs. Accordingly, the provision of Sport and Exercise degree programs has increased rapidly from 1 in 1980 to over 300 in 2000. Each year the Sport and Exercise Subject Group at Teesside has an intake of over 150 students. In accordance with Teesside's policy as the "Opportunity University", which actively promotes widening participation, inclusive admissions policies, and regional regeneration, this ensures that for the `Gross Anatomy and Kinesiology' module we have high student numbers of very diverse backgrounds.

The most important outcome of this module is that students are able to describe scientifically the movements of joints in terms of muscle contractions, ligament stability, and skeletal geometry. Thus, a large proportion of the material covered is anatomy. For several reasons, not least its pictorial nature and the cost of maintaining dissection laboratories, web-provision is becoming a popular learning resource in this subject area to improve the quality of teaching and learning (Nageswaren et al., 2000). In addition, undergraduate modules such as Gross Anatomy and Kinesiology must develop generic skills that appeal to potential employers, a term Dearing (1997) describes as `graduateness'. Therefore it is hoped that through web-based learning the students' experiences, confidence and attitudes towards computers will be positively influenced (Levine and Donsita-Schmidt, 1997).

Much of the research (e.g. Nuha et al., 2000) in this field has focused previously on the development of web-based materials and the technological advances which can be incorporated to present visually stimulating and interactive text. However, to be truly meaningful to the quality of the student learning experience, the focus must turn to the evaluation of these teaching and learning strategies (Laurillard, 1993). …

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