Developing and assessing methods to engage students in WebCT
A major unknown factor when implementing WebCT is the level to which students engage. Previous studies on the implementation of web-based learning resources used questionnaires to assess the success or failure of a specific system. However, there is little research into the numbers of students using such facilities, or the temporal trend of student activity.
For this project, WebCT was used in the delivery of three modules taught within the School of Civil Engineering: one 1st year module (115 students), one 3rd Year module (96 students) and a 4th year/MSc module (28 students). The first two modules are core subjects, combining lectures and laboratory sessions with additional example classes. The 4th year/MSc module is optional, consisting of lectures with a number of computer-based classes. At various times during each module, additional materials were made available to students using existing WebCT tools. These materials included lecture notes, laboratory reports, problem sheets with model solutions, computer codes and past exam papers. Discussion forums, online assessments and coursework hints were also introduced to encourage engagement with WebCT.
Two methods were used to analyze student behaviour. Firstly, the tracking facility within WebCT was used weekly to download an activity summary for each student. This facility provides data for each component currently available through WebCT. Secondly, a questionnaire was distributed at the end of each course to survey student opinion on the effectiveness of WebCT as a learning tool. The response rates were 40% (1st Year), 60% (3rd Year) and 55% (4th Year). The questionnaire was designed to assess how WebCT compared with the other learning resources used on each course (e.g., lectures, laboratory sessions, tutorials, etc.). Consent was obtained for using the questionnaire and tracking data. The large datasets produced were analyzed using MATLAB.
The questionnaires showed that more than 50% of students rate WebCT as a major factor contributing to their learning, second only to lectures, laboratory sessions and problem classes. Text books, tutorials and discussions with fellow students were rated as having less impact. In terms of the material (and components) made available through WebCT, lecture notes, laboratory sheets and revision material were rated most useful, followed by coursework feedback and solutions; discussion forums and self-assessment were rated as having little impact. Unsurprisingly, clear peaks in student activity occurred around coursework and exam periods. There was very little use of the discussion forums; most consisted of technical queries directed at the course convenor. Responses by the convenor, however, were used by many students (e.g., during one course 11 discussions were posted in total, with the response viewed over 700 times). Very few students used the self-assessment feature, most of which did not complete the session. Our sample of postgraduate students engaged more with WebCT compared to the undergraduates taking the same module.
In summary, the study shows WebCT can supplement and enhance the learning process. Students found lecture-based and revision material most useful. Some WebCT tools (e.g., online assessment and discussion forums) were found to be less use to the students, due to their limited and simplistic nature. Such factors should be considered for effective design and implementation of WebCT in the future.