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An evaluation of the introduction of online resources in a first year chemistry courseGail Chittleborough, Mauro Mocerino and David Treagust
Curtin University of Technology
Consistent with the increasing use of online resources in many university courses, this paper examines the introduction of online resources to an introductory, first year chemistry course. In this study, students were required to complete pre-laboratory exercises online as well as having access to email, a discussion forum and solutions to typical tests online. This paper examines the motivation for using online resources, the use of the online resources and the impact of these additional resources on the students' learning experience. The study concluded that the medium of the assessment was not a significant factor and students adapted quickly to the new online medium. The lecturer chooses in the best interest of his students as to how, when and where the online resources will be used. There are many factors which impact on these decisions and this paper investigates the assessment of the appropriateness of the particular online resources, the specific requirements of the particular subject matter, the ability to customise resources, the teaching role of the online resources, the merits of the communication resources, as well as the accessibility, availability, flexibility and feedback of the online resources.
|Week||No. of pre-labs|
|Mean score %||One attempt|
The reduction in pre-laboratory exercises completed as the weeks progressed can be attributed to the 'trial' nature of this first study in which some demonstrators were content to accept written pre-laboratory exercises from the students.
|I had difficulty accessing the website from home.||93||2.93||1||2.70||7.30|
|I had difficulty keeping the website up and running.||104||2.44||1||2.10||4.40|
|I had difficulty navigating the website for the unit.||106||2.19||1||1.78||3.18|
|The online pre-laboratory exercises allowed me greater flexibility with my time.||92||6.27||7||2.60||6.80|
|The online pre-laboratory exercises provided feedback on my understanding.||94||6.50||7||2.16||4.68|
|The online pre-laboratory exercises helped me to learn and understand the concepts in the experiment.||93||6.50||7||2.09||4.36|
|Getting immediate feedback on the online pre-laboratory was valuable.||92||7.19||8||1.87||3.52|
|The online pre-laboratory exercises were challenging.||93||5.92||6||2.08||4.30|
|Being able to try an exercise more than once helped me learn from my mistakes.||101||7.14||8||2.15||4.63|
|I had to read the laboratory notes in order to do the online pre-laboratory exercises.||98||5.90||7||2.20||4.84|
|The online pre-laboratory exercises were useful in confirming my understanding.||98||6.38||7||1.83||3.37|
|The online pre-laboratory exercises provided me with valuable feedback on my progress.||96||6.13||6||1.98||3.90|
|I understood the experiments better having done the online pre-laboratory exercises.||96||6.18||6||2.07||4.30|
|The pictures in the online pre-laboratory exercises were valuable.||95||6.11||6||2.09||4.40|
The survey (see Table 2) items sought students' opinions on the educational value of the exercises relevant to the learning of chemistry. The data from the survey are presented in Figure 1 and support the value of the pre-laboratory exercises in improving students' understanding of experiments and the concepts involved.
I understood the experiments better having done the online pre-laboratory exercises.
Mean = 6.19 SD = 2.07
The online pre-laboratory exercises were useful in confirming my understanding.
Mean = 6.37 SD = 1.83
The online pre-laboratory exercises helped me to learn and understand the concepts in the experiment.
Mean = 6.51 SD = 2.09
Students' perceptions, preparedness for laboratory work and confidence are important aspects to learning concepts in chemistry that seem to have been boosted through the use of the online pre-laboratory exercises.
The survey items (see Table 2) sought students' opinions on the advantages of using online exercises. Some results are presented graphically in Figure 3. Getting immediate feedback on answers, being able to redo exercises and the use of pictures were identified as being of value by most of the students for greater understanding (see Figure 2).
Getting immediate feedback on the online pre-laboratory was valuable.
Mean = 7.15 SD = 1.87
Being able to try an exercise more than once helped me learn from my mistakes Mean = 7.14 SD = 2.15
The pictures in the online pre-laboratory exercises were valuable. Mean = 6.12 SD = 2.09
Feedback is a critical factor in conceptual learning whereby a learner expresses an understanding, gets feedback and if necessary may consider re-evaluating their understanding (Tyson, Venville, Harrison, & Treagust, 1997). Personal responses would be preferable but impractical with large numbers of students. The immediate feedback and the opportunity to redo the exercise may help intercept this dynamic process. Visual representations such as diagrams and pictures are often used to explain abstract chemistry concepts (Gilbert, Boulter, & Rutherford, 1998). This perception is supported by the students as indicated in their responses to the survey represented graphically in Figure 2.
I had difficulty accessing the website from home.
Mean = 2.93 SD = 3.42
I had difficulty keeping the website up and running.
Mean = 2.44 SD = 2.1
I had difficulty navigating the website for the unit.
Mean = 2.1 SD = 1.78
The online pre-laboratory exercises allowed me greater flexibility with my time.
Mean = 6.27 SD = 2.6
These results suggest that the majority of students adapted to using the online exercises easily.
Mail and discussion
The email and discussion facilities focused on administrative issues rather than conceptual issues. The number of times students accessed the site is provided in Table 3. The data include students who were not required to do the online exercises, but were given access to the site for equity. The focus group of 137 is included in the total of 382. The data indicate that many students accessed the discussion page frequently however the number of postings made is quite small. This is not unexpected with students still becoming familiar and competent with a new medium of communication.
|No. of times accessed|
|No. of students||Cumulative total|
|Zero never accessed site||122||392|
|Zero but has accessed site||108||270|
The topics discussed included problems with the online exercises, questions about the laboratory work, queries about the PSI (personalised students instruction) tests and exams, requests for typical test solutions, recommended Web-sites, generation of a study group and pleas for lost property. The online medium provides students with an easy way to access staff and other students.
Typical tests solutions
These are provided on the Web-CT site in a pdf format (Adobe's Portable Document Format). These solutions help students to prepare for the weekly topic tests whereas previously they had to go the library to access the solutions.
The educational merit of online resources is not proven. Students completed the pre-laboratory exercises successfully, with the majority supporting the value of the online exercises for their learning. Two aspects of the pre-laboratory exercises are advantageous to learning: the immediate feedback with the opportunity to redo the exercise and the use of visual representations. Other aspects make it easier to find the opportunity to learn: improved communication between students and students and staff, greater flexibility and improved access to a wider range of resources.
Gilbert, J. K., Boulter, C. & Rutherford, M. (1998). Models in explanations, part 1: Horses for courses. International Journal of Science Education, 20(1),83-97.
Tyson, L. M., Venville, G. J., Harrison, A. G. & Treagust, D. F. (1997). A multidimensional framework for interpreting conceptual change - events in the classroom. Science Education, 81, 387-404.
|Authors: Gail Chittleborough, Mauro Mocerino and David Treagust, Curtin University of Technology, Perth WA. Contact person: G.Chittleborough@curtin.edu.au
Please cite as: Chittleborough, G., Mocerino, M. and Treagust, D. (2002). An evaluation of the introduction of online resources in a first year chemistry course. Proceedings Western Australian Institute for Educational Research Forum 2002. http://www.waier.org.au/forums/2002/chittleborough.html