Ignoring the web?: Use of learning resources by psychology and biology students

Gail Huon, Branka Spehar, Paul Adam, Will Rifkin


Questions about the educational impact of educational technology—and its frequency of use by students—are rising in importance as lecturers are being urged to make more and more of their material available to students online. For example, half of the lecturers at our university now have an online component in at least one of their courses, specifically via the platform, WebCT. Academics are preparing online collections of lecture notes, quizzes, interactive discussion forums, course calendars, submission of assessments, and reading material. Textbook publishers have added CDROMs and web sites containing up-to-date supplementary materials. The question remains, though, to what extent is creation of this additional online and multi-media material enhancing students’ learning as reflected by their overall mark for a class? According to our study, a textbook web site, for example, does not boost final marks, nor do the students whom we studied seem to employ this resource frequently.

We addressed these issues by surveying two large (600+ students), first-year classes in science, one in Psychology and one in Biology at UNSW. Our analysis was designed to identify the strategies of resource use that most strongly correlated with higher marks after taking into account other significant factors, such as a student’s UAI, their gender, or their linguistic background (NESB versus native English speaker). The analysis revealed, though, that UAI far outweighed all other factors in both courses as an influence on students’ final marks. This result should, for now, be seen as limited in relevance to large, first-year classes in science, where the learning of large amounts of content often seems to be stressed, and a significant portion of assessment is via a multiple-choice exam.

Details on the methods and results of this study can be found in two publications, Huon, Adam, Spehar, and Rifkin (2003) and Huon, Spehar, Adam and Rifkin (2004). In this conference paper, rather than reiterating the range of correlations found in the study, we would like to rame questions stimulated by our research, ones that require further examination and discussion based on our findings.

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