Last term I posted a Blackboard survey to evaluate the e-learning in my module EG-259 Web Applications Technology. In this second of a planned short series of articles to be published over the next few days, I present the survey results. Part 1 provides an introduction and sets the context for the survey.
In the survey I asked my students about their experiences of the wiki, podcasts, screencasts, blog and Blackboard. I did not ask about the summative assessment as the survey was done before the final "exam". Most of the survey questions were set up using the Likert Scale questions provided by Blackboard’s survey manager. I also provided some short answer questions through which I hoped to seek their opinions and in many ways these provided the most interesting results.
In the following, I will give the results of the opinion surveys, and some discussion. The written opinions and my own reflection on the outcomes will be presented in the next two articles.
Disclaimer: The reader should note that the sample is relatively small: only 11 students took EG-259 last term! You should be somewhat wary of reaching any general conclusions.
The use of Blackboard is essential for this module
Comments: Not much to say about this, Blackboard is clearly seen to be essential. From my point of view, even though Blackboard was largely acting as a portal to module content rather than a container for that content, it does provide a useful organizational principle for the module. For example, the links to the external material was revealed in date order.
The use of a wiki is the best way to deliver course notes for a module like this.
Comments: Some background to this question is in order. The module notes for this module are presented in a Dokuwiki wiki which uses the S5 plug-in to turn selected wiki text into presentable slides. The reason for this, from my point of view, is that I wanted a format that would allow me to easily generate presentable slides and more detailed notes in the same electronic medium. PowerPoint doesn’t really achieve this, primarily because the notes editor is not sufficiently powerful. But DokuWiki provides everything I need, a nice easy to use mark-up, and useful features like code highlighting which is essential for a module which is all about code!
There are a few dissenters here, but it looks like the use of the wiki as a content system for this module was largely acceptable.
The use of PowerPoint is preferable to a wiki for delivery mechanism for lecture notes.
Comments: I’m not sure what to make of this result. It seems to contradict opinions on the Wiki question. Perhaps the students took it as a general question rather than specifically for this module. Also it is possible that students are more familiar and comfortable with PowerPoint as a delivery mechanism. In the written comments, one student mentioned the possibility of printing PowerPoint files in handout form (slides on the left plus ruled lines for notes on the right). Someone else mentioned wanting to be able to print the notes. Perhaps these students didn’t notice that DokuWiki actually has a quite a good print feature.
The recording of lectures and making them available as a podcast is very useful.
Comments: In my case podcasting means recording the lecture as it is given and posting the recording on the Blackboard site using the Podcasting tool. I expend the minimum effort for this: I stick my MP3 player (a rather battered Creative Vision:M) on the desk next to the laptop, switch it to record at the start of the lecture and stop at the end. There is virtually no post processing or editing of the final result, and on a good day, the upload to Blackboard can be complete within 30 minutes of the end of the lecture. Nonetheless, students seem pretty unequivocal in finding these recordings useful. See also the next question.
Podcasting should be used in more modules.
Comments: Students seem pretty unanimous on this question. The result seems to match what other members of the learning lab have discovered.
The availability of a module blog was important for this module.
Comments: The result is slightly in favour of the blog, but there is a large minority that tends towards disagreement on this question. Perhaps students need some encouragement to engage with the blog, otherwise it simply becomes an alternative to the Announcement tool.
There were not enough real examples..
Comments: This is practical module and it looks like I have sufficient examples. Of course this statement is not related to e-learning per se except in the sense that for a topic like Web Applications Technology it’s hard to escape the "e".
There were too many homework problems.
Comments: This is also not related to e-learning, but it’s not a question that is asked in the paper-based module assessment and I wanted to get feedback on it. The next question is similar. I will reserve comment on the outcome.
The per-lecture learning outcomes and review questions where useful for helping me study this module.
Comments: Stating learning outcomes at the start of a lecture was an idea that I picked up from the first text book that I used in preparing the material for this module. The learning outcomes take the form of a statement “at the end of this lecture you will be able to answer the following questions.” The questions are then repeated as review questions at the end of the lecture. Sometimes there’s time to answer some of the questions in class. More often they are left for self-assessment.
The students seem to find them useful, so maybe I should adopt the practice in other modules.
I watched and enjoyed the screencasts.
Comments: It looks like the screencasts, which were used for demonstrations to be watched outside the lectures were well received.
There should be more screencasts.
Comments: Students seem 60%-40% in favour of having more screencasts. More work for me then!
The lectures should be recorded and made into screencasts.
Comments: The story that lies behind this question is told elsewhere in this blog. But in a nutshell: at the start of the module, I arrived in a lecture room with a slide show presentation but the projector that I’d requested wasn’t there! Having just acquired a license for Camtasia Studio, I was able to record the slides that I would have shown on the screen while I used the whiteboard to summarise the main points. I put this question into the survey because the resulting recording, with the podcast audio added in post-production, was released as a screencast. A majority seems to be in favour of me doing more of this.
I prefer lecture courses where I have to write something down … it helps me remember more.
Comments: I was being a little provocative with this question! in my experience, when I present my lecture materials using a slide show, the students watch it like a television programme: relaxed, and with arms crossed. I got some feedback from another module that I should occasionally leave the presentation, turn to the whiteboard and give students something to write down. I tested that hypothesis with this group. They seem to agree … but as they didn’t write anything down during lectures, there may be some merit in the suggestion that I should force the issue.
There were too many notes in the course. The amount of material is overwhelming.
Comments: It looks like the amount of materials is about right. 30% think there’s too much, 20% too little and 50% are sitting on the fence. There’s certainly less words then you’d find in a text book, but more than is typical in most lecture modules. A lot of the bulk is taken up with code examples.
I learned a lot from the coursework exercises.
Comments: The coursework examples are clearly crucial for the students’ understanding.
This module has given me confidence to take web application programming further.
Comments: This is gratifying result. I’d be worried if it wasn’t having this effect!
I would be happier if there was a really good textbook for this module..
Comments: Web applications technology is a curious subject. It requires knowledge of a number of technologies and no single text book is going to cover it all in sufficient depth. Maybe I should write one!
In the next article I will present the highlights of the written opinions and I will conclude with my own reflections. I would however be interested in hearing what questions you would ask about your students’ use of e-learning. Also, if you’d like to adapt the survey for your own courses, drop me a line and I’ll send you a copy in “export format.”
Chris Jobling February 2nd, 2009
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