Does C&IT benefit students?

The evidence that the use of electronic resources leads to improvements in teaching and learning is limited, largely because this evidence is so difficult to obtain. This may arise because any benefits resulting from C&IT cannot be identified easily when it is used alongside other resources; additionally, modifications made to a course or class are unlikely to relate only to C&IT, and the effects noticed may derive from changes in class size and activities within and beyond the classroom. The ASTER project documents cases of partial success in the use of C&IT, based on feedback from students, personal reflection by tutors, and additional information. These highlight many problems that should be considered before changing your teaching, and may impact on any decision to alter current practice. The areas you should consider are:

How much time you can devote to the project. Developing or customising materials for local use will probably add to your workload. Your efforts may be recognised in the Teaching Quality Assurance process but will not be suitable for the Research Assessment Exercise.

Your personal IT skills. You may be able to get some support to introduce or extend the use of C&IT in your teaching, though you will probably need to do some maintenance work on the resources used for your teaching.

The extent to which you can modify courses or modules. Any new resources or activities need to be embedded in the curriculum, which may require changes to be made to teaching facilities and assessment practices.

Access to suitable equipment. This can be a complete barrier to the use of C&IT in teaching, and will have timetabling implications.

Support. Students (and staff) need support and training in using new resources, and working in novel ways. This needs to be fitted into the curriculum without overworking students.

Student attitudes. Students are highly influenced by their previous learning experiences and can be reluctant to use new materials or work in innovative ways.

There are several important ways in which C&IT supports small-group teaching; some problem areas are:

Weaker students can benefit from multimedia courseware, though improvements are not apparent with the most competent or hard-working students.

C&IT can support the acquisition of key or generic skills, most obviously C&IT skills. Students develop a wider range of analytical and writing skills by using new resources, if assessments are adapted to make good use of these.

Multimedia resources can motivate students to study and to acquire a familiarity with their discipline more rapidly, particularly for those subjects traditionally relying on text-based material. Interactive and simulated models are also valuable in explaining complex theories for science courses.

Multimedia courseware is expensive to develop and may not be useful outside the department in which it was developed. This is because the contents are often designed with a particular course in mind and the software used to develop the courseware can make it very difficult to update or modify.

Computer-mediated communication does not always support learning. Virtual seminars carried out using email or a related tool need close monitoring by tutors, and students may need regular prompting to participate.

Group dynamics have a big impact on the success or failure of teaching practices. What works one year may not be successful with another group, particularly if students are reluctant to change their learning styles.

Extensive use of digital resources may equip students with the ability to find information, but lead to limited retained knowledge. This is a concern amongst academics in disciplines with limited use of IT in teaching, but remains to be proven. These disciplines tend to use digital resources for research, suggesting that the problem lies in academics' wariness to change the curriculum for fear of dropping traditional skills.

All of these issues are further expanded upon in the ASTER project Website.

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Last updated: Wed Aug 21 2002

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