Electronic resources in question
Students today are considered to be more tech savvy than ever before. A small survey titled The State of E-Learning in Canadian Universities, 2011: If Students Are Digital Natives, Why Don’t They Like E-Learning? conducted by Jason Rogers and Alex Usher of Higher Education Strategy Associates, evaluated the prevalence and uses of web resources for learning.
The survey found that many Canadian classes are starting to take to the web. 57 per cent of classes surveyed made some use of online programming.
However, the survey concluded that “the extent of e-resources had a negligible impact on the amount learned.”
Interestingly, the survey found that students were “more interested in seeing universities make ‘static’ resources like readings available online, rather than the more dynamic ones.”
Roxanne Dubois, the national chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) agreed that this would be helpful.
“As long as the online resources are being made with the intention of supplementing a student’s learning and not to replace interaction with the professor and other students,” she said.
Gavin Brockett, associate professor at Wilfrid Laurier University in Middle East and Islamic history, also emphasized the importance of professor-student interaction.
“I use mylaurier to supplement my teaching,” said Brockett. “I do not use [mylaurier] to put my slides on and the reason for that is students are paying to engage with me in the classroom and I think that’s more beneficial to a student’s learning”.
However, Dubois also warned that online resources “do not compensate for lack of funding. Online resources cannot be used to mask cost cutting”.
It seems this has already begun.
“Many of us [professors] are being forced to use online resources because we’re not allowed to print course syllabi off for students anymore and we’ve got to make them available somehow,” said Brockett.
McMaster University, Barbra Ratemo, a business and commerce major, was one of approximately 3,000 first-years who enrolled in a psychology course with online lectures last fall.
The loss of student-professor interaction that comes with online lectures is what Dubois felt would be harmful.
“I think a student who is sitting in their living room won’t get as much out of a student-professor interaction like when a student is sitting in a classroom,” she said.
Indeed, the survey also showed that less than 18 per cent of students would prefer live streaming of lectures and 56 per cent of students would be more likely to skip class if recordings were available. However, Ratemo pointed out some benefits, “with web lectures it is your responsibility to keep up with the lectures but it does offer more flexibility with your schedule.” Flexibility is something classroom lectures cannot offer.
Patrick Cane, a second-year double degree Laurier business and University of Waterloo math major took Economics 250 online this past summer and would agree with Ratemo.
“I liked the flexibility with hours,” he said. “It gave me the opportunity to schedule my own time instead of being stuck to lectures certain hours of the week.”
“It is very helpful for either getting some extra credits during the summer or to free up some space in your busy schedule during the year,” said Natalie Maxwell, a second-year psychology major at the University of Guelph, who has taken four online course in the last three school terms.
“The thing I like the most about my online courses was how organized everything was. Everything was easy to find and well laid out.”
Dubois also pointed out some advantages of online learning.
“If online courses are going to give access to students in rural areas who don’t have access to other post-secondary institutions to get them training they need then it would be worthwhile. It depends on context,” she said.
The study explained students find online resources favourable because of the convenience it offers, despite the remaining preference for traditional, physical resources.
“Students prefer physical texts, but they like to have the option of having an e-resource to read it wherever and whenever they need,” the survey concluded.
It is impossible to deny the growing prevalence of technology in classrooms. Looking ahead, Dubois said, “technology is not necessarily good or bad. It’s how we use it, and I think as long as we use it to increase students’ learning then we are on the right path.”