Student expectations for technology to be integral in their learning experience has encouraged higher education institutions to incorporate new technology resources into their curriculum, often without valid evidence of effectiveness.

The aims of this study were to develop and evaluate the educational benefits of an embedded-animation as a supplement to the traditional didactic lecture for nursing students and to evaluate student attitudes towards the application of online e-learing tools in their learning and teaching.

An embedded animation of the pharmacological mechanism of action of gastrointestinal (GI) drugs was designed for second year nursing students enrolled in a core pharmacology and physiology course in 2011. Ethical approval for this project was granted by Griffith University Human Ethics Committee. Forty five nursing students voluntarily participated in the study and were divided into two groups: face-to-face lecture with embedded animation group (n=25) and didactic lecture accessed online without embedded animation (n=20). Student performance in short term retention was assessed using two case-study based quizzes. The first case comprised of multiple choice and short answer questions on the pharmacology of GI drugs (including the material covered by the embedded animation). The second case was on immunology and included five multiple choice questions. A short survey was used to discriminate between the two groups, obtain students demographic data and evaluate their preference towards online e-learning tools. Data were statistically analysed by t-test, ANOVA, Pearson correlation and Chi square using IBM SPSS software (ver 20). Probability (p) values of less than 0.05 were considered statistically significant.

Forty five students participated in the study. Of those only two students were males (4.5%). The results demonstrated no significant difference in performance between the two groups (t = 0.8, p > 0.05). However, the embedded animation had a positive impact on student learning, in particular on students who have low GPA and struggle with the theory content in courses. The results also showed that students’ performance was correlated with the grade average point (GPA) (p < 0.05, r = 0.63). The quiz results were divided into three categories: Fail (less than 50%), Pass (50-75%), and Distinction (more than 75%). This classification of results was compared with the frequency of those attending lectures (never or rarely and frequently and always). The results demonstrated strong association between attendance at lectures and performance with pass and distinction in the quizzes (X2 = 9.15, p < 0.05).
Another finding of this study was the significant relation between non-attendance at lectures and preference for using online e-learning tools (X2 = 12.0, p < 0.05).

Albeit the small sample size, the results of this preliminary study suggest that the addition of embedded animation, as supplement to the didactic traditional lectures, did not have significant effect on improving students’ performance. Attendance at lectures and students’ GPA showed positive correlation with performance at the quiz. Therefore, these variables may be better predictors of student outcomes at examinations. Students who did not routinely attend lectures were more likely to prefer the addition of online e-learning tools into the curriculum.