ONLINE MATERIALS: CREATING A FRAMEWORK TO MAXIMISE STUDENT ENGAGEMENT AND ACADEMIC SUCCESS
The availability of online technologies has allowed Universities to offer greater flexibility in education delivery. Online technologies have allowed the sector to deal with changing factors such as increasing student numbers, diversity of study modes (on-campus and off-campus) and increased participation by students from non-traditional backgrounds. The University of South Australia (UniSA) has been at the forefront of the adoption of online learning technologies using the Moodle framework, so that now all courses have at least some of their materials available via the web. More than 20% of UniSA undergraduate students undertake one or more courses online, and within the Bachelor of Nursing (the focus of this study) the number exceeds 43% of students.
In the initial phase of the development of the online environment, ‘flexibility’ meant the replication of materials online as to what has been available off-line. There is evidence that this approach may not take into account the different learning styles of students, or provide a pedagogically supported structure to learning. This study sought to evaluate these factors for 2nd year student experiences of a new online delivery of core science course materials (pathophysiology) within the Bachelor of Nursing at UniSA. The primary goal was to of identify best practice for the structuring of course materials online to maximize student outcomes and improve engagement and success.
An action research model (survey, evaluate, change course, survey etc.) was employed annually over four years and allowed student responses to inform changes from the first iteration in 2007 whereby all on-campus content of the Scientific Basis of Clinical Practice 1 course was made available fully online to both on and off campus students (800 annually).
Anonymous surveys of free response questions (e.g. ‘did you use the practice quizzes?’) were utilized to investigate the frequency of access of materials provided and assess their usefulness to students. Likert and free text responses after the first year (2007) revealed that ‘workload’ was a major theme, of which further analysis indicated that the online content organization impeded their study and motivation rather than enhancing it. Students also indicated that did not access some materials such as the tutorial documents, although they had been instructed to do so for each week’s class study.
The materials were reflectively redesigned according to Brunner’s approach that “students learn what students care about and remember what they understand”  and Biggs’ constructive alignment theory. Changes were made and assessed annually against student responses. Without substantial loss of content student perceptions of the workload and the number of online tools with poor utilization significantly diminished over the 4 year period, and increased academic success (student grades) were taken as a measure of improved student engagement and success.
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