Monday, 28 October 2013

Undergraduate Uni Tech Preferences: Part 2

This is the second in a series reflecting upon the results from the EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research ‘(ECAR) Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2013’ report published in September, and what implication there are for applying learning technologies. (Part 1 in the series is published. Part 3 will follow shortly.)

Theme 2: Students prefer blended learning environments while beginning to experiment with MOOCs

“When it comes to modality, college students seem to recognize effectiveness when they see it. Their preference for blended learning environments tracks well with the findings of recent large meta-analyses of the efficacy of different ways of integrating technology into higher education. And students’ long-standing desire to retain some degree of face-to-face contact with their [lecturers] persists, even with the increasing sophistication of online methods of interaction. Even for people who have never known a world without the Internet, the human touch is valuable.”  p15

Even though blended learning isn’t fully mainstream (though about 80-85% of students have taken a course with some online elements), students continues to specify it as their prefered mode of study and the way they learn the most. The report intimates that students have a desire to access course materials “anytime, anywhere” and communicate face-to-face with their lecturers.

The survey also highlighted the result that older students are more likely to favour online-only courses rather than their younger student counterparts. This could be because older students tend to study more part-time, which is an indicator of their other commitments (work, family, etc.) increasing the requirement for greater flexibility in their study patterns.

Looking specifically at online courses, more students took an online course than the previous year (as would probably have been anticipated), however few of them are undergraduates. One interesting point to emerge is that the demographic profile of students taking traditional online courses is generally the reverse for students studying a MOOC. However, there aren’t many studies looking at the undergraduate student population’s reaction and engagement with MOOCs. In the past year the percentages of undergraduate students enrolled at a HEI who have taken a MOOC are, in the USA 3%, Canada 4%, and other countries 6% as emerged from the survey findings. Perhaps these students should be considered as the innovators or early adopters. Interesting, about 75% of students didn’t even know what a MOOC was.

“ECAR focus group students were asked about MOOCs by acronym, by the spelled-out name (massive open online course), and by the names of common MOOC providers (e.g., Coursera, Udacity,edX, MITx, etc.). Despite this variety of opportunities to recognize this unique medium for instructional delivery, blank stares were returned.

When prompted about their interest in taking a fully online course, offered by a premier instructor and with highly polished and produced course content, they seemed interested until they were informed that they would be in the course with 10,000, or 30,000, or 100,000 other students. At that point they scoffed at the idea and reiterated that one of the things they like about their current education paradigm is the ability to make personal connections with their instructors.” p19

This might suggest that MOOCS are not an imminent threat to traditional HEIs or existing study programmes. Possibly they can be viewed as an alternative platform supplementing the existing set up whilst allowing a possible expansion of the HE market.

Perhaps paralleling this is the idea of some new form of accreditation, probably digital and open badges. Currently students wouldn’t generally use a digital badge in their application portfolio to prospective employers. As they gain greater familiarity amongst students and employers this might change. There is probably a need for cross-institutional badge-curation and standardized issuing criteria. If such credentialing does increase in popularity then some self-managed professional electronic portfolio would be appealing. Perhaps LinkedIn already provides this service.

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