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Practicality of a technological tool for the teaching of first year psychology students

Lata Satyen
Victoria University
The current paper discusses the applicability of an online manual for the teaching of first year psychology laboratory programs and compares it with conventional teaching methods. For the first time, in 2001, the manual for the first year program was made available via a website. This method was in contrast to the text manual that was utilised previously. When the text manual was used, students needed to bring it each week to class. However, with the online manual, students were required to be cognisant of several aspects of the week's laboratory agenda prior to attending the class and did not have immediate access to the manual in class. This was quite uncustomary to both students and staff members and therefore necessitated a great amount of time to be spent reviewing the contents of the week's work before attending class. It also caused inconvenience both in terms of students not having ready access to necessary information, and staff having to photocopy bulk information as and when required. What was discovered at the end of the semester was that a technological tool, because of its ability to provide easy access, may not be applicable to teach all subjects, particularly not the psychology lab program, and hence a thorough evaluation of the practicality of the device is required prior to adoption.


Increasingly, many subjects and courses across universities are adopting technological tools for their delivery. However, it is important to evaluate the practicality of the tool for the respective course. While some courses can be delivered efficiently with the use of technology, others may be better off using traditional methods.

It is evident from research on the impact of information technology on education, that learning can take place in an enhanced manner through the use of different technological mediums (eg., Charp, 2002; Gersh, 2001; McNabb, 2001; Tiene & Luft, 2001). Indeed, it has been shown that technology alters productive processes in the classroom (Engstrom, 2001) as well as in industry (Judy & D'Amico, 1998). There are various tools that can be adopted in the classroom to reinforce learning strategies. These range from televisions, VCRs, computers, to a scanner, printer, video projector, and the Internet. A classroom that contains these different technological tools is known as a technology-rich environment (Tiene & Luft, 2001).

Current-day teachers advocate the use of different multimedia technology wherever appropriate, applicable, and available. Schools, colleges and universities are constantly trying to keep pace with updating and incorporating new technology into their education system. Indeed, it may be appropriate to say that there is a rush to expose students to the latest developments in classroom technological devices. No one wants to be left behind. But are teachers and coordinators evaluating the appropriateness of the system prior to adopting it? Student learning can only be enhanced if the teaching and learning methods can be matched.

Challenges in using the Internet for educational purposes

The Internet has become a popular means by which education can be imparted or used as an essential aid in the process. Studies suggest that there are enormous benefits using this technological device such as providing distance education to students across different cities and even countries (Tiene & Luft, 2001). The Internet can be a useful resource in obtaining information for students' lessons, providing access outside the classroom situation at any time, and aiding communication with fellow students around the globe (Gersh, 2001). It also provides opportunities for students to work on their own; and, working independently can be highly motivational (Tiene & Luft, 2001). It can then be considered appropriate to utilise this device in the classroom to create an enhanced learning experience. However, in doing so, care needs to be taken to review the practicality of the tool for the subject and course it is being implemented for. Thomas (2001) corroborates this and indicates that teachers have to examine which courses provide an opportunity to have collaborative interaction and then provide the appropriate kind of technology in the classroom. It is also essential to note that teaching in high-tech classrooms can place extra demand on teachers who will have to work in more flexible ways, and also to be knowledgeable in using the technology device (Tiene & Luft, 2001).

In evaluating technology resources, Johnson (2001) has reiterated the necessity of evaluating the tool. With regard to content of the material, Johnson (2001) points out it is important to determine if the content is thorough; that it is reliable, and that it is clear so that students acquire maximum educational value from the tool. Another relevant issue Johnson (2001) covers is that of accessibility, where she suggests that online material needs to be made available at all times. On a similar topic, Tiene and Luft (2001) strongly recommend that labs and classrooms should be equipped with the latest technology. However, they allude to the fact that very few classrooms have ready access to technology throughout the day; this makes it difficult to explore what learning gains could be made with the addition of technology. Accessibility need not be limited to the classroom situation alone. With the introduction of online material, the issue of having access to a computer outside the school or university gains relevance. Consequently, Shields and Behrman (2000) have made an interesting remark that "equality of digital opportunity" is becoming synonymous with "equality of educational opportunity".

In offering some remedies for the effective use of the Internet as an effective technological tool, Gersh (2001) has suggested some tips. She mainly advocates the adoption of an "Internet Basics Orientation" program for students, which should provide students with information about Internet basics as well as provide an introduction to "cyberspeak" or, the vocabulary of the Net; ways in which students could use browsers to surf the Net; efficient searching methods on the Net; and how to selectively use information from the Net.

The Internet and psychology instruction

Using the Internet to teach psychology programs is slowly but surely growing. Previous research in this area is limited and there are only a few studies that have explored the possibility of using the Internet in psychology disciplines (eg., Sherman, 1998; Smith & Senior, 2001). However, recent research suggests that psychology faculty generally have favourable attitudes toward the Internet and incorporating it for instructional purposes (Vodanovich & Piotrowski, 2001).

In the study conducted by Vodanovich and Piotrowski (2001), views about applying online resources for psychology education were obtained from 150 psychology faculty. The questionnaire that was employed included questions on staff members' attitudes toward Internet use, "didactic" applications of specific online functions, and the benefits and limitations of Internet use for instructional purposes. The findings indicated that the faculty used the Internet in their teaching to a large extent, that their general view toward the Internet for instruction is positive, and that they perceived its use as an effective educational tool. These results suggest that the Internet could be applicable within the discipline of psychology. This is important to realise as "no longer are the textbook and the teacher the sole sources of information" (Gersh, 2001, p. 52). However, the same study also found that the faculty were using the technology for relatively basic purposes such as e-mail, dissemination of course syllabi and conducting literature searches. This latter finding seems to suggest that further research is required to test the appropriateness of Internet-based teaching in psychology. It could also be speculated that the faculty may not be incorporating the Internet due to time considerations and the lack of proper technological training (Vodanovich & Piotrowski, 2001).

The above limited discussions in the area of adopting the Internet for psychology courses lead to the presentation of the current paper. Here, the use of an online manual for the instruction of first year psychology laboratory program is evaluated and compared with traditional teaching methods.

The current study

Traditionally, first year psychology laboratory programs are taught through the use of a manual. At the start of the semester, students would usually purchase a manual, which incorporates all the weekly activities, notes, and relevant reading material. This was useful as it contained all the important laboratory material; it was also handy as students could bring in the manual to class each week as well as use it as a point of reference at home for all their work needs. However, it is important to note that the manual was not the only resource the students utilised. In addition to the manual, the computer lab was accessed to use a statistical software program to analyse data from experiments.

In 2001, for the first time, an online manual was introduced to substitute the text copy of the manual. This change was brought about for all 250 students involved in the First Year Psychology program. Students no longer had access to the text copy; the online manual was accessible via the subject coordinator's website. The online manual was incorporated on a trial basis to determine if it would be a more effective teaching and learning device compared to the text manual. The rationale behind this was to extend the use of technology in a novel and innovative medium. The manual was deemed to become more accessible to students; this change would also reduce the purchase costs associated with the hard copy of the manual. What was not conceived was that students do not have access to the computer lab at all times; moreover, the laboratory program cannot be conducted solely in the computer lab due the nature of the subject that necessitates students' presence in the classroom to conduct experiments. The outcomes discussed in this paper are based on participatory and observatory experiences of the author who was a teacher for the program.


Initially, the notion of an online manual received quite a favourable response from teachers and students. People were excited at the concept that technology could actually be used to teach psychology. Students were also relieved to save a few dollars from not having to purchase the manual. Although both teachers and students needed to familiarise themselves with the website and links provided to access the manual, it did not take much time with the presence of many tech-savvy students in the classes; although, the non-traditional (mature age) students did find it a little daunting as they were unaccustomed to using the computer and Internet to a considerable extent; they especially found accessing links from a particular website and proceeding from there on to be more difficult. The manual was also available to be downloaded onto a floppy disk. This made it easier to access the online manual as it was not necessary for students to be connected to the Internet when requiring to use the manual at home.

In spite of so many attractive features of the online manual, as the weeks progressed, it became clear that teachers were having difficulties teaching with it and that students had difficulties learning via the new medium. This was because when the text manual was used, students needed to bring it each week to class and they and the teachers had easy access to information. However, with the online manual, students were required to be cognisant of several aspects of the week's laboratory agenda prior to attending the class and did not have immediate access to the manual in class. This was because of the lack of computer facilities in the classroom.

The procedure of having to know most aspects of the day's teaching before hand was quite uncustomary to students who were required to only be aware of a limited amount of information previously. This caused an inconvenience to students who did not have ready access to necessary information. Staff were inconvenienced as they had to spend a great amount of time with students reviewing the contents of the following week's work. However, students could still not refer to particular notes and questions in the manual during class time. To overcome this problem, staff were required to photocopy bulk information as and when required - during class time. To add to this problem, students who were required to print out the relevant questionnaires prior to coming to class sometimes did not. Hence, staff were again required to make extra copies of the questionnaires and notes each week.

All the above problems that were faced lead us to compare the online manual with the traditional text manual and conclude that the benefits of the latter far outweigh its minor disadvantages (such as purchase costs). What was also discovered was that a technological tool, because of its ability to provide easy access, might not be applicable to teach all subjects. And this was with particular reference to the psychology lab program. Consequently, for the 2002 program, the method of teaching has been reverted to the usage of the text manual until further improvisation of the online manual. These findings therefore suggest a thorough evaluation of the practicality of the technological device prior to its adoption - otherwise, there might be serious repercussions in regard to the learning experience of students.


The results of the current study indicate the necessity of reviewing a technological device and examining its appropriateness for a particular course or subject, prior to its adoption. A technological tool such as the Internet can have several advantages as reiterated by several researchers (eg., Gersh, 2001; Tiene & Luft, 2001); it may possess the attributes of being able to provide abundant information and enhance student learning (Vodanovich & Piotrowski, 2001). However, its practicality for the subject in question must be considered. The current study shows that using the Internet for the purpose of accessing an online manual for the first year psychology laboratory program may not be feasible. This is acknowledged with the current facilities available in the classrooms.

When a subject requires access to a particular resource (such as a manual) in the classroom, at most times, the introduction of an online resource necessitates adequate facilities to be made available in the classroom. The current study showed how a lack of such provisions could deter the learning process and cause difficulties for both teachers and students alike. Tiene and Luft (2001) also reiterate that labs and classrooms should be equipped with the latest technology without which it may be difficult to explore what learning gains could be made with the addition of technology.

The current outcomes do not suggest that technology should never be utilised in a psychology program, as previous studies have shown that technological devices can accelerate the learning process (Charp, 2002; Gersh, 2001; McNabb, 2001; Tiene & Luft, 2001), even within the discipline of psychology (Vodanovich & Piotrowski, 2001). Indeed, an online manual could serve the purposes of conducting online experiments, making efficient use of class time by operating with readily available data, and, for the teacher, upgrading the manual as and when required. This paper highlights the importance of evaluating the practicality of a technological tool for the subject, in addition to providing adequate facilities to foster the utility of the tool.


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Author: Lata Satyen is currently completing her Ph.D in Psychology in the Department of Psychology at Victoria University. Her interest lies in the area of the influence of technology on cognitive processes, as well as the use of different technological medium for the purposes of training and education.

Lata Satyen, Department of Psychology, St Albans Campus, Victoria University, Melbourne 8001. Phone: (W) (03) 9312 0520. Email:

Please cite as: Satyen, L. (2002). Practicality of a technological tool for the teaching of first year psychology students. In S. McNamara and E. Stacey (Eds), Untangling the Web: Establishing Learning Links. Proceedings ASET Conference 2002. Melbourne, 7-10 July.

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