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Resource rich learning environments: Students' valuations of resources within courses

Judy Sheard
Margot Postema
Selby Markham

School of Computer Science and Software Engineering, Monash University
The widespread acceptance of the World Wide Web (Web) in tertiary education has seen a significant increase in the variety of resources provided to assist students in their learning. Students in undergraduate courses are now provided with resource rich learning environments. This paper presents results of a pilot study that aimed to determine any similarities and differences in student attitudes to a range of resources across a selection of computing courses. The students were all studying in on-campus mode.

Subject lecturers were surveyed to establish what types of resources they provided and students were surveyed to determine how they valued each resource. Significant differences were found in the values students placed on resources across all the subjects studied. Various reasons are suggested for these results, considering the differences between the subject and the profiles of each group of students involved. This investigation has raised questions about student preferences for, and use of resources, and perceptions of the value of resources and their links to learning outcomes. This will form the basis of a larger project, and the outcomes of this further work will provide information of value to future educators in tertiary institutions.


The emergence of the World Wide Web (WWW or Web) over the last decade has had a major impact on our tertiary institutions. Information which a few years ago was only available in paper format, is now also available in electronic format. The Web provides facilities for a variety of new and exciting ways to present and access information (Yeatman and Stace, 1997), ranging from static imitations of paper-based documents, to sophisticated interactive environments incorporating multimedia elements (Arnow and Clark, 1996; Boroni, Goosey, Grinder and Ross, 1998; Miranda and Pinto, 1996).

Students at tertiary institutions are now typically provided with an assortment of resources in each subject they study. The availability and format of resources are usually not consistent across subjects and depend upon what individual subject lecturers prepare and present (Debreceny and Ellis, 1997). Although the trend seems to be moving more towards providing resources on-line not all lecturers are convinced of the educational benefits of Web-based teaching environments (Miranda and Pinto, 1996; Pilgrim and Leung, 1996). Most lecturers offer students a combination of paper-based and Web-based resources and often the same material is available in both formats (Arnold, 1997; Boroni, Goosey, Grinder and Ross, 1998).

Flexible resource delivery supports well a constructivist teaching environment. The constructivism theory of learning maintains that knowledge is actively constructed rather than acquired (Lefoe, 1998). Instruction in this context is a process of supporting the construction of knowledge rather than transmitting it. A resource rich learning environment, providing a range of experiences that allow students to develop learning strategies which uniquely suit them, is essential for constructive learning. Providing a variety of resources may also help motivate students to engage in learning. However, an extensive range of teaching resources, made available in multiple formats, is time consuming to produce and maintain, especially in the ever-changing discipline of information technology (Ellis, A. et al, 1998). It is therefore important to know what the students perceive is of value to their learning (Goldberg, 1997; Miranda and Pinto, 1996). Are all these extra resources benefiting the students? Do they use and appreciate them or are they being inundated and confused with more than they need and are able to cope with?

This paper reports on a pilot study of student valuations of the usefulness of subject resources across a selection of undergraduate subjects in the Faculty of Information Technology (FIT), Monash University. Information about resources provided was obtained from subject staff for the purposes of cross-referencing. This study evolved out of an exploratory exercise designed and developed at a computing education research group workshop. It is part of a larger project that will attempt to gain an understanding of what resources students use and find of value to their learning, as well as the staff involvement in the provision of these resources.

Project description

Resource rich learning environments

Learning environments, which provide resources for students in multiple formats, may be defined as "resource rich". With advent of the use of the Web by educators within the tertiary sector there has been an increase in the variety of resources provided for students, with resources often provided in both paper-based and Web-based format. An impressionistic view within FIT suggests that there has been approximately a 100% increase in the number of types[1] of resources provided for students since the adoption of the Web. Many subjects within FIT may now be considered resource rich and in this study we were interested in investigating the value students place on resources within such environments. The resources examined were restricted to the paper-based and Web-based resources provided directly by subject staff and did not include resources that students may independently seek out for themselves from other sources. Eighteen different types of resources, consisting of eight paper-based and ten Web-based resources were considered, and these are listed in Table 4[2].

Selection of subjects for study

Seven undergraduate computing subjects were selected for this study. The subjects were chosen from three different computing degree programs on two separate campuses. The three degree programs each have their own distinct focus of computer science (Bachelor of Computer Science), commercial computing (Bachelor of Computing), and information systems (Bachelor of Information Management and Systems), and accordingly attract different types of students.

Subjects were selected from each year level and their details are summarised in Table 1. The subjects were all offered in on-campus mode only. Four of the subjects were core (compulsory) units and the other three were elective offerings. These subjects were staffed by lecturers with extensive experience in the production of teaching materials both in paper and Web formats. It was important for comparisons in this study to have resources of consistent format across all subjects.

These subjects were also considered "resource rich" in the quantity and variety of resources provided for the students. Each subject provided from 11 to 16 different types of resources and various combinations of both paper and Web resources. The resources for one subject (COT2040) were mainly paper-based, while the others provided most of their resources on the Web. All subjects had a dedicated Web page that contained, at least, basic subject information and any other resources. All subjects also provided subject information in paper format.

Table 1: Details of subjects used in the study

TitleDegree CourseCore or
BUS1042Programming for Business BBachelor of Information Management and SystemsCore1
CSE1434Web Programming with Java AppletsBachelor of Computer ScienceElective1
COT2040Comparative Operating SystemsBachelor of ComputingElective2
CSE2201Software Engineering PracticeBachelor of ComputingCore2
CSE2203IT Project ManagementBachelor of ComputingCore2
CSE2302Operating SystemsBachelor of Computer ScienceCore2
SFT3205Commercial Programming in COBOLBachelor of ComputingElective3

Research design

Research method

The aim of the study was to investigate how valuable students find various types of resources within resource rich learning environments, identify any patterns to determine if there are any resources which students find particularly useful in all subjects and if there are any differences between subjects. It was decided to use a survey to gauge how the students' valued the resources. The availability of each resource within each subject was determined by a separate questionnaire that was given to the lecturer responsible for each subject. The eighteen different types of resources considered are listed in Table 4.

The survey questionnaires were trialed beforehand with students who were not involved in the survey.

Monash University ethics committee approval was given for this study. In accordance with the ethics committee's requirements, the surveys were anonymous with no identifying information asked of the students. Students were given a cover sheet with their questionnaire explaining the purpose of the survey.

Student survey

The student questionnaire asked students to rate the value of each type of resource on a seven-point Likert scale, with a separate option to select if a resource was not provided. The questionnaire also contained questions to help establish a profile of the students and enable comparisons to be made between responses on the basis of gender, study mode, access to computers, and computer usage of the students in each subject. At the end of the questionnaire provision was made for students to add additional comments.

The students were surveyed during the second last week of the semester. By this time they had had the opportunity to use every resource provided. All the students who attended classes during this week were given a questionnaire to complete. Participation in the survey was voluntary, however most students were happy to complete the questionnaire. It was decided to use paper questionnaires rather than a Web survey, as some of the surveys were conducted in classrooms without computers. It was also felt that a Web survey might bias the sample away from people who did not have easy access to the Web, or were not familiar or comfortable users of the Web. The numbers of students who responded to the questionnaires are shown in Table 2.

Lecturer survey

The lecturers of each subject included in the study were surveyed at the end of semester. The questionnaire asked lecturers to indicate what types of resources they made available for their subject. The details of this survey will be presented in another paper.

Table 2: Numbers of students who completed questionnaires

Subject CodeFemaleMaleTotal

Results and discussion

Student profile

A total of 320 students participated in the study. These were distributed over the seven subjects with the lowest number of responses (25) from COT2040 and the highest number (75) from CSE2302. Most of the students who participated in the study were full-time students (94%) and the remainder were part-time. There were no students studying by distance mode.

In Table 2 a profile of the students by subject and gender is shown. Over the entire sample the majority of students were male (75%). The percentage of male students was higher in the Bachelor of Computer Science subjects reflecting the higher percentage of male students in this degree course. A noticeable imbalance is in the subject COT2040 where there were 24 male students and only one female student. This is an elective subject with a technical focus that traditionally attracts low female enrolments.

Internet access and use

Many of the resources provided for the students are Web-based and therefore it was important to know what access the students had to the Internet and how they used it.

All students have access to the Internet on campus and a high percentage of students surveyed (82%) had access to the Internet off campus. There was no significant difference in the availability of Internet access between the seven subjects in the study.

Students were asked to rate their usage of the Internet for five different categories of access. The means of each type of access rating are shown in Table 3. Students in all subjects in the study showed a moderately high usage of the Internet for communications such as email, chatting and newsgroups, and for general use such as surfing and hobbies. To determine if there were any differences in these ratings between subjects, an analysis of variances (ANOVA) was calculated for each type of Internet access. An ANOVA is a method of determining differences between groups. There were significant differences between subjects in the students' usage of the Internet for accessing subject information and teaching materials. Students in the first year level subjects were high users of the Internet for these types of activities. This is in direct contrast with results obtained by Goldberg reported in 1997 (Goldberg, 1997). However this could be accounted for by many secondary schools having introduced Internet access in the last two years, hence the first year students in this study would on average be more familiar with this environment. The lowest usage of the Internet was for recreational activities such as games. Again there were significant differences between the subjects, with the first year students having the highest usage.

There were no differences between male and female students in use of the Internet for subject materials or general use. However the male students used the Internet significantly more for games and the female students used the Internet significantly more for communication such as email, chatting and newsgroups.

Table 3: Results of comparisons of types of Internet access by subject
(a rating of 1 indicates no usage and a rating of 7 indicates high usage)

Means for Internet access ratings
Use of the Internet for:BUS1042CSE1434COT2040CSE2201CSE2203CSE2302SFT3205
Accessing teaching materials5.*
Accessing course administration5.*
General use (hobbies)
Communication (email, chatting, newsgroups)
* indicates F test results significant at p <= 0.05

How Students Valued the Resources

The students in each subject were asked to rate the value of each resource provided. The results were surprising in that some students rated resources that lecturers claimed they had not produced. This probably indicates that students tend to generalise their experiences and answered these questions with what they would like or believe to be provided. The results of an ANOVA of the student valuations of resources by subject show a significant difference between subjects for every type of resource. The results can be seen in Table 4.

Table 4: Results of comparisons of resource value ratings by subject
(a rating of 1 indicates no value and a rating of 7 indicates high value)

Resources in printed formMeans for resource value ratings
Subject information5.*
Lecture notes5.*
References to other resources4.*
Tutorial/non-assessable exercises5.*
Assessable exercises and assignments5.*
Reading material5.*
Reading lists4.*
Self evaluation exercises5.*
Web resources
Subject information5.*
Subject updates5.*
Lecture notes5.*
References or links to other resources4.*
Tutorial/non-assessable exercises5.*
Assessable exercises and assignments5.*
Reading material4.*
Reading lists4.*
Self evaluation exercises5.*
Anonymous Feedback4.*
* indicates F test results significant at p <= 0.05

When the means of the results for each subject, within each resource, are examined, some trends can be seen. Students in the two first-year subjects (BUS1042 and CSE1434) placed the highest values on every type of resource provided. These subjects were in different degree programs; BUS1042 was a core subject and CSE1434 was an elective subject. As a comparison, BUS1042 had the same types of resources provided for students as the third year subject SFT3205, with the same or similar content for most of the resources. However the students in BUS1042 consistently rated each resource higher. For the Web resources, this is consistent with the first year students' higher usage of the Internet to access subject information and teaching materials.

An interpretation of the high values placed on resources for these two subjects could be that first year students have a greater dependence on resources than the later year level students. Experience with teaching in the tertiary level shows that students tend to build networks and rely on each other for information and help. First year students have not had as much time to develop these networks as students in later year levels, and may consequently depend more heavily on subject resources for information and support for their learning. Also, first year students may not be as discerning as to what is valuable for their learning or perhaps not as cynical about the resources provided.

The highest values placed on resources were for CSE1434, Web programming with Java Applets. This was a new elective subject in a new topic area. Students in this subject may have been very dependent on resources provided by the lecturer due to a lack of other resources available elsewhere. This subject focuses on Web technology, and the Web was the most relevant environment for the students to use (Yeatman and Stace, 1997), however students also rated highly the printed resources. Students in this subject also had the highest use of the Internet for accessing subject materials. Many commented on their questionnaires about how good and useful the resources were.

Two subjects consistently placed the lowest values on each type of resource provided. These subjects were second year subjects in the same degree program; one was a core subject (CSE2203) and the other (COT2040) was an elective subject. COT2040 was heavily paper-based and also provided the lowest number of different types of resources. Perhaps for some students, the smaller range of resources available in this subject negatively influenced the rating of each resource. Examination of the standard deviations from the means for results for each resource shows that the students were in most disagreement in this subject about the value of the resources.

CSE2203 was a new subject and it might be expected that students would have rated resources highly due to a lack of availability of other resources, as was the case with CSE1434. However the subject is not as technologically focussed as CSE1434. Also, in this subject the resources were usually produced just in time for classes in paper format but were put on the Web at a later date. Students' comments in the survey indicate that this may have negatively affected their opinions of their value.

The students rated the most valuable resources to be the lecture notes, assessable exercises and assignments, all provided in printed format, which agrees with the findings by Miranda and Pinto (Miranda and Pinto, 1996). These are essential resources that every student should access and it is understandable that they are rated highly. Students usually take lecture notes to the lectures so it is necessary that they have these in printed format even if they are provided originally in a Web format.

The least valuable resources were reading lists on paper or the Web, reading material on the Web. Extra reading is provided to give the students extra assistance, or to broaden and deepen their knowledge of a topic area. Students who are struggling to pass would not necessarily see these resources as essential to their success in a subject and would probably not value them very highly. Students who are interested in a topic might be more inclined to seek out and value these resources. It would be reasonable to expect a greater concentration of students with this motivation in the elective subjects. However there is no indication from the data obtained to suggest that students in the elective subjects valued these particular resources more highly than students in the core subjects. Anonymous Feedback[3] was another lowly rated resource. Many students choose not to use this facility because it does not have a direct impact on their progress in a subject and it is understandable that they would not rate this resource very highly.

Conclusion and further work

With the shift towards the use of the Web in tertiary institutions, undergraduate students are now typically provided with a large variety of resources to assist with their learning in each subject they study. The results of a study investigating how useful students find a range of resources provided across a selection of undergraduate subjects, show significant differences in the values students placed on these resources. Eighteen different types of resources in paper or Web format were considered. Students appear to be discerning users of subject resources. There seem to be various factors that influence the value students place on resources. Students value most highly resources that have a direct impact on their learning, but they also want resources that are relevant, up-to-date, and produced on time. First year students show a greater dependence on resources than later year students.

This study has raised questions that will be explored further. Future work will investigate how students deal with paper and Web resources, and the psychological basis for preference for a particular format. Lecturers may provide resource rich learning environments with intentions for their use, but do the students actually use these resources? Considering the importance of learning outcomes in a competitive educational market place, student perceptions of the value of resources and their links to learning outcomes is a critical area of research. The long-term outcomes of this project will impact significantly on the way in which future educators manage paper and Web resources.


  1. For the purpose of this discussion the "type" of resource refers to both content and format. For example, a set of printed lecture notes is a different type of resource to lecture notes provided on the Web.

  2. For the rest of this paper, paper-based resources will be referred to as paper resources and Web-based resources will be referred to as Web resources.

  3. Anonymous Feedback is a resource developed by a lecturer at Monash University. This facility enables students to ask questions or make comments anonymously via the Web (Lowder and Hagan, 1999).


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Arnow, D. M. and Clark, D. (1996). Extending the conversation: integrating email and Web technology in CS programming classes, ACM SIGCSE Bulletin, 28, Special Issue: 93-95.

Boroni, C. M., Goosey, F. W., Grinder, M. T., Ross, R. J. (1998). A paradigm shift! The Internet, the Web, browsers, Java, and the future of computer science education, Proceedings of the 29th SIGCSE Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, ACM, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, 145-152.

Debreceny, R. and Ellis, A. (1997). The management of World Wide Web resources in Australian universities, Proceedings of the ASCILITE conference, Perth, WA, Australia.

Ellis, A. et al (1998). A collaboration strategy for developing shared Java teaching resources to support first year programming, Proceedings of the 3rd Annual Conference on Integrating Technology into Computer Science Education, Dublin, Ireland, 1998.

Goldberg, M. W. (1997). WebCT and first year: student reaction to and use of a Web resource in first year Computer Science, ACM SIGCSE Bulletin, 29(3), September 1997: 127-129.

Lefoe, G. (1998). Creating contructivist learning environments on the Web: the challenge in higher education, Proceedings of the ASCILITE Conference, Wollongong, Australia.

Lowder, J. and Hagan D. (1999). Web-based Student Feedback to Improve Learning, Proceedings of the 4th Annual SIGCSE/SIGCUE Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education, Krakow, Poland, June 1999: 151-154.

Miranda, J. E. P. and Pinto, J. S. (1996). Using Internet technology for course support, ACM SIGCSE Bulletin, Vol 28, Special Issue: 96-100.

Pilgrim, C. J. and Leung, Y. K. (1996). Appropriate use of the Internet in computer science education, ACM SIGCSE Bulletin, 28, Special Issue: 81-86.

Yeatman, H. and Stace, R. (1997). Travelling in the slow lane of the information highway, Proceedings of the ASCILITE Conference, Perth, WA, Australia.

Contact details: Judy Sheard, School of Computer Science and Software Engineering, Monash University. Phone (03) 9903 2701 Fax (03) 9903 1077 Email

Please cite as: Sheard, J., Postema, M. and Markham, S. (2001). Resource rich learning environments: Students' valuations of resources within courses. In L. Richardson and J. Lidstone (Eds), Flexible Learning for a Flexible Society, 634-642. Proceedings of ASET-HERDSA 2000 Conference, Toowoomba, Qld, 2-5 July 2000. ASET and HERDSA.

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