Three varieties of computer based tutorial have been introduced and are described. The impact of one type was investigated. Studies took four forms:
There was a clear preference by the students for CBL over other forms of teaching material offered but it appeared that students' ratings of learning activities were based on different expectations. Analysis of examination results indicated a statistically significant improvement in performance after exposure to CBL. The paper discusses the implications of this and the role of CBL in the future.
- Students answered questionnaires immediately after completing a lecture series, after parallel CBL tutorials, after a complementary laboratory session and after viewing a video.
- Student use of CBL tutorials was automatically logged.
- Comparison was made between the students results in multiple choice items common to 1990 (pre CBL) and 1991 (post CBL) examination papers to determine the impact of CBL on the respiratory course and competing courses.
- Observations by the technical and academic staff were recorded.
Reflection on observation and research (Skinner, 1938, Hilgard and Bower, 1975) leads us to expect computer technology to provide an effective instrument for learning. The computer clearly has a capacity to capture attention with colourful graphics, animation and sound, it can provide opportunities to respond to questions and problems and it can deliver positive reinforcement for suitable behaviour and negative reinforcement and retraining for unsatisfactory behaviour.
Since 1984, our students have used computer simulations of animal physiology but it was only in 1991 that we first had the opportunity to develop our own computer based tutorials. Three variations of computer based tutorial have been introduced. One is essentially an illustrated electronic text, linked to a data acquisition program which students use during a laboratory procedure (Beswick, 1992 unpublished). The second variation is a set of interactive tests forming a companion to an instructional videotape (Oelrichs, 1992). The third variation combines testing and teaching by diverting students to an instructional tutorial when test items are answered incorrectly (Huxham, 1991).
This study was designed to determine if students found computer based learning effective and whether higher standards were achieved after its introduction. The study was also designed to identify and find solutions for any problems that may arise before the, presumed, more general implementation of computer based learning.
We chose to focus particularly on the computer based tutorials relating to pulmonary physiology because there was a commonality across learning activities in that one of the authors was entirely responsible for the development and delivery of the lectures and the computer based tutorials and jointly responsible for the video tape and laboratory classes.
Studies took four forms:
For each type of learning session the factor structure of responses to the questionnaire was determined using principle component analysis. Multiple regression techniques were used to show how individual items in the questionnaire jointly contributed to student perception of 'overall effectiveness' of the learning experience.
In the 1991 examinations, there were 85 multiple choice items which had been used in 1990. Of these, 15 related to respiration (supported by computer based instruction) and 24 related to other topics taught in the same semester. Forty-six items taught in a different semester were used for resealing, by simple linear transformation, to allow for differences between student cohorts. Student's t-test was used for tests of significance between means.
Figure 1: Student perceptions of learning activities. Mean and standard error of score allocated to each item on the questionnaire. Results are clustered by questionnaire item. The standard error was equal to or less than the standard error bars.
Factor analysis of the responses to questionnaire items is shown in Figure 2. In each analysis the eigenvalue of second and subsequent factors was less than unity, indicating there was only one underlying factor measured by the questionnaire for each learning activity. This interpretation is supported by the observation that the item 'overall effectiveness' had the highest eigenvector (correlation) for the first factor in lectures, laboratory classes and computer based tutorials, and was among the highest for the video tape.
|unrotated factor loadings:|
Figure 2: Factor analysis of responses to the questionnaires for each of the four learning activities. In every case the eigenvalue of second and subsequent factors was less than unity and so only one underlying factor was identified. Factor loadings represent the correlation of the variable with the extracted factor.
Figure 3 shows the contribution made to 'overall effectiveness' of each learning activity by the remaining quiz items. Unique contributions made by each item appear to vary considerably between activities. For lecture and computer based learning, several (interest, lucidity and objectives clear) made important independent contributions to overall effectiveness, while for laboratory classes and the video session, only one (objectives achieved) was independently important. Thus it appeared that students' ratings of learning activities were based on different expectations.
The mean score for 'respiratory' multiple choice items increases from 48.1+0.9, (n=210) in 1990 to 51.1+1.0, (n=228) in 1991 (p<0.05). Correcting for differences between groups suggested the true improvement may be slightly greater, to 52.4+1.0, (p<0.01). There was no decrease in achievement in competing companion topics.
Figure 3: The contribution made to 'overall effectiveness' of each learning activity by the remaining questionnaire items. The area of the circles represents the total variance of 'overall effectiveness'. The shaded areas represent the proportion of variance uniquely predicted by the item. Common indicates variance predicted by two or more items.
The median time for the introductory tutorial was 9 minutes compared with a nominal time of 15 minutes. For the remaining tutorials which had a nominal completion time of 50 minutes, the median values of the actual times ranged from 33 to 65 minutes. Many students spent much longer than the expected 50 minutes, with some tutorials logging over 4 hours (Figure 4).
Figure 4: Time spent using the computer tutorials. 'Number' indicates the number of times the tutorial was used and could include up to four users, usually one or two.
In our study computer based learning tutorials were generally perceived by the students as better than lectures, laboratory classes or the video session in all categories except the level of detail.
Other attempts to determine users' perceptions of computer based learning have returned varying results. For example, Harbour (1988) used an inventory of twenty four learning activities and found that an 'audience of geologists and geophysicists' rated field trips and lectures much more highly than computer assisted instruction or videotapes. In contrast Orlansky and String (1981) reported students of the military forces indicated an overwhelming preference for computer aided instruction rather than for conventional instruction. It is likely that results of such investigations will depend very much on the quality of the learning sessions experienced by the group contributing to the study. If they had only experienced poor lectures and good computer based training the comparison would hardly be a fair one. In our study the group responding to the questionnaire was evaluating the quality of a very recent learning experience. All material for the learning experience was developed with a common author and related to a common topic. It remains likely that novelty was an element in the high rating given to overall effectiveness of computer based training.
When variation of responses was further analysed for patterns of consistencies and differences, only one underlying factor was identified. We assume this factor is overall effectiveness. However, multiple regression analysis suggested that items, perceived as contributing to overall effectiveness, were not given the same weight in the four learning activities. Interest, along with lucid presentation and clearly defined objectives, were given more prominence for lectures and computer based learning tutorials, while achieving objectives was treated as most important for laboratory classes and the video session.
Krein and Maholm (1990) compared the mean scores of two groups of students completing an auditor training program. Some students experienced conventional classroom training and others computer based training. The training modules for classroom and computer were both developed by the same team. The authors concluded that participants in the classroom did not measure up to those with computer based training.
Analysis of our examination results also indicated a statistically significant improvement in performance after exposure to computer based tutorials. It seems unlikely that the majority of students were spending a disproportionate time on the tutorials as examination performance in physiology topics competing for students attention did not deteriorate. Certainly some students were spending an unexpectedly long time working on the computer based tutorials, up to four hours on a single tutorial. This was possibly related to the tendency of students to take written notes at any opportunity. In 1993, formal notes given to students during lectures will be modified so that the parallel structure of the lectures and tutorials is more obvious.
The behaviour patterns of the students, as observed by staff, changed as their familiarity with the computer based learning programs increased, reflecting the self directed, self paced, interactive and therefore attention holding properties of the medium. We had hoped that students would enjoy working in small groups, interacting with each other as well as with the computer. This would have limited the demand for computers. However, many students who were happy to work in groups during the earlier tutorials preferred to work alone for later tutorials. The resulting increased demand for computers has been met by a booking system, by purchasing more computers and formal contact time.
Overall we regard the introduction of computer based learning as a success and intend to expand the facilities and broaden its application. As more computer work stations become available and the number of tutorials increases, we will have to answer the philosophical question of how much of our teaching time should be allocated to computer based learning. Clearly we have not yet reached the limit of the students' enthusiasm for this learning activity.
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Huxham, G. J. (1992). Pulmonary Physiology 1. Basics. Brisbane: QUCAL Educational Software, University of Queensland.
Huxham, G. J. (1992). Pulmonary Physiology 2. Perfusion. Brisbane: QUCAL Educational Software, University of Queensland.
Huxham, G. J. (1992). Pulmonary Physiology 3. Ventilation. Brisbane: QUCAL. Educational Software, University of Queensland.
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Huxham, G. J. (1992). Pulmonary Physiology 6. Blood Gases. Brisbane: QUCAL Educational Software, University of Queensland.
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Oelrichs, B. A. (1992). How do the Labyrinths work? Brisbane: QUCAL Educational Software, University of Queensland.
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Oelrichs, B. A. (1992). Cardiovascular Function. Brisbane: QUCAL Educational Software, University of Queensland.
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|Authors: Graham Huxham is a senior lecturer, Bev Oelrichs and Eileen Beswick are both specialist tutors, all are members of the academic staff of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at the University of Queensland. They see the development of innovative teaching resources as an important part of their role in the University. With this in mind they have been involved in the development of audiovisual and computer based learning material for a number of years. The videos are intended to facilitate access to scarce resources. The CBL material is intended to provide a personal tutorial. Joint and separate publications include instructional videotapes, CBL tutorials, papers on the properties of instruments of assessment, the contribution of personality to academic and professional achievement and papers in the fields of physiology, biochemistry and biophysics. They can be contacted at: Dept of Physiology and Pharmacology, University of Queensland, St. Lucia Qld 4072.
Please cite as: Huxham, G., Oelrichs, B. and Beswick, E. (1992). Introducing computer based education. In J. G. Hedberg and J. Steele (eds), Educational Technology for the Clever Country: Selected papers from EdTech'92, 31-38. Canberra: AJET Publications. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/edtech92/huxham.html