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The use of technology as an alternative to traditional lecturing methods

John Waddick
Otago Polytechnic
Dunedin, New Zealand

Following concerns with traditional education methods involving students as passive participants in learning, a classroom computer environment was developed using a computer program written by the lecturer. It has radically changed the methods of learning in chemistry at Otago Polytechnic, with the lecturer acting as a facilitator for learning, and the computer providing an instruction and feedback role. The computer is used as a tool which takes over many of the traditional teacher directed lecturing activities and is the major resource for the 34 week course of 170 hours, providing notes, interactive questions, simulations, digital video and some assessment. The design of the computer environment has also provided social benefits, with feedback from students showing a very good acceptance of the program. A key aspect of the program is the ability for the students to be in control of their learning. An action research project was undertaken in 1993 to enable the students to develop the environment to suit their own needs. This paper provides an overview of the project.

The use of the computer for the enhancement of learning is not a new concept, from the early 1970s there has been a desire for the computer to take an increasing role in education. However, in many cases unrealistic expectations have been placed on the computer's role and unfortunately in many cases the ideal has not been realised to the extent expected. The use of the computer as a tool is one of three main paradigms that Taylor (1980) identifies concerning the use of computers in education. The tool model sees the computer as a learning resource in which many routine tasks are passed to the computer to free up capability for more creative actions. Lai (in Lai and McMillan, 1992) regards computers as tools that can facilitate active learning.

The lack of suitable software is cited by McMillan and Lai (1990) as a problem with the use of computers in education. They view the lack of educational theory behind many computer programs as a major problem in software design. Jalaluddin (1990) identifies problems with both the content and human interface of many existing educational programs. The desire for multi-disciplinary integration of the computer frequently appears in articles concerning computer aided learning (Vlugter 1988) but there are few published examples available which use the computer as a substantive part of a non computer science teaching program.

Hopper (1988) says there must be real benefits in using the computer over other methods, too often the computer in an educational setting is used merely as an expensive typewriter or as an electronic 'page turner', achieving results that could have been achieved with textbooks at a fraction of the cost (Poison 1990). To this end the use of the computer at Otago Polytechnic needed to be related to the advantages in using a computer over other media. According to Kozma (1987) these include factors such as the ability for feedback, the enabling of students to work at their own pace as well as possibilities for simulation, sound, animation and now digital video. According to Hopper (1988) the computer should not be a barrier to the learning process, it should be 'invisible'. This is important as at Otago Polytechnic we have a number of students involved in second chance education who have real fears in relation to computers. The interface between the computer and the student is also viewed as very important (Dawson 1988) so there needs to be careful consideration of the access into the program.

In the author's own subject, a concern for educators is recognised by Viola et al. (1993) as the large amount of memory required in the learning of organic chemistry with many traditional textbooks providing only a one dimensional learning experience. Lieberman and Linn ( 1991 ) suggest that a computer environment can promote the motivational factors of self perception, intrinsic motivation and mental effort The computer may improve self perceptions by enabling students to be more successful and to learn from failure in a private way. The teacher's own philosophy about learning will influence the teaching strategies, the teacher must be prepared to accept that their role will change within the classroom and accept that some of their traditional control will be relinquished to the student. The physical classroom arrangement will contribute to the success of a CAL program as social interactions will be affected by the ease of movement and the amount of eye contact within the CAL environment.

Ryba and Anderson ( 1990) promote the view that social interaction should be actively encouraged and that a computer environment can be developed to provide improved interaction and a great deal of cooperative learning. They make the point that there many potential benefits of increased social interaction, such as creating positive independence, where members of a group will learn to rely on other members. With an apparent link between social factors in learning and cognitive development, a social constructivist perspective on learning as described by Solomon (1987) and Vygotsky (1978) that uses the computer as a tool, may provide possibilities for cognitive growth.

At Otago Polytechnic we are attempting to be mindful of as many of these factors as possible as all too often the attractiveness of the technology encourages the use of computers without the support of sound educational theory (Gilardi, 1992). The objective is to provide research based, effective, and 'computer advantageous' instruction for the students.

Course information

The program is being used in the chemistry stage three component of the New Zealand Certificate of Science (NZCS) at Otago Polytechnic and may be accessed from the teaching classroom or from the 24 hour open access suite. This course contains mainly full time students with a few part time people working as technicians in industry or at the University. There is a strong emphasis on applied and analytical chemistry as the majority will be involved in practical laboratory work. The course is split into two main areas, all taken by the same teacher. The practical sessions still remain, but the entire theory time utilises the computer environment with all students having a computer on their desk.

Operation of the environment

At the beginning of each classroom session there is an 10-15 minute introduction by the teacher on the 'theme of the day' where the topic is introduced, discussed and any questions answered. Then the students use the computer for the remainder of the class.

For many parts of the course, the computer generates its own questions on the particular topic, the student entering their responses directly into the computer. The student is informed (with sound if the student requires) if the answer is right or wrong, the student being able to access the methods used to obtain the correct answer. The students continue at their own pace until they are satisfied that they are confident in the particular area, typically making their own decision as to whether they have mastered the topic.

Another method is used for a topic which involves a large amount of rote learning. Each page is missing some information. The students may either look up the missing information in a textbook to complete their notes or they may try a shortcut by answering a cryptic question found on each page. The cryptic questions may involve a science word or some personal details about the staff or students. The objective is to get students interacting on a personal level with not only their particular instructor but with the technical staff, the library staff and each other.

Coupled with the main computer textbook part there are a number of simulations. these involve the simulation of various phenomena and operation of laboratory apparatus. The use of the simulations is another of the advantages of the use of computers, especially in chemistry there are advantages in the forms of safety, speed, convenience and reproducibility of results. The simulations available are very interactive, providing a lot of 'what if' possibilities and make full use of graphics, animation and sound. The program has greatly reduced the instruction time in the laboratory, In most cases there has been no need to spend time explaining the operation of various pieces of apparatus at all.

Digital movies are also used within the computer program as part of the multi media approach to learning, these typically demonstrating a specific technique or the operation of a piece of apparatus. The use of digital video may be an important part of future initiatives to improve access to education and training. There are games and sounds that are also used and there is the extensive use of humour throughout the program.

Course assessment

While the assessment for most of the theory component of the course is done with a traditional test, the assessment for the organic section is computer managed. A test bank generates multi choice questions and the students select the desired answer. When the student obtains a score of 25 correct in a row then they are able to enter their name and a certificate will be printed. The taking of the test is done at any time but the certificate must be signed by another member of the class. This is to prevent the use of notes and to encourage social interaction.

All assignments are computer generated and are used to enhance learning rather than to be just an assessment exercise. The computer sets the assignments individually, grades them and records the marks that the student direct mails. The students may do the assignments at any time and have unlimited attempts. This has resulted in virtually all students completing assignments on time and to a high standard.


There has been a wealth of information that has come from this project, a detailed description is beyond the capabilities of this paper but it is worthwhile to outline some of the findings and benefits.

Some of the findings are that:

Some benefits that have been identified so far by the students themselves include the following: Some other specific advantages that have been discovered are the increased empowerment of women with children, some of our students have been doing the course by arranging their time to use the computer in the weekends when it is easier to arrange family child care. Also a student with a visual impairment was pleased to find that she was now able to undertake a mainstream course that she could control, (type size, pace etc.) rather than having to be under the control of the lecturer as in the past.

Future possibilities

The program has only been in use for just over a year and has probably raised as many questions as it answers but is being shown so far to provide an exciting area for exploration in learning with technology. The program or similar ones for other subjects could be used as part of a distance education course, to make distance education more interactive and provide more feedback. There could also be possibilities for the conjoint use of interactive television, with work periodically outlined over two way television that then leads onto self directed work using the computer.


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Author: John Waddick is a lecturer within the Educational Technology Unit, Department of Applied Science and Technology at Otago Polytechnic. His interests include the use of computers in education, action research and science and technology education. He divides his time between the research and development of educational applications of technology and the teaching of analytical chemistry. Address for correspondence: Otago Polytechnic, Private Bag 1910, Dunedin, New Zealand.

Please cite as: Waddick, J. (1994). The use of technology as an alternative to traditional lecturing methods. In J. Steele and J. G. Hedberg (eds), Learning Environment Technology: Selected papers from LETA 94, 344-347. Canberra: AJET Publications.

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