Enhancing e-learning at a Tanzanian university

Reference

Sydney, E. M. (2013). Enhancing student learning using Web 2.0 technologies at a Tanzanian University. HKU Theses Online (HKUTO). Get it!

Design

Sydney MsondeThere is much interest in e-learning in higher education around the world, but e-courses often disappoint in the level of interaction that is expected of them. This study tested three different instructional designs involving Moodle, and the development of interaction and learning in each. The three instructional approaches were:

  • Non-interactive learning (NIL): The instructor posts materials online which are downloaded by students, but there is no online interaction among students and between students and the learning material.
  • Medium-interaction learning (MIL): In addition to the NIL environment discussion forums are provided for discussing the learning materials
  • High-interaction learning (HIL): In addition to discussion forums, podcasts are provided, which are expected to have an effect on the extent and quality of the online discussions.

102 students taking an introductory Chemistry course were assigned randomly to one of the above cohorts; they studied four topics. All cohorts studied the first topic using NIL, and then each cohort used one of the designs for the remaining three topics. The study thus not only compared the designs, but also the improvements within each design across the topics

Summary of findings

Interaction in MIL and HIL environments

NIL did not use discussion forums. For MIL note writing and interaction increased and was acceptable. For instance, the final network density (the number of potential connections between students via writing that were actually realised) was 32.9%. But for the HIL cohort this change was bigger.

SydneySlide1

Knowledge building interactions

The next table provides information about the nature of the posts.  Students in both MIL and HIL started out with few notes that built onto the ideas of others, bridged between lines of thought, and reflections, and improved. But students in the HIL cohort improved more, especially regarding bridging knowledge across themes and reflection.

SydneySlide2

Test results

A pre-test covering all content was given at the beginning of the course, and a post-test after each unit. The differences between the three designs are quite striking. Test performance only had a small increase for the NIL cohort. The MIL cohort made a substantial improvement, but the HIL made an improvement that was about twice as large.

SydneyGraph

Explanation and implications

The findings from this study provide evidence that meaningful interactions can lead to significant academic achievement. These findings are encouraging in that using forums can have a worthwhile effect over just posting instructional materials. Moreover, the students’ academic progress was even better when podcasts were incorporated in the HIL design.

An interesting finding from this study is that students developed higher order thinking even by using the discussion forum alone. However, it was not merely the provision of a discussion forum in the MIL design, and or podcasts in the HIL design, that promoted student thinking. Rather, the instructional strategies grounded in social constructivist theory built into the learning materials, and the student willingness to bring the concepts learned from the podcasts to the learning community for further idea improvement led them in achieving meaningful learning. Other factors were the instructor presence, and empowering the students with an agency for solving inquiry problems. The level of higher-order thinking thus improved from the MIL design to the HIL design in the second and third iterations.

These findings provide a broad view of the possibility of enhancing distance-learning courses that are capable of developing competent graduates who may use the acquired knowledge for socio-economic development. It has been surprising to see disappointing learning effects, when universities have sufficiently sound technological infrastructure to allow effective pedagogical designs and practices (OECD, 2015). The major implication for the design of e-learning courses in any developing or developed countries is that instructors need a conceptual change regarding what they should be doing in these kinds of design study that compares development of learning for different interventions. They need different ideas geared toward the efficient use of available technology in a way that might be productive in enhancing students’ acquire useful knowledge.