Thoughts About Tools & Technology
& General Student Perceptions
PowerPoint Lecture Presentations &
Video Presentations & Streaming Video
surveyed throughout this project expressed some general reactions
to instructional technologies. The following sections consider
student reflections on specific tools.
general, instructional technologies are:
Through library resources (databases, online instructional
web site design & navigation
the greater access & convenience of computer format
(i.e., email, web site, etc.)
facilitating fast & convenient feedback from instructors,
staff, & other students
providing access to useful links & further resources
When glitches & technical problems occur
specific tools are awkward (e.g., online submission
of homework or electronic peer review)
the web is distracting (too much information)
to a lack of face-to-face interaction with peers &
general, students in the SON perceive instructional technologies
to be an important part of their educational experiences at
the UW. The use of email, course web sites, and electronic
discussion boards have enhanced student learning by broadening
access to information and contact with peers and instructors.
The following pages address some of the technological tools
Value Increased Contact with Peers and Instructors
was cited as the most convenient way to exchange information
with peers and instructors. Students find email to be a useful
way of getting clarification and asking specific questions.
Students Like Web Flexibility
Many students commented that course web
sites allowed them to complete course components off campus.
This allows a more flexible learning schedule for students
with families or long commutes.
Students Find Time Management
Perhaps because of the wealth of information
a course web site can provide, students often found that managing
their time was difficult. This was especially true when course
materials were made available exclusively on the web – some
students said they did not have constant internet access and
therefore found it difficult to complete assignments on time.
Get Frustrated By Technology Glitches
technology glitches formed the major complaint early in courses
taught primarily online, by the mid-point of the term most
students had gotten used to the technology. Students appreciate
instructors that acknowledge that technologies can/will fail,
and that are willing to be flexible.
Throughout the data collection period, students repeatedly
mentioned course web sites as something that was helping them
learn. For example, in one class nearly half (48%, n=37)
of the students who responded explicitly mentioned web sites
as one of the tools that was helping them learn. In other
courses as well, students commented that a course web site
with clear, organized information was a great benefit to them
as a means of making sense of the materials being presented
general, course web sites are:
they are formatted clearly and simply
they present useful supplementary links and resources
helping students organize materials for the course
providing convenient way to exchange information (e.g.,
class notes, assignments, etc.)
they are not updated in a timely manner
similar information is presented on several different
pages (e.g., assignments listed in two places)
important information is embedded too deeply (i.e.,
when a student must follow too many links to get to
the relevant link)
there is too much information and too many external
printing materials becomes overly complicated and
Appreciate Course Web Sites That Centralize Information
In general, students find course web sites a convenient
and easy place to locate important course information and
to keep track of course assignments, etc. Students were particularly
appreciative of instructors’ syllabi online for easy reference
(without having to carry around the paper copy).
Nevertheless, when course web sites are perceived
to be disorganized or not updated in a timely manner, students
become frustrated with them. This is particularly apparent
when course assignments and due dates are not updated online.
Value Web Sites for Supplementary Information
In addition to providing an easily accessible organizational
tool, course web sites were praised by students for providing
additional information and further resources. Many students
appreciated course web sites for providing avenues for exploring
topics of particular interest to them. For example:
Nevertheless, some students had difficulty determining
how to use the wealth of information presented on course web
sites. This was particularly evident in students near the
beginning of an online/distance education course. Thus, this
suggests that one of the challenges for distance learning
is to set clear guidelines about the amount of work expected
Student comments do suggest that reading online (with
hyperlinks) is a new skill that is difficult to master. Researchers
in composition studies and elsewhere have suggested that online
reading involves non-linear processing and digesting larger
quantities of information in each sitting.
Use Course Web Sites to Organize Information
In general, student comments suggest that course
web sites are seen as an important organizational tool. Not
only are students relying on web sites to present the major
themes of a course, they are also using them to coordinate
and structure their own studying.
Become Frustrated when Printing Materials is Inefficient &
Students report that having course materials online
is a useful way of distributing information. However, many
students found the printing costs – additional time and money
spent – were a significant impediment to their learning.
Some students requested that materials be available in a convenient
course pack at the beginning of the quarter.
PowerPoint presentations were often cited as a useful
way of organizing course lectures and providing a concrete
guide for study. Students appreciated the convenience of
printing off lecture notes before class, and the clarity of
presentations formatted in this manner.
general, PowerPoint presentations are:
the lecture notes are available in a timely manner
slides are not overcrowded
slides are sometimes more legible than handwritten
they help identify the lecture’s main points
notes are not available in time to print before class
the slides are overcrowded and confusing
professors read directly from the slides
professors do not take the time to draw diagrams and
explain the processes involved
Students find that PowerPoint presentations are useful
for their study primarily because they provide a written artifact
of lectures. Printing class notes from the slides (usually
posted on course web sites) was found to be important to many
students. Nevertheless, some students were less impressed
with this technology, primarily because they found it either
too passive or not available in a timely manner (i.e., in
time to be printed before class).
Appreciate PowerPoint Notes for Streamlining Lectures
Students find that by printing the notes from a PowerPoint
lecture before class they can spend more time actually listening
to the lecture and filling in details on their print-outs.
This represents a shift in student note-taking habits (and
potentially in their ability to recognize key points in oral
Some students commented on the change in their learning/study
habits due to the availability of PowerPoint lecture notes.
These changes included being more dependent on the notes and
also being able to miss some classes and keep up with the
Appreciate PowerPoint Slides That Are Clear
Students report that the standardization of PowerPoint
slides is a useful tool in their learning. They also appreciate
the legibility of the slides.
However, when slides are overcrowded or presented
too quickly, students express frustration with the tool.
These comments suggest that PowerPoint is a useful tool for
students, but that it requires instructors to learn new strategies
for conveying information.
Find PowerPoint Lectures to be More Visual and Interesting
Students say that the use of PowerPoint enhances
their learning when the slides present information visually.
Knowing that any course includes students with various learning
styles, PowerPoint can be a useful tool to present information
for visual learners.
On the other hand, some students commented that PowerPoint
lecture presentations actually decreased their visual learning
in classes. In particular, this was found in classes where
the slides present a diagram that in a traditional classroom
might have to be drawn by the professor while lecturing.
Some students expressed disappointment in the static image
on the slide, preferring instructors to be more dynamic.
Find PowerPoint Causes Technical Difficulties
Many students commented on the amount of time they
spent downloading PowerPoint slides and the inconvenience
of this. Students also noted the expense of printing the
many pages of notes – some suggested they would prefer to
pay for photocopies from a campus copy center.
Email has become a fact of life for many at colleges
and universities, including in the SON. Students suggest
that email is a useful tool for contacting professors and
classmates and for getting questions asked and answered efficiently.
general, email is:
enabling students and instructors to communicate efficiently
increasing the contact between students, instructors,
helping to build classroom community
rules of consideration and etiquette are violated
students do not have time to access email regularly
Value Email for Efficiency & Increased Contact
appreciate the ability to email professors and peers with
questions and comments. Not only does this help answer questions
that student have, it increases their sense of community and
connectedness with their courses. Students particularly appreciate
prompt email feedback.
some students in distance learning courses commented that
they missed the face-to-face interaction, email was seen to
be a useful substitute.
Students Are Frustrated by Time
recognized the efficiency of email as a communication tool,
but they also felt frustrated when faculty took a while to
respond to their questions. Similarly, students felt that
they were being required to check email constantly in order
to keep up with course expectations. These comments suggest
that instructors are best served by establishing email “office
hours” or at least setting guidelines for when/how often they
will be checking email, and when they expect students to do
Students Recognize the Need for
students commented on the need to maintain courtesy through
email exchanges. When emails are posted to lists that are
meant for single recipients, students became frustrated.
Online discussion is a useful way of supplementing
classroom discussions. For distance education, this tool
becomes the primary source of peer interaction. Students
enrolled in both distance and traditional courses have begun
to use online discussion more regularly and have found that
it provides a space for more reflection on course materials.
general, online discussion is:
allowing students time to think before they respond
to questions and/or each other
allowing students who are less comfortable speaking
in class to participate
extending classroom conversations
providing all students with the chance to see responses
to individual questions
allowing questions to be asked and answered at any
it is inconvenient to check (i.e., one more online
account to manage)
it adds additional reading to the course
it takes additional time/creates additional work
it is difficult to print online discussions (for future
Over the past year (2002), CIDR and Catalyst have
collaborated on a pedagogical guide for instructors interested
in using the UW online discussion tool (EPost) in their classroom.
The guide provides useful questions to structure the use of
the tool, as well as practical guidelines and examples. This
guide was developed using data gathered from students about
their experiences, and with advice from a variety of UW faculty.
The guide is available at: http://depts.washington.edu/cidrweb/EPostGuide.html.
In addition, the CIDR Teaching and Learning Bulletin
entitled “Engaging Students in Discussion Online” has been
included following this section (page 4-15).
Discussion Furthers Classroom Learning
Many students feel that online discussion tools can
extend the discussions that happen in class. This helps them
gain a deeper understanding of material, and it can also provide
a chance for students to apply course content to their own
experiences. In particular, students appreciated the variety
of perspectives that were shared in online discussions.
Some students, however, feel that online discussions
add to the burden of course work and do not add to their learning.
This was often due to the inconvenience of checking an additional
place for course materials.
Have Time to Think Before Composing
The most substantial learning benefit of online discussion
seems to be the opportunities it provides for students to
take the time to reflect on questions before answering them.
In one class, students reflected explicitly on their
online discussions throughout the quarter. These students
agreed that one of the major benefits of online discussion
was the chance to think about one’s response before sharing
it with the group. In addition, these students commented
that it was easier, especially for second-language students,
to participate online than in class. Some students in NURS
546 preferred the spontaneous face-to-face interaction, while
others were definitely more comfortable with online discussion.
Again, this suggests that students have varying levels of
comfort with technologies and classroom interactions.
Students are nearly unanimous in their appreciation
for library databases and web research tools. These tools
allow students to be more flexible about their research and
conduct immediate research from remote locations. The only
negative comments about these tools were from students who
were frustrated that not all journals had online components.
general, library databases and web tools are:
- By providing immediate,
convenient access to a variety of information
- By being well supported
by Health Sciences Library Staff
When something is not online or inaccessible
Appreciate the Convenience of Databases and Web Research Tools
Students were very likely to respond that library
databases were one of the major contributions to their learning
in all of the courses surveyed for this report. Students
particularly appreciated the ability to do preliminary research
from home, and the convenience of downloadable articles.
are Frustrated by Journals Not Online
Because the online capabilities are expanding rapidly,
students often get frustrated when something is not available
online. One of the factors contributing to this frustration
seems to be that not all students are aware of the various
passwords that are required for access to some journals –
this is information that Janet Schnall and other Health Sciences
Librarians are instrumental in disseminating to students.
Some students had difficulty connecting to the library database
due to their internet service provider or other modem difficulties.
These difficulties suggest that not every student has the
same access to tools, and that instructors should be patient
with students who have less facility with computers.
Do More Web Research
Throughout this study, students reported an increasing
reliance on web research for their courses. This is undoubtedly
due to the increased amount of information available online.
Nevertheless, it does suggest a shift in the learning habits
of students that is worth noting. Faculty that want students
to physically visit the library are likely to meet resistance.
In addition, students are not always familiar with the limitations
of web based research. Some useful web sites for introducing
students to the critical analysis of information presented
on the web are:
Libraries: Finding Information on the Internet
Ithaca College Library: Critical Thinking About What You See
on the Web
UCLA Library: Critical Thinking About WWW Resources
Students find that video presentations are useful
in some situations – especially when a real-life demonstration
is impractical or impossible. Streaming video presentations
(especially of library database navigation) were highly rated,
though some technical difficulties persist. Nevertheless,
students appreciate videos as one component to their learning
general, video presentations are:
they provide a “real” example of a problem or procedure
they can be replayed at the convenience of the student
they are used wholly in place of dynamic lectures
they are inefficient or cause too many technical difficulties
Like Videos That Are Active
Students were particularly appreciative of video
presentations that were active (e.g., streaming video) and
that provided examples that would otherwise be impossible
to view (e.g., surgery).