SON Home | UW Home | MyUW | UW Bothell | UW Tacoma | HealthLinks | Contact the School | Search SON | Internal

Thoughts About Tools & Technology

Overview & General Student Perceptions
Course Web Sites
PowerPoint Lecture Presentations & Notes
Online Discussion
Library Databases
Video Presentations & Streaming Video

Overview & General Student Perceptions Top of Page

Students surveyed throughout this project expressed some general reactions to instructional technologies.  The following sections consider student reflections on specific tools. 

In general, instructional technologies are:

Student Learning

Detracting from
Student Learning

  •   Through library resources (databases, online instructional videos, etc.)
  • Through web site design & navigation
  • Through the greater access & convenience of computer format (i.e., email, web site, etc.)
  • By facilitating fast & convenient feedback from instructors, staff, & other students
  • By providing access to useful links & further resources
  • When glitches & technical problems occur
  • When specific tools are awkward (e.g., online submission of homework or electronic peer review)
  • Because the web is distracting (too much information)
  • Due to a lack of face-to-face interaction with peers & instructors

In 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 individually. 

Students Value Increased Contact with Peers and Instructors

Email 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 Difficult

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.

 Students Get Frustrated By Technology Glitches

Though 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.

Course Web Sites Top of Page

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 in class.

In general, course web sites are:

Student Learning

Detracting from
Student Learning

  • When they are formatted clearly and simply
  • When they present useful supplementary links and resources
  • By helping students organize materials for the course
  • By providing convenient way to exchange information (e.g., class notes, assignments, etc.)
  • When they are not updated in a timely manner
  • When similar information is presented on several different pages (e.g., assignments listed in two places)
  • When important information is embedded too deeply (i.e., when a student must follow too many links to get to the relevant link)
  • When there is too much information and too many external links provided
  • When printing materials becomes overly complicated and time consuming

Students 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.

Students 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 of students. 

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.

Students 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. 

 Students Become Frustrated when Printing Materials is Inefficient & Expensive

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 Lecture Presentations & Notes Top of Page

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.

In general, PowerPoint presentations are:

Student Learning

Detracting from
Student Learning

  • When the lecture notes are available in a timely manner
  • When slides are not overcrowded
  • Because slides are sometimes more legible than handwritten overheads
  • Because they help identify the lecture’s main points
  • When notes are not available in time to print before class
  • When the slides are overcrowded and confusing
  • When professors read directly from the slides
  • When 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).

Students 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 presentations). 

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 course work.

Students 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. 

Students 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. 

Students 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 Top of Page

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.

In general, email is:

Student Learning

Detracting from
Student Learning

  • By enabling students and instructors to communicate efficiently
  • By increasing the contact between students, instructors, and peers
  • By helping to build classroom community
  • When rules of consideration and etiquette are violated
  • When students do not have time to access email regularly

Students Value Email for Efficiency & Increased Contact

Students 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. 

Though 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 Management Issues

Students 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 the same. 

Students Recognize the Need for Email Etiquette

Some 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 Top of Page

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. 

In general, online discussion is:

Student Learning

Detracting from
Student Learning

  • By allowing students time to think before they respond to questions and/or each other
  • By allowing students who are less comfortable speaking in class to participate
  • By extending classroom conversations
  • By providing all students with the chance to see responses to individual questions
  • By allowing questions to be asked and answered at any time
  • Because it is inconvenient to check (i.e., one more online account to manage)
  • Because it adds additional reading to the course
  • Because it takes additional time/creates additional work
  • Because it is difficult to print online discussions (for future reference)

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: In addition, the CIDR Teaching and Learning Bulletin entitled “Engaging Students in Discussion Online” has been included following this section (page 4-15).

Online 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.

Students 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.

Library Databases Top of Page

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.

In general, library databases and web tools are:

Student Learning

Detracting from
Student Learning

  • 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

Students 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. 

Students 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.

Students 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:

UW Library: Research Guide

UC Berkeley 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

Video Presentations & Streaming Video Top of Page

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 environment.

In general, video presentations are:

Student Learning

Detracting from
Student Learning

  • When they provide a “real” example of a problem or procedure
  • When they can be replayed at the convenience of the student
  • When they are used wholly in place of dynamic lectures
  • When they are inefficient or cause too many technical difficulties

Students 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). 

Students (like the second respondent above) were frustrated when online video presentations were difficult to access, or they had technical problems (e.g., the videos are blurry). 

Easy to Print Version

Copyright © 2010-2014 University of Washington
1959 NE Pacific Street, Seattle, Washington 98195