Publishers of major textbooks are increasingly producing CD-ROMs that not only contain a hypertext version of the textbook, but also include ancillaries like study guides, tutorial software, worked solutions, videos and simulations. The trend is towards students having enormous resources at their disposal at home to help them learn. However many students have insufficient time or study skills to make effective use of textbooks, so how can we expect them to make effective use of information packed CD-ROMs?
CD-Physics contains all these resources on one CD-ROM and was a required purchase for first year physics students at Edith Cowan University in 1998. Survey results indicated that students did not choose to access most of its features on a regular basis if at all. How can instructors help students take better advantage of this student centred resource?
In addition, the profile, experiences and expectations of students are changing. The rapid growth in student participation levels in Australian universities (64% for the decade 1982-1992) has ensured diversity in the student population. McInnes, James & McNaught (1995, p. x) in their study of first year students' experiences on campus assert that "More students now require assistance beyond what was once the norm". They also note (1995, p. 3) that 53% of students surveyed said they studied the minimum of what was required by their teachers even though 83% (of all students) had a strong desire to do well in their subjects. Students experiences and expectations with university life in Western Australia has often been a topic of discussion at previous teaching and learning forums. De la Harpe, Radloff, and Parker (1997) discussed issues arising from an upward trend in the amount of paid work undertaken by students including the (negative) affect on student's academic performance, and the implications for curriculum planning and instructional strategies. Cooper (1998) reported on commencing first year students' apprehensions where he found that many students worry that they will not be able to keep up with the work and would find it difficult to ask a tutor for help.
Given this background, how are students going to cope with the enormous amounts of information contained in comprehensive computer based resources? How are instructors with their pedagogic and content knowledge going to empower a diverse population of flexible and individual learners make effective and efficient use of these resources? How will the increased availability of sophisticated educational resources in the student's home redefine the instructor's role over the next decade?
In this dilemma session, a short description of one such package, CD-Physics, will be presented to illustrate the emerging capabilities of computer based educational resources. A summary of how students actually used CD-Physics at home will then be discussed. Although it is intended that this conference dilemma session focus on the general dilemma(s) these resources present instructors, any specific suggestions for CD-Physics will be gratefully received.
Figure 1: A page from the textbook
Tools exist which enable students to use the electronic textbook much like a regular textbook. They can highlight text in a variety of fluorescent colours (two segments are highlighted in the first paragraph in Figure 1), bookmark pages (see the ribbon at top right in Figure 1) and write their own notes using the computer notepad.
Figure 2 shows an end of chapter problem. The icons on the right of the screen provide a wide variety of help for students when attempting exercises and problems:
Figure 2: An exercise from the textbook
Students with CD-Physics therefore have a far wider and more accessible range of help options than students with just the textbook.
Hard copies of content pages, note pages, problems and their solutions are readily available through the print option.
Figure 3 shows a typical simulation. Each Simulation has audio instruction that explain the situation and give directions on using the simulation to the student. In this simulation, the student is challenged to calculate the minimum speed needed for a stuntman to successfully jump between rooftops (from left to right). The student inputs an initial velocity, clicks on start, and then watches a man either making the jump or falling into trash cans below. All simulations can be accessed through content pages (see Figure 1) or through a simulation menu.
Figure 3: The stuntman simulation
The interactive learningware tutorials (see Figure 4) are only available for about 5 problems in each chapter. Small steps have been designed to help students understand the concepts and apply their knowledge to solve the problem. It is very interactive and far more detailed than the worked solutions. The number of steps needed to fully solve the problem does depend on the student. All interactive learningware tutorials are accessible through problem pages (see Figure 2) or through a problems menu.
Figure 4: An interactive learningware tutorial
There were 21 respondents for the Physics of Motion unit in the first semester. Over 80% agreed or strongly agreed with the following statements:
They were also asked about their use of the textbook. Most confirmed that they used the textbook rather and CD-Physics when:
The author, as the students' lecturer, did not integrate CD-Physics into his teaching (apart from setting homework problems that had worked solutions on the CD-ROM). A low profile of the resource could substantially reduce its importance and relevance in the eyes of students and contribute to the reported low levels of usage.
In the second semester of 1998, the same survey instrument was given to SCP1141 Physics for Engineering 1 students. For these students however, two short non-assessable assignments, which required access to the study guide, interactive tutorials and simulations, were set for the early part of the semester. The intention was to make students more aware of CD-Physics and a significant increase in usage of a wider variety of features was reported for:
The interactive multimedia components of the package were also popular with students, but these were not considered as helpful as the worked solutions in helping them learn physics. Other potentially useful features were rarely accessed by students, although an increase for engineering students in the second semester could be linked to the setting of two assignments requiring CD-Physics. In any case, the author has (at last) found funding to purchase a notebook computer which will make it possible to take advantage of computer based teaching and learning resources in lectures on a regular basis. The effect of this approach on students' usage of CD-Physics will be investigated.
Traditionally, the instructor's role has been to provide a path along which students' can progress and learn on campus and at home. Homework in physics would typically include some reading and problem solving exercises. However, these educational resources (and in particular the more sophisticated packages which will follow) are radically changing the complexity of the situation with students having:
de la Harpe, B., Radloff, A. and Parker, L. (1997). Time spent working and studying in the first year: What do students tell us? In Pospisil, R. and Willcoxson, L. (Eds), Learning Through Teaching, p73-77. Proceedings of the 6th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Murdoch University, February 1997. Perth: Murdoch University. http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/asu/pubs/tlf/tlf97/harpe73.html
Halliday, D., Resnick, R., & Walker, J. (1997). Fundamentals of Physics, 5e extended plus CD-Physics version 2.0. New York: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 04171339830. [The Australian distributors for John Wiley & Sons are: Jacaranda Wiley, PO Box 1226, Milton Qld 4064, Tel (07) 3859 9755]
McInnis, C, James, R, & McNaught, C (1995). First year on campus: Diversity in the initial experiences of Australian undergraduates. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.
|Please cite as: Swan, G. I. (1999). Information overload: How can we help students? In K. Martin, N. Stanley and N. Davison (Eds), Teaching in the Disciplines/ Learning in Context, 403-408. Proceedings of the 8th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, The University of Western Australia, February 1999. Perth: UWA. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1999/swan.html|