Research and development of Internet-based courseware in higher education.
Curriculum experts, instructional technologists and teachers are looking at computer technology to address many of the inadequacies that plague traditional teaching. These inadequacies include practical limitations and outdated educational philosophies that encourage rote learning and passive transfer of information from teacher to student via the typical lecture-based classroom. Often educational technology is used as an add-on to make content available to students. However, technological tools should rather be used to facilitate productivity and communication in the modern classroom. In addition, the introduction of technology into the classroom can be used to completely transform the traditional lecture into interactive computer-based learning environments. Provided that innovation can be sustained and supported over a period of time, the creative use of technology should enhance sound pedagogical principles rather than replace it. This project reports on the development and evaluation of two, second year, Biology Internet-based software packages used by students in a computer-based constructivist environment that replaced the traditional lecture based model. The first part of the project involved the evaluation of a number of Internet-courses to identify appropriate design and development criteria. This information was then used to create an Educational Software Evaluation Tool (ESET). The courses on carbohydrate and lipid metabolism were then developed in conjunction with subject experts. Evaluations of these learning environments were conducted via paper-based questionnaires, student interviews and student evaluations using ESET. Additional quantitative data was obtained by comparing examination results with the previous year to measure the impact of the technology on learning outcomes. The results of the software evaluation indicated that students found the user interface of the software products easy to use and navigate. Students also rated construction of information from a searchable database highly. This project showed that student learning was improved by self-paced, user-controlled, non-linear software usage. The results also showed that personal information construction by students improved understanding of concepts and led to deeper learning and acquisition of specific skills such as problem solving, information navigation and self-management. Giving students responsibility for their own learning was also shown to be beneficial to them as a life-long learning skill. Evaluation of the learning environment by students indicated that they valued the permanent availability of Internet-based information highly and felt that having assistants (demonstrators and the subject expert) helped them to direct and guide their learning. The results also revealed that students learnt better in groups and that members of the group participated in communicating and constructing shared knowledge. The role of the teacher in this project was transformed from information provider to information facilitator, as the teacher became an additional resource and had more time to spend answering specific questions and problems. Evaluation of student behaviour via interviews revealed that student attitudes were improved and that they enjoyed working with the software. Students found the environment comfortable to work in, were motivational and thought the system was a highly effective way of preparing for the examinations. Students also regarded this active form of learning as far more effective than traditional lectures, although they felt that introductory lectures could still play a role in providing them with direction and focus. Quantitative analysis indicated that students understood key concepts in both the courses, and examination performances revealed that students performed better in both the computer-based courses than in the lecture-based courses for this particular year. Further analysis showed that students performed better than the previous year with respect to the Carbohydrate Metabolism course, but not for the Lipid Metabolism Course (no significant difference). Quantitative and qualitative comparisons between the Carbohydrate and Lipid Metabolism course identified that the Carbohydrate Metabolism course offered students with dynamic content that fostered knowledge construction from a searchable database with easy navigation tools, whereas the Lipid Metabolism course consisted of pre-structured static content that students found difficult to search. This result indicates that interactive components foster constructivist based learning skills are an essential part on on-line learning environments. The results of this study include a model for designing, developing and evaluating education software and concluded that technology based on sound pedagogy can be successfully and effectively integrated into the classroom and form the basis for future prolonged development and learning.