When I started reading this paper I think I was expecting it to be about students' perceptions of e-learning in the sense of courses delivered wholly or partially online, or course which make use of cutting-edge technologies. Indeed the introduction to the paper actually makes the point that "the emergence of new forms of mobile, internet and social software technologies, which enable distributed collaboration suggests we are reaching a turning point in the way technology is used for learning."
As it turns out the research is basically concerned with students' use and perceptions of technology in relation to their studies. As such, the focus is largely on fairly well-established technologies including internet searches, word processing, PowerPoint, email, VLEs, instant messaging and so on. There is little consideration of Web 2.0 and social networking.
I didn't really think the findings were surprising. The students who participated in the research were all studying on traditional courses where they would be expected to use the various technologies as tools to help them in their studies. I would expect all students entering HE to have basic competences in the use of these technologies, and I think it is not unreasonable to expect students to use them as an integral part of their studies.
The following points stood out for me:
- It was apparent from the paper that in most of the courses studied, technology was used as a supplement to a traditional course, rather than as a core part of the course. There were references to e-portfolios on the medical courses, but it seemed that in most cases a VLE was used to store course materials, and students were expected to produce their work using Word and / or PowerPoint. The paper did not therefore consider the perceptions of students who were experiencing a course being delivered wholly or partly online.
- The benefits in terms of accessibility were highlighted. I think this is a really important aspect of technology – the way in which online access can enable students to engage with course materials at a time and place to suit themselves.
- It is apparent that students entering HE have different levels of competence in using basic tools such as Word and PowerPoint. Virtually all students will have basic competence but some students will have much more advanced levels of competence. Universities need to consider how they can provide support to those students who need to enhance their skills in these areas. I actually think this is something which can be delivered very easily online, so that those students who need help can follow some basic tutorials, whilst students who are already competent need not undertake the tutorials.
- Virtually all students who enter HE consider themselves competent in using internet search facilities. However this study (along with other research we have covered previously, such as the CIBER/UCL study) indicates that many students' information skills are not quite as sophisticated as they might think. Again, I think this is something that Universities need to address right at the start of a course by providing support. Online tutorials could also be used for this. (Some of the OpenLearn OER materials could be ideal)