• Improving Student Learning Theory and Practice - 10 Years on

    Title: Approaches to studying and perceptions of academic quality in electronically delivered distance-learning courses

    Author(s): John T. E. Richardson and Linda Carswell
    Institution: Institute of Educational Technology, The Open University, U.K.
    Session: Research paper  

    In higher education it is widely assumed that desirable approaches to studying can be brought about by appropriate course design, teaching methods and modes of assessment. However, the empirical evidence that particular interventions will induce desirable changes in approaches to learning is limited. One possible explanation for this is that the effects of contextual factors are mediated by students' perceptions of their academic environment, and so interventions will be ineffective unless they modify students' perceptions. This assumes that there is a relationship between students' approaches to learning and their perceptions of their academic environment. Unfortunately, initial attempts to evaluate this assumption were not conspicuously successful.

    Lawless and Richardson (2002) gave the Course Experience Questionnaire (CEQ) and a short form of the Approaches to Studying Inventory (ASI) to students taking courses in distance education. In this context, the wording of both instruments had to be amended. In particular, references to "lecturers" or "teaching staff" were removed so that the items referred to the tutors or the course materials. Lawless and Richardson confirmed the intended structure of the CEQ, except that the good teaching scale split into two separate scales relating to good tutoring and good materials, respectively. Moreover, there was a close association between the students' responses to the CEQ and their responses to the ASI. Indeed, their scores on the two instruments shared nearly half of their respective variance.

    It is clearly desirable to replicate this demonstration of a link between students' approaches to learning and their perceptions of their academic environment. More important, it is necessary to evaluate whether it generalises to other modes of course delivery. Almost all the literature on approaches to studying in higher education has been concerned with students taking courses delivered either by face-to-face instruction in campus-based institutions or by correspondence (perhaps with support from broadcast materials and face-to-face tutorials in distance education. In the light of the increasing use of information technology in higher education (Alexander 2001), we investigated approaches to studying and perceptions of academic quality in electronically delivered courses.

    The CEQ and the short form of the ASI were administered to students who were taking two electronically delivered courses in distance education. Both were postgraduate courses of 6 months duration in computer science. The constituent structure of the CEQ was preserved in this distinctive context, and a second-order factor analysis confirmed its role as an index of perceived academic quality. The students' scores on the individual scales of the CEQ and the ASI shared nearly two-third of their variance. In short, approaches to studying in electronically delivered courses are strongly associated with students' perceptions of the academic quality of those courses. The internal consistency of the ASI was unsatisfactory, but the CEQ seems to be a useful tool for monitoring perceptions of academic quality across different modes of course delivery.