What students' profile suggests about their need for support

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As indicated earlier, a survey was conducted among students to get a sense of their perceptions of themselves as online learners and in particular of their capability to manage their learning. The survey comprised a questionnaire consisting five (5) questions seeking demographic information, thirty nine (39) closed items and one open-ended question. A subset of respondents was also interviewed. The questionnaire was administered to Level 1 students pursuing a distance degree in four supporting countries namely Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, Dominica and St. Lucia. For convenience, students enrolled in two courses were mainly targeted. Level 1 students were targeted since they would have recently completed orientation to online learning courses prior to enrolling in their credit courses. Out of a possible 260 students, 169 or 65% completed the questionnaire. Table 1 provides demographic data of the respondents. The questionnaire was administered towards the end of Semester 1, 2007-2008.

Table 1: Demographics of respondents Count Percent (%) Gender Male 31 18 Female 138 82 Total 169 100 Age 20 years and under 11 7 20-29 years 102 60 30-39 years 38 22 40-49 years 16 9 50 years and over 2 1 Total 169 100 Frequency logging on to online course websites Less than once per week 8 5 Once per week 12 7 Twice per week 35 21 Three times per week 29 17 More than 3 times per week 85 50 Total 169 100 Time spent online on each visit Less than one hour 38 23 Approx. 1 hour 68 40 Approx. 2 hours 45 27 Approx. 3 hours 6 4 More than 3 hours 11 7 Total 168 100

Of interest in these data is that a substantial proportion of respondents fall in the age bracket 20-29 years. Also of interest is that some 67% of respondents indicated that they logged on three times or more per week.

The closed items of the questionnaire loaded on to the factors identified in Table 2 below.

Table 2: Results of factor analysis Factors Reliability Perform basic online classroom tasks 0.80 Employ study strategies 0.76 Process information 0.74 Interact to learn 0.79 Access additional resources 0.59 Apply technical skills 0.68 Build social relationships 0.62 Overall online learning ability 0.74

The first five factors were generated from items that required students to rate themselves, using a 5-point scale, on items that reflected various activities that someone studying online would engage in. Their response indicated the extent to which they felt that they were engaging in each activity. The last three factors were based on items that looked at students overall behaviours in the online environment; these items were rated on a three-point scale and indicated whether students considered them true about themselves. Table 3 lists selected factors with their related items.

Table 3: Selected factors with examples of related items

Selected factors Some related items Perform basic online tasks I make my postings match the name of the discussion forum. My contributions online are helping to build group spirit. Apply technical skills You access your online course websites easily. You upload assignments without problems You word process essays and reports without difficulty You regularly use links to search other websites Build social relationships You send emails regularly You have made friends in your online group You have regular exchanges with your tutors Overall online learning ability You like studying online You are becoming a better student by studying online

A t test conducted on all constructs showed that the mean value observed for each was significantly different from the maximum possible value. Overall students tended not to assign a high positive rating to the statements that loaded on to the factors. (Tables 4a, 4b)

Table 4a: T-test of Section 1 - Test Value =5

t df Sig. (2-tailed) Mean Difference

Perform basic online classroom tasks -33.39 168.00 0.00 -2.15 Employ study strategies -23.74 168.00 0.00 -1.17 Process information -29.37 168.00 0.00 -2.14 Interact to learn -16.77 166.00 0.00 -1.72 Access additional resources -18.20 166.00 0.00 -1.52

Table 4b: T-test of Section 2 - Test Value=3 t df Sig. (2-tailed) Mean Difference

Apply technical skills -18.08 157.00 0.00 -0.59 Build social relationships -37.49 157.00 0.00 -1.40 Overall online learning ability -24.88 157.00 0.00 -0.98

When examined more closely, one way ANOVA showed a significant difference in terms of technical competence between those who logged on more than three times a week and those who did so less than three times a week (F1, 156=11.76, p=0.001). This result suggests that one becomes more comfortable with the technology the more frequently one interacts with it. (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Technical skills by frequency of logging on

(F1, 156=11.76, p=0.001)

In terms of building social relationships, there were significant differences among countries, with respondents from Trinidad and Tobago appearing to be the most competent in this area (F3, 154=2.86, p= 0.04).

Figure 2: Social relationships by country of student

(F3, 154=2.86, p=0.04)

Trinidad and Tobago students also stood out above students from other countries as far as overall online learning ability was concerned (F3, 154=8.30, p=0.00).

Figure 3: Overall online learning ability by country of student

(F3, 154=8.30, p=0.00)