One of my initial tasks when I started on the ‘Learning Outcomes Project’ was to develop an online resource that aimed to improve students use of their learning outcomes. My brief was as general as that, however, I knew that we wanted a resource that students would find useful as a learning support and would help them to use learning outcomes as a study tool. From our previous research activities we had already obtained a lot of data from students about how they viewed learning outcomes and how they went about incorporating them, if at all, into their study approaches. This data was presented and discussed in our published paper ‘Learning about learning outcomes: the student perspective’. So, drawing on this data and referring to relevant learning theories I developed a resource that offered students a framework for how they might use their learning outcomes to make their current study approaches more effective.
The aim of this particular blog post is not to discuss this resource as such (we are currently preparing a paper in which we do this) but to hopefully help, to some extent, those who are in the process of developing e-resources of their own. My main way of doing this is to highlight some key papers that provide some very useful and relevant insights and/or guidance about developing effective e-resources. And that word ‘effective’ is key because as you will see when you read the papers, an effective resource is one that is not only pedagogically or educationally sound, but one that has the greatest amount of ‘uptake’ from its intended audience. I would assure you as well, based on my own experiences, that this latter type of effectiveness is the hardest to achieve. I am confident that the resource I developed is well-grounded within appropriate learning theories and methods, is very educationally-sound and is a good learning support resource. In our evaluations, students also say that when they go through the resource they find it very helpful and will look to incorporate some (or all) of the guidance it offers into their study approaches. I am, then, quite reasonably assured that students who view the resource do find it useful. Therein, however, lies the biggest problem – getting it viewed by students. The resource is currently housed on our student learning support department web pages and is alongside other relevant e-resources concerning essay writing, plagiarism, etc. Currently, however, the ‘uptake’ of the resource has been, to say the least, disappointing.
Now, I deliberately phrased the problem as ‘getting [the resource] viewed by students’ rather than ‘getting students to view it’ because the latter phrasing implies a fault with the students and that they are not doing something that they should be doing, i.e. viewing all of the resources developed for them. This, of course, is completely unfair to the students. They have no obligation to view the many different types of resources provided for them, especially if these resources, whilst they may be helpful, are not mandatory to their particular courses or modules. It is our obligation, as the tutors, educational researchers/developers, etc, to develop our resources in ways that not only meet our pedagogic needs (or desires) but also satisfy our ‘end-user’ requirements (i.e. what our students specifically want and need, and when they want and need those things). From my experience, I would say that if we do not fulfil this latter obligation then no matter how good our resources are, they will inevitably become the digital equivalent of the dusty book left on the bookshelf.
In our forthcoming paper I will discuss in detail the reasons why I think getting the ‘uptake’ for our resource has been challenging. Many of these reasons will, I think, centre on the extent to which the resource does or does not satisfy our ‘end-user’ requirements. So I would urge anyone who is in the process of developing an e-resource, or is thinking that they might embark on the process soon, to read the papers below (and do even further reading around the topic) to help you make a resource that is as ‘effective’ as possible:
- Brown, C.A., Dickson, R., Humphreys, A-L., McQuillan, V. and Smears, E. 2008. Promoting academic writing/referencing skills: Outcome of an undergraduate e-learning pilot project. British Journal of Educational Technology 39(1), pp.140-156.
Please do leave a comment below if you know of any other useful and relevant papers.