Gibbon, Carolyn and Ousey, Karen (2007) SONIC: Evaluations from students using web based resources. In: Australasian Nurse Educators Conference, 3 - 5 October 2007, Te Papa Tongarewa, Museum of New Zealand, Wellington.

The growth of electronic learning (e-learning) is fully supported by many stakeholders such as universities and their client bases. Increasingly the evidence shows that students are turning to technology for information before other sources. This paper will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of using electronic information to support students undertaking problem-based learning by presenting an evaluation of one such web-based project – the Students Online in Nursing Integrated Curricula (SONIC) project. The project was nationally funded and whilst the partners were situated in Nursing, a key issue for the team was collaborating with other health care professionals in formulating an on-line framework for scenarios, and building on resources already available.

Accessibility to online materials was one of the prime considerations of the project, and a significant amount of development went into ensuring compliance with the standards for best practice. The team were also keen to enable students to be engaged in a variety of relevant learning activities. The scenarios and the accompanying questions allow for this with some activities being information giving, whilst others such as the self-test quizzes, are interactive.

The evaluation process took place in three stages: evaluation of a pilot study with one scenario available online; an evaluation across the project partnership when all the scenarios were available; an overall evaluation involving a total of 242 students and 19 facilitators from across ten Higher Education Institutions.

Facilitators observed and took field notes whilst the students were using the SONIC website for the first time, and reported that students were generally able to navigate their way around the site. Facilitators commented that students liked the ‘fast click’ of the mouse and virtually instant access to certain information.

The SONIC resources have been designed to support learning and a flexible website which did not require a password, except on campus, was well received by the students. During the evaluations facilitators noted that some students only wished to engage with the technology at a superficial level. However the SONIC resources are able to support a number of different learning styles and future work may indicate whether or not students used the resources at a later date and for what purpose.

Having 24/7 access to the resources was regarded as a very positive aspect and students liked the flexibility of access from home as well as on campus. However, not all students have broadband on their home computers, which could be costly for study in terms of the amount of time spent using the computer and possibly downloading information. The number of students with reported disabilities was not known, but some students did report that the help page on how to change font size etc. was very useful.

The evaluation did not specifically elicit information about what the students had learned and understood specific to the resources, but does suggest that the students valued them as supplemental to their learning, rather than a substitution for teaching in general.

Students found navigating around the site to be straightforward and 26 students reported an increase in confidence with their computer skills. Albion and Gibson (1998) point out that resources such as these, can work against deep learning as users are encouraged to skim and sample content, so may unwittingly miss crucial components. However they also contend that using such a resource with PBL will help to promote deep learning, because of the emphasis on finding good quality information to meet learning needs

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