REACH Project at the University of Worcester

By Val Yates, Director of Access & Inclusion, University of Worcester

In 2016-17 the University of Worcester developed a pilot project to explore the benefits of providing students with tablets.  The scheme was developed to ensure that all students’ regardless of background could access enhancing technologies alongside essential study resources for use both in and out of the classroom.

More students than ever before are arriving in Higher education with technology.  How students utilise this to support or enhance their engagement with their studies however is less well understood.  The proliferation of technology has led to disparities between how students access information and resources both inside and outside of the classroom.

At the University, the use of mobile technology amongst students, though high was not universal in its depth and quality.  Many students felt that their understanding of technology was limited and that they wanted guidance on how to utilise it in meaningful ways. Many academic staff were also unsure of how technology could be used to enhance the learning experience and were concerned that mobile devices rather than enhancing the student experience would become a distraction, staff echoed concerns from other institutions that the devices were more for entertainment than education.

Understanding the way that students engaged with their learning was also key in developing a new approach, anytime, anywhere learning that supported the diverse experiences of our students needed to be supported.

We identified a pilot cohort of students across a number of courses, these students (circa 400) all received a device.  The tablet was pre-loaded with a range of learning tools relevant to the student’s course, software to enable interactive teaching, a single sign on to the VLE and the provision of e-books of the core course texts for each programme.  Academic staff received identical devices.

Students’ academic use of technology is strongly influenced by in class use. There is also evidence that the use of technology in the classroom by students enhances their success. So developing an intuitional approach that combined in class use with the provision of the technology to students was essential to the development of our approach. Staff and students participated in a range of training programmes designed to build confidence in using the device as well as specific training on utilising the interactive software.

Staff and students embraced the use of the devices from the very start of the trial.  The course teams applied the use of the devices in a range of ways to suit the needs of the cohorts – for example, in the law courses the use of law databases in class enable students to engage with the material directly in the classroom, to compare, in psychology and nursing the tablets provide opportunity for the use of quizzes, live polling and off site support for students on placements.

Though in its early days the pilot is yielding some exciting results:

  • 98% of students have become regular users of the devices, both in class and outside.
  • Levels of satisfaction amongst students participating in the trial is very high, there has been a substantial increase in students feeling engaged with the module (+10%) and satisfaction with feedback helping learning (+22%) student feedback suggest that the use of the devices in the classroom to provide feedback and assessment has been a major influence of this.
  • Attainment has improved in the trial group, in psychology, there has been an increase of 12% in A’s and reduction of 6% in D’s.
  • The students have formed a peer support network to ensure that all students can engaged with the devices fully.  – ‘The Tableteers’ have also formed a student led review group.

References 

  1. Zijian Gong and J.D Wallace. A Comparative Analysis of iPad and Other M-learning Technologies, Exploring Students’ View of Adoption, Potentials and Challenges (Journal of Literacy and Technology Volume 13, Number 1: February 2012)
     
  2. Eden Dahlstrom, 12and Jacqueline Bichsel. ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2014. (Research report. Louisville, CO: ECAR, October 2014. Available from http://www.educause.edu/ecar.)
     
  3. Mohammed T.Al-Hariri , Abdulghani A.Al-Hattamib. Impact of students’ use of technology on their learning achievements in physiology courses at the University of Dammam (Journal of Taibah University Medical Sciences, Volume 12, Issue 1, February 2017, Pages 82-85)

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