Lead University: University of Canberra
Lead Researcher: Michele Fleming
Research Team: Michele Fleming
Year Funded: 2014
Funding Received: $80,000
Online reading and writing support programs MyWritingLab and MyReadingLab were trialed by approximately 2000 students from identified equity groups. Evaluation including engagement data and user feedback indicated student uptake was low. Alternative support programs Smarthinking and YourTutor were subsequently introduced, and a number of online reading and writing support programs developed in 2015 were made available to all University of Canberra students.
- The project was to employ an IT based solution to assist students from disadvantaged backgrounds to access, participate and succeed at the University of Canberra (UC).
- Students from disadvantaged backgrounds were identified via several mechanisms including survey responses, bio data analysis and via the UC inclusion and welfare database.
- The IT solutions chosen were the Pearson MyWritingLab and MyReadingLab products, which were tested and customised prior to students being granted access. A total of 4000 seats were purchased — 2000 for each of the products.
- The identified students were given access to the products on 30 April 2015. Students were notified of their access to these products via email and in face-to-face information sessions. Reminder emails were sent at key times throughout the year.
- An evaluation of student usage of these products was performed in February 2016, when feedback was obtained from users.
- A key outcome was the delivery of online reading and writing support programs to approximately 2000 students from disadvantaged backgrounds in supporting their participation, retention and success at university.
- The biggest issue encountered was the relatively low student usage of the two programs, despite the use of several mechanisms to encourage students to make use of the services.
- Given the relatively low usage of the MyReadinglab and MyWritingLab programs, along with the seats having a one-year expiry date, whether or not they were used, it was decided not to fund any additional seats in these programs at UC.
- Student feedback indicated that many in the user group found these programs to be too time consuming and difficult to navigate. Alternative means of providing online writing and reading support to disadvantaged students were subsequently trialed. These include the use of the online writing support programs Smarthinking and YourTutor, which allow students to submit assignment drafts for feedback as well as to access online writing help centres. Additionally, a number of in-house online reading and writing support programs were developed in 2015 and early 2016 to help students with assignment writing and reading skills. These programs were made available to all UC students.
- The disadvantaged student group identified in April 2015 was enrolled in an overarching program called UC Belong, which granted students access to a wide range of pastoral and study support programs in addition to the online reading and writing supports. The UC Belong program was continued in 2016 for all commencing UC students.
- Students were granted access to the MyWritingLab and MyReadingLab programs via enrolment in specific Moodle sites (the UC’s Learning Management System). Only 529 of the eligible students utilised the online support programs. Students that used the services were contacted for feedback, which revealed two findings, one negative, one positive:
- Students didn’t have the time to use the services or the time to navigate the online courses.
- Students found the supports useful to gauge and improve reading and writing levels and skills.
- As take up of the MyWritingLab and MyReadingLab was low, and with the Pearson service agreement due to expire in March 2016, both programs were made available to all UC students prior to its expiry. A total of 18 extra students made use of the services.
- The use of other in-house online support programs developed during 2015 was comparatively high with 779 students utilising the Writing an Essay resource and 489 students utilising Writing a Report Usage of the commercial Smarthinking writing support program was also relatively high in 2015, with 520 UC student users.
Summary prepared by the NCSEHE.