Economics Network CHEER Virtual Edition

Volume 12, Issue 1, 1998

Views from the Trenches: Lessons from the Introduction of WinEcon into a First Year Undergraduate Programme

D.J. Brooksbank, A. Clark, R. Hamilton, and D.G. Pickernell
University of Glamorgan

Abstract

This paper reviews Glamorgan Business School's introduction of the WinEcon Computer Aided Learning (CAL) package into its first year microeconomics module. The comments, conclusions and recommendations are based on a survey of academic staff involved in teaching using WinEcon and questionnaire answers from nearly 200 Glamorgan students who actually used the package. Conclusions reached were that WinEcon was unlikely to completely replace classroom tutorials or prove completely satisfactory as a textbook / workbook without additional work to customize it to the needs of the specific course, but that it did offer a useful addition to more traditional teaching methods in an integrated learning programme.

Introduction

This study builds on work in this journal of Crichton (1995), evaluating the utility of the Computer Assisted Learning (CAL) package, WinEcon, as a replacement for classroom based tutorials and as a computerized workbook. Through the piloting process student experiences were also used to design the most effective framework in which to utilize the package. This paper reports on data gathered from academic staff involved with teaching on the course and questionnaire output derived from nearly 200 students who used the package (see appendix).

Glamorgan Business School has seen a rapid increase in the number of students undertaking the basic course in microeconomics (from about 160 in the previous year, to over 300 in the year in which WinEcon was introduced). Our primary concern was to consider ways in which the package could be used to provide more effective learning in first year microeconomics and we treated the introduction as a piloting exercise in which WinEcon could be thoroughly evaluated. To conform to these aims we adopted the following structure as a cautious first step :-

This set up replaced the previous regime of a weekly lecture and weekly classroom tutorial. The first six microeconomics chapters of WinEcon were used as the basis for the module and the lectures were written to follow the structure of WinEcon, whilst tutorial questions were 'stand alone' and designed to reinforce material encountered on WinEcon. We envisaged that WinEcon would provide additional explanation to topics covered in lectures (and lecture notes provided) and sufficient interactive examples to aid understanding of both lectures and tutorials.

The software was used in weekly laboratory sessions as a supplement to a standard lecture and a fortnightly tutorial. A tutor was assigned to each laboratory session, although after the first few weeks this became a support role where tutors would provide advice if there were problems and would be 'on call' rather than in the laboratory itself for the full hour. The piloting process was therefore designed to assess the best way to utilize the package within the constraints of the module, examining its utility as a substitute for classroom tutorials and as a workbook / textbook, and using students feedback to design the most effective teaching framework for the module in which to use WinEcon.

WinEcon as a Tutorial System

To test the assertion of Crichton (1995) that:-

“it is envisaged that WinEcon will replace seminars/ tutorials”

we first examined the ability of the package to act as a ‘tutorial’. For Laurillard (1993), the key feature of a tutorial is adaptation, which means that :-

"the program uses the students' performance on previous tasks to decide what tasks should be set next, without which it is not a tutorial" (ibid. p152).

WinEcon does not adapt to the individual in this way. Given the large programming task that would be involved this is perhaps not surprising. The relative interactivity of the package was also scrutinized. Members of the Teaching and Learning Technology Programme (TLTP) (1993) themselves argued that a well-designed course should aim to utilize some specific element of interaction on each page. Otherwise the enthusiasm for WinEcon would be founded on nothing more than :-

“the sexiness of the computer to make page turning software more compelling”.

(Feifer and Allender, 1994 p197).

The issue of interaction therefore seems crucial in determining what CAL packages such as WinEcon provide. We began by examining the first 6 chapters of WinEcon page by page for interactive activity provided and found that 60% of pages had no interactive content, consisting entirely of a block of text. 17% had interaction in the form of answering a question, and 12% had interaction to the extent that the computer draws a line or moves something, (although this is perhaps better described as a demonstration rather than an interaction). Less than 7% have either named examples, cases, or the opportunity to dig deeper, using 'More' or 'Advanced' options. 1% of pages contained background material on key thinkers. Over 1% of pages have drag and point type interaction but an equal number of pages have an apparent interaction that actually results in an additional block of text.

To summarize, there are many pages in WinEcon where the students' role is entirely passive and the bulk of the remainder provides only very limited interaction. The only real control the student has over their learning is to adjust the pace at which they work through WinEcon, which does not involve the level of control, of mutual re-adaptation, that experienced teachers use in the tutorial setting. WinEcon thus comes across as more akin to an economics textbook that has been put on a screen, than a tutorial.

Questionnaire results supported this. 81% of students do not believe WinEcon should replace classroom tutorials and 90% do not believe it should replace lectures. Scrutiny of answers given for this revealed that students still wanted the contact with lecturers and tutors that WinEcon itself cannot provide. The relative lack of interactivity of the package was also highlighted by significant proportions of students. 45% of students did not feel that WinEcon was interactive enough to keep them interested and 53% of responding students did not feel that WinEcon was more than a computerized workbook.

Collective experience, gained from many years of teaching with a variety of CAL packages, means that we can rank WinEcon very highly in terms of graphical quality and technical content. However, it is clear from this work that more is needed to boost the ‘interactive’ aspects. Students quickly become disillusioned with page turning and reading blocks of text on the screen and we see a need to increase the amount that students actually ‘do’ when they are working through the material.

WinEcon as a Textbook / Workbook

In terms of using a computer screen as a replacement for a textbook, WinEcon does not have the breadth of leading general introductory texts and is, for example :-

“...less suitable for introductory business economics than for traditional economics principles courses”

(Sloman 1995, p. 1345)

This obviously needs to be taken into account when utilizing WinEcon within a business studies course. The problems created by the length of modular based courses in relation to the amount of information contained within a CAL package such as WinEcon also highlighted the need for guidance by staff in directing students to specific information and tasks within the package.

Whilst nearly 90% of students agreed that WinEcon gave flexibility to learn, the amount of material required to be covered in the module to give students an adequate grounding in the basics of microeconomics led 65% of students to believe that the course covered too much to use WinEcon effectively. This problem becomes acutely important when one considers learning styles. 75% of students believed they needed to take notes when using WinEcon. This may have contributed to nearly 60% of them agreeing that more than one hour per week was needed to keep up with the course. Indeed, the two were strongly, positively and significantly correlated at the 1% level, with a Pearson's correlation of 0.35.

Despite the flexibility of learning offered by WinEcon for students to learn at their own pace, 82% believed that they should have been set tasks by their tutor, rather than being left to move through the package at their own pace. Overall, the setting of tasks appears to be the most viable way of utilizing WinEcon to ensure that the important points in each topic are covered within constraints imposed by course structure and available resources. We reinforce the view expressed by Crichton (1995) that the number of tests (and types of test) need to be increased. As the development continues, the ability in the near future to use text string and qualitative data response questions will prove invaluable, not least because they will provide variety to the current multiple choice option.

Designing a Framework in which to use WinEcon

Despite these difficulties, however, only 22% of students wanted WinEcon abandoned from the teaching programme altogether. Responses indicated that most students felt that the package was useful as a learning aid, and that it should be fully integrated rather than abandoned. Indeed, 87% wanted WinEcon fully integrated with the lecture and tutorial programme. 57% of students had enjoyed using the package as it presently stood, 60% continuing to use it to cover all of the economic topics in the module, and 57% found WinEcon explained difficult topics well, virtually all students finding it an easy package to use.

Full integration of WinEcon with lectures and tutorials would require particular focus on the tutorial programme, given that 45% of students did not feel it complemented tutorials, compared with 70% who felt it complemented the lecture notes. To examine this further we used a regression equation with the answer to whether ‘WinEcon should be fully integrated’ as the dependent variable. The independent variables were 'Course covered too much', 'WinEcon complemented lecture notes', 'I enjoyed using WinEcon' and 'Should have been set tasks by tutor'. The results are illustrated in Table I and suggest that the explanatory variables have some role to play. All are statistically significant at the 5% level and of the sign one would predict.

Table I: Reasons WinEcon should be fully integrated with lectures and tutorials

Variable :

Coefficient

Standard Error

T Value

WinEcon Complemented Lecture Notes

0.263

0.089

2.932

I Enjoyed using WinEcon

0.374

0.088

4.226

The Course Covered too much to use WinEcon effectively

0.209

0.092

2.285

I should have been set tasks by my tutor during WinEcon sessions

0.150

0.083

1.802

Constant

0.160

0.438

0.366

Adjusted R Square: 0.190

R Squared: 0.209 Standard Error: 0.732

F: 10.852(1)

In addition the regressions were subjected to the usual barrage of diagnostic procedures, which they passed accordingly.

Enjoyment in using the programme was particularly positive and significant in explaining the attitudes to full integration. It is obviously very important to enjoy using WinEcon, since full integration would require students to use the package to answer questions for classroom tutorials and prepare for examinations, rather than just as an aid in understanding concepts highlighted in lectures.

Since additional resources would be required to create the workplan / workbook to fully integrate the CAL package into the module, it is also necessary to explore and maximize the learning advantages that WinEcon could offer over more traditional methods. To examine this we used another regression equation, with students' responses to the statement "I enjoyed using WinEcon" as the dependent variable. The variables "WinEcon was more than a computerized workbook", "WinEcon gave me flexibility to learn outside normal classroom hours" and "WinEcon was interactive enough to keep me interested" were the independent causal variables. The results are show in Table II below:

Table II: Reasons for enjoying using WinEcon

Variable :

Coefficient

Standard Error B

T Value

WinEcon was more than a computerised workbook

0.177

0.063

2.821

WinEcon gave me flexibility to learn outside normal classroom hours

0.551

0.062

8.857

WinEcon was interactive enough to keep me interested

0.199

0.061

3.262

Constant

0.118

0.228

0.498

Adjusted R Square: 0.443

R Squared: 0.452 Standard Error: 0.495

F: 48.272

(1) In addition, the regressions were subjected to the usual barrage of diagnostic procedures, which they passed accordingly.

The three variables were positive and significant (at the 5% level), as intuition would predict. The strongest explanatory variable was that concerning WinEcon's interactivity. Essentially the more students felt that WinEcon was interactive enough to keep them interested the more they enjoyed using the package. When integrating the package with lectures and tutorials, lecturers could therefore guide students to the interactive parts of WinEcon and leave the "read and click" screens to the students' own time where necessary. WinEcon was also felt to give flexibility in learning outside classroom hours by over 85% of students and this was a positive significant influence on enjoyment of using the package. This is interesting and an important factor in favour of its continued integrated use.

The final factor, that WinEcon is more than a computerized workbook, is also important. The fact that just over half did not believe this to be the case may emphasize WinEcon's lack of interactivity. Overall, therefore, tutor guidance would seem to be needed to maximize WinEcon's interactivity, to maximize the enjoyment to be gained from using the package, and utilize advantages in terms of the flexibility which WinEcon offers (even if the programme is used outside normal hours as a computerized textbook).

Conclusions

There are three key conclusions to be drawn from this study. First, if our experiences are representative then simply adding a CAL package to a course replacing tutorials and / or lectures is not necessarily going to provide an instant solution to resource problems. It may ultimately save staff time, but it should not be seen as a 'quick fix' to such problems. In the case of Glamorgan's use of WinEcon, no obvious reduction in staff-student contact time will be obtained from the new structure over the pre-WinEcon structure. However, it is hoped that a better educational experience will develop as students are expected to use their CAL sessions in an interactive way to gain the answers to questions, rather than passively obtain information from the computer, or indeed lecturers. This should also make the tutor's role more enjoyable in that the CAL sessions will involve explanation of economic models via the computer package rather than merely being at the front of a classroom, as in the classroom tutorials.

Secondly, integrating CAL packages into a course is likely to require significant "top loaded" work on the part of lecturers and tutors to be fully effective. It is unlikely that an "off the shelf" CAL package will perfectly fit the needs of any particular course and failure to undertake such work to properly integrate it will lead the package to be less effective. Thirdly, it is important to treat CAL as an addition to, rather than a replacement of, more traditional teaching methods such as lectures and tutorials. This is not to say that CAL packages cannot partially replace lectures or tutorials. However, full replacement has risks attached to it which will be unacceptable before a full evaluation of the CAL package has been undertaken.

Overall, it is believed that the introduction of WinEcon will have some long term benefits to the students undertaking first year microeconomics courses at Glamorgan Business School. It adds credence to WinEcon's claims to be an innovative teaching technique, albeit one requiring customization because of the needs and constraints affecting individual courses in individual institutions.

References

Crichton, P., (1995), Evaluating WinEcon, Computers in Higher Education Economics Review, Vol. 9 No.1, March.

Feifer, R. and Allender, L. (1994) It's Not How Multi the Media, Its How the Media is Used, ED-MEDIA Conference Proceedings, Vancouver, Canada.

Laurillard, D. (1993) Rethinking University Teaching: A Framework for the Effective Use of Educational Technology, (London. Routledge).

Sloman, J. (1995), The WinEcon Project, in Software Reviews, Economic Journal, Vol. 105, No.432, pp1327-1346.

TLTP (1993) Economics Consortium Module Descriptions : Educational Style Guide, (Bristol, TLTP)

Note The usual disclaimer applies and readers should note that the views expressed are those of the authors and not of the University of Glamorgan.

Correspondence should be sent to

Dr. David Pickernell
The Business School
University of Glamorgan
Pontypridd
CF37 1DL.

Tel: +44-1443-482332
Fax: +44-1443-482380
Email: dgpicker@glam.ac.uk

What's Related:
  · Other articles on the effectiveness of CAL in teaching economics

Appendix

Questionnaire used and results obtained from it are shown below. Numbers in parentheses show percentage of respondents expressing each view, whilst numbers outside parentheses show absolute numbers of respondents expressing indicated view.

The Economy and Environment Course (BS101) used the new Computer Aided Learning Package WinEcon. In order to fully evaluate its usefulness we need your views on the package, the best ways to learn using it and the future use of packages such as WinEcon. This questionnaire has therefore been designed so that you can make your own experiences known. Please tick the box most appropriate to your views and add comments where you see fit.

Section A : Your experience of using the WinEcon Package

Please indicate the degree to which you agree or disagree with the following statements concerning your experiences of using WinEcon.

 Strongly Agree Agree Disagree Strongly Disagree
1. I enjoyed using the WinEcon Package 5
(2.8%)
98
(54.1%)
65
(35.9%)
13
(7.2%)
2. WinEcon was interactive enough to keep me interested 4
(2.2%)
96
(52.7%)
72
(39.6%)
10
(5.5%)
3. WinEcon was easy to use 44
(24.6%)
131
(73.2%)
4
(2.2%)
-
4. WinEcon complemented / added value to the lecture notes 18
(9.9%)
90
(49.7%)
71
(38.6%)
11
(6.1%)
5. WinEcon complemented / added value to the fortnightly tutorials 9
(5.0%)
90
(49.7%)
71
(39.2%)
11
(6.1%)
6. WinEcon explained difficult topics well 10
(5.6%)
92
(51.7%)
67
(37.6%)
9
(5.1%)
7. WinEcon gave me flexibility to learn outside normal classroom hours 33 (18.2%) 124
(68.5%)
21
(11.6%)
3
(1.7%)
8. WinEcon is more than a computerized workbook 6
(3.3%)
79
(42.9%)
87
(48.1%)
9
(5.0%)
9. (If purchased) The WinEcon workbook was useful 12
(11.0%)
30
(27.5%)
26
(23.9%)
41
(37.6%)
10. I used WinEcon to cover all six topics of the course 18
(9.9%)
90
(49.5%)
61
(33.5%)
13
(7.1%)
11. The course tried to cover too much to use WinEcon effectively 22
(12.5%)
92
(52.3%)
61
(34.7%)
1
(0.6%)
12. Please state below your overall impressions of WinEcon. How could WinEcon be changed to make it more useful?


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Section B : Your Learning Style

Please indicate whether you agree or disagree with the following statements concerning the way you learnt using WinEcon

 Strongly Agree Agree Disagree Strongly Disagree
1. I needed to take notes when using WinEcon to get the most out of it 33
(18.9%)
98
(56.0%)
39
(22.3%)
5
(2.9%)
2. I needed to use WinEcon for more than an hour a week to keep up with the course 26
(14.6%)
76
(42.7%)
70
(39.3%)
6
(3.4%)
3. I should have been set tasks to do using WinEcon by my lecturer / tutor 35
(19.6%)
95
(53.1%)
42
(23.5%)
7
(3.9%)

Please state below what you think is the best way to learn using WinEcon.

...........................................................................................

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Section C : The Future

WinEcon and CAL packages like it could be used to teach and assess more of the modules future students take. Please indicate how you would like WinEcon and packages like it to be used in the future

 Strongly Agree Agree Disagree Strongly Disagree
1. WinEcon should replace the weekly lecture 12
(6.7%)
9
(5.0%)
64
(35.8%)
94
(52.5%)
2. WinEcon should replace the classroom tutorial 6
(3.4%)
27
(15.3%)
65
(36.7%)
79
(44.6%)
3. WinEcon should be fully integrated into the lecture and tutorial programme (with lecture notes and tutorial questions based around WinEcon) 37
(20.8%)
89
(50.0%)
41
(23.0%)
11
(6.2%)
4. There should be a lecturer present in every timetabled lab session 68
(38.0%)
91
(50.8%)
19
(10.6%)
1
(0.6%)
5. WinEcon should be abandoned altogether 17
(9.7%)
21
(12.0%)
89
(50.9%)
48
(27.4%)
6. WinEcon should be used for assessment (via multiple choice exams) 20
(11.4%)
69
(39.4%)
48
(27.4%)
38
(21.7%)
7. There should be an introductory session covering operation of WinEcon prior to the start of the course 56
(31.1%)
93
(51.7%)
25
(13.9%)
6
(3.3%)

Please add any comments you may have concerning the future use of WinEcon and packages like it

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