Digital Literacy in Higher Education: A Case Study of Student Engagement with E-Tutorials Using Blended Learning

Claire McGuinness, Crystal Fulton
Journal of Information Technology Education: Innovations in Practice  •  Volume 18  •  2019  •  pp. 001-028

This paper reports on a case study project which had three goals; to develop a suite of original interactive digital skills e-tutorials to be embedded in undergraduate and postgraduate courses; to evaluate the students’ experience and engagement with the e-tutorials over one semester; and to explore their general attitudes towards online and blended learning.

Online and blended learning modes continue to grow in popularity in higher education, with the aim of streamlining and enhancing student learning, supporting collaboration and creativity, and equipping students with the skills they will require to work and live in an increasingly digitized world. This practice-based case study highlights factors which positively and negatively affect user engagement with digital learning objects and explores students’ perceptions of the role of online learning within their academic programs.

A suite of nine interactive e-tutorials, addressing essential digital literacy skills for university students, was developed through instructor and student peer collaboration using Articulate software, informed by best practice. The e-tutorials were embedded in the institutional Learning Management System for three undergraduate and postgraduate courses, in which digital literacy formed the core learning content, to complement classroom-based learning. Students in these courses were surveyed via SurveyMonkey about their specific experience of using the e-tutorials, as well as their general perceptions of digital literacy and online learning. Eighty-six students in total completed the questionnaire, which consisted of twenty-three closed- and open-ended questions.

Through highlighting both the positive and the challenging aspects of the students’ reported experience of online learning, this case study contributes useful insights to the body of literature on user engagement with digital learning objects in higher education, as well as students’ perceptions and experience of blended learning.

The e-tutorials were perceived as valuable in reinforcing classroom learning, allowing respondents to revise concepts and materials covered in face-to-face classes, at their own pace and in their own time. Survey responses showed that the accessibility, ease-of-use, design and duration of the e-tutorials were deemed effective in terms of user engagement; however, several technological challenges were identified, such as browser incompatibility, uneven sound quality and general Internet connection issues, which disrupted their learning. Overall, students expressed enjoyment of the learning facilitated by the e-tutorials; however, rather than favoring online learning alone, they expressed a preference for a blended learning environment, with a combination of complementary learning approaches; survey respondents did not generally wish to forego face-to-face classes entirely.

Instructors should seek to strategically embed interactive digital learning objects in their courses at defined points of need in a logical structure, e.g., to reinforce classroom-based learning, or to support specific skill development. Potential disruption to learning should be minimized by following best practice guidelines to ensure ease of access, a seamless user experience, and timely feedback, as well as providing adequate support for rapid resolution of technical glitches.

E-tutorials offer a useful means of exploring ways in which students acquire learning in the digital environment. A wider, collaborative exploration is needed to provide comparative studies which move beyond case studies.

Online learning mechanisms, such as e-tutorials, offer students different means of acquiring essential literacy skills and different ways to interact with content. E-tutorials constitute reusable learning objects, which can be accessed as just-in-time delivery modes, when students perceive they need to review particular skills or reinforce learning material.

This research is now expanding into different types of reusable learning objects. E-tutorials may be developed in multiple ways, and comparative research around e-tutorial models will deepen our understanding of how students interact with content in formal learning contexts. As the digital educational landscape continues to expand alongside traditional face-to-face and analogue learning modes, a key research focus will be student and instructor perceptions and experience of blended learning in different contexts.

blended learning, digital literacy, e-learning, e-tutorials, higher education, online learning, online tutorials
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