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Literature suggests that electronic course content helps current students learn and helps recruit potential students. This comprehensive study reviewed all units, over one thousand, on offer at The University of Western Australia (UWA) in May 2004 to determine online presence, added value to students and marketing implications. The diffusion of innovations theory helped explain the results such as that 61% of all available units at UWA had an online presence, or 80% of all undergraduate units and only 37% of all postgraduate units.
Given the marketing implications of publicly accessible Web sites over password protected sites or a central database of all unit information, this study suggests public unit Web sites are an effective marketing tool, particularly towards international and postgraduate students. Based on the annual income of UWA, marketing initiatives should focus on these prospective students.
The present study focuses on an Australian university's use of Web technologies for education. Specifically, this study evaluates the level of online presence of all units in all departments, a census, at The University of Western Australia (UWA) in the first semester in 2004. Underpinning this research is the belief that publicly accessible educational Web sites must contain useful content to contribute to the functioning of present day universities. There is little value in adopting technological innovations if not implemented correctly.
Universities today use Internet technologies as a marketing tool for attracting and recruiting new students, retaining existing students from local and international markets, and leveraging the university's brand. Information such as an online course description is crucial for prospective students, many of whom use the Web to evaluate and compare Australian universities (Murphy & Gomes, 2003). Internet marketing strategies are especially appealing to the current markets of students born since 1982. The "Millennials" have grown up with technology and expect education providers to utilise a variety of technology in their teaching (Howe & Strauss, 2000).
Part of a student's demand for online learning stems from the recognition of distinct, individual learning styles. Granitz and Greene (2003) suggest looking at education from a business perspective where "instructors ... are suppliers of e-commerce content, [and] students ... are consumers" (p. 17). Teaching with methods that match individual learning styles promotes effective learning and a positive attitude towards education (Felder, 2003).
Despite these benefits, online learning in higher education often lacks richness and innovation. Furthermore, technical problems, a lack of relevant online course materials as well as a reduced level of traditional face to face contact and instructional intimacy hinder effective online learning (Zhao, 2003). The benefits of online learning, though, can outweigh the limitations when implemented appropriately. The extent to which these benefits eventuate depend in part on the level of online delivery that a higher education course decides to adopt.
Differing organisational characteristics help explain the varying degree in which innovations are implemented across organisations (Fichman 2000). Characteristics that positively relate to organisational innovativeness include the size of the organisation, whereby larger organisations are more efficient adopters and implementers of innovations (Rogers, 1995). Other factors showing a positive relationship to an innovation's diffusion include decentralised systems, complex levels of knowledge and expertise within the organisation, and formalised rules and procedures (Fichman, 2000; Damanpour, 1991).
This online content can include publicly accessible course information as well as password protected Web based course management systems (Martins and Kellermanns, 2004; Zhao, 2003). The formation of "The Unit Outline Online Working Party", responsible for promoting the implementation of Internet technologies across UWA, demonstrates a commitment to provide a high level of publicly accessible online course content.
UWA's organisational structure is a model of nine faculties and 33 schools. In this structure, all faculties act as individual and largely independent organisations with separate budgets, responsibilities, and formal procedures relating to the adoption of Internet technologies. The hypothesis to determine differences is based on expectations that organisations implement innovations to varying degrees.
H1: Faculties will differ in their:
H2: Compared to undergraduate units, postgraduate units will differ in their
The census involved a content analysis of the online component of all active units. The analysis was completed by two coders with random cross checking to check reliability of the data. The Faculty and School Web site search provided links to units via a link to the UWA handbook, a password protected site, or a publicly accessible Web site. This analysis determined a unit's level of online presence, as shown in Table 1, and then subdivided into "no added value" and "added value" from a student perspective. These categories also consider the importance of Web technologies as a marketing tool. Both current and prospective students benefit from online content.
|Level of presence||No added value||No Presence (none)|
|UWA Handbook (handbook)|
|Value added||Password Protected (password)|
|Web site (public)|
For those units that had independent unit Web sites, the content analysis measured their level of publicly accessible content. Evaluation and scoring of the homepages was conducted against six indicators (see Table 2) that the literature review identified as important. These indicators are highly important to prospective students, who are interested in information about a unit such as the outline, contact details of lecturers and tutors, and continuous updating of the data shown by the last date updated; these all fall under the first level of online delivery. Additional information such as readings, links and course content allow enhancement of instruction and places the unit in the second level of online delivery.
Excluded from the analysis of independent unit Web sites were Medicine and Dentistry, Natural and Agricultural Sciences, and Education as they had less than 5% of active units with unit Web sites. All unit results are an analysis of the homepage only. The homepage is an important aspect of any Web site and is an ideal unit of analysis because "most visitors to a Web site decide whether they will continue to browse a site based on their impressions of the home page" (Ha & James, 1998; p. 467), it also takes into consideration the scope of the study as well as coding consistency.
SPSS was used to edit and code the data obtained from the census for statistical analysis. A chi-square test determined the amount of difference in the findings to test the stated hypotheses, as this analysis lends itself to nominal data (Francis, 2001). Each comparison used the p value to determine (< or > 5%) whether or not to reject the null hypotheses.
|Faculty||Total number of|
|Percent of Total|
UWA Active Units
|Arts Humanities and Social Sciences (FAHSS)||212||19%|
|Life and Physical Sciences (FLAPS)||206||18%|
|Medicine and Dentistry (Med-Dent)||156||14%|
|Engineering Computing and Mathematics (FECM)||152||13%|
|Economics and Commerce (E-C)||116||10%|
|Natural and Agricultural Sciences (FNAS)||101||9%|
|Architecture, Landscape and Visual Arts (FALVA)||84||7%|
Level of online presence
Examining the faculties in terms of 'no presence' and 'some presence' (link to the UWA handbook, password protected site and a publicly accessible unit Web site) showed a significant difference (chi squared=203.84, d.f.=8, p<0.001) in presence. This supports the hypothesis that faculties differ in their percentage of online presence. Table 5 shows the percentage of units with 'no presence' and 'some presence'.
Added value from a student's perspective pertains to unit information beyond the unit outline. Units with 'no presence' and those with 'a link to the UWA handbook' had 'no added value'. Units with 'added value' had a 'password protected site' or a 'publicly accessible unit Web site'. The relationship between faculties in UWA and the amount of value added had a significant difference (chi squared=134.241, d.f.=8, p<0.001). This result supports the hypothesis that faculties differ in added value to students through protected or publicly available sites. Table 6 shows the detailed findings.
|Level of online presence||None||13||58||56||34||36||13||73||68||24|
|Level of online presence||No Presence||13||58||56||34||36||13||73||68||24|
|Value||No added Value||36||76||56||77||38||60||73||68||88|
Amount of publicly accessible content
Based on a summation of the six indicators as mentioned in the methodology, Table 7 lists the unit Web sites scores. Excluded from the analysis of independent unit Web sites were Medicine and Dentistry, Natural and Agricultural Sciences, and Education as they had less than 5% of active units with unit Web sites. Units that scored between 1 and 3 have low publicly accessible content and those scoring between 4 and 6 are high. The relationship between faculties in UWA and the amount of publicly accessible content was significantly different (chi squared=134.241, d.f.=8, p<0.001), which supports the hypothesis that faculties differ in the amount of publicly accessible content.
|Low (Score: 1-3)||50||68||18||18||95||43|
|High (Score: 4-6)||50||32||82||82||5||57|
|Level of online presence||None||20||63|
Level of online presence
The results, as shown in Table 9, show that the majority of undergraduate units have some online presence while the majority of postgraduate units have no presence. This shows a significance difference (chi squared=216.421, d.f.=3, p<0.001) between the level of online presence, supporting the hypothesis that postgraduate and undergraduate units differ in their online presence.
|Level of online presence||No Presence||20||63|
Amount of value added
Table 10 shows the percentage of undergraduate and postgraduate units with value added content for students. Postgraduate units had a high percentage (79%) of no added values while most undergraduate units (57%) included added value for students. This result demonstrates a significant difference (chi squared=150.290, d.f.=1, p<0.001) between postgraduate and undergraduate units and the amount of added value for students, supporting the hypothesis that postgraduate and undergraduate units differ in their level of added value.
|Value||No added Value||43||79|
Publicly accessible content
Table 11 compares publicly accessible content across undergraduate and postgraduate units. The majority of the undergraduate units fell between 'medium' and 'high' available content, while most postgraduate units fell between the 'low' and 'medium' available content. This result demonstrates a significant difference (chi squared=7.418, d.f.=2, p<0.024) in the relationship between postgraduate and undergraduate units and the amount of content. This supports the hypothesis that postgraduate and undergraduate units differ in their level of publicly accessible content.
|Low (Score 1-2)||23||44|
|Medium (Score 3-4)||43||32|
|High (Score 5-6)||34||24|
UWA has introduced a Content Management System, MySource, which automatically includes the last date updated, links to UWA sites external to the unit, and allows easy development of unit Web sites. The uptake of another centrally supported management system at UWA, WebCT, has increased over 300% between 2002 and 2003. By the second semester 2003, half of all enrolled students were in at least one WebCT supported unit (WebCT Learning Management Group, 2004). An important WebCT feature allows the unit coordinators to generate individual unit welcome pages that are publicly accessible and could include all the information of a regular unit homepage. Both management systems provide a large amount of added value to students. The increased use over twelve months of electronic learning at UWA is encouraging, however without continual implementation and increased quality there is little added value to the university as a whole. One way to promote implementation is through providing central support and university funded initiatives, both of which are now present at UWA.
Currently, 80% of undergraduate units at UWA have an online presence whereas almost two thirds of all postgraduate units have no online presence. The ability to research available courses can influence potential postgraduate students, particularly those from outside Australia. Therefore, more of UWA's postgraduate units should utilise the Internet as a marketing tool in order to increase enrolments from these full fee paying students. Unit Web sites should contain, at a minimum, the unit outline including the assessment breakdown, contact information for the unit and Faculty, links to additional information such as registration details, and the last date updated to show timeliness.
Forty two units had both a publicly accessible Web site and a password protected site, these are counted in the public Web site category as this has a greater impact on marketing the site. Separately, 42 units were available to students through more than one faculty and therefore are counted in the faculty as listed in the UWA handbook. Additionally, 16 units were not in the online handbook but were active according to UWA timetabling; these units are counted as active in the findings.
In many cases, links to additional pages would increase the level of content on the unit Web site. However, in order to remain objective when using more than one analyst and to work within time constraints, the homepage was the only source of data recorded. From a marketing perspective, information included on the homepage must draw a prospective customer's attention and therefore is the focus of the site.
The quality of unit Web sites was not included in the variables due to the subjective nature of quality. A quality checklist should include the variables from this study as well as other factors such as design, current and topical information inclusion, working links, and interactivity.
Although the individual unit Web sites had the highest online presence there is research supporting the use of password protected sites as adding the highest value in education. This encourages a sense of community through membership (Wilson, 2001).
For Higher Education, and specifically UWA, this project demonstrates some benefits of utilising Web sites as a marketing tool for prospective students. This is of particular importance for recruiting international and postgraduate students who contribute a large percent of a university's income.
Of particular interest to those designing the UWA homepage is the ease of use for prospective students. Currently, unit Web sites are on average six layers deep - six clicks - from the UWA homepage. Only two Schools, Computer Science and Software Engineering along with Economics and Commerce, have a link to unit Web sites from their respective homepages. Unless a prospective student knows the unit code or title, they are unable to obtain information directly off the UWA homepage. To obtain the level of online presence, the links for current students from Faculty and School homepages were easier to navigate than prospective student links. The "prospective students" link is meant to target members of the international, national, local and current student communities and UWA currently fails to provide easily accessible information for these groups.
UWA has a working party reviewing online unit outlines online and what information to include in the UWA handbook (online and in print). This study indicates that the handbook should contain not only the unit outline and contact details for the unit coordinator, but also a link to the unit's Web site for marketing purposes. Currently, most of the few units containing information about the unit Web sites contains broken or incorrect links.
On a wider scale, similar research at other universities in Perth, nationally, or internationally would provide a basis for comparison of online content and marketing implications. The findings from other universities could then be developed into a quality guide for educational Web sites. A concise quality guide would also contain a checklist covering multiple management systems.
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|Authors: Allison Coleman, Centre for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning, University of Western Australia, firstname.lastname@example.org|
Gang (Richard) Cao, Postgraduate Student, UWA Business School, University of WA
Chia Siong (Justin) Loh and Victoria Mallinckrodt, Honours Students, UWA Business School, University of Western Australia
Please cite as: Coleman, A. Loh, C.S., Cao, G. & Mallinckrodt, V. (2004). Electronic course content at The University of Western Australia. In R. Atkinson, C. McBeath, D. Jonas-Dwyer & R. Phillips (Eds), Beyond the comfort zone: Proceedings of the 21st ASCILITE Conference (pp. 212-221). Perth, 5-8 December. http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/perth04/procs/coleman.html
© 2004 Allison Coleman, Chia Siong (Justin) Loh, Gang (Richard) Cao & Victoria Mallinckrodt
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