Subject: Progress Report on TFAC Grant # 0405, Fund # 1570, Laptops for English Graduate Assistants
Date: February 1, 2005
To: Technology Fee Advisory Committee
From: Kevin Brooks
Award Amount: TFAC: $17, 525.80.
Dean AHSS: $3,500.00
Expenditures to Date:
Provost and Dean’s money spent—Laptops and Wireless Networking.
- TFAC expenditures:
$ 643.44 for Wireless Networking
$ 1,060.00 for Office Pro.
$15,34.00 for laptops.
- Anticipated expenditures:
$478.36 for maintenance and supplies over the next two years.
In our proposal, we projected assessment of the Laptop Initiative out over three years because this initiative is the start of a long-term commitment to a technology rich teaching and learning environment for the Graduate Teaching Assistants in English, and because it will take more than one semester for our GTAs and their instructors to fully develop the training sessions and teaching strategies that will make the most use of the laptops and their wireless connectivity. Knowing that more and more NDSU classrooms will have wireless capabilities, for example, will mean that the possibilities for GTA’s use of laptops will increase each year, and that assessment of this project is best done in small increments over an extended period of time.
That said, we identified three milestones that we can report on.
- Expected Outcomes
Means of Assessment:
- Conduct a survey of English 120 instructors’ use of technology to support instruction, and English 120 students’ familiarity with technology. These surveys will provide baseline information for assessing the effectiveness in the program. We will expect to see significant increases in GTA use of Blackboard and other instructional technologies, and we will expect to see an increase in student satisfaction with computer mediated support for English 120.
Surveys distributed to current GTAs and their students.
- Purchase and configure laptops for in-coming and present GTAs.
A functioning wireless network by Aug. 15.
A full check of the system by ITS; short progress report provided.
Aug. 16-20, 2004
- Intensive training for in-coming and present GTAs.
Significantly increase students’ knowledge of teaching with technology.
- Asses technology skills of GTAs: familiarity with Word, Web as teaching resource, Blackboard as teaching tool, knowledge of computer-mediated writing instruction via pre-workshop test. This information gathering will also be used as a baseline for assessing the success of the program.
Spring 2004 Survey results.
Survey of GTAs, Spring 2004
- Thirteen of eighteen GTAs returned the Blackboard Survey in the Spring of 2004.
- Eleven identified themselves as heavy users of BB, 2 as moderate users of BB. We will expect that all of our GTAs will identify themselves as heavy users in the Spring 2005 survey.
- Instructors reported the following uses of Blackboard:
- Announcements: 13/13
- Course Materials: 13/13
- External Links: 12/13
- Email: 12/13
- Grade Book: 11/13
- Discussion Board: 6/13
- Groups: 4/13
- Quizzes: 3/13
- Assessment: 3/13
- Drop Box: 3/13
- Chat: 0/13
We hope to see gains in Discussion Board use and Groups use based on training and support that we have provided. Discussion Board use makes a lot of sense in writing classes that have a strong interactive component, and the use of the Group features makes sense when we teach collaborative projects.
Instructors commented on the following benefits and drawbacks:
- Improves teacher-student communication
- A good tool for course management.
- Grade entry is easy!
- BB is easy to access on and off campus.
- Saves the English Department printing costs.
- Students are slow to learn BB the first semester.
- Students don’t always check BB often enough.
Survey of Students:
Our survey of student use of Blackboard in the Spring of 2004 generated 116 responses. The results suggest strong willingness on the part of students to use BB:
- 75% said they check BB more than twice a week.
- 25% said they only check once a week or not at all.
- 90% said they saw the benefits of BB as being that can keep track of assignments, due dates, readings, etc., and they can communicate with the instructor.
- Only 25% said that BB helped them learn the content better.
- 60% of students said they didn’t see any disadvantages to the use of BB.
- 15% said they didn’t check it regularly.
- 10% said they have trouble finding material on BB.
When asked if the use of BB increased their computer literacy, 10% said “significantly,” 60% said “a little bit,” 15% said “not at all,” and 25% said they were already very computer literate.
We hope to see the greatest gain in “learning course content.” We think that if instructors make better use of Discussion Board and Groups, students will learn the course content more effectively and learn how to work collaboratively in an electronic environment.
We did not survey Blackboard use after 110 in the fall because we want to compare the Spring 2004 survey with Spring 2005 results, and the shift to Blackboard 2 for all English instructors caused quite a bit of confusion at the start of the fall semester. Some experienced instructors reduced their use of BB because of the early semester difficulties, and some new instructors shied away from BB use because they could see the confusion and trouble it was causing. We should get a good measure of the BB use at the end of the Spring 2005 semester.
Purchasing the laptops and establishing the wireless network.
At the time of purchase (June 2004), we were able to make a bulk purchase, take advantage of a school-year end sale with Dell, and were fortunate to have our initiative supplemented with funds by the Provost, getting our laptop to GTA ratio to 1:1, rather than the 1:2 we thought we would have to work with.
ITS installed the necessary infrastructure and provided excellent support and troubleshooting as we figured out how to access and print over the wireless network. Unfortunately we were not able to test the system at full capacity until all of the GTAs were in Minard and in their offices August 16, and we did run into printer-access problems. Doing some of the necessary troubleshooting to make the network work properly cut into some of our planned training and assessment components, but we felt like the network needed to be fully functional or the training would be unnecessary.
The network was reasonably stable all semester. GTAs were always able to get a wireless signal within the Minard Office area, and only two students had to take their laptops to ITS for servicing during the semester. An informal survey conducted in late October turned up the fact that the weight of the laptop, especially combined with teaching and research materials, significantly reduced the mobility some had expected to have with their laptops—even some neck and back pain was reported. GTAs were also disappointed to realize how few wireless hot spots there are on campus.
Assessment of skills and first-semester progress.
Our initial assessment of GTA skills was not as thorough as we intended it to be because of the technical difficulties mentioned above, but we did ask GTAs to self-identify their skill level. Thirteen of nineteen have returned their surveys.
Six rated their computer skills as “moderate,” which we defined for the GTAs as “frequent uses of basic programs: word processing, email, web browsing. Some anxiety or reluctance to use a computer more and learn new programs.
Seven rated their skills as excellent: “daily use, familiar with a variety of programs, no anxiety associated with computer use.”
At the end of the Fall semester, we asked the GTAs if their self-assessment of their skills had changed after one semester of using the wireless laptop.
Six said “yes,” and four of those six had self-identified as “excellent,” so even a number of excellent users saw some improvements.
Four who said “no” added a comment that they were learning and becoming more comfortable with Blackboard and other applications, but they didn’t think they could be considered “excellent” computer users yet.
One said that his/her use was so heavy before getting the laptop that a change in skill level seemed unlikely. This person did say that the laptop made class prep much easier.
One said that he/she still viewed the computer as “the enemy,” but would continue to use one if required, but would rather not.
One made no comment.
We asked the GTAs if the basic training they received (orientation to the computer and laptop accessibility) the training for teaching (one day workshop in August, ongoing training for first-year GTAs through Classroom strategies for TAs and Graduate Scholarship), and the training for their own studies (through Graduate Scholarship for first-year GTAs) was succient:
12 Yes, 1 Not applicable because he/she was already familiar with the equipment.
8 Yes, 5 No. The “no” answers suggested additional programs they would have liked training on (PowerPoint mentioned twice), or were likely 2nd or 3rd year TAs who did not attend the Fall workshop. That said, we can clearly do more in this area through more robust fall training, more ongoing training, and more online training.
Training for student uses:
12 Yes, 1 Not applicable. Four specifically acknowledged the training they got in their course work (TA Strategies and Grad Scholarship), one mentioned the value of the community of learners, one simply said “I learned how to make a website,” one acknowledge the value of ITS in answering question, and the other six said they had good skills coming into graduate school.
We didn’t expect the GTAs to use their laptops in class extensively because projecting information would be easier with a MultiMedia Cart and because very few rooms on campus have wireless access, but we felt it was worthwhile to see what uses, if any, they had discovered. When asked on a five point scale how often GTAs took their laptops to class, they reported as follows:
Always = 0
Frequently = 3
Sometimes = 5
Rarely = 2
Never = 3
Their uses included:
- Show students how to access or use Blackboard (7)
- Show students online materials (6)
- Let students use their computer when in a cluster that did not have enough working stations (6)
- Collect work electronically (3)
- Do their own work (3)
- Play Cds (2)
- Show students grades (1)
- Conduct a chat session (1)
We did expect GTAs to use their laptops during 1:1 conferences with students, and the GTAs did make more use of the laptops for this teaching activity.
Always = 1
Frequently = 6
Sometimes = 2
Rarely = 1
Never = 3
Their uses included:
- Look at online material (8), the most frequent use for 6 of 8 GTAs.
- Show students how to format documents (8)
- Show students grades (6)
- Show students Blackboard (1). Some of the 8 who identified showing students online materials might have included BB—one respondent treated BB as “other use.” We will clarify the question next survey.
- Work while waiting (1).
We have learned from these surveys that for the most part, GTAs are satisfied with the kind of support and training they are getting, but we can also see that we have room to offer more detailed and extensive training and support.