Spring 2007
ISSN 1477-1241

Student Satisfactions in using Work Packs as aids to learning

The work packs are planned and designed by Social Science tutors at MMU Cheshire in the Studies. The Department has had, for many years, a culture of encouraging independent learning and tutors often reflect on this process (see Parsons, 2005). The work packs are used at all three levels of undergraduate study and generally are weighted at one third of a particular unit. About half of the units offered carry this type of assessment. After the tutors have provided initial briefings the work packs are used independently by students as guidance notes are contained within each pack.

The work packs may take many forms and utilise factual information, attitude scales, case studies, lecture materials, academic readings, exercises based around narratives, essays, research activities, the internet and personal opinion grounded in academia. The work pack on SPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences), for example, is computer based and is designed as a kind of factual `hand-book’ to practice how to input and analyse data. Used in conjunction with appropriate texts, tutorials guide students through `defining variables’; `using descriptive statistics’; `analysing data using a statistical test’ and `interpreting results’.

Other work packs on social science methods need to employ different designs and approaches. For example, the 'Participant Observation' package contains tutor generated academic readings that guide students through the fieldwork techniques which professional social scientists use when observing people in their everyday lives. Thus, it helps students 'get started' by providing a narrative that defines this method. It explains the various roles that can be adopted and outlines some of the theories, trials, tribulations and rewards of employing this type of data collection. The work pack then invites students to visit the library, search for several case studies and answer a series of set questions. Student work packs, on `Interviewing and Questionnaires’, on the other hand, contain fully self contained readers, with set questions needing short narratives, or mini essay style answers. These work packs ask students to develop various scenarios, whereby, they are invited to design research schedules on social science topics that they may wish to investigate, such as `unemployment’, `crèche facilities’, `juvenile crime’, public transport in Cheshire’ etc.

Self Reflective Journal work packs are also utilised. Here, the entire work pack may be based on reflecting on theories whereby psychology students are asked to ponder and reflect on theoretical perspectives of 'The Mind'. They would then be invited to write a series of answers on set questions and apply the reading they have done to their own biographies and personal identities and general life coures trajectories. Other work packs are designed in an 'Open University' style whereby students are required to study sets of readings and complete exercises based around modules. For example, the 'Achieving a Healthy Society’ work pack adopts this approach and offers exercises on `definitions of health’, `factors affecting personal health care’, the construction of health beliefs’, `health promotion and health education’.

Still further, some introductory social science work packs allow students to answer questions using a series of mediums all contained in just one pack. For example, `short note’ answers are required for sampling questions, with `mini essay’ answers used for questions on interviewing techniques, whilst questions based on narratives are utilised for case studies. The uses of academic articles are also employed for answers to documentary research techniques.


Aims of the research

The aim of the research concerns student satisfactions with a range of Independent Study Work Packs which are completed as part of their unit assessment.

Method

Self-completed questionnaires were used as a data collection instrument. The questionnaire consisted of open ended questions which enabled qualitative data to be collected as well as closed ended questions which provided factual and statistical data. Attitude scales were also used. The fieldwork employed the group administered method involving 50 second and third year social science students at MMU Cheshire. The age band of the sample ranged from 18 to 55 years, although 80% were aged 18-25 years with 80% female and 20% males. The students had completed a number of work packs for several different units. A total of 44% had completed two work packs, 8% three work packs, 22% four work packs, and finally 26% had completed five work packs. Students were invited to answer a range of questions covering three general areas of the work packs; a) content and layout; b) satisfactions with work pack questions and c) satisfactions with work packs as aids to learning.

Results

A: Content and Layout

A total of 90% of the respondents stated that the work packs had related well to the units being studied. Comments included:

"The self learning packages were relevant to the work being studied and provided useful, more detailed knowledge for other coursework and exams”

“They highlighted what I needed to do - providing information on the current issue I was looking at. It also provided references and web sites I could look at therefore widening my sources” “The work packs have been relevant to each topic and provided us, as students with the much needed push to really think for ourselves!”

“The workbooks were a good learning exercise as they developed summary skills”

“I feel there is more direction in work packs in what you are supposed to be doing. I am dyslexic and workbooks are more useful to me in learning; they are easier for me to understand. Because it was related to the topics we were studying it helped me in my overall learning”.

Most students (84%) felt that the work packs had been well written, 6% suggested some improvement here, whilst 10% failed to respond. A total of 84% stated that the work packs were easy to understand; in comparison 12% of students had some difficulty in their understanding, with the remaining 4% were unsure or did not know (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Were the Work Packs easy to understand?

Time, word count and weightings

The time students spent completing the work packs ranged from 0-4 hours (10%) to over 25 hours (16%), with 28% spending 5 - 9 hours and similarly 28% spending 10 - 14 hours (See Table 1). In addition 56% of students did not know whether the number of average hours they spent completing the work packs exceeded the suggested number of hours required to complete them (see Table 2.). Table 2 also shows that 22% of students did exceed the number of suggested hours, and that 22% felt that they were below these hours. As can be seen from Table 3 the results of the study indicate that 84% of students felt that the time allowed to complete the work packs was adequate, in contrast to only 2% of respondents stating that there was not enough time, also 14% of students ‘did not know’.

Table 1
Average Hours Students Spent Completing Each Work pack
Hours Number Percentage
0 - 4
5
10
5 - 9
14
28
10 - 14
14
28
15 - 19
6
12
20 - 24
1
2
25+
8
16
No response
2
4

 

Table 2
Did The Number Of Average Hours Students Spent Completing The Work packs Exceed The Suggested Number Of Hours Required To Complete Them
Response Number Percentage
Yes
11
22
No
11
22
Don't Know
28
56

 

Table 3
Did Students feelthat the time allowed to complete the work packs was adequate
Response Number Percentage
Yes
42
84
No
1
2
Don't know
7
14

 

The results of the questionnaire in Table 4 show that 60% of students felt that the recommended word length needed to complete the work packs was too short. In addition 4% of students stated that the word length was too long and 28% felt that it was adequate, whereas 8% of students ‘Did not know’ or were unsure. The respondents were also required to expand on their answer.

Table 4
How Students Felt About The Recommended Word Length Needed To Complete The Work packs
  Number Percentage
Too short
30
60
Too long
2
4
Adequate
14
28
Don't know
4
8

The 30 respondents who indicated that the word length was too short offered the following comments:

“Some of the questions seemed to require a lot more information than the word length suggested”

“Too short because depending on your style people tend to need the space to get their points across. My essay was well over word length yet still lacking in information”

“In many of the work packs there were a large number of separate questions. In order to gain best results I wanted to complete each question however short as fully as possible. This resulted in exceeding the word count”.

“Not enough space to expand on my ideas and research”

“Both packs were extremely involved pieces and thus it was difficult to confine the answers to the word count and even when being concise it was difficult”.

“Cutting down answers to fit into word length meant some points had to be missed and marks seemed to suffer”.

 

Typical comments regarding the word length as adequate:

“Although I went over word length I think it was adequate if a well packed answer is given to the question - getting straight to the point”

“There wasn’t too much, it was a reachable target”

“Word length was adapted to the type of questions provided”

Table 5 indicates that 4% of students felt that the weighted percentages allocated to the assessed work packs were too low, however the majority, 74% stated that the weighted percentage were adequate, with 6% of students indicating that it was too high, 14% ‘didn’t know’ and 2% failed to respond. A total of 36 gave reasons for their answer. Typical responses were:

Too low: “Quite a lot of time goes into them and a lot of them are only worth 10%”

“Considering that some of the work packs were only weighted at 10%, I felt that this did not reflect the amount of work needed to complete them”.

Too high: “Because it had a small word length compared to conventional essays it should be weighted less”

Adequate:“Due to them representing the correct amount of time needed to be spent on them in accordance with other pieces of work”

“It was reasonable for the amount of effort involved”

“I did two Sociology work packs, the rest of the assessments for the unit were equally assessed so I
thought it was fair."

Table 5
How students felt about the weighted percentages allocated to the assessed Work Packs
Response Number Percentage
Too low 2 4
Too high 3 6
Adequate 37 74
Don't Know 7 14
No response 1 2

 

B: Satisfactions with work pack questions

Students were invited to provide information directly relating to the type of questions within work packs and how they have helped with the learning experience. The majority of students found that all the question types (Mini Essay, Attitude Scale, Scenarios, Short Answers, Factual Statements, Personal Opinion and Case Study) provided high or neutral levels of help. The results in Table 6 indicate that 66% found Factual questions the highest levels of help, with 30% of students feeling they provided ‘Neutral’ help and only 4% found that they were of low levels of help. However 26% of students stated that personal opinions provided high levels of help, 59% felt that the help that they gave was ‘neutral’, and 15% felt that they provided low levels of help. Also, within the neutral category the majority of respondents 78% felt that attitude scales provided neutral levels of help, with 8% stating that attitude scales were high levels of help, and 14% felt they provide low levels of help (see Table 6).

Table 6
Question type and level of help in relation to students learning experience
Question Type High levels of help Neutral Low levels of help
  Number % Number % Number %
Mini essay 27 61 11 25 6 14
Attitude scale 4 8 39 78 7 14
Scenarios 17 41 20 49 4 10
Short answer 23 53 14 33 6 14
Factual 29 66 13 30 2 4
Personal opinion 12 26 27 59 7 15
Case study 26 56 16 35 4 9

N.B. Figures do not add up to 100% (response rate of 50), due to the fact that some students failed to respond to the entire question types.

 

In addition Table 7 indicates that a significant proportion of respondents 18 (30%) preferred mini essay as a type of question. Short answer/notes were the favoured question type for 10 (17%) of students, 10% of respondents preferred Scenarios, as did 10% preferring Factual questions and 10% Case study questions, also 8% favoured personal opinion and no students preferred attitude scales, with 15% of students failing to respond to this question.

Table 7
Preferred Question Type
Question Type Number Percentage
Mini essay
18
30
Attitude scale
0
0
Scenarios
6
10
Short answer/notes
10
17
Factual
6
10
Personal opinion
5
8
Case study
6
10
No answer
9
15
Total
60
100

 

Students offered the following comments:

“Case study these lend themselves to relating unit learning to real life”.

“I prefer to do mini essays I can elaborate on my answer it also helps with further examinations”.

“Scenarios because it makes you think about how things relate to real life situations”.


“I prefer questions which are factual as I know there is a right or wrong answer”.

“Short answer/notes are good for revision purposes”.

Table 8
Type of Questions Students Dislike
Question Type Number Percentage
Mini essay
2
4.5
Attitude scale
2
4.5
Scenarios
6
13
Short answer/notes
4
9
Factual
2
4.5
Personal opinion
9
20
Case study
1
2.5
No answer
19
42
Total
45
100

NB the response rate for this question was 45 students

A total of 42% failed to indicate their dislikes with the work pack.

“Short answers I felt they were of a low academic standard”.

“Mini essay style; as this is defeating the object of a workbook in my view, if this is the case an essay question should just be set”.

“Scenario questions, not always sure what is expected”.

“Attitude scale and personal opinions, you learn nothing new and they seem to have no real relevance or value”.

“I disliked questions where we had to find previous studies -generally because our library proved to be insufficient”.

“A question with lots of figures and percentages, I find them more difficult to understand”.

“Questions too heavily weighted towards theoretical learning.”

“Found it difficult to link ideas to practice.”

"I haven't! If I have a problem I chat with Ken (the lecturer). More than anything it might be a misunderstanding but that is quickly resolved .”

C: Satisfactions with work packs ashelpful learning aids?

As Table 9 shows 66% of students felt that the information provided within the work packs was sufficient enough to answer all the questions, whereas 18% stated that it was not sufficient, and 16% of students ‘did not know’ or failed to respond. There was a variety of other data collecting resources being used by the students to complete the work packs. These included the internet, journals (hard copy), journals (online), books, newspaper reports and interviews reports, other students, and their previous social science experience.

Table 9
Students Responses To Whether The Information/ Reading Provided Within The Work Packs Was Sufficient To Answer All Of The Questions
Response Number Percentage
Yes
33
66
No
9
18
Don't know
7
14
No answer
1
2

The majority of respondents stated that the work packs were a satisfactory form of learning/ teaching. Responses relating to this view included:

“It gave me the ability to study alone”.

“I personally found it made me learn more, as it made me research the topics more as the information needed was more in-depth”.

“I expect learning at this stage of my life to be more self-directed, so in that context I am satisfied when I receive a work pack”

“I feel that the quality of learning does not suffer. I find it forces you to find information for yourself and form your own opinion”.

“Doing own research to compliment the work packs has given me the opportunity to get a deeper understanding of the subjects”.

“I prefer it as it is active learning and requires effort on my part”.

“I enjoy the break in the timetable as it allowed me to motivate myself and meant that I personally was in charge of my own development”.

“Good to have a change, to break down a unit”.

However some students felt dissatisfied when the work packs replaced the more traditional forms of teaching:

“Not very satisfied, having lectures and seminars gives us the ability to ask questions about subjects we don’t understand”.

“Not very - too time consuming”.

“I prefer the traditional structure of lectures and seminars; I found the workbooks to be brief and not a valuable learning experience”.

“Not very satisfied - feedback only comes after all questions have been answered and there is no opportunity to try out and revise responses or to discuss questions and responses - it is basically like a postal course”.

“Work packs are relevant but not quality teaching”.

In addition as Table 10 indicates, the majority of respondents 58% have felt that when the work packs have replaced the traditional forms of teaching there has been adequate tutorial support, in contrast 26% felt that tutorial support was inadequate, although 8% of respondents ‘did not know’ and 8% failed to respond.

Table 10
Was there adequate tutorial support?
Response Number Percentage
Yes
29
58
No
13
26
Don't know
4
8
No answer
4
8

A series of questions was asked concerning student satisfactions with the work packs as aids to their learning. The majority of respondents either strongly agreed or agreed with all the statements presented in Table 11. The statement ‘the work packs have provided an appropriate method of assessment’ provoked mixed answers, although a significant proportion of respondents (52%) agreed with this statement, 18% strongly agreed, 14% had a neutral view, 6% disagreed and 10% failed to answer. In addition the statement ‘The work packs have been a valuable learning tool’ prompted the highest response: 70%, in both the agree categories.

Also as indicated in Table 11, 42% of respondents stated that the work packs have promoted independent learning, with no students disagreeing here. A total of 70% of students either strongly agreed or agreed with the statement that the ‘work packs’ enhanced their learning skills’ in comparison to 4% who gave a negative response. Just over half of the students (58%) either strongly agreed or agreed (10% and 48% respectively) with the statement ‘work packs have expended my theoretical learning knowledge’ with the remaining 52% either strongly disagreeing, disagreeing, having a neutral view or failing to respond. The statement ‘the work packs allowed me to work at my own pace’ also provoked a positive response, with 24% strongly agreeing and 46% agreeing with this. In comparison none of the respondents strongly disagreed, 10% disagreed, 10% remained neutral and 10% failed to give a response.

Table 11
Statements and Students Responses
The work packs have Strongly
Agree
Agree Neutral Disagree Strongly
Disagree
  No. % No. % No. % No. % No. %
(a) provided an appropriate method of assessment 9 18 26 52 7 14 3 6    
(b) been a valuable learning tool 10 20 25 50 7 14 1 2 2 4
(c) promoted independent learning 21 42 19 38 5 10 0 0 0 0
(d) enhanced my learning skills 1 24 23 46 8 16 1 2 1 2
(e) expanded my theoretical knowledge 5 10 24 48 13 26 2 4 1 2
(f) allowed me to work at my own pace 12 24 23 46 5 10 5 10 0 0
No answer: 5 (10%)                    

In addition, as is shown in Table 12: the majority of students stated that the work packs had compared favourably with most other forms of formal assessment. Results show that they have compared most favourably with end of year exams, with 68% of students either strongly agreeing or agreeing to this. This was followed by the class test (58%), critical analysis (48%), presentations (46%), essays (44%), and reports (40%). In comparison 18% had indicated that the work packs had compared less favourably with essays, 12% with presentations and reports, 10% the class test and 6% with end of year exam with 12% failing to respond. However a significant students remained neutral within all answers as can be seen with 36% remaining neutral as to whether the work packs had compared favourably to reports and 12% failed to respond in all categories.

Table 12
Students views to whether the work packs have compared favourably to other forms of formal assessment
The work packs have compared favourably with other forms of assessment Strongly
Agree
Agree Neutral Disagree Strongly
Disagree
  No. % No. % No. % No. % No. %
(a) essays 9 18 13 26 13 26 7 14 2 4
(b) reports 4 8 16 32 18 36 4 8 2 4
(c) presentations 15 30 8 16 15 30 6 12 0 0
(d) critical analysis 5 10 19 38 14 28 4 8 1 2
(e) class test 12 24 17 34 10 20 4 8 1 2
(f) end of year exams 19 38 15 30 7 14 3 6 0 0
No answer: 6 (12 %)                    

The open ended questions prompted mixed views. A total of 37 students commented on "which aspects of the work packs they felt were particularly good". Responses included:

“Encouraged me to do more research and reading”.

“Those, which required you to consider strengths and weaknesses of methods”.

“Where it was necessary to get to grips with theories and discuss them”.

“Being able to work at my own pace and work independently”.

“Where research material was provided on thoroughly engaging topics, questions asked forced you to study carefully, it helps you get more out of something interesting”.

“Working at my own pace, it also gave me an insight and encouraged me to read further”.

“The introductory questions that were not too long as well as the quite long general questions - I liked the way there was a variety”.

“Having a choice of subject, and breaking work into parts, rather than simply writing long essays”.

In contrast the question concerning the aspects of the workpacks that were particularly weak in enhancing students learning experience also provoked many views. However of the 31 students who stated, 11 cited that there were not any significant weaknesses within the work packs. Although other comments included that:

“Some required material which was unavailable”.

“I found the note taking rather pointless as I am in my third

“The limited word limit hindered my learning because I could not develop my answers…”.

“Short answers were of low academic standards. The work does not seem to be hard or challenging, the fact the lecturer had to explain the meaning of hierarchy highlights this!”.

“Those focusing on personal opinions”.

“In the first year trying to create an answer to scenarios as looking back I choose the wrong solution and lost marks”.

Many respondents also had mixed views on what they felt had the biggest influence on the quality of their learning and teaching experience. Out of the 50 respondents, 39 students responded stating that the biggest influences on their academic experiences included: lecturers, lecturer inputs, seminars, student input, own research, independent work, learning resource centre, internet, books, journals, enthusiasm and individual effort.

 

Discussion

The results show that, on the whole, Independent Study Work packs are seen by the majority of students to be a very useful aid to their learning experience. Information gleaned from the study has helped to enhance, develop and inform the curriculum and the learning experience. In addition, it also aids the planning of innovative learning materials, which will allow for a wider participation amongst all undergraduates and teaching staff, and expand and enhance student modes of learning at Manchester Metropolitan University. The work packs we use at MMU Cheshire can be adapted to suit most subjects throughout the university sector as a whole.

The results of the study have also been used as an agenda for further research, currently being conducted. This has been funded by The Learning and Teaching Unit at MMU Manchester and goes beyond the work packs by examining the total student experience. This has involved group interviewing approximately 50 students on foundation (Access) courses, social science undergraduates and post-graduates all based in the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies at MMU Cheshire. Thus, the work pack research mentioned here should be seen as one set of data which will be analysed further in conjunction with the group interviews in an effort to create further `models of student types’. Additional research is also planned that involves interviewing the teaching staff who have taught all the students involved in both research projects.

 

Acknowledgements

Thanks go to the Learning and Teaching Unit, MMU Cheshire, who funded the research. Thanks also to the students in the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, who completed the questionnaires, and to Sophie Johnson and Karen Goodwin, the postgraduate researchers, who helped with the data analysis.

 

References

Parsons, K. (2005) Undergraduate Experiences and Reflections on Using Independent Study Work Books, paper presented at the rd Learning and Teaching Conference, Manchester Metropolitan University, MMU Cheshire, Crewe Campus – 2nd November.

 

 

About the Author
photo of Ken Parsons
 

Dr Ken Parsons
Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, MMU Cheshire

e-mail: k.parsons@mmu.ac.uk
telephone: 0161 247 5400

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