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Writing For Change: Pre-Course Survey

Pic: Nomadic Lass on Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Pic: Nomadic Lass on Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Are you participating in Peer to Peer University’s (P2PU) Writing for Change course? Did you recently complete a pre-course survey? Curious as to what the survey was about or what the findings were? Well, read on!

First, the survey was conducted by the OER Research Hub in collaboration with P2PU. Who are the OER Research Hub? Well, we are an award-winning Hewlett funded project based at Institute of Educational Technology (IET) at The Open University (UK) and we collaborate with great organisations and initiatives such as P2PU to look at the impact of open educational resources (OER) such as Writing for Change. We’ve also been conducting some research with School of Open; you can find out more about our findings to date here. I’m Beck Pitt and I work as a researcher on the project.

So, what did we find out from the pre-course survey? There are more findings and detailed analysis to come but I’m excited to present a selection of preliminary findings in this post. I’m also excited as the Writing for Change team have offered to comment on the findings and we’d like to hear your thoughts/feedback too. So, without further delay…

Who is participating in Writing for Change? 

The survey was open for just under three weeks (1 August – 20 August 2014) and during that period we received a total of 150 respondents to the survey, 146 of these were valid responses. Course participants were prompted on the Success page to fill in the survey after they had signed-up and responding to the survey was voluntary. We asked participants a range of questions, from their use of OER, learning preferences to what motivates people to participate in open courses and what community means to them (as the course is focused on creating communities around social justice funding proposals).

First, it was fantastic to note that we had an extremely high number of respondents to this questionnaire: just under three quarters of the total number of Writing for Change participants (215 people registered for the course) responded to our survey! In addition we had just over half of the 15 students from College Unbound, who created Writing for Change with P2PU and offer personalised and flexible routes to Higher Education study, fill in our questionnaire (5.9% of our total respondents (n=8)).  Thank you to all who participated as the findings give us a great insight into your experiences and thoughts.

So, what did we find out about the Writing for Change participants who responded?

  • Almost 70% of pre-course survey respondents are female (68.3%, n=99).
  • Over 70% of respondents are from either the Russian Federation, United States, Canada or the Ukraine (71.2%, n=104). Over a quarter of survey respondents are from the Russian Federation (26.7%, n=39). 40.4% of participants live in North America (n=59). 92% of Canadian participants told us they live in Ontario (n=23). The high number of participants from specific regions of the world (such as the Russian Federation) was of particular note: was this due to how the course was promoted/disseminated? Does it reflect the need for courses such as Writing for Change in particular regions? Or is it another reason? We have collected data on how people found out about the course and (see below) on reasons for participating in the course: when we conduct further analysis this will be an interesting area to examine in more depth.
  • Over half of all participants told us that English was not their first spoken language (53.8%, n=78).  Later in the survey we asked people their reasons for participating in the course: over a quarter of respondents told us that were participating in Writing for Change in order to improve their non-native language skills (27.3%, n=39).
  • 57.3% of respondents told us they are in full-time employment/self-employed (n=82). 18.2% of respondent are full-time students (n=26). Over 30% of respondents told us they are either a full- or part-time student in receipt of some kind of financial aid to help with their studies.
  • 6.4% of respondents told us they have a disability (n=9)
  • Of particular note was that over 80% of survey respondents (which, as noted above, represent just under three quarters of total course participants) have at least an Associate Degree or higher (82.9%, n=121) and nearly 40% of respondents having a Masters Degree or higher (38.4%, n=56). As you are probably aware, a number of studies on the educational levels of participants in MOOCs have shown that the majority of participants tend to have at least an undergraduate degree (see, for example, research on the University of Pennsylvania Coursera MOOC). The data collected from Writing for Change participants in the pre-course survey appears to support previous research on the educational attainment of participants in open learning opportunities. However, although it appears that a majority of people on the course have an Associate degree or higher, it would be interesting to look more closely at why this is the case. Is it because those who are in a position to apply for social justice funding are usually people in graduate roles and therefore the course would be more likely to attract people who have attained a particular level of formal education? Or does this finding reflect wider issues such as access to the internet and awareness of resources such as P2PU? Although this would need to be examined in more depth, it is of note that , when asked about their main reasons for participating in the course, just under three quarter of participants told us they were participating in the course for professional development reasons (74.1%, n=106).

Accessing and using the Internet  

90.2% of respondents have accessed the internet via a smartphone during the past three months (n=111) and 87.6% of respondents have accessed the internet at home using a broadband connection (n=106). In addition, over 20% of respondents told us they have accessed the Internet at home via a dial-up connection in the past three months (20.2%, n=19). The latter finding was of particular interest given that the majority of survey respondents access the internet via their smartphone and/or broadband: although, for example, there is a documented decrease in the use of dial-up in the US (see Pew Research Center findings on US dial-up use, for example) for this group of survey respondents dial-up remains a reasonably well-used way of accessing the Internet.

Within the last year…

  • Over 45% of respondents have downloaded files using a torrent client (46.5%, n=53)
  • Nearly a third of respondents have contributed to a Wiki (31.5%, n=34)
  • 57.1% of respondents told us they have contributed to an Internet forum (n=64)
  • 61.4% of respondents have downloaded a podcast (n=70) and 14.7% of respondents have recorded and uploaded a podcast (n=16)
  • Almost 55% of respondents have filmed and uploaded video content (54.9%, n=62)
  • 47.3% of respondents have published a blog post (n=53)

Use of Open Educational Resources (OER) 

In this survey we used the term “free online resources” instead of Open Educational Resources (OER). This change was made because unlike in School of Open courses, which focus on different aspects of open, the Writing for Change course is not as explicitly concerned with openness. However, it is of particular note that, within the context of a series of statements about community, over 80% of respondents strongly agreed or agreed with the idea that community is an important part of being open (82.8%, n=106).

92.1% of respondents told us they have used existing free online resources (n=105). The top three types of free educational resources used were reported as: Videos (91.7%, n=100), Images (88.8%, n=95) and/or lectures (82.4%, n=89). Nearly 80% of respondents also told us they use E-Books (79%, n=83) whilst just over three quarters of respondents told us they use tutorials (76.4%, n=81). The high percentage of respondents using explicitly educational material (e.g. lectures) resonates with findings elsewhere in the survey. For example the top three types of free online resources, repositories and/or educational sites used by respondents are: YouTube/YouTubeEdu/YouTube School (95.5%, n=105), TED talks (82.4%, n=89) and/or iTunes/iTunesU (61.4%, n=62). Similarly, whilst just under three quarters of participants are participating in Writing for Change for professional development reasons, just under a third of you also told us that you were participating in the course to improve your study skills (32.2%, n=46).

73.4% of respondents told us they have adopted free online resources to fit their needs (n=80). As with previous surveys we have run it would be interesting to dig deeper and find out more about how people interpret “adopted” and what this means within the context of their own practice.

A quarter of respondents told us they have created free online resources for study and teaching (n=27) whilst 13.9% of respondents have created resources themselves and published them on a CC license (n=15).

The top three challenges reported by respondents when using free online resources were:

  • Finding resources of sufficiently high quality (72%, n=72);
  • Finding suitable resources in my subject area (71%, n=71);
  • Knowing where to find resources (68.3%, n=69).

Motivation for Study 

We asked participants in Writing for Change which features of free educational resources they had encountered and what had motivated them to study. Respondents found courses which offered the chance to self-review progress and check answers motivating. Over 50% of respondents told us that they found being allowed to look back and review their progress through the course (52.2%, n=48) and/or being allowed to check whether they had answered a question correctly (51.1%, n=47) had previously motivated them to study. The third most popular response to this question also reflects this: nearly 45% of respondents said they found being given automated feedback on submitted work and/or being required to complete tasks for which an instructor would give feedback motivating (both 44.6%, n=41).

As one respondent noted:

I don’t NEED anything at all to motivate me.  I am just saying that none of this would ever demotivate me.  The only thing I prefer to work as I can rather than having set times.  ONLY because I work a lot and have to squeeze this in until that changes.” (Writing for Change pre-course survey respondent, August 2014).

As all P2PU courses aim to engender “peer-learning” and “community” it will be particularly interesting to see if being involved in informal learning opportunities such as Writing for Change changes participants’ perceptions of community and working with others.  Motivating factors listed for the question above that involved other students scored less highly than other factors and thus appear to have been less motivating to this group of respondents. For example, 35.9% of participants told us that they had found being required to complete tasks for which others students would give feedback motivating (n=33) and 30.4% of respondents told us they had found working collaboratively with other people to complete tasks motivating (n=28). Whilst more in-depth research on why people responded in this way is necessary it is worth noting that in order to find a feature motivating respondents would have also have also had to encounter it. The relationship between those encountering a feature and finding it motivating therefore also needs to be examined in more depth. Further, the way in which some features are implemented could also impact on how motivating people found them.

Further research is also needed as the relationship between how one participates in the course and what one finds motivating does not necessarily mean people prefer to work alone. For example, when asked about how they understood community earlier in the survey, although 6.9% of participants “disagree” or “strongly disagree” with the statement that forming a community with others is an important part of learning online (n=9), 70.2% told us they “agreed” or “strongly agreed” with this statement (n=92). Similarly, there was a mixture of responses to statements regarding preferences for working with others or working alone.

Finally, Writing for Change also offers participants the opportunity to earn three badges: Collaboration, Advocacy and Communication.   Just under a third of P2PU’s Writing for Change pre-course respondents reported previously finding the possibility of being awarded an online ‘badge’ for participation, skills or knowledge motivating (30.4%, n=28). In our post-course survey we hope to explore in more depth with people what motivated them during Writing for Change and I look forward to reporting back to you all on our research very soon.

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