Evaluation of student facing web-based services: Studyit (Nielsen/NetRatings) Publications
This document is the final service report developed by Nielsen/NetRatings relating to the Studyit website and is complemented by two similar reports relating to the evaluations of the WickED and AnyQuestions websites.
Author(s): Melanie Ingrey and Tony Marlow, Neilsen/NetRatings.
Date Published: August 2008
Studyit service evaluation: Key conclusions
Young New Zealanders are increasingly embracing the online medium and it has become a source for both formal and informal learning. Both of these elements are facilitated by the Studyit service – formal and structured site content areas such as ‘Subjects’ and ‘Study and exam advice’; and the informal learning format of the forums, from which both posters and lurkers are gaining value.
Overall, student satisfaction with Studyit is high, with four in five users satisfied or very satisfied; and over three quarters perceive Studyit to be more useful, or as useful, as other online resources used for school. Those in the key target age for the site (16 to 19 year olds) are marginally more satisfied than younger students aged 10 to 15 years; and more intensive and longer term users of the service are also more satisfied, which is driving their continued visitation throughout the year.
The 24/7 availability of the service, the interaction with peers and teachers and the site’s relevance to NCEA assessments are key drivers of satisfaction and students in years 11 through 13 particularly value connection with other students and teachers. It is important to note, however, that just over one in three students have ever used the forums on Studyit but 16 to 19 year olds are four times more likely to use them than their younger counterparts. Of interest is that students attending lower decile schools reveal less use of the forums than others.Less than one in ten students had ever ‘emailed a teacher’ via the site but those who had displayed high levels of satisfaction with this service and in fact, the collaborative and communication elements of the site elicit the highest levels of satisfaction – the challenge is to encourage more students to use these functions.
The most popular areas of site content are ‘Subjects’, ‘Study and Exam Advice’ and ‘NCEA Requirements’, going against initial assumptions that the site is being used primarily for the forums -though there is a core group of active users of the forums, as evident from the high number of page impressions from this area of the site. Adults are positioning Studyit as a learning service or for study / assignment help – only 18% position the site as a place to communicate with other students. This reveals a need to better promote this aspect of the site to both adult recommenders and students themselves, highlighting the unique and beneficial nature of the forums while educating adults as to the safety of Studyit’s forums. This could be an important barrier to the degree to which adults position Studyit for communication – their hesitation to recommend an online service that may be perceived to have associated risks and dangers for students.
Also going against initial assumptions is the finding that after Maths, English is the most used subject on the site followed by Biology, Chemistry, Science and Physics; though active forum posters are more likely to be using the site for Science or Physics. As anticipated by the Studyit team, however, is that the site has a small group of loyal, frequent users and the survey found that close to one third of student users are first timers. This has implications for site usability practice and content, to ensure first timers have adequate introduction to the site and all its offerings and that they are guided into content areas with simple, straightforward language and explanations. Ultimately, the site should convert these first timers into longer term users who can be confident that the site will respond to their learning requirements or who simply gain value from the forums. While only 14% of students are highly active forum ‘posters’, a further half of students have ever posted but tend to read others’ messages or questions and there is little difference between the satisfaction of posters versus ‘lurkers’. This indicates that students can obtain just as much value from reading the posts, as they can from active participation. This element of the site is an excellent tool for teaching the core skills of relating to others, managing self and participating and contributing and it will be important to encourage greater trial and use of the forums among the two in three students not already doing so. Considerations include the development of an interactive and / or animated demonstration of the forums for new users as well as greater promotion and education of this service, as afore mentioned.
All in all, it appears that the benefits provided by Studyit, particularly to NCEA students, are being missed by a key group of students likely to obtain value from the service either through the formal or informal learning offered. The current student user base of the service has under-representation of students attending lower decile schools (decile 1, 2 or 3) – just 7% compared with 44% of students attending higher decile schools (decile 8, 9 or 10). This appears to be related to recommendation by teachers which is the greatest source of site awareness for students. Higher decile students are almost twice as likely to find out about Studyit from a teacher as are their counterparts at lower decile schools. Communication and education strategies are required to improve teacher awareness and levels of recommendation (particular teachers in lower decile schools), alongside search engine optimization strategies – search engines being the second most popular method of student awareness of the site.
Studyit users are also largely ‘achievers’ with only 6% not achieving NCEA Maths, Science and English. Overall, almost all student users are studying for NCEA (93%) and over half feel the site contributes to their NCEA performance, though only 9% feel it made a big contribution. While these findings are again testament to the site’s overall contribution to learning and its value, it also reveals there is room for improvement unless a measure of success, unrelated to NCEA contribution and performance, is to be more valid. Skills such as communication, social interaction / relationships, empathy and the ability to assist others could be regarded as important take-aways from the site and could be tracked over time, as an additional measure of site performance and success.
Increasing the site’s value
While Studyit is performing well among the current user base of students there is great potential to both encourage greater numbers of students to the site, and stimulate more use of the site among the existing user base – in terms of the areas of content and functions used as well as more frequent and ongoing usage. At present there is much ‘dipping into’ the site in response to a specific question or only at exam or assessment time. Much of the value that can be derived from the service can come from ongoing participation in the forums, meaning either posting and / or lurking, and only regular, ongoing use is likely to begin to build confidence to actually take the next step of communicating with others via the forums or to begin to get real value from reading others’ online conversations and interactions. Effective moderation of the forums is vital to this learning and to ensuring recommendation of the service from adults, and this aspect should be maintained at its current high level. Forums are also an ideal function to stimulate repeat and frequent use of the site among students as they can be highly engaging and interesting – for both posters and lurkers. Through the forums, students can also be guided toward other areas of site content by posting links to handy resources which reside on both the Studyit site as well as other external sites.
To encourage more students to the site, teachers hold the key and while many teachers have passed on the message, there is a distinct discrepancy in lower decile schools and awareness and education campaigns should begin with this group to reduce the present inequality. To account for home Internet accessibility issues among lower decile students, more school-based use of Studyit could also be encouraged, prompting teachers to introduce their students to the site and its content areas, particularly the forums, in a classroom environment, as a starting point for later independent use during study periods or lunch time.
Studyit’s reach and contribution to student learning, outside formal NCEA performance, should continue to be measured and tracked over time to ensure that the impact of service refinements and marketing efforts are accurately captured and the continued improvement of the site documented.
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