Web-Course or Traditional Exam – Students Choice

If a student would have a choice to take the same course at a university either as web-course or read a book and go to an exam, which one would he or she take and why? This was the question that we tried to solve at the University of Joensuu in Finland. There was a computer course going on in web-based learning environment but at the same time you could just take an examination. This gave a splendid opportunity to monitor why people chose a certain course mode. We studied students’ choices through psychological factors.

Web-courses are a part of every day life of Finnish students and thus are not unknown to them. This is of course a matter in most cases. There are still people who haven’t taken a web-course ever. There is only one learning environment used at the University of Joensuu called WebCT. It is not the best but using one learning space must help students to familiarise with it.

There are many factors that might influence students’ choices to take a certain type of course. One could take a web-course because he feels to gain better success with computers there as someone else would take it because he feels to get the course packed up easier. Our study didn’t only concentrate on reasons students gave but went further trying to find things that influenced their decision.

Previous studies, like Rosen and Weil (1994), had discovered that people do feel a certain amount of anxiety when they are working with computers. In most cases all new technology afflicts some fear to the users. They don’t feel to get any benefits for using a new devise and thus avoid the use. Same kind of avoiding has been reported in studies of Banduras (1986) socio-cognitive theory. This theory concerns about the beliefs that individual has about his succeed over the upcoming situation. Our study looked students’ choices through their felt anxiety and self-efficacy beliefs.

Both high anxiety and low self-efficacy are bonded to low performance (Garcia & Pintrich 1996, 477-486; Pintrich, Anderman & Klobucar 1994, 360-370). The influence isn’t linear because an individual who has a low self-efficacy has a greater chance to feel anxiety (Pajares & Kranzler 1995, 426-443). The main thing is that both of these psychological factors caused avoiding behaviour on individuals towards the cause of fear - in our case toward computers. Our key question concentrated on the students who felt high anxiety and had low self-efficacy beliefs on computers and would they rather take a traditional way and go to an exam avoiding computers used on web-course. And in both phenomena they did avoid web-course (p=.000 and p=.003).

Our study participated by students from five faculties. 110 of them took the traditional exam and 58 choose web-course. Here are some results. Men had higher computer self-efficacy than women (p=.000). Those who owned a computer had a higher computer self-efficacy than those who didn’t (p=.048). Those who knew more computer programs had a higher computer self-efficacy (r=-.614, p=.000). Women felt more anxiety (p=.000) and fear (p=.000) over the computers than men. Those who owned a computer felt less anxiety then those who didn’t (p=.016). Those who knew more computer programs felt less anxiety (r=.513, p=.000). Those who took web-course felt less anxiety (p=.000) and had higher self-efficacy (p=.003) than those who went traditional exam. They also avoided computers less (p=.003).

We used explorative factor analysis to determine different aspects to computer anxiety and self-efficacy. Results on self-efficacy were similar as Cassidys and Eachus’ (2002) study where they found that familiarisation of computer programs and previous experience were the strongest determinants to self-efficacy. Five factors of anxiety explained 49% of anxiety variation. These were named to fears, fear of test, getting feedback, avoiding and learning new things. Fears as very similar phenomenon to anxiety explained alone 27% of variation.

We also asked students to describe them selves as a computer user with one adjective. This gave interesting results as within ten students who had lowest self-efficacy described them selves as lazy, funny, helpless, lucky, unsure, inpatient, lazily, distant and two other witch can’t be translated. Ten highest self-efficacy students described them selves as versatile, active (x2), master, experimental, eager, good, independent, great and one witch can’t be translated. Almost the same pattern goes with students with ten highest and lowest anxiety score. These adjectives describe the phenomena’s quite well. Strong beliefs of self will make individual even stronger and the opposite. And those who don’t fear computers will gain success on web-courses. To stop the alienation from new technology would require powerful deeds from teachers of computer courses. The biggest problem is different skills that vary in class from zero to hackers. Teachers should give everybody challenges of their own level. One solution could be progressive teaching that insures that everybody know basics before proceeding to higher level.

During our study some interesting secondary results were found. Students of mathematical faculty had an average self-efficacy even though department of computer science is included on that. This is probably because they compare them selves to peers who are equal with computer skills. All together 94% of students in University of Joensuu have a computer at home. About half of the students who chose web-course took it because of its flexibility and only 14% because there was no certain time or place for the course. This is interesting because in most cases web-courses are reasoned through these factors that don’t actually seem to have none or little influence over students’ everyday web-studies. Right kind of flexibility on university studies could decrease students’ time on graduation that has been lately a small problem for universities in Finland as graduations have been drawn out.


This study was part of Masters Thesis work at University of Joensuu in Finland. Full text is available at the University of Joensuu library. Referring to this article: Pyykkönen, P. 2004. Web-Course or Traditional Exam – Students Choice. http://petja.pyykkonen.net/articles/article01.htm, published 26.11.2004.