Computer-based practical work at a distance: a case study

Jones, Ann and Petre, Marian (1994). Computer-based practical work at a distance: a case study. Computers and Education, 22(1-2) pp. 27–37.



How do students engage with distance teaching materials for carrying out practical computing work? How can we design teaching materials to make the situation better?

Questions about students' use of instructional materials are particularly important in the context of distance learning, when students have little or no teacher support. This paper reports the results of a case study of home computing use in the Open University course: ‘Computers and Learning’: which is typical of many OU courses in its use of different media: texts, video, audio-tapes and of course the computer practical work.

We describe how students go about learning to use the computer for their work; the kinds of problems they have and how they overcome them. Nearly all the students successfully completed their practical work: and did so within the allocated time. Nevertheless the process of carrying out the practical work, was not without its problems, and the students' reports about their practical work indicate more general issues in instructional design.

A major issue is the design of instructional materials that are geared to students with different prior knowledge and that can be readily used for reference after the student's initial exposure to it. The student needs to be able to structure the material in such a way that it can be reviewed, restructured and rearranged. Students are active in their learning and instructional materials need to facilitate this by providing an environment designed for exploration, but which supports learners and helps them when they make mistakes.

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