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1 Bulletin of Applied Computing and Information Technology Free computing courses at tertiary education providers in New Zealand: A summary report 03: , May Trish Brimblecombe Whitireia Community Polytechnic, New Zealand Brimblecombe, T. (2005). Free computing courses at tertiary education providers in New Zealand: A summary report. Bulletin of Applied Computing and Information Technology, 3(1). Retrieved June 2, 2015 from Editors' note: The summmary published here is an abridged verison of the complete report entitled "Free Computing Courses at Tertiary Educaion Providers in New Zealand: Report on Surveys of Students and Providers"; for more details, contact the author. 1. Introduction The objective of this project was to carry out some initial research on the free short computing courses currently running throughout New Zealand. The initiative started in 1999/2000 at Universal College of Learning (UCOL) in Palmerston North and spread quickly across polytechnics and institutes of technology to private education providers and other organizations. In some cases alliances and partnerships have developed with schools and other organisations, in order to offer the free courses in small and rural communities, or jointly with private enterprise. The courses were promoted as part of polytechnic, community and private sector initiatives to lift national levels of computing and IT literacy. The courses could be offered free as they require minimal staffing and resourcing for the self-paced, mainly self-directed delivery. For many institutions they make maximum off-peak use of otherwise empty facilities. The courses could also be offered online with limited support as they are at a basic level. To be eligible for most of the free courses, people had to be over 16 and New Zealand citizens or permanent residents. The courses were generally eligible for government funding as community courses, but could be funded through other arrangements for example community trust or Iwi sources. As the courses spread across the country large numbers of people were enrolled. For most institutions offering these courses, this has resulted in a significant rise in overall numbers and funding over the past two to three years. Formal research in this area has been limited so far. Craig, Coman and Blair (2000) reported positive outcomes from families accessing free training through the Computers in Homes scheme. Hart and Sathu (2002) reported on positive outcomes for free computing courses at UNITEC. A strategy report from the Community Employment Group (2002) emphasised connectivity and the need for communities to have access to information and communication technology. A research study undertaken in 2003 by PricewaterhouseCoopers for the Tertiary Accord of New Zealand had a wide social, educational and economic focus, but was restricted to the Computing For Free courses offered by members of TANZ. The report from the study concluded that Computing For Free was contributing positively towards the achievement of government, student, institutional and sponsors' objectives by enhancing skills, creating jobs, contributing to foundation education and lifelong learning, facilitating connectivity and closing the digital divide. Searle (2003) reported on preferences for distance-learning delivery among students enrolled in SPACE (Self-Paced Applied Computer Education) through Wintec's Te Kuiti campus. Brimblecombe (2003) suggested that further research on the

2 courses nationally could be valuable for government departments formulating policy in a number of areas. By 2003 the number of institutions offering such courses had increased and the number of enrolments was known anecdotally to be growing. At that stage there were few statistics available in the public arena that related nationally to the free courses and people enrolling in these. Some initial research was proposed to survey the institutions offering the courses and the students enrolled in them. 2. Objectives The focus for the research was to provide particular information for the Ministry of Education as agreed. It was suggested the study could also provide some base line information that would be useful for institutions planning further courses, and that could be considered by government departments involved in formulating policy relating to issues of e-literacy levels and access to information and communication technologies in New Zealand, and employment readiness and productivity. Specific research questions focused on: the range of courses offered at institutions and their outcomes; the extent to which student needs and wants were met by the range of courses offered; student access to the courses; the availability and adequacy of the support provided for student learning; the curriculum design and course development processes that were used; what academic and technical standards were applied, including for online delivery; and what collaborative arrangements existed between providers for both development and delivery. The main focus of the study was on short introductory computing courses that were offered free, although a small number of institutions were also offering longer introductory computing programmes as zero fee. It was generally known that the free short courses at which the research was primarily aimed were eligible for government funding in the adult and community education category. It was not intended to include questions on funding and numbers of students in the survey of institutions as accurate information could be obtained by the Ministry in other ways. 3. Methodology An initial list of free computing courses at New Zealand institutions was first compiled through a search of information in the public domain including institution websites, brochures and prospectus. The focus of the research was on short computing courses although a small number of institutions were also offering longer introductory computing programmes as zero fee. Institutions identified as offering free computing courses were then contacted by or telephone to clarify details where necessary and to request support for this research project and their participation. An online survey for students was developed. Institutions were asked to encourage their students to complete the survey. Public advertisements were also placed in various media. The survey queried the courses students had taken and their outcomes, additional courses they would like to take, the type of access available, their experience of the free courses, and some personal details relating to gender, age range, ethnicity, employment status, highest tertiary qualification and home locality. A survey form was ed to individuals identified as responsible for managing the free computing courses at institutions on the list. Returned forms were followed up by phone or if it was necessary to elicit further information or clarify details. The survey queried whether the free computing courses offered by the institution led to a qualification, the curriculum design and course development processes that were used,

3 whether courses could be taken online, the academic and technical standards that were applied, and what collaborative arrangements were in place for development and delivery. 4. Discussion And Findings The range and structure of the free short computing courses offered at tertiary institutions in New Zealand is similar and covers basic computing skills such as keyboarding, word processing, spreadsheets, file management, presentations, desktop publishing, and Internet. Some institutions offer additional modules such as database and accounting packages. Some had also begun offering full-time introductory computing programmes free, or planned to do so. 17 institutions offering these courses took part in the survey. The majority of institutions reported that their free computing courses could lead to one or more qualifications. Institutions reported that their free short courses were mostly based on existing models and most course material was developed in house. Four institutions had offered courses online, in conjunction with two different commercial partners, however two institutions had ceased running courses online. Information on technical standards was limited however the commercial partner involved with the online courses still running believed that the courses complied with current accepted standards for e- learning. Several institutions indicated that online courses were either planned or a possibility for the future. All institutions reported that their free computing courses were approved at Academic Board level and that the usual quality management systems were applied. Several institutions were involved in some form of collaborative development as a result of arrangements to offer the free courses in partnership or as part of an alliance with other organisations. The responses received as part of the online survey of students indicated that the free courses most taken were modules of word processing, spreadsheets, desktop publishing, and Internet. According to the survey feedback, the courses students would like added included basic computing knowledge, database, accounting packages, graphics, design and multimedia, photo editing, industry certification, programming, operating systems, web page development, genealogy, CV preparation and music notation. The majority of the survey respondents were satisfied with the access times offered. 52% mainly accessed the courses during the day, 28% in the evening and 20% at the weekend. 66% reported they had to book in advance while 27% could turn up when they wanted. 12% of those who responded had access to online courses or online support material. Comments from students indicated more access to online courses would be welcomed. For most students the location of the courses was no more than 5 kms away. For 29% the location was between 6 and 15 kms away and for 8% it was over 15 kms. A large majority (87%) of respondents reported that the support available met their needs. 72% had access to self-paced workbooks or printed handbooks while smaller numbers had access to CD-based or online material. Most courses had no up-front teaching but provided one to one support when needed from teaching assistants or course facilitators. 22% reported that their courses included up-front teaching from a tutor to groups of people. 51% of respondents described themselves as knowing something about computing and wanting to learn more. 21% were competent in computing basics and wanted to gain specific new skills. 28% reported knowing nothing about computing before starting the courses. 86% reported that the free courses met their expectations about how much they would learn while 11% said their expectations were met partly. 3% reported their expectations were not met. Comments indicated some people thought they would learn more quickly, or that they needed more one to one help, or that their original expectations were not clear.

4 65% of respondents reported they would gain a certificate through completing the courses. The certificates mentioned included the International Computer Driving Licence (ICDL), Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS), various national and local certificates at Level 2 and 3, and attendance certificates and summaries. The survey respondents were 65% female and 35% male. 14% were under 30, and 26% were over % reported that the ethnic group they most identified with was NZ European, 7% identified as Maori and 5% as Asian. 40% were employed either full or part-time, while 24% were retired. 17% reported they were not employed and seeking work. 22% of respondents reported they had no qualification, while 17% had completed a degree. 15% had School Certificate or a Level 1 qualification, while 14% had a trade or vocational qualification. Most respondents who completed the online survey were from six localities: Auckland (14%), Bay of Plenty (17%), Canterbury (9%), Hawkes Bay (19%), Otago (17%), and Wellington region (14%). Other localities reported: Gisborne/East Coast, Manawatu/Wanganui, Nelson/Marlborough, Northland, Southland, Taranaki, Waikato, Wairarapa, West Coast. Additional comments from the survey respondents were very positive and emphasised the benefits of gaining new skills. A large number mentioned access to and the Internet as being of great importance to them. The social aspect of the courses was also evident. There are some limitations in this research. The online survey relied on students who would self-select to complete it and had a lower than expected response rate. Students were asked their home locality rather than to name specific institutions at which they were taking free courses as the survey was not intended to evaluate or compare institutions. A few institutions identified as offering free computing courses chose not to participate. Institutions were not asked about numbers of students or funding. The lower than expected response rate for the student survey may place some limitations on the accuracy of the data. 5. Conclusions The focus of the study was on short introductory computing courses that were offered free. Those spoken to at institutions were generally the front line coordinators and the academic department heads, who were sympathetic to the community aims and appeared to be in no doubt about the positive benefits for students they saw at first hand. Some were reluctant to involve students in what they saw as another evaluation and this impacted on the numbers who took part in the online survey. Compared to the numbers believed to be enrolled, the number of students who responded to the online survey was small and any conclusions from the findings must be viewed with this limitation in mind. The feedback received from those who did respond was very positive about the opportunities these free courses provide. Some gaps were identified in availability and access however a majority of respondents were very satisfied with their access to the courses and the support provided. Some groups needed encouragement to come to an institution and the strategy of taking the courses into the community addressed this. The social aspect or "club" atmosphere of the courses in various communities was recognised. A list of additional courses desired was compiled. Many students indicated interest in having access to the courses online. Further research may be needed to establish whether these views are representative. As the response rate was low it is difficult to draw accurate conclusions from student profiles, however the survey responses reflected lower rates for younger people, males and Maori/Pacific. Over 40% of respondents were in employment. The majority of respondents were females over35. The comments from students were very positive. The majority who responded valued the opportunity and their achievements. Free access to and the Internet was seen as a great benefit. Some students wanted to

5 gain basic skills to be able to help their children. 51% reported they knew something about computing and IT and wanted to learn more. As an initiative available throughout New Zealand, the free computing courses support increased connectivity of individuals and the gaining of information and communications technology (ICT) skills necessary to take an active part in a knowledge society. The community aspects of the courses are aligned with the objectives of a number of government initiatives including the recently announced Digital Strategy. Over the next ten or so years, provision of the free courses in areas not yet covered could provide the means to raise ICT knowledge and skills for particular sectors of the population. The joint involvement of relevant government departments could address issues around the continuance of funding. Institutions believed that the free courses provided pathways to other mainstream programmes and further research in this area to verify or disprove this view would be useful. In relation to the institutions who offer these courses, collaborative development has supported the rapid spread of the courses across the country. Future collaborative developments could include cost-effective, educationally sound online options that are linked to industry needs and workplace learning, and that provide recognition of achievement. Further research that focuses on these areas and includes relevant stakeholders would be of great value in determining the structure and scope of such developments. Quality aspects are among the issues that would need to be addressed. Note: During the progress of this research project, public interest in free community courses increased, particularly in relation to funding and quality aspects of some courses. This included free computing courses. Enrolment numbers and how courses were funded were not factors intended to be covered in this research, and the surveys were mainly completed before much publicity occurred. Acknowledgements Thanks to the Ministry of Education for support and funding for this project; to the tertiary education institutions offering free computing courses who completed the survey of providers (Aoraki Polytechnic, Bay of Plenty Polytechnic, Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology, Eastern Institute of Technology, Manukau Institute of Technology, Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology, Northland Polytechnic, Otago Polytechnic, Tai Poutini Polytechnic, Tairawhiti Polytechnic, The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, Unitec Institute of Technology, Universal College of Learning, Waiariki Institute of Technology, Waikato Institute of Technology, Wellington Institute of Technology, Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki, Whitireia Community Polytechnic); and to students who completed the online survey. Thanks to Onawe Burgess-Meade, Research Assistant, who carried out the initial desk research and contact with free computing course coordinators. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Ministry of Education.For access to the text of the full report, contact the author. References Brimblecombe, T. (2003). Free computing courses in NZ: considering their impact and importance. Bulletin of Applied Computing and Information Technology, 1 (1). November. Craig, B., Coman, C., & Blair, A. (2000). Computers in Homes Progress Report. 20/20 Communications Trust. Community Employment Group. (2002). Connecting Communities: A Strategy for Government Support of Community Access to Information and Communications Technology. Report for the Department of Labour. Hart, L., & Sathu, H. (2002). Critique and Conscience of Society: A Case Study of Free

6 Computing Courses. Proceedings of the 15th Annual Conference of the National Advisory Committee on Computing Qualifications, 2-5 July. Hamilton, New Zealand. PriceWaterhouseCoopers. (2003). Tertiary Accord of New Zealand Outcomes of Computing for Free. Searle, D. (2003). Report on distance learning preferences among SPACE students. Copyright 2005 Brimblecombe, T. The author(s) assign to NACCQ and educational non-profit institutions a non-exclusive licence to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The author(s) also grant a non-exclusive licence to NACCQ to publish this document in full on the World Wide Web (prime sites and mirrors) and in printed form within the Bulletin of Applied Computing and Information Technology. Authors retain their individual intellectual property rights. Copyright 2005 NACCQ. Krassie Petrova, Michael Verhaart & Christo Potgieter (Eds.) An Open Access Journal, DOAJ # , ( zotero)

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