Increased Participation by University Students in External Paid Employment Fuels the Need for Flexibility in Online Delivery
Division for Lifelong Learning
Computing, Health and Science
Exercise, Biomedical and Health Science
The participation by Australian and New Zealand students in paid employment has risen from 55% in 2004 to near 80% in 2006. This trend amongst students to seek external paid employment to cover high living and university costs has put pressure on students‘ engagement with their studies. Moreover, the shift of student activities off campus has seen lecturers alter course delivery so as to provide more online material. As part of a joint project between three West Australian Universities to deliver effective online feedback for 1099 first year Human Biology students, we examined the relationships between engagement in paid work, expectations, achievements and student participation in learning activities. Seventy percent of students surveyed were in paid employment, working an average of 12.7 hours per week with males on average working slightly longer hours than females. Ninety seven percent of these student workers classified themselves as full-time students even though in some cases, students were working more than 30 hours per week. Notably, expectations of success in their Human Biology studies varied inversely with the number of hours worked, and the test scores of those claiming to have achieved at their level of expectation were lower. Working students were significantly less likely to feel satisfied with their test scores indicating that achieved scores did not accurately reflect their understanding of or abilities in the subject. Where feedback was provided to all Human Biology students at the three universities, those in paid employment found less uses for feedback as working hours increased. Significantly, after hours (often past midnight) access to online tests and feedback provided students with requisite flexibility to achieve their study needs. The implications of these findings are discussed in terms of course structure and flexibility of delivery. The urgent need for changes to the curriculum so as to address student needs is also discussed.