This study examined the relationships between instructor role and medical students’ approaches to using online learning technologies in cloud-based online learning settings. The results revealed some characteristics of students’ perceptions of both instructor role and their approaches to using online learning technologies, and indicated that instructor support, instructor-student interaction and instructor innovation were significantly positively related to medical students’ deep approaches to using online learning technologies, and both instructor support and instructor innovation were significant predictors to medical students’ deep approaches to using online learning technologies. Instructor support was negatively associated with medical students’ surface approaches to using online learning technologies, and was the predictor variable on medical students’ surface approaches to using online learning technologies.
The characteristics of medical students’ perceptions of instructor role and their approaches to using online learning technologies
The results revealed that medical students appreciated the instructor role in a cloud-based virtual classroom in mainland China. They endorsed a certain amount of support and interactivity provided by their instructors, and instructors had a certain amount of innovations in a cloud-based virtual classroom. Meanwhile, most medical students agreed that they had adopted more deep approaches rather than surface approaches to learning in a cloud-based virtual classroom. Previous research indicated that providing effective instructional support and interactivity, such as effective course design, timely feedback and immediate communication to students in order to ensure that students have acquired the proper knowledge and felt more supported in the course, were particularly critical for the instructors in online learning environments [15, 17]. Therefore, in a cloud-based virtual classroom, medical students could perceive a satisfactory learning process supported by instructors who have made full use of various learning and immediate communications tools supported by cloud-based technology, such as Tecent Docs, bullet subtitles for sending queries and recording video of class in Rain Classroom, or WeChat which were found effective to improve students’ learning by enhancing their behavioral and cognitive engagement in e-learning environment . However, the results also indicated that students perceived higher level of instructor support and instructor-student interaction than that of instructor innovation during the learning experience in a cloud-based virtual classroom. So, it is still a challenge for instructors and administrators that how to improve the instructors’ technology application ability in cloud-based learning settings.
Results of the SOALT questionnaire showed that medical students adopted more deep rather than surface approaches to using online learning technologies in a cloud-based virtual classroom. This result is consistent with the results of previous research with medical students in blended learning environments . The possible explanation could be due to the medical curricula reform made in China in response to the Ministry of Education’s requirements to cultivate more reflective and self-directed medical practitioners, that was accordant with the global trend towards encouraging deeper learning in medical education . The main aim of medical curricula reform is to create a student-centered learning environment in which various teaching methods, unlike didactic pedagogies, are adopted to foster deep learning and understanding [31-33]. According to constructivist learning theory [33, 34], instructors may promote students’ deep approaches to learning by “ways of thinking about teaching and learning that emphasize student responsibility and activity in learning rather than content or what the teachers are doing” (Cannon and Newble, pp. 16–17) . Given that students may develop their approaches to using online learning technologies as shown by their level of responses and activity, it could be possible for instructors to make students more engaged in learning and better encourage them to adopt deeper approaches to using online learning technologies, such as inquiry-based activities designed by instructor via cloud-based education apps .
This study showed no significant difference in students’ perceptions of instructor role and approaches to among those with different demographic characteristics such as gender and grade. The previous studies about the demographic characteristics are mixed and elusive [36-38]. As the age range of the students involved in this study were significantly narrower (18-21 years), which could be unlikely to influence the students’ approaches to learning. In addition, students’ approaches to use online learning technologies are dependent on learning environment and experience [4, 39]. Therefore, further studies about the effects of student demographics on online learning process are expected in the future.
The relationship between instructor role and students’ deep approaches to using online learning technologies
This study revealed a significant positive relationship between instructor role including instructor support, instructor-student interaction and instructor innovation and students’ deep approaches in a cloud-based virtual classroom. The results from the regression statistics showed significant positive contribution of instructor support and innovation to the students’ adoption of deep approaches, and significant negative contribution of instructor support to the students’ adoption of surface approaches. The instructor innovation (𝛽 = 0.37) contributed more than instructor support (𝛽 = 0.33) as a significant coefficient in the regression with deep approaches to using online learning technologies as the dependent variable.
The positive effect of instructional support and innovation on students’ adoption of deep approaches to use online learning technologies among medical students, to our knowledge, is the first time to be reported. This results is similar with the findings of previous research into deep approaches to learning in blended learning environments . To attain a deeper learning in a cloud-based virtual classroom, it was more critical for instructors to offer proper guides on how to adopt deep approaches to using online learning technologies during learning process [4, 7, 15, 29]. because both deep approaches to learning and to using online learning technologies are positively related to students’ acceptance of online learning activities, recognition of online contributions, and their higher academic marks in blended learning settings [7, 29]. So, the instructional guidance includes not only about the content knowledge but also the integration of content knowledge and online learning technologies, for example, how to effectively access collaboration and use learning analytics to warn instructors about certain issues via cloud-based education apps. It is perhaps not surprising that the most positive correlations between instructor innovation and deep approaches to using online learning technologies, as instructors who keep pace with these new educational technologies could consider innovative and effective course design based on student needs, use various kinds of assessments including traditional assessment, rubrics and learning analytics to assess students’ learning, and perform activities with personal characteristics supported by a well integration of content knowledge and cloud computing learning technologies [15, 41].
The negative effect of instructional support on medical students’ adoption of surface approaches to use online learning technologies further supported the importance of instructional support to reduce student adoption of surface approaches. Compared with deep approaches, surface approaches to learning and to using online learning technologies are positively related to perceptions of unreasonable online course design and learning workload, and poor academic performance in blended learning settings [4, 42]. Therefore, instructors could create a high-quality online learning environment by providing proper instructional guidance such as critical discourse and reflection to boost deep approaches and reduce surface approaches to using online learning technologies.
This study revealed the positive relationship between instructor-student interaction and the students’ adoption of approaches to using online learning technologies, and there was no significant contribution of instructor-student interaction toward the students’ adoption of deep or surface approaches to using online learning technologies in a cloud-based virtual classroom. Previous studies about the effect of instructor-students interaction on students’ learning approaches did not show univocal results, and most researchers suggested student preferences for interactive teaching methods are significantly positively related to deep approaches [43, 44]. However, Booth and James’s study revealed the increased interactivity between teacher and students in the traditional classroom did not enhance students’ deep approaches to learning . These inconsistencies could be due to many complicated contributing factors to students’ adopted learning approaches, such as student personality, emotional stability and preference for teaching method, which were changing among tasks and individuals [44-46]. It is worth noting that previous studies mainly focused on approaches to learning rather than approaches to using online learning technologies, so this study extends our knowledge about the effect of interactivity on learning approaches. As for the no effect of instructor-student interaction on students’ adoption of approaches to using online learning technologies, the possible reasons are as follows. First, our results echoed the previous research which suggests the changes in learning context, such as increased interactivity, may not make any substantial difference to students learning approaches including approaches to using online learning technologies. By comparison, students learning approaches could be affected greatly by their cultural values, personal situations and other individual characteristics . Second, the instructor-student interaction might be focused only on stages of learning task, but not how to achieve desired learning goals by using the online technologies . Therefore, based on the results of this study in a cloud-based virtual classroom, instructors may consider various learning interactivity involving online learning technologies (e. g. availability or learning analytics via cloud-based education apps) to improve instructor-student interactions.
Limitations and directions for future research
The present study offered some insight into the characteristics of and relationships between instructor role and students approaches to using online learning technologies in a cloud-based virtual classroom in mainland China.
Some limitations should be noted as indications for future work. First, we did not identify the effect of instructor-student interaction on students’ approaches to using online learning technologies, which may be attributed to the students’ individual characteristics, such as personality, emotional stability and cultural values. Whether these students’ individual characteristics would be moderators of the relationships is also worth to note in future studies. Second, three dimensions of the instructor role in this study was examined (instructor support, instructor-student interaction and instructor innovation). It is also essential to determine how students’ approaches to use online learning technologies may change when instructors perform more different roles, such as boosting peer interaction. Last but not least, further study may consider a longitudinal research design to determine the consistent causation between these variables.