A total of 933 students from 11 KMTC campuses, who had joined 44 higher diploma programs, were enrolled in the course. Of these, 49.1% were female, and 50.1% were male. All the students were already practising health professionals in various disciplines.
The facilitating team consisted of 22 research lecturers who met virtually and standardized the research teaching material. Besides teaching, lecturers participated and guided students in discussion forums on the e-learning platform. Each lecturer was allocated between 4 to 6 hours of teaching time for their preferred thematic area. The diversity of lecturers who facilitated this course brought a wealth of research experience. Also, this arrangement required fewer lecturers as compared with face-to-face teaching, whereby students are taught as per their speciality in different departments and campuses. The face-to-face arrangement that had been previously used to teach this course would have required 44 lecturers, each taking 60 hours. Standardization of learning material and team-teaching also improved efficiency, effectiveness and interprofessional collaboration in research. We observed that students were able to log in to the platform and participate in discussion forums or watch videos at their own pace (asynchronous learning). Also, they were able to attend live video conferencing sessions and engage in the chats with immediate feedback (synchronous learning).
Our records show that 65% (n = 613) of students attempted the pretest, but only 53% (323) answered all questions. The mean student performance for the pretest was 56.3% (sd 14.5). Also, we provided a posttest at the end of the module, but only 62% (579) of students accessed it. The mean performance for this test was 68% (sd 8.3), and only 266 students answered all questions. These tests were synchronous and required student to access the e-learning platform at the same time which created a surge in traffic. These events put a significant strain on the bandwidth of the e-learning platform and possibly made it difficult for students to access and complete the two tests. We filtered students who had answered all questions in both tests and performed a paired t-test to compare their pretest and posttest scores. The results showed that there was a significant increase in the knowledge level: scores for pre-test (Mean = 56.5%, SD = 14.3) and post-test (Mean = 67.8%, SD = 8.9); t (122) = 7.85, p < .001.
This course was planned within a short time and with limited resources. We experienced infrastructural challenges such as limitations in internet bandwidth, which often contributed to slow speeds on the e-learning platform, especially during synchronous activities such as tests. Unstable internet and power interruption in the homes of faculty and students also affected access to live sessions. Members of faculty and students were operating from their homes, most of which are in remote areas. The following is a comment from a student who faced technical challenges while doing the posttest exam.
“I did not finish my posttest exam yesterday as the system had malfunctioned due to technical issues. I only attempted 20 questions before this problem arose.” [Student on the course]
The lack of adequate technological skills was initially a challenge for faculty and students, but this improved as the course progressed. Also, early in the course, we found out that our videoconferencing option (Google Meet) could not meet the needs of such a large class, therefore, we explored several alternatives (Livestream on Google, Big Blue Button, Zoom). Through collaboration, we were able to find a suitable solution.
We asked students to rate the value of the course using a numeric-rating scale of zero to ten, with zero indicating an extremely low rating and ten indicating an extremely high rating. We also asked students to rate the quality of the course on an alpha-numeric scale of zero to six, with zero indicating an extremely low rating and six indicating an extremely high rating. Despite the challenges, the use of e-learning to teach research received positive students’ feedback with a high level of satisfaction and engagement with e-learning activities (Figs. 1 and 2).
The students involved in this course were grateful for the wealth of material and perspectives they acquired in this course.
“On my side, every topic is useful to me because l will implement the knowledge l have acquired to write my research, which every step learnt is important.” [Student on the course]
‘’It was a great learning experience from the first to the last session....and all sessions were equally useful I guess it’s because I had very little knowledge on research” [Student on the course]
Faculty experienced constraints such as insufficient technical skills, time constraints on already overloaded staff, the need for incentives and discomfort with the sudden requirement to share content online, including privacy concerns. These were overcome through a team approach and faculty feedback was generally positive:
‘It has been a great learning experience…let’s all celebrate this milestone in the history of KMTC…we have contributed to the success (of the research course) …thanks to the team leadership’ [Lecturer on the course]
‘That was a great team, and I am glad to be part of it’ [Lecturer on the course]
‘The organization and coordination skills were admirable…’ [Lecturer on the course]
We did not document the costs of the implementation - substantial costs are incurred in providing skilled personnel to provide e-learning support, learning design support, the production of e-learning materials and the infrastructure. A summative written report that highlighted the challenges, experiences and recommendations was shared with the college administration.