A. A. BILGIN ET AL.

variables: age, sex, international/domestic status, whether Eng-

lish is the main language spoken at home, part-time/full-time

status, and the faculty of enrolment.

Categorical variables overwhelmingly taking a single value

were removed from consideration.

The collected surveys had very little missing data (1.7% of

fields). The items in the data set are presented in Tables 1-5:

Table 1 describes the demographic and timetable variables, and

Tables 2-4 describe Likert scale variables measuring students’

attitudes to the space, the learning and teaching activities, their

own learning style, and the class’s interpersonal dynamics,

respectively.

Statistics and Data Analysis

The statistical analysis was done in R (R Development Core

Team 2012) using the coin package (Conditional Inference

Procedures in a Permutation Test Framework) and the built-in

stats package. Descriptive statistics (mean and standard devia-

tion) for all variables are presented. Associations between

demographic/timetable variables and Likert responses were

tested at 5% and 1% significance levels, using rank tests: the

Wilcoxon rank sum test for dichotomous—ordinal associations,

the Kendall tau test for ordinal—ordinal associations and the

Kruskal-Wallis test for nominal—ordinal associations.

Results

Demographic groups found to be significantly overrepre-

sented in the survey sample were women (65.3% of respon-

dents but 54.4% of the class), students who spoke English at

home (10.0% of respondents but 3.7% of the class) and

part-time students (2.7% of respondents but 0.3% of the class).

In fact, more students claimed on the survey to speak English at

home and to be part-time students than were counted in those

categories in the enrolment database, suggesting varying inter-

pretations. These two variables, whether English is spoken at

home and full-time/part-time status, were both omitted from

subsequent analysis, along with faculty of enrolment, because

in each case, in either the class or the sample or both, one value

was overwhelmingly popular. The sex bias is substantial but

tolerable.

Table 2 shows that students generally considered the room

(C5C Forum) a suitable learning environment, with no very

significant (p < 0.01) demographic or timetable trends.

Table 3 shows an overall positive response to the teaching

and learning activities. Interestingly, in this group, students

most often agreed that they found it worthwhile to see other

students presenting their solutions to problems, but least often

feltconfident themselves to present solutions to the class. There

were two very significant associations: students with a heavier

course load showed a greater tendency to agree that they were

given an opportunity to work with other students on in-class

activities, and to be satisfied that the class provided a high

quality and valuable learning experience.

Table 3 also shows that a student’s timetabled practical class

was significantly (0.01 ≤ p < 0.05) associated with the percep-

tion that a variety of teaching methods were used, that the class

enhanced critical thinking ability, and that students were given

enough time to present their solutions to the class.

Table 4 gauged students’ learning styles. There were three

very significant associations, with older students more likely to

estrict their study to set work, and students in the evening lec-

tures more likely to look at the suggested readings and to find

working with others productive.

r

Table 5 shows that, overall, students found each other and,

especially, the teaching staff to be supportive and available.

Women found other students friendly and supportive (mean

5.21) significantly more than men did (mean = 4.61).

Conclusion and Discussion

Overall the results of this survey support the innovations we

have made to the location and structure of the practical classes.

The very significant associations in Table 4 are consistent

with our prior impression that older students and employed

students (who tend to be the ones in evening lectures) have

more focused and strategic study habits.

We have no control over the demographic variables, so the

associations most relevant to the refinement of our teaching

practice were those involving which practical class a student

attended. We found that the practical sessions varied in effect-

tive time management, in enhancement of critical thinking, and

in students’ perception of a variety of teaching methods. This

accorded with our finding, in observing the practical sessions

that the various tutors took quite different approaches to run-

ning the sessions, and that some were more skilled than others

at running the sessions to a workable schedule.

We have, of course, no wish to stamp out the personality of

any of our tutors, but more consistency seemed desirable, and

the quantitative and qualitative data collected from this study

led us to develop prescriptive lesson plans, outlining each prac-

tical session’s learning objectives and a timetabled sequence of

activities. This is an ongoing study, and the results of this re-

finement will be reported in a future publication.

Acknowledgements

This project is funded through the Innovation and Scholar-

ship Program, Faculty of Science Learning and Teaching

Grants Scheme at Macquarie University. The authors also wish

to express their appreciation to Dr Nino Kordzhakhia, Ms Bala

Pasupathy, Mr Anthony Lam, Mr Darren Johnson,Mr Ademir

Hajdarpasic , and Mr Grant Adams.

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