In my previous post, I outlined a portfolio of techniques that contribute to successful elearner engagement. Most of the techniques were those I developed during a period of research from 2000 to 2002 while teaching at The Correspondence School (TCS).
WARNING! LONG POST
In 2002, I presented a paper at the DEANZ Conference. I was part way through the research project. The results I’d gathered of my year 10 and year 11 learners who were following a programme of learning in Science, had shown promise the previous year.
It was on the strength of that research (2001) that I presented my paper at DEANZ 2002. At the end of that year, I had clear evidence that the success I’d seen the previous year was reproducible.
At DEANZ 2008, I was set to present a paper on the findings of my research (2000 to 2002). Through an administrative swan-up (a swan is bigger than a cockerel) I never presented my paper. Here is a brief summary of what I would have presented.
Research in elearning and associated resources:
TCS eSection (2001 - 2002) was a pilot group of 10 teachers, from early childhood to secondary, headed by Derek Wenmoth. The position description for a teacher in the eSection carried the following objectives:
Responsible for enhancing the educational outcomes of students, through the provision of appropriate resources and frequent interaction with the student that provides meaningful and informative feedback on progress and engages and motivates the students in learning.The establishment of the eSection was a first step towards achieving the goals outlined in the strategic plan of TCS. It was proposed that this would see us move rapidly towards elearning, while also maintaining a traditional curriculum delivery. The School was ultimately to adopt a new interactive teaching model, making use of digital resources.
Within the confines of the position description, teachers in the eSection were to find out the most effective ways to communicate with learners. We were to explore methods to create digital resources and to discover the most efficient ways to teach distance students using available digital technologies.
Day to day contact with elearners:
This was an exciting time. As a distance educator of several years, I’d never had an opportunity to be in contact with my students on a day-to-day basis, and for them to have direct access to a digital learning environment that provided immediate assistance when required.
Past experience in science teaching had taught me the significance of using models and visual resources that supplemented and enriched traditional learning methods.
There was no elearning management system in the school when we began preparation in 2000 for the following year. By the time the School had chosen to use Blackboard, I had already organised my learners, each with their own web pages that I posted their assignments to - I never got round to using Blackboard in this research.
A simple elearning interface:
At the end of 2001 I had a rudimentary learning management system designed and built by a brilliant technician, Glen Ogilvie, with some suggestions from me.
The simple LMS was robust and easy to use. It permitted my learners to access their own page where they viewed a summary of their progress. Assignments that learners had completed, as well as those on hand, were displayed, together with links to the relevant digital resources.
The courses my learners followed were all print based and consisted of write-on booklets. My job was to support them in their journey through the courses. As well, I was to provide them with digital learning resources that enhanced and extended the curriculum coverage of each Science booklet.
Here is a link to the enhancement page that accompanied the second of two year 11 booklets on electricity.
The html scripts on the resources were designed for the latest Internet Explorer Browser in 2002. Links may not operate the same way in more up to date browsers (for example, when viewed in Firefox, glossary links are opened with a double click).
In the weeks leading up to sitting the external National Certificate of Educational Achievement examination in Science, all eSection year 11 students were provided with an online tips page. I use this same updated page with my learners today.
Here are excerpts from my end of year report 2002.
Year 10 group:
The engagement and achievement of year 10 eSection science students (2002) reflected the results that I’d found with the previous, though smaller, group of year 10 students in 2001. In general, work submitted by students was of a high standard.
The return of student work showed that significantly more of the course was completed than would have been expected from students in the mainstream school. This, as well as anecdotal evidence gathered from student responses and other areas over the two years, suggested that the learning environment that was made available motivated student learning (for example see Case Study - Alycia).
Year 11 groups:
The mainstream level 1 science students I taught in terms 3 and 4 provided data which allowed a comparison between elearning and mainstream students. Only a few students in the mainstream group had an email address, so communication with those students was chiefly by return of marked work and written letter.
There was a significant difference between the average achievement of students in the eSection group compared with the mainstream group. In the following analysis, the term “active student” refers to a student who had sent in at least one item of booklet work this year.
Selection of students for comparison of the groups:
There was virtually no socioeconomical background information, either recorded on the student database, or available elsewhere in the School, of the students in the groups.
All active eSection students reached the standard to pass in at least one area of achievement. Six active mainstream students did not send in any test material for assessment, including the School September examination.
For statistical purposes, it was necessary to discount these latter students for a fair comparison to be made since the total absence of standard test submissions from a student did not necessarily mean that the student had not reached the standard in at least one area of achievement. It was considered that student data selected in this way provided a more valid comparison.
Comparison of achievement:
The selection process gave a group of 15 eSection students and a group of 15 mainstream students. The average number of booklets returned per student by each group was almost the same.
Tables 1 and 2 show the actual achievement standard test results of active students in the eSection group and the mainstream group respectively. In charts 1 and 2, the number of complete booklets returned, and the number of passes in each category (pass, merit or excellence) is represented as “average per student”.
For the eSection group, the number of achievement standard tests that gained at least a pass averaged a value of 3.3 per student. The corresponding student data for the mainstream group showed that the number of achievement standard tests that gained at least a pass averaged a value of 2.8 per student.
One eSection student passed all achievement standard tests with excellence. If the contribution due to this student is ignored, the most significant difference between the groups is the number of achievement standard tests passed with merit and averaged per student. In the eSection group. Almost twice as many students passed standards with merit as achieved straight passes. In the mainstream group, however, the number of passes gained with merit and the number of straight passes were the same.
Tables of raw data on standards achieved 2002:
Table 1 (achievement data for eSection group).
Table 2 (achievement data for mainstream group).
Bar charts - averaged per student (year 11 groups).
Case Study - Alycia - 2002:
This case study is of a student I taught in 2001. The name of the student and her grandmother’s name are aliases. All other information relates directly to the student.
Alycia is a delightful, 15 years old, full time student. She lives with her grandmother, Mary, a very caring, supportive caregiver who shares Alycia’s many interests and encourages her to pursue those as well as her school studies.
Alycia does not keep good health. It was partly due to this, and the treatment she was receiving for it, that eventually brought about her referral to TCS by Special Education Support. Evidently her appearance, brought on by the medication she was given, had contributed to her being the victim of severe bullying in her previous school.
Among other subjects she studied was year 10 Science. The eSection year 10 Science course is made up of two parts:
Alycia was immediately stimulated to learn more about science when she became a student in the eSection. She seemed to really enjoy using the computer for her lessons and saw the potential it had to help her to learn. One of the comments put on the student database by her form teacher was:
- Paper based resources – 15 standard Correspondence School booklets covering all aspects of the year 10 science curriculum.
- Web enhancements that accompany lessons in the paper based resources, permitting student self-assessment, as well as providing direct email feedback between teacher and student.
“(Alycia) really enjoying science with the e-school. Is doing this to the exclusion of other subjects.”
Her interest in science was obvious. Alycia wrote this in one of her early emails:
“I’ve got to tear myself away to work on my other courses . . . !”
Alycia visits her grandfather regularly. One day she took her science lessons to show her grandfather, for she was able to access her page on her grandfather’s computer. The next day she sent me an email about it:
“. . . He is very interested in Science and so is really pleased that I am too. He thought the activities were really great. . . . . . I really enjoyed the lab and so did my Grandad.”
Alycia had used the computer to bridge a generation gap with a common interest in learning about Science.
I believe that it was the inclusion of the computer and the support that Alycia received from Mary, that prompted her to take up Computer Studies midway through the year. This year and last, Alycia has achieved most of the credits in Computing at level 2 and at level 3 towards a National Certificate.
At the beginning of term 2, Alycia had access to her own web page on TCS web site. Her page held the links to the digital enhancements to her Science lessons. She was quick to provide me with a digital photograph of her new bichon frise puppy to put on her web page. She took a real pride in using the web page in her science learning.
Alycia’s enthusiasm for anything that takes her interest was evident from the start. This was the case with her eagerness to learn about Science, her zeal in using computers, and her joy in making her own music.
Alycia’s interest in music was made apparent to me just after the September 11 terrorist attack in New York. She wrote a song about the attack and its implications for humanity, and sent me a copy of the words in an email. At the same time she apologised for not being able to let me hear her song.
I sent her the site for Pure Voice, one of the recommended free technologies used for sending voice messages by email. When Alycia had downloaded the software, she and Mary immediately sang the song into her computer microphone and sent me a copy of the recording by email. The song was in two-part harmony with a twin guitar accompaniment, sung and played by her and Mary.
It was some weeks later, when Alycia was recovering from a period of illness, that I put a music sound file on her web page, at her request. The music was a simple electronic piece and was selected so that it played as soon as she opened her web page. When Alycia eventually got back to her normal work routine and visited her web page, she brimmed with enthusiasm at what she had heard and sent me an email:
“I've been really snowed under with personal pressures and work so it hasn't been until now that I've been able to really get back into work. I went into my web page today and I heard the music. I think the music is great, it's a really fun beat and it's got a really funky sound. I love it.”
Alycia went on to complete the year 10 Science course, and did very well in her overall achievement in Science. She was well equipped to go on to study her chosen year 11 subjects in 2002.
The events outlined in this case study show the significance of the incidental interactions, as well as the subject specific interactions, between student and teacher in the development of a good working rapport in the distance learning environment. Key to this success is the immediacy of the communication between student and teacher, made possible by the computer.
Alycia’s case is by no means an exception, for it is the close proximity of student and teacher, brought about by using digital technology, which can facilitate student centred learning in a distance learning environment.