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[ 2004 Proceedings Contents ] |
This paper presents a critical analysis of the multi-semester attempt to improve a second year unit in authoring within a multimedia course. The unit has a reputation for being difficult, has a significant failure rate and multiple students repeat the unit before passing it. Based on the authors' previous success implementing more authentic activities in a first year unit, this represents the first of two articles describing two planned stages of increased application of the principles of scaffolding. It was our judgement, supported by a literature review, that judicious application of the constructivist principles of scaffolding in particular were going to be a fruitful approach and that these were critical to improving the previous levels of student satisfaction and performance. The reasons for this judgement and the planned solution are presented, as well as a summary protocol for assessing the likely changes.
This paper reports the search for alternatives and the proposed solution within a paradigm Reeves (1999) calls development research. The authors (the unit lecturer and an instructional designer) describe plans for sufficient alterations to improve some measurable outcomes like student pass rates, satisfaction and drop out rates. A second retrospective paper is planned to report the results. Such an approach is not new, but represents a theme that has occurred in research settings over many years, eg, Campton, (2003) at a previous ASCILITE conference. The methodology is justified because it publicly records planning before the moment is lost, and before hindsight obliterates all but the successful planned improvements.
The student reputation of the unit is that it is one of the harder units in the course with a high dropout rate and significant failure rate. The unit was recently taken over by one of the authors, and after teaching it relatively unchanged the opportunity to further adjust the learning environment now presents itself. One way to improve the pass rate would be to make the unit and its assessments simpler, but this seemed inappropriate in the circumstances.
University statistics for 1999-2002 period for the undergraduate program done by most of the students who take this particular unit (or course) give an average failure rate (excluding withdrawals, dropouts and incompletes) of around 14%. This multimedia unit itself has had a rate of around 20-24% over the last three years (personal communication, Harry Leith, 29 July, 2004). It was in this context that the authors decided to plan some restructuring of the activities, assessments and interactions of the students enrolled in the unit.
A strength of constructivist approaches to teaching and learning appears to rest with the notion of scaffolding, where through social interactions, learning supports and carefully structured learning settings, more knowledgeable others help the inexperienced learner develop new skills and understandings (eg, Pressley & Hogan, 1997)
Of interest in this research were the social interactions involved in the learning and the particular interactions around the gradual development of new skills and knowledge of participants in a blended learning environment as they learned about and acquired skills in authoring with a multimedia authoring tool.
Two influential theorists who advocate social interaction in the construction of knowledge are Vygotsky and Dewey (Glassman, 2001). While Vygotsky emphasises the importance of social history, Dewey stresses the importance of individual history. Vygotsky places a heavy emphasis on the role of culture and social history in education suggesting that the process of education works from the outside in. Dewey with a heavy emphasis on the importance of the social history of the individual sees the process as coming from the inside out. Notwithstanding this philosophical difference, both theorists stress the importance of social interaction in the learning process.
Leading theorists argue that the role of social interaction in the learning and problem solving process appears not to be a haphazard affair (Laurillard, 1997). Through social interactions, structures and learning supports a more knowledgeable individual might support the learning of the novice.
The ZPD and the scaffolding process provide an explanation of how learning is promoted within the social milieu. Contemporary literature reports many benefits associated with social engagement in learning settings spanning the academic, social and psychological domains (Panitz, 1997). It has been suggested that collaborative learning settings promote increased motivation (Slavin, 1990), promoting learning achievement (Bruner, 2001; Johnson, 1991; Maxwell, 1998) and perception of skill development including satisfaction (Benbunan-Fich, 1997). Additionally, social factors such as a sense of connectedness have been shown to influence student success and satisfaction in online learning (Barab, Thomas, & Merrill, 2001). There is also a suggestion that these benefits may be supported or even enhanced in learning communities that promote more active and increased intellectual interaction, create a sense of common purpose (Kellogg, 1999) and have a positive influence on the socialisation of students and learning outcomes (Maxwell, 1998).
Figure 1: Effect of ICT usage on a user's zone of proximal development, from Webb (2002)
These characteristics were considered in the redesign and led to a series of desired outcomes (see Table 1), which it is planned might be met by this redesign. A review paper in twelve months will follow up this project.
It was evident that this unit already utilised some relatively authentic assessments and used a very structured learning setting, but made little use of interactions. For this reason scaffolding was identified as a major focus of this project (Clarkson & Brook, 2004).
Key characteristics identified seem to underscore the need for social interactions, structures, learning supports and collaborative constructions. It is important to remember that these are already taking place in a rich ICT environment, which means that the enhanced scaffolding support of Robertson et al (2003) could be expected to apply. This is not a change or strategy, but it arguably may be more effective in the more interactive setting which is now planned.
Three strategies are proposed that will reflect the value of scaffolding. Firstly, maximising the level of social engagement and interactions through the use of Forums; secondly we will provide some specific group work, group presentations and shared assessment activities in workshops, and other ways of encouraging learning conversations, peer support and improved access to problem solving support; and thirdly we will attempt to ensure that tutors provide and model scaffolded assistance during workshop activities, providing greater initial but fading support during the unit.
Possible outcomes include seeking greater student participation, changed learning structures, and ultimately improvements to the pass and/or dropout rates. An appropriate measure might be changes in dropout rates (which could imply that, during the running of the unit, students feel better supported and hence less likely to fail and therefore drop out at a lesser rate) and also changes in failure rates. It would be useful to gather student behaviours and perceptions as well, and even though these have not been directly collected in previous instantiations of the unit, there is some data that could proxy for this, namely participation on a bulletin board (called Forums in the LMS - Learning Management System - used by the students). The Forums were used for the first time in the previous semester when the course was run largely unchanged.
|Increasing the level of social engagement and interactions||Usage of the Forums between the two semesters||Participation rate on Forums increases||Greater Forum usage, by more students using the same Forum structure as before|
|Specific group work, group presentations and shared assessment activities in workshops||Re-designed assessments requiring group planning and presentation||Groups present solutions in workshops fortnightly||Attendance, tutor comments, analysis of Forums|
|Tutors provide and model scaffolded assistance during workshop activities||Instruct tutors in changes, plan, model and discuss new approach||Good student performance in workshops, assessments||Tutor feedback, student comments via email, Forums, questionnaire.|
|Overall||End of semester questionnaire, normal unit feedback, unit stats||Improved pass rate; fewer dropouts; improved learning, feedback by students, tutors||Better unit evaluation scores than before, and|
Dropout rate, Pass rate
It is important to consider in advance any problems that will cause inconsistencies in the data or reduce the value of the comparison between these two instantiations of the unit being researched. Many basic characteristics of the two will be unchanged, like the lecturer, course materials and the tutors, and even the same Forum headings will be used.
Possible problems expected include the fact that the populations vary across different semesters and it may be that different types of students enrol in semester 1 and semester 2. Thus we may need to compare both semester 2, 2003 and semester 1, 2004 with semester 2, 2004. Even so, a single semester's set of data is likely to provide supportive data rather than conclusive evidence, but it may be enough to contribute to further plans and adjustments.
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|Authors: Barnard Clarkson can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org|
Chris Brook can be contacted on email@example.com
Please cite as: Clarkson, B. & Brook, C. (2004). I can't understand why I didn't pass: Scaffolding student activities. In R. Atkinson, C. McBeath, D. Jonas-Dwyer & R. Phillips (Eds), Beyond the comfort zone: Proceedings of the 21st ASCILITE Conference (pp. 190-196). Perth, 5-8 December. http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/perth04/procs/clarkson.html
© 2004 Barnard Clarkson & Chris Brook
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