Charlotte Parsons is a lecturer in a Further Education College in Greater London and carried out research with her own classes in 2015. The research focused on the delivering teaching and learning solely through eLearning tools. The research looked to assess the extent to which it engaged her learners and the implications that this change created not only for them for her as their teacher.
This research investigated the increase and incorporation of interactive learning through real-time technologies (eLearning tools) as a modern means to better connect and communicate with learners. The aim was to develop my practice and to determine whether adopting a greater eLearning presence in lessons impacts upon the engagement and motivation of learners. All of which contributed to a college-wide drive in line with the Ofsted 2015 framework to implement a greater eLearning presence throughout lessons as part of a national drive to improve, support and develop digital literacy levels.
My interest in eLearning and its connection with engaging and motivating learners stemmed from my teacher training where at times I struggled to engage my learners due to too much teacher talk. I found the most rewarding sessions to be those where students were fully engaged, actively involved and clearly learning. To engage learners, I needed to captivate them with varied and differentiated approaches – initially, this was difficult but as time passed, it became my main focus. I began to understand that learners engage more in a context they are comfortable with. Many young children can use tablets or other technology with aptitude, and understanding of such tools before they even begin formal education. Many practitioners appear to be reluctant to change their methods to incorporate eLearning techniques, and in consequence, the world moves on without them. If we, as practitioners, continue to dismiss these changes to the learners’ needs, we will become surplus to requirements. If we move with the changes and immerse ourselves within the process of change and make it second nature, we will be part of the revolution taking place in teaching.
For the purpose of this research I chose a combination of multi-faceted digital online based tools (the ‘ilern’ VLE platform, ‘Padlet’ and ‘Blendspace’); these allowed interaction with the option to adapt material dependent on the subject matter, focus and learner reaction. All teaching and learning techniques were delivered using these tools for a set period of time for one specific module of study.
The results showed that learners enjoyed the eLearning tools to a certain extent for a variety of reasons. Their initial reaction was interest and active engagement during the early and middle stages due to the novelty factor. The learners displayed enthusiasm and were clearly motivated by the change in activities. There was increased engagement witnessed amongst all learners and they were interacting well. This did change as time went on and it became clear that the lack of variety had a negative impact on learner motivation and engagement. This lead me to change my future teaching to be as varied as possible in pedagogic approach, using such eLearning tools to support but not dominate my teaching. The collaborative and interactive nature of the tools was a success, as all involved could see that the learning and sharing of knowledge led to a deeper understanding of the subject: the learners benefitted from the peer collaboration element and this led to full engagement and motivated these learners in these stages.
The second noticeable change in engagement and motivation was attributed to the student-centred nature of the sessions. The lessons were learner-led, encouraging new dynamics, leading to a rich student dialogue, thereby providing me with the opportunity to move away from a dominating teacher monologue. Once they were controlling the direction of the learning the students visibly engaged with the work, and their appreciation was reflected in their clear enjoyment of the sessions. Class contribution and input from learners of all abilities increased leading to an inclusive environment, with everybody feeling able to participate.
The activities taught through the tools provided opportunities to incorporate alternative pedagogic approaches that encouraged new types of interactions – this was something afforded by the nature of the technology. Each learner was able to approach these activities as they wished, and this increased learner autonomy meant greater inclusion: a motivating factor for learners who were previously apprehensive to contribute or share ideas. This ability to interact as they wished to do so led to a dynamic which minimised domination by particular learners and instead allowed input from those who had previously shied away or frequently disengaged in the past.
The freedom for learners to interact and control the pace of learning provided me the pedagogic opportunity to differentiate learning and to tailor tasks to individuals. This was a significant factor that allowed me to engage learners at their ability level; I was able to stretch and challenge where appropriate, and check the learning of every participant, particularly those who had been more difficult to engage. Participants’ learning preferences were clear, and that enabled me to tailor my instruction toward that which made the most impact, thus improving and refining my practice.
Whilst there were many positive things for the learners about the use of these technologies, and there there was an increase in engagement and motivation, perhaps the most important issue to conclude with is the change in classroom behaviour in respect of engagement and motivation once the novelty of the new approach had worn off. As the sessions progressed, the teaching methods grew stale and engagement and motivation took a negative turn. There was, to an extent, value in these tools, in that they provided limited pedagogic opportunities, but they failed to enable sufficient pedagogic range where in-depth cognitive development was taking place. At this stage in the work, the learners began to disengage and loose enthusiasm. I attribute this first to our exclusive use in class of only the on-line tools, and second to the sheer volume of information now available to the students, which I suspected the learners were not equipped to manage: they struggled without personalized notes, and this resulted in varying levels of disengagement and learners reverting to old techniques. Several, but not all, felt they were unable to manage and interpret the information for further use. Whilst idea-sharing and collaboration was beneficial for initial understanding and the development of ideas, the learners experienced difficulties in managing so much information when working alone on their assignments, preferring personalised notes to the shared information that is central to the affordances of these new learning technologies.
The research enabled me to look at my practice and teaching philosophies and has impacted on my practice. I am even more aware of the impact of my lesson content and the need to strive to offer wide-ranging pedagogy that stimulates engagement and which motivates in order to move learners on. The learners gained most from the interaction with each other and felt this led to a deeper level of learning. There was consensus that there was heightened engagement and motivation, but that to sustain this the lessons required a blend of pedagogical methods that incorporated technology with more conventional and alternative progressive classroom techniques.
During the research, some changes in learner confidence were witnessed but this varied at different stages. The study provided heightened differentiated learning opportunities for me to use and led to changes in classroom behaviour in respect of engagement and motivation at different stages of the process. The study provided valuable insights into my classroom and allowed the opportunity to look objectively at my practice, my learners, my classroom environment and the techniques I embed. As a result of changing to a new technique, learners were shown that I had listened to their voices about monotonous delivery across our team and that I was actively trying a new technique for the benefit of their learning.
Charlotte’s full dissertation can be read here.
Her correspondence address is firstname.lastname@example.org