Teaching as Inquiry: Action Research - Heather Eccles

Research Question

What is the impact of constructivist learning supported by the use of myPortfolio on student engagement with the learning process?

 

The Learners

The learners for this project comprised two classes of  Year 11 Geography students. They are an almost even mix of boys and girls and compose a rich cultural blend of Pacifika, Maori, Asian, International and Pakeha students. They have been studying Geography for one term. Most have access to computers and the internet at home and inconsistent opportunities to learn with technology at school. 

Current Practice

Teaching and learning in these classes has followed a constructivist practice. Students have been encouraged to meet learning outcomes by examining and discussing resources.  Learning of some key concepts has occured through seminars in which expert students taught each other. Students have been encouraged to move around the classroom and collaborate in different class groupings. Content has been presented to students via photocopied resources, texts and brief notes on the whiteboard. 

Measuring Engagement

Engaged learners are interested, persistent and passionate about their learning. Engagement may be seen as an end in itself and as the key to improving achievement outcomes. One of the key challenges in measuring student engagement is first in defining exactly what student engagement is. Definitions vary depending on one’s approach and purpose however most agree that engagement is a multidimensional concept with overlapping behavioural, emotional and cognitive aspects.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi theorises that students are most engaged when they are in state of flow in which an activity provides sufficient challenges and use of existing skills to engage the learner. 

Csikszentmihalyi says, students report feeling significantly more engaged and experience higher esteem and mood in student-controlled learning environments in which they work individually or collaboratively and are active participants in constructing meaning. He says, facilitating learning opportunities in which students work at the border of their competencies engages learners, improves motivation and supports overall learner achievement (Shernoff, D. J., Csilkezentmihalyi, M. & Shernoff. E. S. 2003). 

The Tool - myPortfolio

The tool I chose to use to support students in learning with technology is myPortfolio. This tool appealed to me as it has the flexibility to be used as both a textbook where students access resources and learning activities and as a student-owned workbook where students may showcase learning artefacts on their personal pages. The myPortfolio platform also supports collaboration and sharing through the use of forums and inviting others to view your pages. With access to a greater audience, additional avenues for feedback may also be provided.

Learning portfolios are becoming increasingly popular as a mode of evaluating student skills and knowledge and have multiple applications across the learning landscape. The use of this software fits nicely in the 21st Century learning paradigm in which learning is student-centered, a reflective process, differentiated and integrated with technical skills. In addition, this software is supported and funded by the Ministry of Education and robust support is provided for teachers through the myPortfolio discussion group.

The initial use of myPortfolio in my classroom will be as a ‘positivist portfolio’ in which students pages will act as a receptacle of learning artefacts used to infer what and how much learning as occurred towards externally defined learning outcomes. Learning activities will be carefully scaffolded to encourage students to explore different applications of myPortfolio as well as provide variety in learning activities. As confidence and experience grows students will explore their increasing autonomy in the use of myPortfolio.

The Content

The introduction of myPortfolio and learning with computers was used to support students in working towards the assessment of Achievement Standard 91009: Demonstrate geographic understanding of the sustainable use of an environment. A group was created within myPortfolio which was to act as a platform for learning for this unit. Students joined the collaborative learning group where they had access to forums, other students and the facility to share their personal learning artefacts and reflections. A page within the group was used to outline learning outcomes, prescribe learning activities and provide access to resources.

View the group learning page here.

Teacher Reflections

  • Students were enthusiastic about learning with computers
  • Students demonstrated a high level of confidence when learning with computers
  • A high level of engagement was a result of differentiation
  • Teacher had improved access to students and one-on-one time with individuals
  • myPortfolio provides additional pathways for formative feedback
  • Student learning behaviours remained static
  • Learning with computers supports the teacher-as-facilitator role
 

Student Voice

To assess the impact of the learning programme and the use of myPortfolio on student engagement students were surveyed with eight questions at the concusion of the unit. Questions were targeted to measure behavioral, emotional and cognitive dimensions of the learning process. Student responces were anonymous and completed using Survey Monkey.

View the survey questions here.


Student Reflections

  • Overall, students reported positively about their experiences
  • Students identified positives of  less time spent writing in workbooks
  • Students appreciated having more independence in directing the learning process – including choice in learning activities, pace and improved access to the course from home
  • Students enjoyed participating in collaborative aspects of myPortfolio such as the forums and sharing personal learning pages with their peers
  • Students experienced the temptation for off-task behaviour mostly as a result of access to the internet
  • Students spent time accessing the course from home and reported an improvement in motivation and ease of completing homework online
  • Most students found the use of myPortfolio initially challenging but grew in confidence as a result of frequent use
  • Students could identify the usefulness of a student-centered pedagogy for their learning
  • Some thought it was helpful in preparing them to study at University and helped them to improve their technical skills

 

Next

As a result of this research, my next step is to further investigate how myPortfolio and learning with computers may be used to improve student’s achievement of learning outcomes through homework and collaborative learning.  

1.    How may online environments be used to maximise homework completion, motivation and value added learning?     

Further investigate and trial:

                                 Forums

                                 Improved access to learning resources

                                Online Quizzes

                                Students creating and sharing learning artefacts with their peers

 

2.    How may students work collaboratively supported by an online environment to collect learning artefacts, co-construct meaning and share with others?

Support students in creating their own groups in myPortfolio as well as giving and receiving feedback from their peers

Voice Thread

References

Parsons, J., Taylor, L. (2011). Student Engagement: What do we know and what should we do? Available at http://education.alberta.ca/media/6459431/student_engagement_literature_review_2011.pdf

Shernoff, D. J., Csilkezentmihalyi, M. & Shernoff. E. S. (2003). Student Engagement in High School Classrooms from the Perspective of Flow Theory. School Psychology Quarterly, 18(2). 158-176.

Hawryszkiewycz. I. T., (2007). An Engagement Model for Learning; Providing a Framework to Identify Technology Services. Interdisciplinary Journal of Knowledge and Learning Objects, 3 (219-227).

Tolsby, H. & Sorensen, E (2001) ‘Designing Virtual Portfolios for Communities of Practice’ Available at http://www.hum.auc.dk/ansatte/es/publikationer/designing.pdf

Barrett. H. C. (2007). Researching Electronic Portfolios and Learner Engagement: The REFLECT Initiative. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 50(6).426-449. 

Willms, D. J., Friesen, S. & Milton P. (2009). What did you do in school today? Transforming classrooms through social, academic and intellectual engagement. Available at http://eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED506503.pdf

myPortfolio image. Retreived May 17, 2012, from https://myportfolio.school.nz/theme/myportfolio-school-nz/static/images/logo.gif

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Theory of Flow Diagram. Retreived May 17, 2012, from http://www.cs.nyu.edu/courses/spring03/G22.2280-001/Flow_Diagram.jpg

Theory of Flow YouTube video. Retreived May 21, 2012, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iS8_JdhB0Ps

Flow Channel diagram by Senia Maymin. Retrieved May 21, 2012, from http://www.pbs.org/thisemotionallife/sites/default/files/imagecache/blog_large_image/blogs/Flow_Senia_Maymin.jpg

My Classroom

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Flow Theory Explained

 

 

 

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Dairy Farm Field Trip

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Student Voice

"It connected my school work to my home         computer"

"Students explain in a           different way than teachers"

"Its more free and you have to  think a lot for yourself"

"It allows us to find out     how we work best and use    that to our advantage"

"In terms of homework, I        felt like it was less of a              chore"

"Seeing others people's                opinions broadened my mind on    the subject"

"I picked up quite a lot of new     information on my own with        the help of my peers"

"We got to write in our own words which helped me a      lot with learning and             understanding"

"You got the chance to        give and receive feedback    from your class members as well as your teacher"