To learn more about the Echo360 Blended Learning Grants Program, visit http://echo360.com/c...grants-program/
Investigating Student Behaviours in Blended Learning Environments to Enhance Retention
Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia, Australia
The University of Newcastle, Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia
Dr Dorit Maor, School of Education, Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia
This project will build on previous work with learning analytics with Echo360 products to investigate how students can engage successfully with blended-learning environments to navigate the ‘perils’ of studying at university. This work is relevant to the expanded participation in higher education agenda in the US and Australia, and addresses current strategic initiatives at both partner universities.
The research will examine three courses which directly target students beginning their university journey, especially those from diverse backgrounds, and which address issues relating to study skills and enculturation. These courses recognize the tension between the benefits of face-to-face and current lifestyle imperatives for flexibility of access.
We will employ a mixed methods approach (including learning analytics) to investigate how students in different studying contexts (such as diverse backgrounds, location and mode of study) interact with blended-learning designs in their first year of university.
We intend that this research will lead to an improved understanding of how students in introductory university studies, including those at risk of dropping out, can effectively use a blended learning environment.
Like in the United States, where the goal for college graduation is for 60% of people to hold a college degree by 2025, Australia's goal is for 40% of the population between 25 and 34 years old to have degree qualifications by 2025, up from 29% in 2006 (Bradley, Noonan, Nugent, & Scales, 2008).
The Australian government also aims to increase the proportion of students who come from low socio-economic status (SES) households from the current 15% to 20% by the year 2020. Students from low SES backgrounds also tend to be the first in their family to attend university, or they may come from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Because of this, they may have few family and community support networks to assist them to engage successfully with a sometimes strange and overwhelming university culture.
Achieving government participation targets will require universities to engage with larger numbers of students, from diverse and undoubtedly weak academic backgrounds. Students’ therefore, need to be assisted to learn how to learn, rather than expecting them to be able to learn. Research has shown (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000) that such metacognitive skills can be learnt. However, being a successful university learner involves more than just learning academic study skills, it involves learning the language and culture of both the university and its component disciplines (Ballard & Clanchy, 1988; Bizzell, 1986).
Such enculturation can be difficult when the pressures of a modern lifestyle, and the need for low SES students to earn money to keep themselves while also studying, means that students cannot always attend on-campus, face-to-face classes. These factors imply that a traditional approach, with a focus on teaching academic content in a face-to-face setting, will be problematic in meeting the needs of the increasingly diverse needs of a larger student population.
In this proposed study, both partner universities have student catchment areas with high proportions of low SES students, and both are undertaking major strategic initiatives focusing on student engagement and retention.
Murdoch University has a range of enabling programs to assist students from diverse backgrounds to enter university (such as On-Track1), and has appointed a ‘first year advisor’ in each School to assist with retention and support. Foundation units and study skills units, (such as those selected for investigation in the proposed research), also address retention.
The University of Newcastle has several programs to increase both access to and continuation with Higher Education, such as the NEWstep and Open Foundation programs, designed to allow wider access to tertiary studies, and "Connect to Success2" which provide targeted support to address retention. These have been supplemented by specific programs to develop student skills in engaging with blended-learning environments.
This analysis indicates that a blended-learning approach, which utilizes lecture capture and LMS technology, can provide the flexibility that students require. Previous work on lecture capture by some of us (Gosper et al., 2008) identified that students found lecture capture recordings as valuable as class attendance in some circumstances, and consequential poor class attendance was challenging to staff. A second finding of this work was a blurring of the traditional boundaries between on-campus and distance education students
However, given that the extra students coming into the system are increasingly likely to enter university with lower academic achievement levels, and may come from low-SES backgrounds, or be ‘first in family’ students, care must be taken that technology is used appropriately.
Students with these backgrounds may not have the self-efficacy and study skills to study independently, and they could benefit from the more social tutorial/ seminar interactions that typically occur on campus. Successfully adapting to university may require such students to reassess their world-view, and effective teachers in this area may challenge their fundamental convictions. While this can be done well in a tutorial/ seminar, it might be problematic in an online setting. A blended-learning approach which focuses on delivery of material is unlikely to be effective, but one which uses technology to achieve the richness of classroom contact while providing flexibility for students may well be effective.
This research proposes to investigate three courses/units3 which have been designed to introduce students to the university environment, and which thoughtfully blend technology and communication between teachers and students. Each course is taught in various modes (on-campus/ distance), at various campuses (city/ regional/ transnational), and the degree of ‘blendedness’ varies across the different contexts. By investigating students enrolled in different modes, we hope to be able to collect evidence about which approaches work best in which contexts.
The three courses are:
Course/ location/ mode: TLC120: Introduction to University Learning/Murdoch; City/ regional; On-campus/ blended/ distance;
Description: This course can be taken by any student, but it is targeted at students who are seen to struggle in the early weeks of semester, and who change enrolment to develop their academic skills and confidence with the university environment.
Technologies used: Lectopia/ Echosystem; Blackboard CE8
Course/ location/ mode: FDN107: Next Life/Murdoch; City/ transnational; On-campus/ blended/ distance;
Description: Every first year student at Murdoch has to study a ‘foundation unit’4, an interdisciplinary, ‘liberal arts’ style course which encourages critical thinking and provides a grounding in studying and literacy skills. This unit focuses on how technologies shaping our social and personal lives?
Technologies used: Lectopia/ Echosystem; Blackboard CE8; Wimba Live Classroom
Course/ location/ mode: EDUC100X /Newcastle; City/ regional; On-campus/ blended/ online;
Description: Compulsory first year teacher education course, designed to assist students with the transition from ‘student’ to ‘teacher’. It includes a range of theoretical and practical educational components.
Technologies used: Echosystem; Blackboard 9.1
3The term ‘course’ or ‘unit’ will be used to describe a semester long programme of study on a single subject.
This research builds on a previous project – a 2009 Echo360 International Research Grant (Phillips et al., 2011; Phillips et al., 2010) that developed and validated the learning analytic tool to be used in this project. This usage reporting tool displays (in graphs and tables) the total number of hits on the Lectopia system against the week of the semester for whole classes or individual students. For this project, we will need to refine this tool, and adapt it for use with EchoSystem, which is being rolled out across our universities.
Our previous work also developed theoretical categories of use (e.g. conscientious, cramming, disengaged students), which we will use to select students with different blended-learning study behaviours. We used these categories to select students and interview them about what they did when they studied. Four students were studied in depth in a pilot study, and they exhibited different study behaviours, with varying degrees of success.
-Student A made a conscious decision that she could study effectively without face-to-face contact, and she used Lectopia and other unit resources to facilitate this, with great success.
-Student B attended face-to-face classes, but was struggling with the unit because she was over-stretched in terms of her own time. She used Lectopia to recover from poor assessment results, and, in the process, came to some core understandings about the unit.
-Student C attended most classes and used Lectopia only to catch up. Her approach to blended learning made extensive use of LMS-based learning resources, diligent self-study and peer interactions to become a successful independent learner.
-Student D attended most face-to-face classes but did not use Lectopia because she found concentrating on recording playback challenging. Instead, she made extensive use of the LMS and relatively high use of the discussion forum to try to engage with a unit that few of her friends were enrolled in. She found it difficult to engage in the unit and reported problems in self-regulation, which led to a low pass mark.
In this project, we intend to use similar techniques to develop similarly ‘rich’ descriptions of how ‘at-risk’ first year students engage with blended-learning environments.
While the three case study units are designed to support first year students from diverse backgrounds to engage flexibly with the learning environment, we don’t yet know how effective they are at this task. This research sets out to explore how students engage with these blended-learning environments.
The overarching research question is:
In what ways do students in different studying contexts (such as diverse backgrounds, location and mode of study) interact with blended-learning designs in their first year of university?
We will investigate these questions by studying the three introductory first year courses described above. We will investigate how students from a range of backgrounds engage in different ways with the blended-learning environment at city-based and regional campuses..
Our methodology is derived from the mixed methods approach that we developed in our 2009 Echo360 grant (Phillips, et al., 2011; Phillips, et al., 2010), using learning analytics, interviews and grades, and using data from a survey to select our sample. The stages involved are:
-Administer a brief survey into students’ demographic background – SES status, first in family, school leaver/ mature, school performance, expectations of success. This survey will be used to identify an initial sample of students with diverse characteristics.
-Use learning analytic tools to refine the initial sample, to identify a sample of students with different technology usage patterns and with diverse characteristics.
-Interview 25-30 students, 8-10 per course.
-Extract grades for assignment tasks and final course results.
-Combine grades, interview transcripts and usage behaviours to tell the story of each student in the sample.
-Look for patterns/ differences among stories, and identify successful and unsuccessful behaviours.
We do not expect this research to produce generalizable principles to enhance retention among at-risk students – the phenomena under question are too complex and inter-related. However, we do expect the research to produce rich, qualitative descriptions of how some students behave in some contexts, and to derive some prototypical design principles that might inform others how to design blended-learning environments which support retention.
The expected outcomes will be to:
-Develop an improved understanding of how students in introductory university studies, including those at risk of dropping out, can effectively use a blended learning environment
-A refined learning analytic tool which works with the EchoSystem
-A refined methodology which can be applied other blended-learning contexts
Achievement of these outcomes and generation of the deliverables listed under ‘dissemination’ will indicate the success of the project.
Educators in higher education and other sectors are increasingly using learning management systems and lecture-capture technologies to offer students a flexible and rich learning experience. While teachers have access to quite detailed information on the what and the when of student access, they currently do not have a great deal of information on the how and the why. This project seeks to increase the stock of knowledge about how (at-risk) students actually use blended-learning environments.
This research addresses the following criteria of the Echo 360 research grants program:
-It demonstrates a significant, original contribution to the field of blended-learning and
lecture capture research;
-It engages with, and builds on, previous research conducted into blended-learning and
lecture capture technologies;
-It contributes to understanding of blended-learning and lecture capture within the
broader learning technology field.
This application addresses an issue of importance to the broader university sector in Australia and the US. Within our partner universities, retention and the ‘first year experience’ are strategic teaching and learning concerns and major university initiatives, highlighted in both our strategic plans. This study:
-Addresses the qualitative impact of blended-learning and lecture capture on learning outcomes and student performance;
-Seeks a more thorough understanding of the use of blended-learning and lecture capture solutions, and its impact on retention
Many staff are concerned about the impact of Echo360 and similar technologies on their teaching practice. There is an appetite in the academic community for more information about how to use lecture capture in blended learning environments, and we hope to sate some of this appetite through dissemination and communications activities. Project team members are well placed to use the project outcomes to influence policy and practice decisions at these universities and throughout the sector in Australia and internationally.
Our track record from our previous lecture capture research indicates that we take dissemination seriously, and we have been successful at it.
Project: 2006 Australian Learning and Teaching Council grant: Web-based lecture technologies project
Publications: Peer-reviewed 6; Other 6
Project: 2009 Echo360 grant
Publications: Peer-reviewed 2; Other 2
Dissemination of this project will occur through various means, to various stakeholders:
-Presentation of the project and its findings at a 2012 or 2013 Echo360 User Conference;
-Peer-reviewed publication at conferences and in journals (e.g. ascilite, ED-MEDIA and Global Learn conferences)
-Presentations to peak professional bodies, such as the Australasian Council on Open, Distance and E-learning (ACODE)
-Presentations to policy-making bodies in our institutions
-A video interview of the project and its findings for use by Echo360
Ballard, B., & Clanchy, J. (1988). Literacy in the University: an 'anthropological' approach. In G. Taylor (Ed.), Literacy by degrees (pp. 7-23). Milton Keynes: The Society for Resaearch into Higher Education and Open University Press.
Bizzell, P. (1986). What happens when basic writers come to college? College Composition and Communication, 37(3), 294-301.
Bradley, D., Noonan, P., Nugent, H., & Scales, B. (2008). Review of Australian higher education: Final report. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.
Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.). (2000). How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: National Academy Press.
Gosper, M., Green, D., McNeill, M., Phillips, R. A., Preston, G., & Woo, K. (2008). Final Report: The Impact of Web-Based Lecture Technologies on Current and Future Practices in Learning and Teaching. Sydney: Australian Learning and Teaching Council.
Phillips, R. A., Maor, D., Cumming-Potvin, W., Roberts, P., Herrington, J., Preston, G. (2011). Learning analytics and study behaviour: A pilot study. In G.Williams, N. Brown, M. Pittard & B. Cleland (Eds.), Changing domains, changing directions. Proceedings ascilite Hobart 2011 (pp. accepted). Hobart: ascilite.
Phillips, R. A., Preston, G., Roberts, P., Cumming-Potvin, W., Herrington, J., Maor, D. (2010). Using academic analytic tools to investigate studying behaviours in technology-supported learning environments. In C. Steel, M. Keppell, P. Gerbic & S. Housego (Eds.), Curriculum, technology & transformation for an unknown future. Proceedings ascilite Sydney 2010 (pp. 761-771). Sydney: ascilite.
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Investigating student study behaviours in blended-learning environments to enhance retention Murdoch University and University of Newcastle
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