Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What types of student - teacher interactions in technology rich primary school classrooms increase student engagement?

This question represents a refinement of my initial research questions. In order to clarify the scope of the study, several terms are defined.

Technology Rich Classrooms
It may be assumed that schools use digital technology with the aim of improving learning outcomes.  Identifying these outcomes is more problematic. Leander (Knobel and Lankshear 2007) argues that schools find themselves in a tug-o-war between maintaining a traditional factory production model and the constructivist model reflected in digital media. As stated in a previous posting, there is no evidence that one-to-one programs have increased test scores, so in this sense, computers have failed to support improved learning outcomes. This may be because (Leander in Knobel and Lankshear 2007 p.37) some technologies appear to be perfectly
 suited to traditional schooling, including, the overhead projector, and the duplicating (photocopy) machine, whereas networked laptops would appear to be a disruptive innovation: “You’re kind of opening Pandora’s box [the internet] and trying to just kind of stick it in a different box [the school].” (Knobel and Lankshear 2007 p.35).  If learning outcomes are aligned with preparing students for  (Jenkins 2010) “the new digital society” or “new literacies” (Knobel and Lankshear 2007), laptops may instead, represent complimentary technology. For this reason there is an assumption that achieving learning outcomes refers to outcomes that support new literacies in the new digital society.

Student – Teacher Interactions (New Literacies and The New Digital Society)
According to Knobel and Lankshear (2007 p.1), new literacies are video gaming, fan fiction writing, weblogging, using websites to participate in affinity practices, and social practices involving mobile computing. Clearly, a broader understanding is required. According to Jenkins (2010b), “reading and writing were once relegated to reading books and writing papers, but now we write into meaning through new media such as video, audio or even construction of physical objects”.  Richard Halverson (Jenkins 2010a) sees schools as “victims of the success of the prior generation's technology” that have found it difficult to adapt to digital media and these new literacies. The ingrained batch processing models of K-12 schooling mean that digitally literate young people have come to understand that “there are at least two living channels for learning: an institutional channel, and 2) a peer-driven, interest-driven, and unregulated digital media channel.” Supporting this is Leander's (Knobel and Lankshear 2007 p.35) study of a school's three year adventure with digital learning: "In short, Ridgeview Academy was a contradiction of social spaces: on the one hand it presented itself and technically structured itself to be an “open” wired social space for 21st century girls, while on the other hand, official school practices and discourses domesticated, or pedagogized (Street and Street 1991) potential openings of space-time provided by the wireless network. In official school practice, the wireless network was “rewired” or closed off and anchored in ways that reproduced traditional school space-time." Most common computer practices were word processing and other activities "judged to be simply online versions of former print technologies and distributions". The use of computers created discourses "as multiple and conflicting” and that “Ridgeview was caught up in a struggle of expansion and contraction”.

Jenkin's (2010) believes students must learn how to be participants in the new digital society and advises teachers to recognise and value the digital learning students engage in outside of school by inviting it in to classrooms and making a space for it. He suggests that students don't value what they learn in online communities because their teachers don't value it. He emphasises teachers need more flexible roles in their interactions with students and to overcome their fears of loosing control of the classroom. He suggests modelling the self-correcting, collaborative environments of the digital society where students have a responsibility to share what they know with others and make sure it as accurate as possible. The traditional aim of creating autonomous learners is counter to the collective intelligence model of the new digital society.

Halverson (Jenkins 2010a) suggests the importance of the concept of apprenticeships, where students learn what they need to know and learn through their mistakes. He argues that “schools structures have typically lacked scaffolding support for individual learners to learn from mistakes - particularly across grades and classes”. Furthermore he states:
“We can either learn from failure, or try to avoid it. Connecting high stakes consequences to institutional failure has led many public schools to pursue a risk-avoidance approach to instruction. This intolerance for failure at the system level has been translated into a similar intolerance to experiment at the classroom level. Contemporary public school policies insist that all students show learning progress, which has led to dominant models of instruction that emphasise efficiency, smooth learning trajectories and predictable outcomes. Schools are often reluctant to experiment with high-yield, high-risk, instructional practices. Innovation is risky - most innovations fail, and even the ones that succeed are usually fundamentally transformed before achieving wide dissemination.”
This supports Stager's (2009, p.1 ) claim that “ As the technology has become cheaper and more ubiquitous, its use in schools has become more cautious and pedestrian.” 
Halverson (Jenkins 2010a) suggests an example of alternative and authentic learning models: ”Participatory cultures, such as fantasy sports, highlight three critically important aspects of learning missing from many school learning activities: motivation, production and legitimate audience. 

Student-teacher interactions, may be seen as constructivist pedagogy that incorporates the use of technology to achieve the learning outcomes of the new digital society. Research by Mumtaz (2000) reports that “teachers who successfully used digital technologies have a positive attitude towards ICT, emphasise student choice rather than teacher direction, and encourage students’ empowerment as learners rather than as recipients of instruction." Teachers who adopt this approach are not only more likely to use digital technologies creatively, but also to encourage higher levels of student interest and motivation (Gaffney 2010, p.8). Hence, the importance of engagement in achieving learning outcomes and the need to define the term engagement.

The motivation and engagement framework created by Munns & Martin (2005, p.1) is useful in defining the concept of student engagement: 
“Motivation can be conceptualised as students’ cognitive orientations towards themselves, school, and schoolwork. On the other hand, engagement can be defined as the behaviours that follow from these cognitive orientations. At a meta-level, intervention designed to enhance students’ motivation and engagement involves improving students’ (a) approach to their schoolwork, (b) beliefs about themselves, (c) attitudes towards learning, achievement, and school, (d) study skills, and (e) reasons for learning. Also at a meta-level, intervention involves addressing (a) educators’ messages to students, (b) educators’ expectations for students, (c), how learning is structured and paced, (d) feedback to students on their work, and (e) classroom goals and assessment.

What remains now is a qualitative study of student - teacher interactions in technology rich primary school classrooms to create a more accurate picture of teacher behaviours that increase levels of student engagement. There is also a need to search for evidence of the same discourses identified by Leander (2007) at Ridgeview school and suggest ways these discourses may be negotiated in the hope that students will view school a relevant part of a broader digital learning channel and part of the new digital society. The next post will examine research methodologies that would support such a qualitative study.


M Gaffney. (2010). Enhancing Teachers’ Take-up of Digital Content: Factors and Design Principles in Technology Adoption.

H Jenkins. (2010). Confessions of an Aca/Fan. Retrieved August 24, 2010, from http://henryjenkins.org/

H Jenkins. (2010a). Is New Media Incompatable with Schooling?: An Interview with Rich Halverson (Part One). Confessions of an Aca/Fan. Retrieved August 24, 2010, from http://henryjenkins.org/2010/03/an_interview_with_rich_halvers.html

Knobel & Lankshear (2007). A New Literacy Sampler. Library of Congress ISBN 978-0-8204-9523-1

Munns & Martin (2005). It’s All About MeE: A Motivation and Engagement Framework Geoff Munns School of Education, University of Western Sydney, Australia Andrew J. Martin SELF Research Centre, University of Western Sydney, Australia.

Stager, G., (2009). Hard and Easy: Reflections on my ancient history in 1:1 computing : Stager-to-Go. Available at: http://stager.tv/blog/?p=560 [Accessed July 20, 2010].

1 comment:

  1. Hi Charlie,
    IT is great to be digging in a little on these terms and considering some different options for the research focus.

    Re the first section... you say "there is no evidence that one-to-one programs have increased test scores".. It doesn't surprise me at all that you haven't located anything on this yet... not much of this type of "Causal" research around... part of me wants to say that this is good because I don't think that it is as linear as this... put computers in and test scores go up! Of course it is all about how they are used. Complicating my response is a proviso that I suspect that used in a particular way this could be an easy thing to establish... for example, I'm thinking of the use of software or personal response systems to drill on basics in tests... in this sense computers could be used to increase recall and (for example) mental arithmatic skills... but then we ask the quesiton about what is the nature of the "tests"... sure - if we test for memorisation, then computers can help memorisation etc etc.... BUTTTT and it is the big but... is this the type of pedagogy we are trying to enhance when we put computers in classrooms... and the even bigger BUTTT about whether this is what we are wanting to assess... Of course I'm not Robinson Crusoe raising these issues... but they are all factors that should inform your thinking and qualification of whether you are looking for this type of "evidence" of linear outcomes from technology....

    The very interesting literature you are exploring in the section on student-teacher interactions is very much about more 'radical' constructivism... and challenging the status quo of not just pedagogy but broader social constructs of schooling and school structures... now this is what excites me!!

    I like the work that you cite on student engagement. It is particularly interesting as it brings in the relational nature of student engagement... i.e. that it is also about the teacher and the teacher's relationship with students... great material here.

    So, your conclusion... I think this has been great in moving your thinking forward about your focus.

    I started reading a book last night which I think might be relevant but I probably need to get a bit further through it!! But I'll keep you posted. Thanks for a great read - looking forward to the next posting and our next discussion.