Increasing Student Engagement and Retention Using Online Learning Activities: Volume 6 Part A


Table of contents

(18 chapters)

This chapter provides a broad overview of the practical applications of three technology-based teaching and learning tool: wikis, blogs, and WebQuests. These Web-based communication tools allow teachers and students to increase student engagement by enhancing experiential type learning. A variety of studies is presented to demonstrate how these three types of collaborative technologies can be used as inquiry-based and reflection-based active learning tools to foster higher levels of effort and participation by students. This chapter presents a variety of perspectives about how to make the learning process for both instructors and teachers more engaging, more gratifying, and more personally meaningful. In doing so, these technologies serve as enabling technologies by promising new ways to increase academic engagement and motivation. The ultimate goal in using these technologies is to develop students as lifelong learners and to foster a high value for learning and the development of higher order thinking skills that grows over time. The experiential nature and authenticity of the activities that these technologies can be used for helps achieve this purpose. Of course, technology involves a constant evolution and new technologies will always appear in the future but this does not mean that they should be viewed as passing fads or not worthy of implementing. These tools can be viewed as opportunities to expand our definition and concept of teaching and learning in the modern, post-industrial era. To that end, this chapter explores the innovative use of these technological tools to better engage students and enhance the learning process.

This chapter provides researchers and practitioners with guidelines for employing wikis to foster collaboration and active learning within and between student teams in higher educational settings. The core function of a wiki is to facilitate learner interaction with content. Such engagement is critical whether the course's instructional delivery environment is primarily face-to-face or web-based. Instructors encourage shared understanding through a spirit of investigation that embraces greater collaboration in the process. Collaboratively building knowledge about one content area by dialoguing with peers and negotiating importance in order to present the information in a meaningful way to the public is the strongest aspect of a wiki. To illustrate this, five case studies are detailed ranging from individual wikis to group consensus wikis in undergraduate and graduate-level courses, delivered in blended (i.e., hybrid combinations of face-to-face and online) and online asynchronous environments. As a whole, these studies support that wikis are not the single answer to all problems associated with collaboration and shared-knowledge in any learning situation, but they are a powerful lens for greater clarity in issues of student engagement and may lead to improved performance for diverse learners. Various experts add their views to those of the authors of this chapter; that to be effective, instructors must design purposeful engagement that embraces communication, cooperation and collaboration, active learning, feedback, and respect for differences. Likewise, students must be informed of the value of such engagement and have positive wiki models presented early in their online experiences.

How is it possible to evidence whether students are engaging with a course? What can be done to increase their level of engagement? Since the advent of blogs in 2002 a comprehensive body of research has developed around the pedagogic benefits of educational blogging and its value in teaching and learning, notably in encouraging reflective practice, social interaction and participatory learning (Burgess, 2006. Blogging to learn, learning to blog. In A. Bruns & J. Jacobs (Eds.), Uses of blogs (pp. 105–114). New York, NY: Peter Lang; Farmer, Yue, & Brooks, 2008; Williams & Jacobs, 2004). This chapter investigates whether blogs are also an effective tool for supporting and sustaining a community of learners in Higher Education and increasing their engagement in a university course.

The researchers used a case study methodology to examine whether the introduction of blogs had led to the development of a community of practice around an undergraduate course at the University for the Creative Arts. The data collected revealed that the course team had successfully developed a thriving online community involving students, staff, alumni and industry, with students displaying high levels of engagement and interaction. The discursive, commentary nature of blogging enabled students to engage in peer-supported learning, with the online ‘always on’ nature of the community providing a 24/7 support network. In addition, tutors were able to assess clearly the level of engagement of each student and provide targeted, timely feedback for those students who required more support.

It is hoped that this research will be informative to tutors and academic support staff who wish to explore the potential of using collaborative online technologies to enhance student learning and engagement.

The proliferation of social media, new generations of digital natives and the profusion of wireless campuses promise to revolutionise teaching and learning in the twenty-first century. No consensus exists on how to introduce Web 2.0 technologies into an educational context, so whilst it is intuitive that educators have a vital role in determining and evaluating the uses and implications of social media, there is a lack of research both into general pedagogic questions and into the particulars of introducing blogs to the classroom. The potential for blogging in education is explored through a review of international research, exemplars of good practice are cited and a qualitative case study of the integration of social media across a range of college level courses is presented. Vignettes from the case study illustrate both the successes enjoyed and the difficulties encountered introducing individual and group blogs. The majority of students endorse the use of blogs and report how blogs support their learning by codifying search trails, improving writing styles, help the visualisation of the process of their own and classmates’ work, how group blogs facilitate the coordination of collaborative projects and how for many blogging has become an integral part of their educational experience.

This essay explores an instructional application of Wikipedia within the context of an undergraduate capstone course in historical studies, entitled “Revisiting the Weather Underground.” I wanted student research writing to find a wider audience than the classroom, so devised an assignment which called upon students in this senior seminar to research, write, and publish (via Wikipedia) biographies of individuals associated with this antiwar, anti-imperialist organization. Course membership included both traditional-aged college students and returning students. None had prior experience with social history, biography, publishing, or writing/editing on Wikipedia. Despite the fact that all participants (and I include myself here) had a steep learning curve when it came to the technology necessary to address a reading public through Wikipedia, the students rose to the challenge. The use of Wikipedia as venue shaped the manner in which students thought about their biographical subjects (some of whom could conceivably – and do, in fact – read and respond to the biographies), their subject matter (the Weather Underground), their audience (which included Wikipedia readers and editors internationally), their responsibilities as researchers to be accountable for their characterizations of others’ life stories, their accountability in sourcing information, and their sense of authorship (which all needed to learn to share with strangers encountered through Wikipedia). In reflecting on the assignment, students valued the experience as authentic scholarly communication and lasting historical learning. The featured assignment demanded close partnerships among students, faculty, librarians, educational technologists, and Wikipedia editors/administrators, and served also to dramatize the perils and possibilities of shared inquiry.

As with many professional programmes, nursing students in the United Kingdom spend a significant proportion of their time ‘on placement’ – applying their theoretical learning to the clinical area.While off campus and at a distance from their peers and university staff, however, they must continue to study and complete assessments. This creates enormous complexities for nursing students; issues of retention and success, anxiety and isolation are well documented in the research literature relating to this particularly diverse group. Emerging technologies offer opportunities to increase engagement between nursing students and faculty, thus potentially eliminating many of these difficulties. At Glasgow Caledonian University, a blog was developed to provide new students with remote support and a virtual community while on their first placement. The open access resource offered a link between faculty and students and a forum for peer support among the cohort. Student produced materials, such as ‘talking head’ videos and placement diaries, were posted alongside assessment-specific learning resources developed by staff. The blog was fully interactive and participants were encouraged to comment on and respond to posts in order to increase engagement. A thorough evaluation of the continuing initiative highlighted the success and further potential of the resource but also suggested limitations in terms of interactive engagement and issues of digital literacy among some learners. This chapter will discuss the use of technologies such as blogs in providing remote support to learners, using the student nurse blog as a case study.

This chapter presents two case studies to address the challenge of how students in large, diverse classes can become effectively engaged in their learning through the support of technology. Implementation of two modules in the University of Exeter Business School is explored: a first-year management module wherein students make use of camcorders and a master's module where students use wikis. Each has been important in coming to understand the inter-relationship of pedagogic processes and technology use, in particular in the context of group work. Data on student outcomes and perceptions have been collected through ongoing monitoring, individual and group reflective accounts, tutor and student-led surveys and informal verbal feedback. Overall, the use of both technologies is highly valued by most students and by the teachers, despite the many (and sometimes unexpected) difficulties associated with their management. The main benefits are in the way that they can be used to support attendance, group cohesion and quality of work, in an ethos where the importance of group work is central to learning and where individuals are recognised for what they can contribute despite the large cohort size and the many different nationalities.

This literature review explores the academic material comprising applications, cases, courses, and classroom-based research in higher education where wiki tools appeared as an instructional technology. The authors define and describe the wiki concept, outlining a framework for wikis deployed as instructional technology tools. Additionally, analyses and syntheses of the findings are described from an interdisciplinary research literature search across many fields, along with a number of illustrative, exemplary cases demonstrating the application of this tool to teaching and learning. The authors also identify research evidence that outlines the benefits and strengths offered by new wiki technologies, while highlighting challenges, weaknesses, and issues encompassing their application in courses. The authors also outline numerous theories of learning that can be associated with wiki work; new forms of wiki-based learning; patterns of wiki technology use; characteristics of learners using wikis; and the changing role of teaching and teachers who instruct with wikis. Finally, we conclude with a summary of the findings and suggested future directions for studying wikis in higher education (HE). Although no broad, definitive prognosis yet exists that can point to a cause–effect relationship between the application of wikis and increases in learning, a significant body of evidence has emerged that suggests that wikis positively stimulate the learning environment and increase the collaborative capabilities of learners when applied to course work.

University students often struggle with academic writing because of the challenges involved in negotiating the hidden rules and implicit discursive practices in academic writing. An academic literacies approach has emphasized writing as social practice and recognized that the literacy practices of the university are often epistemological. Blogs provide an opportunity for students to immerse themselves in situated, socially interactive writing in academic contexts. This study sought to explore blog writing from an academic literacies perspective. Data were collected from of two cohorts of students (Winter 2010 and 2011 terms) participating in a small university fourth year seminar class. The data consisted of blog postings from the two cohorts, interviews with the instructor, and course evaluations. The blog posts and comments were analysed using an intertextual analytical framework. Findings indicate that students do develop academic literacies through blog writing because of particular features of blogs: the immediate audience, the flexibility of purpose of blogs and the informal style of language.

Undergraduate and graduate teacher education students in a culturally diverse, urban university consume and construct knowledge as they engage in a Piaget WebQuest and subsequently construct their own Individual WebQuests. The activities involved in these assignments are underpinned by a combination of complementary theoretical frameworks: Cognitive Constructivism, Social Constructivism, Information Processing, and Situated Learning. The chapter describes how all of these theoretical frameworks are applied in the WebQuests. It includes detailed descriptions of how students engage in and create their own WebQuests. Descriptions include details of how scaffolding is used to support students in their work. Scaffolding that occurs during the Piaget WebQuest process sets the stage for creation of Individual WebQuests, while additional scaffolding is provided during the Individual WebQuest creation process. This chapter also emphasizes teaching metacognition in the design and revision of WebQuest requirements and students’ metacognition as they engage in the Piaget WebQuest and create their own Individual WebQuests. The processes of engaging in and creating WebQuests are described and examples of students’ WebQuest authentic products shared with a community of learners are provided. Products include Piaget WebQuest-based quizzes, lesson analyses, handouts, and instructional activity designs. They also include individual WebQuests in a variety of academic subjects. Sharing authentic products in a community of practice reflects situated learning theory. Consuming and constructing knowledge through WebQuests involves a complex synthesis of current theories of learning and instruction which facilitates meaningful learning and transfer.

This chapter presents the results of the collective experience of two professors and three students in implementing WebQuests in a preservice English education component. The first part of the chapter provided a definition of WebQuests, situating this particular proposal within the literature on second language education and the Colombian and Latin American contexts. The authors found that the paucity of studies on designing WebQuests, specifically in Latin America, became one of the strengths of their work. The next section situated how implementing WebQuests in this preservice program enabled an expansion of the actual conceptual framework that is currently in place for WebQuests by adding ideas about competences and socio-cultural and critical thinking theories. However, there is an explanation about how WebQuests became a very feasible alternative to respond to the curricular demands of their institution. Next, the authors shared a multi-vocal account, from every author's vantage point, of how they carried out their work with WebQuests. This implementation process generated a series of changes in the way students saw themselves as learners and future teachers, gaining more ownership of the idea of WebQuests beyond a semester assignment. The instructors, as the result of their work, are now thinking of better ways to redefine how they use WebQuests and how they will get their other cohorts involved in collaborative academic efforts. This chapter is, then, not only an account of an experience, but an invitation to think about how to expand the boundaries of preservice teacher education through technological mediation.

Liliana Alzate-Pérez is a fifth semester student in the Bachelor's in English-Spanish Education (Licenciatura Inglés-Español) at Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana in Medellín, Colombia. She serves as a Research Assistant at the Research Group on Pedagogies and Didactics of Subject Knowledge (Pedagogías y Didácticas de los Saberes). She has helped with data collection and analysis procedures on two research studies: An exploratory study about teacher education policies in Medellín and a study regarding school violence. She is also a member of the Student Research Group on Second Language (SRG-L2), currently drafting a project about impact of teacher education programs. In addition, she works at a partnership project between UPB and local newspaper El Colombiano for the inclusion of the newspaper as a pedagogical tool. She has also been teaching a biology preparation course for the Colombian ICFES High School standardized test at UPB High School for four years. Her first research presentation was about her study (along with Mr. Gómez-Yepes) on teacher education practices in the new curricular proposal at the Faculty of Education at a research symposium at UPB. Her primary research interest is in the field of teacher education, specifically in the area of teacher education policies. Additional research interests include issues of technology and literacy in the high school setting, working in the inclusion of different educational needs in the curriculum, and the development of creative strategies for teaching improvement.

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Cutting-Edge Technologies in Higher Education
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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