Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Learning Technology

Peace, one and all...
Here's paper 4! Once I figure out the technology, I intend (insha Allah) to post powerpoint presentations and other such material. For now, enjoy!
Learning Technology: Dealing with Bibliographies: an Interactive Guide
Teacher’s Notes

Context & Aim
Dealing with Bibliographies: an Interactive Guide is an interactive PowerPoint presentation aimed at improving the bibliographical skills of undergraduate students in Religious and Theological Studies. It is particularly aimed at first year students, as well as those with underdeveloped referencing skills. No prior knowledge of bibliographies is therefore assumed or necessary. Nevertheless, the guide can also be used by students in a wide range of disciplines.

This guide is part of a wider study skills and tutorial programme within the School and aims to complement and not replace other forms of learning. The guide exists within a framework of in-course embedded study skills support.

The guide’s stated aim is:

To introduce students to the purposes, format and construction of an academic bibliography

Learning Objectives
Once students have worked through the guide, they should be able to:

• Understand the purpose of bibliographies in academic writing
• Recognise some of the main features of an accurate bibliography
• Begin compiling bibliographies according to set criteria

The guide is broken down into component sections in order to facilitate these objectives. The overarching objective of the guide is to promote student independence. The guide aims to provide a means whereby students can develop their referencing skills at their own pace and in their own time.

Structure
The guide has been designed as an aid to self study. As such, it is envisioned that students will either use the guide in University libraries and computer centres, or else will download it onto their home computers. It can, however, be used as an in-class aid by teachers. With minimal adaptation, the guide could be converted into a PowerPoint lesson on bibliographical skills.

The guide is divided into a number of discrete sections. Each section aims to build on the previous one. These sections are as follows:

Introduction
Definitions
Basic Features
Referencing Styles
Primary Sources
Journals, etc
Edited Volumes
The Internet
Difficult Material
Further Help

The guide can be used in a number of different ways. Students can use the guide sequentially and take each module in turn. This method is recommended for first time users. By using the guide in this manner, students will develop a holistic understanding of bibliographies, why they are useful and the practical steps in generating them. More advanced students can navigate through the guide and take individual modules as appropriate. Indeed, the guide has also been designed to act as an aide memoire. After an initial sequential use, it is anticipated that students will keep the guide on their home computers and refer to individual sections as necessary.

Operating Considerations
To successfully run the guide, students require access to a computer with Microsoft PowerPoint (most commonly found as part of the wider Microsoft Office Suite). Although the programme may well run on older versions, the guide will run best on PowerPoint 2003. The ability to store the presentation on a local hard drive is also essential, as one of the guide’s key aims is to provide an ongoing aide memoire.

Project Evaluation

In this section, I would like to offer an evaluation of my ICT guide. In particular, I want to address the following questions: is it a good learning tool; does it promote student development; does it extend classroom practice effectively; and finally, does it achieve its stated aims and objectives? A second major aim of this evaluation is to include some examples of student feedback. In other words, in assessing the usefulness of this ICT project it is essential that we find out what the actual users themselves thought of it.

Why Use ICT?
In order to contextualise our evaluation of the project effectively, it is useful to have a broad understanding of some of the key uses of ICT in contemporary education. This will be especially significant here, as understanding the aims of the guide is crucial to evaluating its performance.

Although an in-depth examination of the use of ICT in education is beyond our scope here, it is worth drawing our attention to some of the key reasons. Meadows & Leask (2000, 1-19) have identified five major factors:

Political Reasons: the Government has increasingly placed the development of ICT skills at the heart of education, hence there is ‘political’ value in using such learning technologies (Meadows & Leask, 2000, 3-4)

Personal/Professional: as teachers in contemporary society, we make heavy use of ICT. Familiarity with ICT has thus helped inform our broader teaching. (ibid, 4-5)

Professional/Pupils’ Needs: changes in the social and political regard of ICT has led to a dramatic increase in its use (ibid, 5)

Professional/Curriculum: new curriculum developments are increasingly distributed through the medium of ICT, increasingly the educational dependence on such technologies (ibid, 5-6)

Professional/Educational Theory: of arguably greater significance are the ways in which ICT appears to be allowing a wider range of teaching and learning strategies. ICT seems to be particularly adept at strengthening a range of skills, whilst also encouraging greater learner autonomy (ibid, 7-10)

Design Issues
Heppell (quoted in Bruntlett 1999, 73) suggests that there are three broad stages in designing a multimedia educational aide:

A ‘Narrative’ stage in which learners watch and note
An ‘Interactive’ stage where learners can choose and do
A ‘Participative’ stage in which learners can contribute and create (adapted from Bruntlett, 1999, 73).

In designing this guide, I attempted to focus more closely on the first two stages. This was a conscious decision and reflected the guide’s aim as a first level bibliographical aide. As such, I focused on providing ‘narrative’ and in a limited sense, interaction. With hindsight, I could have usefully included more interaction. I also intended the guide as a complementary learning tool. That is, it was not intended to replace classroom teaching in any way.

In evaluating the guide, it is important to first have an accurate understanding of its avowed learning aims and objectives. In other words, in deciding whether the project was a success we need to assess the extent to which it achieved its objectives. The aim of the guide was:

• To introduce students to the purposes, format and construction of an academic bibliography

I attempted to achieve this aim through making the guide a potentially downloadable resource. On the whole, I feel that the project achieved this aim well. Bibliographical skills are arguably not the most exciting of subjects. As such, to address this challenge effectively it was important to stress two points. Firstly, a modular design was required. This was so that users could tackle small bite-sized units in an easy to absorb manner. Secondly, it was important to design a guide that could be used to explore specific topics quickly and easily. Against these criteria, I feel that the guide was a success. Users are easily able to delve into small sections as required, as well as being able to get the whole picture.

It is also important to bear in mind that this guide was intended as an interactive aide memoire. As such, I feel that it achieved this aim well. Nevertheless, to improve the guide in the future, I would attempt to make it more interactive. That is, I would attempt to build more tasks into the programme.

The guide’s objectives were:

• Understand the purpose of bibliographies in academic writing
• Recognise some of the main features of an accurate bibliography
• Begin compiling your own bibliographies according to set criteria

As such, I feel the guide met these learning objectives very successfully. The lesson was, I feel, structured logically and effectively. I was particularly pleased by the modular element of the programme. I was very concerned to make this learning tool modular and I feel I was successful.

Peer Feedback
My peer feedback was almost entirely positive. The other group members commented on its logical structure and the fact that it could be navigated in either sequential or modular fashion. The ability to download, use and keep the guide for later reference was also seen to be a strong point. The main improvement that was suggested was the possible inclusion of more tasks to make the guide more interactive.

User Feedback
The final section of this evaluation is, arguably, the most important. In assessing the strengths and weaknesses of my guide it is essential to get the feedback of actual users. I piloted this guide with two students on a number of occasions. Both students required extra study skills support and were thus ideal candidates. Although I did not issue questionnaires to each participant, I questioned them closely on how they found the guide.

In general, both students found referencing and bibliographical skills difficult. This seems to have been a result of the ‘dryness’ of the topic, as well as its traditional means of presentation. Both students found the guide an extremely useful means of covering the subject. Moreover, both liked the somewhat alternative nature of the guide’s format. The ability to download and store the guide on a local PC for later perusal was also felt to be an extremely useful function. Given the problems that both students had had with particular, involved aspects of referencing, such a format was especially useful. Both students have kept versions of the guide to use as later required. This indicates that they found it useful; it also demonstrates that the guide met one of its key aims.

Both learners suggested improvements. One suggested that it would be useful to have more assigned tasks. Upon reflection, I feel that this is a fair comment; indeed, it is one I had thought of myself. The other user suggested breaking the guide down into smaller components. Upon reflection, I am unconvinced of the usefulness of such an approach. The aim was to provide an easy introduction to the whole topic. Breaking the guide into smaller chunks would have gone against this aim.

Conclusion
In conclusion, I was pleased with my first serious effort at designing computer-based learning tools. It was an enjoyable challenge and provided with a new angle from which to consider effective teaching and learning.

Bibliography

Bruntlett, S. (1999), ‘Selecting, Using and Producing Classroom-based Multimedia’, in Leask, M. & Pachler, N. (1999, eds.), Learning to Teach Using ICT in the Secondary School, London: Routledge, pp. 51-70

Leask, M. & Meadows, J. (2000, eds.), Teaching and Learning with ICT in the Primary School, London: Routledge Falmer

Leask, M. & Pachler, N. (1999, eds.), Learning to Teach Using ICT in the Secondary School, London: Routledge

Meadows, J. & Leask, M. (2000), ‘Why Use ICT?’, in Leask, M. & Meadows, J. (2000, eds.), Teaching and Learning with ICT in the Primary School, London: Routledge Falmer, pp. 1-19

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