Podcast: – how to find out if students are engaged



Beer, C. Clark, K., & Jones, D. (2010). Indicators of engagement. In C.H. Steel, M.J. Keppell, P. Gerbic & S. Housego (Eds.), Curriculum, technology & transformation for an unknown  future. Proceedings ascilite Sydney 2010 (pp.75-86). http://ascilite.org.au/conferences/sydney10/procs/Beer-full.pdf (accessed 20/11/2012)
Green R (2010). Incite Intentional Learning with Learning Management System Features http://coggno.com/learning-management-system/incite-intentional-learning-with-learning-management-system-features.html (accessed 20/11/2012)
Educause (2011) Things you should know about… First-Generation learning analytics http://www.educause.edu/eli
Music: Grapes (2008), I dunno, ccMixter, licensed under  http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/


I am Mandy Honeyman, a student on H808,  and in this podcast for Unit 5 – I am going to talk about three aspects of evaluating engagement in online learning from both the perspective of the student and teacher.
The first one is monitoring which is more about systems simply because systems are beautifully set up to do this for us and that will involve looking a systems or systems methodology that provide access to that kind of data. Another thing I am going to look at is engagement from the perspective of how we think about designing activities that might help engage learners learners or will engage us as learners. Finally I want to talk about how ensuring engagement actually  remains the responsibility of the learner and this is where I will talk about keeping a journal or reflective log.
One of the things I have noticed as an OU tutor on the new version of the VLE is that we are able now to monitor access on the forums, this means that I can look very quickly and assess very early on whether students have engaged at all. All I want to see is that they have made one post at this early stage, but the problem in the past is that you had to go through every single thread on the forum and check against a list who has posted anything or not – it was time consuming and tedious. Whereas now, all I have to do is press one button and the information is there in front of me. The impact of that has been , in the course I am currently teaching, that I was able to tell in the first two weeks who had engaged more, who had engaged minimally but most importantly I could tell who had not engaged at all. And I was able to then address those issues really fast, I could speak to the students I was concerned about by email, on the phone and this meant that they felt that they had someone to talk to. Then I was able to efficiently assess whether they would be able to engage at the level necessary to be successful (i.e. simply complete the course). So that was absolutely fantastic. I am very aware that there are a number of systems where this is not available at all, and certainly not possible to apply against a database of a list of students or group of students. This is quite a simple area of learning analytics, and analytics certainly get far more complicated than this, but just this kind of small facility  would certainly be something very high in my list of criteria if I were evaluating different learning or course management systems would be 
Posting to a forum is quite a high-level online activity for a student, I wonder how to create material that is engaging for students that might also serve to assess whether there has been engagement. So I have already covered that a little bit in terms of being able to monitor, but I think there is probably something one can do with the design of activities on a course to monitor engagement as a student is working through material. And I am particularly thinking of that in compulsory education levels because teenagers are notoriously hard to keep focussed. How to you know in an online setting whether students have not only learnt the material  but what they thought of it as they went along, whether they found it interesting or boring. How could we get information from them that can help us to improve the course and course delivery. And I think that is especially important in an online setting, because in a classroom you can look around and see very quickly, usually, whether or not students are listening or bored and distracted, whereas if you are online you have absolutely no idea what the student is doing at the same time as trying to learn, concentrate or focus. It seems that at the moment the only way to discover this is by outcome, so you can only find out whether they have engaged by assessing what they have learnt. I would like to experience evaluation of whether or not they like what they have just experienced. For example, when we have used the elluminate sessions in this course or any other, one of the things that is really helpful is when people engage by clapping, using smilies, ticks, crosses, all of these kind of fast question/response things certainly helps me as a learner to focus on what is happening and if I am speaking, to find out how my audience is responding. So I think this needs to work from both perspectives, tutor and learner, as a learner I want to be helped to remain focussed and interested. This also applies to the length of time learning objects last for and how long a student is expected to remain focussed on something. There is significant amounts of research that have questioned the amount of time that people at different ages can concentrate, this is even more true when working at computers as health and safety issues also come into play.
Finally, I am going to talk about the use of learning journals, reflections and how to assess engagement from the point of view of the learner being responsible for it. How do you make reflective activity prove itself to be so worthwhile to the learner that they are motivated to engage with it. How do you convince that it is a powerful object other than being something that being assessed. I think it is probably an individual process that each learner has to go through for themselves, I don’t know that it can be forced. My own response to the blogging that we were encouraged to do at the outset was once I knew it was no longer for assessment I stopped, and I put my time and energy elsewhere. But of course I will go back now, because as I talk now I am horribly aware that I have been very lax. The reflective log is the proof of engagement and I think many learners would be able to figure out for themselves that this is a highly worthwhile activity. I wonder about how it can be made to be more engaging and more fun for students at other levels than HE? Surely those of us who have chosen to study at Higher levels, understand what we have got ourselves into, the commitment to learning itself and this can be said for any post-compulsory level, whereas those students in compulsory education do not have the same vision. They are, arguably, very focussed on summative assessment, and specifically final results, whether that be coursework or exams. So maybe the link between the activity of making notes and engaging in deeper reflective learning needs to be made earlier in order to improve the quality of the learning, the direct pay off being that they will get better results. Perhaps this would help younger people engage with reflection? This would be joined up thinking, I just don’t know if we are taught at an early enough age, that there is a payoff from reflecting more deeply on what you have learnt and therefore would be able to perform better in examination and assessment. 

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