Snapshot of learning for myPortfolio
Increasing student engagement through a constructivist approach supported by myPortfolio
Contributed by Heather McClure, Avondale College, Auckland.
My aim in this inquiry was to improve engagement with the learning as inquiry process while meeting key competencies with increased frequency; particularly thinking, managing self and using language, symbols and text.
The learners for this project comprised of two classes of Year 11 geography students. The classes compose a rich cultural blend of Asian, International, Māori, Pasifika and Pakeha students. Many of the students are from Māori and Pasifika backgrounds and meeting their learning needs was of primary importance. I have identified that many of my Māori and Pasifika learners learn best when using a constructivist model where learning is scaffolded into achievable chunks, supported by robust formative feedback and opportunities provided for collaborative learning. I’ve also found many Māori and Pacifika learners respond best when given choice about the pace and content focus of their learning. The school provides further opportunities for the students to learn with technology. Most students have access to computers and the internet at home.
I chose to use myPortfolio as it has the flexibility to be used as both a textbook where students access resources and learning activities and a student-owned workbook where students may showcase learning artefacts on their personal pages. I like the fact that myPortfolio is student-centered, and the platform supports collaboration and sharing through the use of forums, creating special interest groups and inviting others to view your pages.
Teaching and Learning
Accessing myPortfolio and training
At this point, the Ministry of Education has made myPortfolio free to schools through to the end of 2013. I was able to access myPortfolio by registering my school. One advantage of using myPortfolio is the robust support built in for teachers. Before beginning to use myPortfolio I booked a taster session which resulted in a free PD session run at my school. Once I started using myPortfolio I had access to the myPortfolio discussion group to help me trouble shoot when I encountered barriers. This was extremely helpful to me and in most cases when I posted a query someone got back to me the same day.
I developed a group within myPortfolio to support students in working towards the assessment of Achievement Standard 91009: Demonstrate geographic understanding of the sustainable use of an environment. The group was created to act as a platform for learning for this unit. A page within the group was used to outline learning outcomes, prescribe learning activities and provide access to resources. A variety of learning activities were carefully scaffolded to encourage students to explore different applications of myPortfolio. This included accessing forums, interacting with other students, and sharing personal learning artefacts and reflections.
Before we began using myPortfolio, I discussed with students why we were going to use it, the constructivist process we were going to apply and what responsible use might look like. Understanding the process and their part within it created a successful framework for the students to learn.
The introduction of myPortfolio was a steep learning curve for many. However students quickly let me know that in place of ‘how to’ teacher led instruction they preferred to learn to navigate the platform through trial-and-error and receiving tips from their peers.
For the initial three weeks, students used myPortfolio every day. I feel that this was important as frequent use in the beginning supported students learning to navigate the platform confidently. Now, students are accessing myPortfolio 2-3 times per week in the classroom and from home as well.
Students joined the collaborative learning group and accessed a learning page outlining learning outcomes, and providing access to supporting resources and summative assessment guidelines. Students then worked through the learning outcomes at their own pace, posting evidence of their learning to their personal pages in the form of learning artefacts. These learning artefacts included PowerPoint presentations, pictures from our field trip with captions, graphs, maps, links to newspaper articles, diagrams and YouTube clips. The learning artefacts were then used to infer progress towards the achievement standard.
For the initial unit , students worked individually and posted learning artefacts to their personal pages. However, in the subsequent unit of learning students created groups in myPortfolio and worked together to apply key concepts to a case study they developed. This is to be used as a resource for external exams. While students worked collaboratively in their groups I posted written feedback to each group after each lesson. Peers were able to see what other groups were working on which set the standard and I developed writing frames for students to give each other peer feedback. Students, while often hesitant to give constructive feedback, loved receiving feedback and most often acted on their peers’ suggestions.
Meeting Key Competencies
Thinking: Students were scaffolded through the learning process with the use of specific instructions, headings and templates to construct knowledge themselves. It was up to them to make decisions and develop learning artefacts to demonstrate their understanding of learning outcomes. Learning artefacts gave insight into the depth of student understanding and were adapted and further developed as a result of formative feedback from teachers and peers.
Managing Self: Students were presented with a series of learning outcomes to be met over a specified time frame of a few weeks. They then had choice in the pace and focus of their learning in lessons as well as where and how they accessed resources. Knowing the learning outcome before they arrived at class was beneficial.
Using Language, Symbols and Text: Students had to navigate and interpret content information in text books, supplied teacher resources and the Internet, and then reform them in a useful way to demonstrate their understanding of key concepts and meet learning outcomes.
Facilitating learning supported by myPortfolio has had a positive impact on the engagement of my students and supported their development as more independent learners. This was assessed by my own teacher observations and a survey completed by students where they responded to questions about levels of engagement. Questions targeted cognitive, emotional and behavioral dimensions of engagement. Here are some of my reflections on the process and the outcomes:
- Student feedback from the survey indicated that there was a high level of student engagement. This was a result of differentiation and giving students choice in the learning process.
- Using myPortfolio improved my access to student learning and allowed for more one-on-one time to be spent with individuals who require additional support to achieve.
- myPortfolio provided students with additional pathways for formative feedback from myself and peers.
- From my observations and results from the student survey, I saw an improvement in the cognitive and emotional dimensions of engagement however behavioral engagement for the large part remained static. Motivated learners capitalised on the benefits of learning with computers while reluctant learners remained difficult to engage in the learning process.
- Learning with computers supports the teacher-as-facilitator role.
- Summative results showed an improvement in the attainment of Excellence by 4%.
For more detailed results and a VoiceThread where I analyse this in more depth, visit my action research page.
When asked to reflect upon the use of myPortfoilio to support their learning, students:
- identified the positives of less time spent copying notes and writing in workbooks
- appreciated having more independence in directing the learning process – including choice in learning activities, pace and improved access to the course from home
- enjoyed participating in collaborative aspects of myPortfolio such as the forums and sharing personal learning pages with their peers
- experienced the temptation for off-task behaviour mostly as a result of access to the Internet
- spent time accessing the course from home and reported an improvement in motivation and ease of completing homework online.
“It allows us to find how we work best and use that to our advantage”
“We got to write on our own words which helped me a lot with learning and understanding”
Anonymous student quotes
Where to next
I plan to investigate how learning in an online environment can create links to home. This could include exploring methods of homework delivery such as flipping the classroom and the viewing of media. It could also involve ways of making links to the community and bringing in their expertise and perspectives.
Links to the e-Learning Planning Framework
Leadership and strategic planning
Leadership of e-learning
Decisions about what e-learning tools and approaches to use were driven by student needs. The teacher has become a mentor to other teachers that want to adopt this approach.
Professional inquiry into e-learning
- The teacher is involved in an on-going cycle of teacher inquiry into the effective use of technology to personalise a student-centred model of learning.
Teaching and learning
- The teacher worked with her students to look at responsible use of the myPortfolio space.
- The use of myPortfolio allowed students to select appropriate technologies when gathering learning artefacts that were co-constructed and communicated their own higher order authentic learning.
- The student activities within the myPortfolio group space were designed to be collaborative and to take an inquiry-focused approach.
- Use of learning artefacts, forums and feedback on student work were used appropriately to enable students to critically reflect on and manage their own learning. Students engaged in self and peer-based marking.
I think it is fantastic to hear students talking so positively about their learning. They are engaged and enjoying using technology as a learning tool.
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