ICT and the MulticulturalClassroomEngaging diverse learnersthrough e-portfolios Action Research Assignment J. Harrington EDEM627 Semester One 2012
Abstract This report investigates the use of e-portfolios as a tool for engaging diverse learners. It focuses on a group of eight Year Four and Five students, attending a low decile, multicultural, inner city school in Christchurch, New Zealand. An initial assessment showed that all of the children involved in the research had access to both a computer and the Internet outside school. This supports the potential for engagement in learning through the use of e-portfolios and other online tools in both home and school environments. While students enjoyed using the e-portfolio tool, some frustration was expressed around the availability of computers in the classroom due to electrical issues, variable access due to connection problems at school, and the need to fit visits to a computer suite into an already stretched timetable.
Abstract Over two weeks, the e-portfolio tool was introduced to the group of students, for thirty minutes a day, two days a week. At the end of the two weeks students were interviewed about their experience using the e-portfolio tool. All students said that they had enjoyed using the e-portfolios and wished to continue their use independently of the study in the future. Key Words: E-portfolios, Primary, Multicultural, Diverse learners, ESL, Education.
Introduction Our classrooms are becoming increasingly diverse. This creates both areas of strength and a range of challenges related to factors such as ethnicity, culture, religion, economic circumstances, gender or special needs or abilities. (Bray, Brown & Green, 2004; Caruana-Dingli 2005; Chisholm, 1998) This increasing diversity means that a more comprehensive range of strategies and approaches to teaching and learning need to be investigated, to cater for the widening spectrum of students in our schools. Incorporating good quality instructional practices and a range of technologies can improve learning opportunities and lead towards higher achievement for all students.
Introduction The New Zealand curriculum supports the investigation of appropriate information and communication technologies for students within our teaching and learning spectrum in a range of ways. “Schools should explore not only how ICT can supplement traditional ways of teaching but also how it can open up new and different ways of learning” (New Zealand Curriculum, 2007, p.38)
Introduction The curriculum framework for New Zealand schools also states within the Key Competencies (Using Language, Symbols and Texts) that students should “confidently use ICT to access and provide information and to communicate with others,” (New Zealand Curriculum, 2007, p.14).
Introduction With this in mind, the central aim for this action research was to investigate ways that the information about this experience might help to redesign future approaches for teaching and learning for diverse learners. This research attempts to engage a group of younger diverse learners with an e-portfolio tool, with the view to exploring how and if this involvement might improve future learning outcomes for these students. The role of the facilitator within the study is also investigated and looks specifically at the elements of teaching in providing more constructive experiences to improve student achievement.
Introduction The inner city Christchurch school in which this research takes place is decile two, with a distinctly multicultural, highly transient roll. It has a significant number of students requiring ESL support, many of whom are eligible for Ministry of Education funding. There are also a large number of multi-lingual and bi-lingual students who are not eligible for this type of support, for a variety of reasons.
Literature “New Zealand is one of the highest migrant receiving countries in the world. The 2001 Census revealed that 10% of the population is comprised of ethnic minority people other than Mąori and Pacific peoples. This figure is projected by Statistics New Zealand to be 18% by 2021,” (Singham, 2006, p.33). We are increasingly aware of the overt nature of what we may classify as our „multicultural classrooms‟, yet diverse learners are part of every classroom. This may be related to cultural or religious beliefs, special needs or abilities, language, gender or even socio-economic circumstances. (Chisholm, 1998).
Literature “Multiculturalism is a complex issue with potential for both disaster and opportunity.” (Singham, 2006, p. 33). For educators, increasing diversity creates a range of challenges in planning, assessment and the implementation of meaningful classroom experiences which will both engage and meet the learning needs of their students. Having a wide range of learners can however, provide a more robust level of understanding for all involved, if the culture of the classroom is one where students feel valued and safe enough to share their varied perspectives (Bray, Brown & Green, 2004; Chisholm, 1998).
Literature Chisholm (1998) identifies themes of cultural awareness, authenticity and relevance, supportive environments, instructional flexibility, integration and equitable access as being essential components in the development of educational success for diverse learners. It is therefore important that as educators, we select “multiple learning and teaching approaches that respond to their diversity.” (Allison & Rehm, 2007, p. 1) While diversity in our classrooms may be linked to culture or multiculturalism, it is unlikely that this is an exclusive indicator of the composition of our students.
Literature"Sitting in the same classroom, reading the same textbook, listening to the same teacher, boys and girls receive very different educations.“ (Sadker, 1994, p.1)
Literature We have long been aware of gender-bias within education. Boys and girls sitting with in the same classroom, reading the same book, probably will receive different educations, but is that necessarily all about the teacher and the way they outwardly treat or sub- consciously view their students? Perhaps it has something to do with what students themselves bring to their own education – their life experience, their social views, their belief system, their values and their approach to learning.
Literature Each student brings their own specific culture to their education, and this might be something gender related or it might not. Diversity may be part of ability or disability. It may be language, accent, religion, dress, economic, interest or even sub-culture related. This means that every classroom, whether overtly so or not, contains layers of multiculturalism and diversity – and this means that educators must think outside their own comfort zone and area of knowledge to develop meaningful learning for all their students – a daunting task!
Literature Numerous studies support the implementation of well- designed tasks and appropriate teaching strategies, to develop high quality learning experiences for our students. (Caruana-Dingli, 2005; Chisholm, 1998; Mellar, Kambouri, Logan, Betts, Nance and Moriarty, 2007). The effectiveness of both teaching strategies and the selection of appropriate digital technologies and skills for diverse learners have been investigated in a number of studies (Caruana-Dingli, 2005; Chisholm, 1998, MCEETYA, 2005). Incorporating good quality instructional practices and ICT can improve learning opportunities and lead towards higher achievement for students. (MCEETYA, 2005)
Literature Effective strategies should include the development of clear learning intentions and success criteria, whether in the face to face classroom or in an online learning environment. Having clear success criteria allows students to deliberately set specific goals for their own achievement. Collaboration between students and teachers in the development of success criteria enhances the assessment process. The selection of appropriate technologies to support teaching and learning must therefore support the teaching strategies employed by the facilitator and be appropriate to the specific needs of the learners. Allison and Rehm (2007), identify the use of e-portfolios as effective tools, especially in regard to "multicultural, multilingual" classroom contexts (p.7).
Literature It is important to consider however, when introducing new technologies such as e-portfolios that we must keep in mind factors which may influence success in diverse classrooms, such as cultural awareness, instructional flexibility, integration, equitable access and relevance. (Chisholm, 1998) Ultimately, whatever the choice, it needs to be “about people, rather than technology.” (JISC, 2007, p.10) “There will always be a spread of competencies amongst any student cohort such that some students will need more support and confidence building than others.” (Mason, Pegler & Weller, 2004, p726). Therefore, the concept of relevance and the challenges associated with creating it for all students is a particularly important one.
Literature Ladson-Billings (1995b), states that “relevance refers to the ability of the curriculum to make deep and meaningful connections with the lives of the students” (p. 333). The challenge of developing authentic and relevant learning experiences is the normality of every classroom, but it may be more evident in classrooms where the learning population is especially diverse. If we are to employ digital tools to assist in the development of meaningful and culturally relevant learning experiences, we must select those which may do so in meaningful and unobtrusive ways, so that they become part of the normality of the learner by facilitating contextual and relational learning. (Jarrott & Gambrel, 2011; JISC, 2007) Mediums such as blogs, wikis, digital timelines or mind maps, forums and e-portfolios are just a small sample of the plethora of Web 2.0 tools available to educators and students.
Literature The adoption and implementation of e-portfolios in schools is a current trend in New Zealand schools, and is supported by the Ministry of Education. (Ministry of Education, 2011) E-portfolios are often viewed as purely assessment-based technology. Recently there has been more of a drive towards using both the technology and the assessment more effectively. (Jarrott & Gambrel, 2011; Ring & Ramirez, 2012) This may mean that assessment is carried out in more authentic and perhaps collaborative contexts. There are the obvious advantages, such as the opportunities they provide to use multi-media and to record learning in the moment as it unfolds. Digital portfolios allow those involved to retain an enduring, high quality, searchable, “development focused” and secure record of learning in context. (Ministry of Education, 2011, p.6)
Literature However, there are those who always find the adoption and application of new technology, such as digital portfolios, a challenge. (Jarrott & Gambrel, 2011; Ring & Ramirez, 2012) Some barriers lie naturally within the attitudes and motivation of educators, but here may also be other factors which impact upon teacher adoption of digital technologies, such as the needs of the class and the facilitator at the time, individual confidence and skill level in using ICT, previous experiences, study, age and perceptions of the relevance of technologies and their applications in classrooms (Knezek, & Christensen, 1999). It may simply be that have not been exposed to current pedagogy in this area.
Literature It may be that in order for successful implementation, small increments need to be made at a time, with plenty of support for those involved. As with most aspects of teaching and learning, the absence or presence of high quality professional development can directly impact upon the effectiveness of the educator in the classroom (Mellar et. al, 2007).
Literature While there is a growing amount of literature around the subject of e-portfolios, there is very little available around their use with younger students. There is also limited material available around multicultural and diverse learners and this type of technology. The New Zealand Ministry of Education has placed some importance on this area through the development of its own digital portfolios and by the production of a draft document which includes some interesting and useful case studies. This highlights the growing importance and relevance of this type of current research in New Zealand.
Research Design andMethodology This study used a simplified action research process as its base methodology. It required a five stage process of planning, implementing, observing, reflecting and sharing. The planning for this research involved examining these components of the action research and using these to plan what should occur in the timeframe, with the participants in the study. Prior to planning and implementation, consents and information were gathered from the participants.
Research Design andMethodology Qualitative data was gathered for this report through observations, interviews and questionnaires. A triangulation of perspectives provided a range of different and thought-provoking information (Davidson & Tolich, 2003). Informal interviews were selected because the participants were familiar and it was felt that they would be more honest in their feedback. Mutch (2005, p.126) suggests that this is an effective method for generating rich discussion around a topic.
Research Design andMethodology Observations, based on what the participants were doing both online and in class as they worked through the process of exploring the e-portfolio tool, were also made. These were predominantly qualitative and in the form of notes and screen shots. In order to achieve this, qualitative data was be collected through a questionnaire, semi-structured interviews with focus groups, observations and analysis of work in progress after each cycle of engagement with the e-portfolio tool.
Participants The participants in this study represent a small section of the school population and because of the diverse range of learners within the school, are not completely typical as a sample, although New Zealand Maori are currently the largest group within the school population. Because of the gender balance within Years 4, 5 and 6 in the school at present, a larger proportion of male students were involved in the research than female.
Teaching and Learning: Curriculum AreaEnglish – Speaking, Writing and PresentingAchievement Objectives: Speaking, Writing and PresentingLevel TwoPurposes and Audiences Show some understanding of how to shape texts for different purposes and audiences.INDICATORS Constructs texts that demonstrate a growing awareness of audience and purpose through appropriate choice of content, language, text and form; Expects the texts they create to be understood, responded to and appreciated by others; Develops and conveys personal voice where appropriate
Learning Outcomes This work sits inside an English Unit on Speeches which is currently being conducted within the classroom. Establishing prior knowledge: In an introductory session, students will be asked to engage with the e- portfolio tool with little guidance. This will give some data around the general skill level and computer knowledge of the group.
Learning OutcomesAfter completion of four to six sessions of online learning, students should be able to: Knowledge: Successfully engage with the e-portfolio tool – use and explore the basic features. Comprehension: Use the e-portfolio tool as a medium to post their speech writing, so that it may be: Practised/ learned Shared at home with parents Application: Post oral presentations within an e-portfolio so that students may: see themselves present share their oral presentation with their parents/families
Learning Outcomes Analysis: identify key aspects of their written and oral presentations which should be kept or changed. Synthesis: revise and re-work their speeches after looking at their own presentations Evaluation: make judgements about their own performance and justify changes they have made to their work improve their achievement in this area through knowledge of their own presentation
Reflective FocusParts of the project that will help me to focus on reflection What? Communication through the medium of e-portfolio Fair and equitable access to the online learning environment Typing and computer skills of students
Reflective Focus Why? Most of my students are ESOL or high learning needs and use a range of different ways to communicate. This will challenge them. It is quite important that I find out exactly who can access the Internet at home before introducing the e-portfolio tool to a wider group These students are Year 4 and 5. From what I have seen prior to this pilot, the typing skills are very slow. I wonder whether they will be able to successfully participate because of this.
Reflective Focus How? Observation of student participation e.g. classroom observations when using the e-portfolio tool, e-portfolio entries, attempts to complete or submit work What next? Use the knowledge gleaned from this reflection to develop further learning, for a longer period of time with either a similar group of students or a different group of students, depending on the needs and abilities of those involved.
Teaching and LearningActivitiesActivity One: Establishing Prior Knowledge Questionnaire - Students were given a questionnaire to complete around their computer use. This included their access to computers (or lack of it), how often they use computers, whether or not they have access to the Internet and what they use it for. These had to be read and explained to some students.
Teaching and Learning ActivitiesActivity Two: KnowledgeIntroducing the e-portfolio to the students -This was done with the aid of a projector, so problems withthe steps involved in finding and logging into the site wouldbe minimised. Students were then given the opportunity to explore the site independently and discuss it with their peers. Students were shown a short demonstration of some of the main features of the e-portfolio, such as themes and the insertion of text and headings. They then had the opportunity to explore the e-portfolio features independently.
Teaching and Learning ActivitiesActivity Three: Comprehension Making the link between home and school – Students were asked to attempt to log in to their e-portfolio from home. Some needed parental support. They were asked to make a small (or large!) change to their e-portfolio page to demonstrate how this works. Students who had managed to insert at least some of their speech writing into their e-portfolio were asked to share their work with their parents and record their feedback and feed forward.
Teaching and Learning ActivitiesActivity Four: ApplicationMulti-media Presentations Students were asked to film and post their oral speech presentations within an e-portfolio so that they might see themselves present share their oral presentation with their parents/families
Teaching and Learning ActivitiesActivity Five: AnalysisLooking through the e-portfolio window - Students were asked to identify key aspects of their written and oral presentations which should be kept or changed, based on the feedback from their parents and their own judgements.
Teaching and Learning Activities Activity Six: SynthesisRe-modelling or re-creating Students were asked to revise and re-work their speeches after looking at their own presentations
Teaching and Learning ActivitiesActivity Seven: Evaluation Judgements about Learning: Students were asked to make judgements about their own performance and justify changes they have made to their work improve their achievement in this area through knowledge of their own presentation Judgements about the E-Portfolio Tool Students were asked to share their ideas about their experiences using e-portfolios in an informal interview.
Ethical Approaches Consent to proceed with this research was first gained from the Principal and Board of Trustees of the school the participants attended. Ethical consent permission forms and information, using guidelines provided by the University of Canterbury were then distributed to participating students and their parents. Parents were invited to come and view the e-portfolio tool and ask questions about any part of the research and potential risks or issues arising from their child‟s involvement. To help ensure safety cultural related to English language comprehension, speakers of all languages were able to be accessed to clarify information if necessary.
Ethical Approaches As the researcher was also the facilitator in this research, there was a risk that data collection could potentially be compromised. This risk was minimized by involving only a small group of participants and also by having teacher aides available in class to work with students who needed assistance. Being well prepared in advance and checking equipment functionality, electricity and Internet connections in advance, also contributed to smooth running of the teaching and learning sessions. Having permission to video-tape teaching and learning made observations of what had occurred somewhat easier to analyse at the end of each session.
Findings The first step in the data collection for this research was to gather information from the eight participants through the use of a questionnaire. (Appendix 2) The purpose of this was to clarify the number of students who have computers and Internet access at home. The secondary purpose was to gauge the number of families who have access to the Internet, in order to investigate the possible sustainability of the use of e-portfolios in the future, as this has been seen as a potential barrier to their use by staff and the management team in the past. All participants completed the questionnaires. The information from them showed that 7 out of the 8 students had a computer, with an Internet connection at home. The student who did not have a computer at home had access to one outside the home environment on a regular basis. All students were also able to access computers at the homes of other family members or friends, school, and the public library. One student used an Internet café to access the Internet.
Findings With regard to usage, one student responded that he used the computer on a daily basis. Two students said they accessed a computer three to five times a week; two said they used a computer one to two times a week, and three said they used it less than once a week. Table 2: Participant Computer Use and Access
Findings All participants used the Internet for a variety of purposes. To research or complete school work was cited as common to all students. Only one out of the eight participants was familiar with and used email regularly. Three out of the eight students responded that they used the Internet to locate images of various people and things. Table 3: Participant Use of the Internet
Findings The questionnaire showed that at this stage, the school does not have a good grasp on the potential of parents in the community for accessing the learning of their students through e-portfolios and other Web 2.0 tools.
Observations Skilful observation is a critical instructional skill. Teachers who are more skilled observers have a greater ability to select and sequence a progression of tasks, taking students from one level of performance to the next. (Williams & Rink, 2003, p. 568) The initial reactions of the students to the „Student Jotter‟ e-portfolio tool were very positive. They were excited about joining the site and learning how to use it.
Observations Access to the site was first demonstrated and then students were given the opportunity to explore the tool independently. After a few minutes, it was noted that students had real difficult typing and spelling accurately to access the e-portfolio website. They also found it difficult to correctly type their user names and passwords, even though these had been set up for them in the easiest possible format. The user names and passwords were also in front of them on a piece of paper. It was decided not to intervene quickly, as the participants would have to be able to do this independently in future sessions. Students were encouraged to persist in trying to access the site, which they all managed to do within fifteen minutes.
Observations A great deal of discussion and experimentation with the themes of the site followed. Students left their computers and went to look at the portfolios of others. One student was able to advise two others how to change the look and feel of their portfolio. She also quickly discovered features such as a drawing tool and a map, which she shared with the group. Screen shots of the student portfolios were recorded at this point. During the next session the participants were introduced to the text tool. It was envisaged that, at some point they would be able to upload the speeches they were doing in class to their e-portfolio. This was demonstrated for them, using a simple “copy and paste” technique. Observations revealed that none of the eight students have ever used this technique before. They spent some time practising it.
Observations Two subsequent sessions were spent typing speeches into the e-portfolios. Typing skills improved over this very short time and the confidence level of the participants appeared to grow. It was at this stage that students began to access their e-portfolios at home, without being asked to. They experimented with inserting maps, using emoticons and using the paint and drawing tool. Parents became involved. Only two students were able to upload their oral presentations to their e-portfolios. This had to do with their work completion and typing skills.
Informal InterviewsStudents were asked to discuss their experiences using thee-portfolio website. All students felt very positive about itand wished to continue with it after the action research wascompleted. Features they particularly enjoyed were: The bright, colourful themes and the ability to change these whenever they wished The ability to make links to websites they used a lot The fact that the page was their own and no one else could make changes to it The fact that they could share their work between home and school Multi-media functions The ability to make their page private
Informal InterviewsIssues and problems identified by the students include: Frustration with their own typing and spelling skills The fact that they could not comment on others pages, when they would have liked to give some feedback (although this was also seen as a positive thing) The lack of time they are allowed to access a computer, both at home and at school Frustration with technical hitches and availability of functional cameras which would have enhanced student experience by allowing them to use the multi-media functions of the e-portfolio website more.All eight participants felt that this was a worthwhile experienceand all would continue with it further.
Participant Reseacher Teaching may be regarded as a means of improving schooling, by focusing on generalised issues of the management of curriculum or class, or it may be seen as a means of engaging in a critical process of action reflection which is in itself education.” (McNiff, p. xiii) Reflecting on action can be a worthwhile tool for teachers, if the reflection is relevant and can ultimately be used to make meaningful differences in our classrooms. Dewey (1933) is considered one of the first modern educators to develop the concept of reflection, using it as a problem solving tool.
Participant Researcher As a participant researcher, I was also frustrated by the limited computer and English spelling skills of my participants. I had expected to get further with the use of the tool than we did and I believe that if I had not had assistance from a teacher aide during the study, this could have been worse. I believe that persevering and not intervening in the initial stages was wise, as it forced the students to look carefully at what they were doing, therefore increasing their accessibility to their e- portfolios in subsequent sessions.
Participant Researcher I am also in agreement with the participants over the lack of ability to provide feedback to a student, unless you can log in as them. Having this facility may have the potential to be problematic, especially with some students or age groups, however it also has the potential to lift achievement and invite collaboration between students. Perhaps this is something which may be explored down the track.
Findings and Conclusions This action research project has revealed some advantages in using e-portfolios as a tool for teaching and learning, even at this early stage of their development. Within the spectrum of diverse learners and multicultural classrooms, they allow for the expression of individuality. Students may apply aspects if their culture (or cultures), individuality and viewpoints to their e-portfolios, without fear of change or criticism, as they own their page entirely.
Findings and Conclusions As a tool for ESL or students who struggle with aspects of language, there are many advantages to e-portfolios. They have the potential for real tracking of a student‟s progress and development over time. Because of the short time span of this study, we were only able to track limited progress with both learning and the engagement with the e-portfolio tool. It might be noted however, that the Year 5 students who did engage with the tool and uploaded their multimedia presentations, achieved excellent results in our school speech competitions.
Findings and Conclusions Issues around security often affect parent consent for involvement in learning online. The e-portfolio used in this research is aimed at younger students, therefore the security aspects of the site are high – only students, parents and the class teacher are able to access the child‟s work and there is no option for public sharing. This was both an advantage and disadvantage, as students in the face to face classroom are used to offering feedback and feed forward to each other and they missed that element of collaboration with this tool. One student asked “How can I invite my friends to my page?” and was disappointed when she knew that it was not able to be shared.
Findings and Conclusions Opportunities for parents to become more involved in their child‟s learning have presented themselves because of this research. Parents who might normally feel threatened by the school environment, due to the quality of their own experiences of school and education, accessed their child‟s learning at school through the e- portfolios – some for the first time this year. Students who had parents who engaged with their child‟s learning through the e-portfolio tool, achieved better results with their speeches.
Findings and Conclusions Limitations associated with these e-portfolios are connected with the general literacy and computer skills of the student participants as a group. All involved, including the researcher, found this a significant source of frustration, but it has provided a starting point for the development of skills.
Findings and ConclusionsA range of external factors also influenced the results ofthis study. These included: a stretched timetable (even though this study was designed to fit within the spectrum of an English unit) the availability of computers electricity problems (post earthquake – things still need to be repaired!) issues around sharing limited resources and equipment, such as cameras and video recorders a lack of available experts for troubleshooting hardware problems
Findings and Conclusions Despite a range of disadvantages, overall the participants interviewed considered e-portfolios to be a valuable tool for learning. In particular, they lend themselves to building skills in English literacy and Inquiry, although the potential to enhance learning in all areas is definitely present. This is especially evident in the multimedia facilities they provide to those who use them.
Limitations andRecommendations The use of computers as educational tools has become the norm over recent years. As a tool e-portfolios are becoming an area of increased scrutiny because of the many possibilities they present to those who use them. However, as with the introduction of any new learning system, it is important to identify areas of strength and weakness for students and teachers, so that these can be investigated before they are adopted throughout a learning institution. This research has shown that e-portfolios such as the ones used in this study can engage younger students and encourage sustained involvement in their literacy however students at this age also need to develop general English literacy, spelling and keyboard skills in order to create meaningful texts in e-portfolios. To do this, schools need better access to reliable computer hardware and the infrastructure to support this.
Limitations andRecommendations This study has limitations because of the restrictions placed upon it by issues with timetabling, electricity, connectivity, and student ability. These are not unresolvable in the big scheme of e-portfolios, however they have had an impact on this research and because of that, a true picture of the potential of this tool may not be represented in the findings. More study needs to be done with younger students over a longer period of time in order to establish a bigger picture of the merits and drawbacks of e-portfolio platforms such as the one used in this study.
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After one session, this student had managed toAppendix 3 – Children‟s Work: Initial Stages successfully access the site and log in. She found the map application and tried it out. Students successfully added a short piece of text and applied a theme.
Appendix 3 – Children‟s Work Student has successfully added text and applied an emoticon. Student managed to type her speech text into the e- portfolio.
Appendix 3 – Children‟s Work Student managed to type her speech text into the e- portfolio. Student has uploaded photos and multimedia.