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SiSAL Journal: A Two Year Cross-Section of Student Use of Self-Access eLearning - R Pinner


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Over a two year period of using a Moodle based self-access resource, student logins
were measured against student numbers in schools in order to evaluate the percentage
of students’ usage. Peaks in student use seemed to correspond with teacher training
initiatives. This paper outlines these initiatives and the relationship between student use of self-access ICT resources and teacher training. It also details the types of training and incentives offered to both teachers and students to improve the usage figures of self-access.

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SiSAL Journal: A Two Year Cross-Section of Student Use of Self-Access eLearning - R Pinner

  1. 1. Studies in Self-Access Learning Journal A  Two  Year  Cross-­‐Section  of  Student  Use  of  Self-­‐Access   ELearning   Richard S. Pinner Corresponding author: ISSN 2185-3762 Publication date: September, 2011.To cite this articlePinner, R. S. (2011). A two year cross-section of student use of self-accesselearning. Studies in Self-Access Learning Journal, 2(3), 170-181.To link to this article article may be used for research, teaching and private study purposes. Please contactthe author for permission to re-print elsewhere.Scroll down for article
  2. 2. SiSAL Journal Vol. 2, No. 3, September 2011, 170-181A Two Year Cross-Section of Student Use of Self-Access eLearningRichard S. Pinner, Engnet Education AbstractOver a two year period of using a Moodle based self-access resource, student loginswere measured against student numbers in schools in order to evaluate the percentageof students’ usage. Peaks in student use seemed to correspond with teacher traininginitiatives. This paper outlines these initiatives and the relationship between studentuse of self-access ICT resources and teacher training. It also details the types oftraining and incentives offered to both teachers and students to improve the usagefigures of self-access. Keywords: self-access; training, computer-aided language learning, CALL, Moodle Many institutions are offering additional resources to learners in the form ofeLearning content hosted on virtual learning environments (VLEs), thus providingenhanced opportunities for collaboration and access to a rich variety of multimediamaterials. However, these resources are often underused and neglected by bothstudents and teaching staff. The UK’s official body for inspecting schools, Ofsted,found in a survey of VLE usage that “the use of VLEs to enhance learning was notwidespread and that the exploitation of VLEs at curriculum level resembled more of acottage industry than a national technological revolution” (Halies, 2009, p. 1). Therecould be many reasons behind this lack of VLE usage, one of which might be the lackof proper teacher training. The present paper will examine some of the initiativesimplemented in a chain of private language schools in the UK and Ireland whichobserved trends in student usage in relation to teacher training sessions. This study documents the design, implementation and development of aprogram of self-access with teacher-guided study. In particular, a VLE was used tohost a wide range of online self-access materials. The program was implemented in alarge chain of private language schools in the UK and Ireland. Throughout theimplementation of the program, student use of the online self-access centre (OSAC)was measured and plotted into a graph. It was found that student use increased afterteacher training and development sessions, which suggests teacher training andinstitutional support is an important factor in increasing the use of OSAC resources. This paper outlines the types of initiatives used to encourage teachers and howthese possibly filtered back to students in order to promote increased use of the OSAC 170
  3. 3. SiSAL Journal Vol. 2, No. 3, September 2011, 170-181facilities. In particular, training emphasised practical ideas for implementing the VLEin class, as well as ideas for blended learning. Another focus of the training wasgeneral use of technology and Computer-Aided Language Learning (CALL) in classand ways of reducing the administrative strain placed on teachers by the VLE. Fewteachers had used the VLE system previously and as those teachers who wereresponsible for the OSAC in their schools also had a lot of other duties includingteaching, it was felt that spending a lot of time marking students work and runningreports from Moodle might seem impractical without the proper training. The study attempts to illustrate that students are more likely to use OSACresources if the teachers have been trained and given ideas about how to incorporatethem into class. It also highlights the connection between teacher training and studentOSAC uptake. Literature  Review   Computer-based resources and learner autonomy have a close relationship.CALL can be utilised to provide increased access to a wide range of rich resources.For example, Benson (2001) cites the huge variety of media which allow studentsauthentic and rich linguistic input. Computers feature heavily in many people’s lives,and as such language learners are likely to look to computers and the internet forresources. Figura & Jarvis (2007) talk about the long perceived relationship betweenCALL and autonomy, in their study they reported that students viewed computers as auseful part of their autonomous learning, with 62% if the subjects using the computerfor between 1 and 2 hours per day for language practise. Self-access centres have featured heavily in language programs for severaldecades (Sturtridge, 1997) and OSACs are a logical development in that they enablegreater access to a wider range of rich multimedia resources. As they are online theycan also be tracked, monitored and edited by both students and teachers. However, theadministration and navigation of VLEs are not always easy tasks, and training can alltoo often be inadequate for both teaching staff and students. This may be due to timeconstraints or inadequate follow-up training. These problems of teacher and studentOSAC usage are additional to the task of encouraging students to be moreautonomous. Autonomy is not the same as working completely without a teacher. Astudent who completes a pedagogic grammar course book without reflection or 171
  4. 4. SiSAL Journal Vol. 2, No. 3, September 2011, 170-181analysis is not working autonomously. Little (1991) equates total detachment tosevere autism rather than autonomy. He states that “because we are social beings ourindependence is always balanced by dependence; our essential condition is one ofinterdependence” (Little, 1991, p. 5). For advocates, autonomy is a “precondition for effective learning” (Benson,2001, p. 1). Autonomy is what we wish to encourage across schools because itempowers learners and enables them to embark upon life-long learning, thus meaningthe likelihood of becoming successful in terms of communicative competence will behigher. Issues arising around the concept of autonomy are often voiced in terms of itscultural compatibility (Pennycook, 1997, see Palfreyman & Smith, 2003 for acollected volume), and some of the initial scepticism around autonomy arose over theperception of it being used to justify having less contact time between student andteacher, (McDevitt, 1997) or simply as an economical way of getting students to domore work without the need to pay the teachers. Surprisingly, despite agreementamongst practitioners and empirical evidence to support the fact that autonomy is ofgreat benefit to learners, ways of fostering autonomy and encouraging self-accessremain conspicuously absent from teacher education and training programs (Reinders& Balcikanli, 2011). From my experience as both a teacher trainer and consultant, Ihave observed that many schools and institutions have been guilty of simply openinga self-access centre and assuming that students are now autonomous. Simply leavingstudents alone surrounded by books and study materials does not make themautonomous. With the added flexibility and all-hours access provided by an OSACthese issues become even more prevalent. If students are working in an OSAC fromtheir homes or outside school hours, how can they be supported and how can theiractivities be tracked? In order to provide the necessary support for this ‘all hours’ typeof self-access learning teachers need to play an active role in the virtual learningenvironment as Minshull (2004) notes in the following quotation: It is now recognised that the teacher’s role in terms of constructing, monitoring and facilitating the learning process [in e-learning] is vital; for example, just setting up a discussion board and hoping students will engage with it doesn’t work. (Minshull, 2004, p. 5) 172
  5. 5. SiSAL Journal Vol. 2, No. 3, September 2011, 170-181 For this reason, the present study attempts to examine any potential linkbetween the support structures in place for teachers and students; in other wordsteacher training initiatives aimed at allowing teachers to support their learners’ self-access opportunities. Background  to  the  Study   A program of self-access with teacher-guidance was implemented as part of aninitiative by Kaplan International Colleges to provide better support and autonomy tostudents who were studying in private sector language schools located in targetlanguage (English) speaking countries. The program featured a Moodle based OSACwith over twenty different quiz type activities per week over a ten week course withdifferent levels of difficulty for Elementary, Pre-Intermediate, Intermediate, Upper-Intermediate and Advanced level students. All students were tested using an in-housetest and placed into levels, once they began at the schools they were given access tothe OSAC and shown how to login and navigate to the activities. There were alsoweekly written and spoken assignments which were based on the language contentbeing practised that week in the OSAC. Each week had a theme, such as “The Worldof Work” or “Future Plans” and these themes formed the basis of any language work.The OSAC content did not relate directly to the work students were doing in class, sothe OSAC work was to be treated as entirely supplementary study. In addition to the10 weeks of activities on the OSAC, each school had a dedicated library of self-accessresources ranging from graded readers to DVDs, with grammar books and other self-study materials. Each of these ‘study centres’ was managed by a study centre managerwho was available to answer students’ questions and support them with their self-access learning. These study centre managers also provided any immediate technicalsupport for the OSAC and were responsible for marking the online written and spokenassignments. The schools that participated in this study were located in the UK and Ireland.There were eleven participating institutions in total. The number of students who usedthe OSAC over the course of the two years (May 2008 – May 2010) in which datawere collected numbered over 20,000. Data were compiled using reports which camedirectly from the Moodle VLE as well as student numbers from the studentmanagement system. 173
  6. 6. SiSAL Journal Vol. 2, No. 3, September 2011, 170-181 The overall usage spanning the two-year period was plotted into a graph(Figure 1) using an equation to measure unique student logins to the OSAC againststudent numbers in the schools. The graph, which shows holistic uptake throughout allschools, shows peaks in site use around dates in which teacher training was carriedout. A more detailed discussion of the findings will follow the presentation of theresults. Methodology   The data for this study were collected using a range of applications whichwere combined in a spreadsheet to produce a graph which gave an approximate figurefor the number of students who were using the site. Reports on the number of uniquelogins to the site were used, rather than total logins. Therefore, a user who logs inthree times in one day counts as one unique login, and a user who logs in only once ina day also counts as one unique login. This gives a better idea of the actual number ofstudents who access the OSAC resource. Unfortunately, time spent on the OSAC wasnot measured by the Moodle system and activity reports can only be viewed onestudent at a time, making it impractical to examine what the students were doingwhile they were logged in as part of a holistic report on site usage due to the largenumber of users involved. In this way the data is one-sided and tells us little abouthow the OSAC was actually being used, however we do know that the written andspeaking assignments were hardly used at all. Some weeks, the speaking resourcereceived no submissions at all from eleven institutions and usually only between fiveand ten submissions even during busy periods when potentially between two and threethousand students were eligible to submit assignments. In other words, students werenot logging in to the OSAC in order to do academic writing assignments. Looking atseparate activity reports from Moodle, it is clear that the most popular OSACresources were activities which had listening practise and also flash based gameactivities. At this stage it would be useful to have some more qualitative data aboutthe students’ use of the OSAC, but despite this lack of data, having an idea of thepercentage of students who actually log into the system is useful in allowing us tocalculate a usage percentage. The number of eligible students (students with OSACaccess) in the schools overall was collected through the central student managementsystem database, and the number of unique logins was collected from a Moodle 174
  7. 7. SiSAL Journal Vol. 2, No. 3, September 2011, 170-181report. These two systems’ results were then plotted into a spreadsheet, and uptakewas calculated by dividing the number of unique logins (UL) by the number ofstudents (N) to create a percentage: A graph was plotted from the results, which shows the student uptake of theOSAC and spans a two-year period with almost 20,000 students. The average uptakeof the OSAC was 26.91% of the eligible student body, ie. those students who couldhave accessed the OSAC if they had wanted to.Subjects The subjects were students from a large number of different cultural andlinguistic backgrounds. The ages of the students varied from sixteen to sixty, with themajority of students in their mid-twenties. Every student had different start dates anddifferent course lengths, as the schools operate a weekly enrolment schedule andcourse lengths can be anywhere from four weeks to a year long. The disadvantages ofhaving such a large variety of subjects and different enrolment periods will bediscussed in more detail in the discussion section of this paper.Procedure The two types of training sessions which were conducted with the teachers canbe broadly categorised as either general technology and OSAC class implementationtraining or specific OSAC administration training. The specific OSAC training wasgiven initially to study centre managers whose role incorporated responsibility for theSAC and marking work on the OSAC, as well as student orientation and training touse both the SAC and OSAC. These study centre managers had a reduced teachingload and were scheduled to be in the SAC so that students could come and consultwith them face to face if they needed any help or guidance. They were alsoresponsible for running study clubs and workshops. A large part of these teachers’jobs was connected with the SAC and its resources and events. Although the studycentre managers had less engagement with the OSAC except for conducting weekly 175
  8. 8. SiSAL Journal Vol. 2, No. 3, September 2011, 170-181marking of online assignments, they were the only teachers in each school who wouldcome into contact with the OSAC as a formal part of their job description. Training, which was specifically designed for study centre mangers, involvedshowing them how to run reports within Moodle so that they could view the amountof usage from students in their school. Unfortunately, this was problematic as theversion of Moodle used did not support site-wide groups so a special hack had beenimplemented which was not always reliable. For this reason the training also featuredan element of how to get around this limitation and how to gain more usefulinformation specific to the school, making the training very focussed on technologyand reports. Another important aspect of this training was that it attempted to justifywhy running these reports could benefit both the students and teachers. To illustratethis, the specific example used was that of students who ask to be moved up to ahigher level class after a certain period of time. The schools all conduct summativelevel tests every five weeks to decide if students are ready to move up, but often whenstudents fail the test they request to move up despite their results. It was suggestedthat students’ level of commitment and usage of the SAC and OSAC be a decidingfactor in whether these students be allowed to move up to a higher class. Also, if thestudents’ requests to move up were denied, it was suggested that the students beencouraged to utilise the SAC and OSAC more to improve their language level inorder to move to a higher level. Incorporating this directly into the training made theadministrative aspect of the site more relevant to the study centre manager’s role. The second type of training focused on general CALL usage and was targetedat all teachers in the schools, even those with no dealings with the SAC or OSAC. Thetraining was not specific to the OSAC although there were continual references toencouraging OSAC usage outside of class and also ideas about how to use theintegrative features of the OSAC (such as the forums and blogs) as part of a class.Previous to these training sessions, most of the teachers had never had any contactwith Moodle nor had they been fully informed about the features of the OSACavailable to the students. Many were unclear in general about the self-accessresources, and this was also incorporated into the training. In this way, the trainingfeatured heavily in both technology usage, SAC and OSAC resources and ways toencourage students to use these resources and to attempt to foster more autonomywith their classes by promoting the self-access resources. 176
  9. 9. SiSAL Journal Vol. 2, No. 3, September 2011, 170-181 Data  Analysis  Results   Figure 1 is the graph which was produced from the spreadsheet to show thepercentage of student uptake of the OSAC. Training dates are indicated by thickarrows for centralised OSAC specific training and thin arrows for Technologytraining at individual schools.Figure 1. Percentage of student body using the OSAC 177
  10. 10. SiSAL Journal Vol. 2, No. 3, September 2011, 170-181Training dates There was a high concentration of the second type of training sessionsbetween August and October 2009 because the training session was very popular withteachers and other schools started specifically requesting the training. Table 1 showsthe training dates from 2009 to 2010. Table 1. Training sessions 2009-2010 Specific OSAC Training for self-access Technology and autonomy training for a manager at each school single school 03-Sep-08 06-Aug-08 11-Mar-09 14-Aug-09 03-Sep-09 22-Sep-09 25-Sep-09 23-Oct-09 18-Feb-10 The average level of OSAC uptake was 26.9% of the eligible student body(Table 2). This means that throughout the two-year period, roughly 27% of studentswith OSAC access were logging into the site to practise and make use of the learningmaterials on a daily basis. Table 2. Total uptake over a two-year period Average Average High Median Low Deviation 26.91 44.11 26.7 2.13 5.91 However, this figure is based only on unique logins and does not account forthe time spent in the OSAC or the number of activities being attempted. In otherwords, we only know that students logged in, we do not know how much they usedthe resources. This would hopefully be incorporated into future studies providingimproved reporting facilities in Moodle and better data collection methods could beused. The highest period of uptake was in September 2008, which was three weeksafter the first OSAC specific training session in which all schools took part. Part ofthe training given at this session involved changing the way students were inducted on 178
  11. 11. SiSAL Journal Vol. 2, No. 3, September 2011, 170-181the first day so that they were given an OSAC orientation whereas previously theyhad only been informed about it. The lowest period of uptake occurred during thewinter holidays, during which many students returned to their home countries and theschools were closed for two weeks. It is important to note here that because the studywas conducted in private language schools, summer is the busiest period and there areno school closures in summer. Results over the two-year period (May 2008 – May2010) are shown in Table 1. To represent the difference teacher training made to student OSAC usagevisually, a twelve-week period was selected in which no training was conducted andplotted against another twelve week period in which five separate types of trainingwere given across the different institutions (Figure 2).Figure 2. Teacher training and student OSAC use over a twelve-week period Discussion  and  Limitations   From these results it seems that students use the OSAC resources more if theteachers have been given training on the use of these resources, the types of activityavailable and the way the students can utilise them for self-study. One of thelimitations of this study is the lack of qualitative data into the students’ and teachers’ 179
  12. 12. SiSAL Journal Vol. 2, No. 3, September 2011, 170-181perceptions of the OSAC resources, and this will have to be addressed with furtherresearch. Because of the large data set in this study, it is only possible to make verypreliminary assumptions which would need the backing of more detailed empiricalevidence to make more definitive observations. The main finding behind this study was that teacher training led to increasedstudent OSAC usage. However, in order to test the link between teacher training andOSAC uptake more directly, qualitative data would contribute further insights intothese findings. Also, using a smaller group with the same students throughout thestudy would make it possible to conduct statistical reliability tests to ensure there wasa significant difference. Because every week each school had a new intake, it is notpossible to statistically check the results from this study using ordinary tests forstatistical significance. Therefore, for future studies it would be recommended to use asmaller scale data set and feature more qualitative data for information relating tostudent motivation and autonomy. Another limitation is the range of subjects. It wouldhave been very interesting to be able to see whether students on shorter courses usedthe OSAC more than students on longer courses, or to measure peaks in longer termstudents’ OSAC usage. This is one of the main limitations of this study, as most of thedata were collected after the student’s courses had finished and the study was puttogether retrospectively based on observed trends in a graph. Further studies couldaddress this limitation by conducting interviews with participants and using a smallersample so as to be more manageable and trends in students with similar length coursescould be observed. Conclusion   Although this study is limited in that it only shows rough quantitative datarelating to the number of OSAC logins, there does seem to be an indication that themore teachers know about OSACs and how to incorporate them into class and tomake recommendations to the students for self-study, the more likely they are toencourage their students to use them. It also shows that the students are more likely tostudy using self-access resources if they are informed about them by their teachers.Continued teacher training and support would seem to be highly important to studentself-access usage. 180
  13. 13. SiSAL Journal Vol. 2, No. 3, September 2011, 170-181 Notes on the contributorRichard Pinner is a part-time teacher at Sophia University and an eLearningconsultant for engnet-education. References  Benson, P. (2001). Teaching and researching autonomy in language learning London: Longman.Figura, K., & Jarvis, H. (2007). Computer-based materials: A study of learner autonomy and strategies. System 35, 448–468Hailes, N. (2009). Ofsted roundup in Further Education News. Retrieved 5th August 2011 from come-under-the-eye-of-inspectorsLittle, D. (1991). Learner autonomy. 1: Definitions, issues and problems. Dublin: Authentik.McDevitt, B. (1997). Learner autonomy and the need for learner training. Language Learning Journal 16, 34-39Minshull, G. (2004). VLEs: Beyond the fringe and into the mainstream: Guidance on the mainstreaming of Virtual Learning Environments, drawn from the proceedings of the 2004 online conference from Bectas Ferl service’ Retreived 5th August 2011 from, D., & Smith, R.C. (Eds.) (2003). Learner autonomy across cultures: Language education perspectives. New York: Palgrave MacMillanPennycook, A. (1997). Cultural alternatives and autonomy. In P. Benson & P.Voller, (Eds.), Autonomy and Independence in Language Learning (pp. 35-53). London: LongmanReinders, H., & Balcikanli, C. (2011). Learning to foster autonomy: The role of teacher education materials. Studies in Self-Access Learning Journal, 2(1), 15- 25.Sturtridge, G. (1997). Teaching and language learning in self-access centres: Changing roles? In P. Benson & P. Voller (Eds.), Autonomy and Independence in Language Learning (pp. 66-78). London: Longman 181