Learning Technology Research Project


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Research projects submitted for the SEDA (Staff Educational Development Association) accredited programme in Applying Learning Technologies, entitled *An investigation into students’ use of laptops in the classroom as tools for learning a software application for the design of sound for interactive applications*

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Learning Technology Research Project

  1. 1. Darren Gash. Student ID: 07058076. MA Education Module: Applying Learning TechnologiesStudent Name: Darren GashStudent ID: 07058076MA EducationModule code: EDP085NModule Name: Applying Learning TechnologiesDate: 2nd February 2009TitleAn investigation into students’ use of laptops in the classroom as tools forlearning a software application for the design of sound for interactiveapplications: Final summative scholarly paper.AbstractThis paper investigates students’ use of laptops as tools for learning asoftware application in the classroom.The study, based on the author’s observations, teacher and studentperspectives, indicates that there are significant advantages to learning asoftware application when students are able to actively experiment with theapplication in the classroom. It also finds that laptops are beneficial forlearning as long as they are purposefully employed in support of clearlydefined educational aims.Recommendations are made for embedding the use of laptops into the lessonplan in order to create a suitable balance between teacher/talk andstudent/laptop centred activities. Page 1 of 16
  2. 2. Darren Gash. Student ID: 07058076. MA Education Module: Applying Learning TechnologiesTable of Contents1. Introduction…………………………………………….page 32. Rationale……………………………………………….page 33. Theoretical Perspectives……………………………..page 54. Methodology…………………………………………...page 75. Observations and Evaluations 5.1. Session One………………………………………page 8 5.2. Session Two………………………………………page 9 5.3. Session Three…………………………………….page 9 5.4. Session Four……………...………………………page 106. Student Perspectives…………...………………….…page 107. Conclusions……………………………………………page 128. References…………………………………………….page 159. Appendix……………………………………………….page 16 Page 2 of 16
  3. 3. Darren Gash. Student ID: 07058076. MA Education Module: Applying Learning Technologies1. Introduction "Laptops are no different from any other technology in that it is the teaching they allow rather than their mere presence that improves student learning" (Granberg & Witte, 2005, p.58)The twofold aim of this technology intervention project is to investigate:  students’ use of laptops in the classroom as tools for learning the theory and practice of sound design for interactive applications; and  how the use of laptops may be best managed in order to optimise the learning experience.The students are studying a final year module entitled Sound Design forInteractive Applications (SDIA) as part of the BA (Hons) Recording Artsdegree. This is an undergraduate programme specialising in audio productiondesigned and taught by SAE Institute1. By the end of the module students areexpected to have acquired knowledge and understanding of audio ininteractive and non-linear environments such as games, and acquire skills inprogramming sound applications suitable for such environments.All students who enroll on courses at SAE are supplied with an AppleMacbook laptop and all premises are wifi enabled. Since laptops areubiquitous, and the development platform used for sound design programmingis a free open source software application called Pure Data (PD)2, studentsare able to install PD onto their laptops thus allowing them the opportunity touse the application in class.2. RationaleUse of laptops in the classroom can be both beneficial and detrimental to1 See http://london.sae.edu/en-gb/courses/42/Audio_Engineering_Degree for furtherinformation2 See http://puredata.info/ for further information Page 3 of 16
  4. 4. Darren Gash. Student ID: 07058076. MA Education Module: Applying Learning Technologieslearning. Levin et al (2005) discuss how their use in music appreciationclasses encouraged group work, resulted in increased engagement anddeeper understanding of the subject matter. Ohland and Stephan (2005)describe the use of laptops for real-time data collection and analysis in anengineering syllabus (an activity outside the scope of a standard lecture)leading to benefits such as more active learning, improved attendance,deeper questioning and higher grades.Conversely, Fried (2008) reminds us that although laptops have the potentialto increase student motivation they may also result in cognitive overload dueto the distractions offered by their presence. Such distractions include emailand instant messaging, although Granberg and Witte (2005, p.53) observesuch applications as enabling students to “communicate [with each other]“silently” during class” as a valid classroom activity.Nilson and Weaver (2005, p.4) note that behavioural problems such asinattentiveness and disruption are less likely when laptop activities aredesigned into the lesson plans to purposefully engage students, commentingon the versatility of laptops to facilitate "studio, master-apprentice, interactive,hands-on, discovery-based, experiential, or collaborative models of teachingand learning” (p.12). Wurst et al (2008) and Fried (2008) also highlight theneed for planned integration of laptops into the classroom and establishingappropriate boundaries for their use.With this in mind, my project is based on the assumption that the ability ofstudents to engage directly with PD on their laptops during class time will bebeneficial to their learning as long as their use is managed in a way that isinformed by the intended learning outcomes of the module. More specifically,it is expected that laptops will be beneficial in this context since: a) students will gain hands on experience whilst the teacher is available to support their learning; b) learning of the practical application can be divided into smaller manageable chunks within the two hour time frame of each lesson; and Page 4 of 16
  5. 5. Darren Gash. Student ID: 07058076. MA Education Module: Applying Learning Technologies c) students can take work in progress away with them for further development.3. Theoretical perspectivesEffective sound design requires the application of higher order skills. Thedesigner must first conceptualise a sound (that may or may not exist in reality,such as the noise made by an alien spaceship), break the sound down intoconstituent elements (e.g. pitch, tone and loudness), assign values to them(e.g. high pitched, bright, quiet) and model the sound and its behaviour withinthe interactive environment. Students must therefore develop their abilities toanalyse, synthesise and evaluate as well as to think abstractly, logically andsystematically.The process of sound design is reiterative3 in a way that is analogous toconstructivist models of learning, which see the learner as activelyconstructing their own understanding by relating existing knowledge andexperience to new knowledge and skills being taught. Bruner (2003) forexample applies this to his concept of a spiral curriculum, in which the learnerrevisits a subject at more advanced levels with the knowledge andexperienced gained feeding into the next stage.Kolb’s experiential learning theory (1984) conceptualises this as a cyclicalprocess where the learner’s understanding is continually transformed byengaging with the four stages of concrete experience, reflective observation,abstract conceptualisation and active experimentation that, as a whole, forman experience on which to base further reflection, understanding andexperimentation. Kolb’s model provides a useful framework for the delivery ofthe SDIA module as students have the software application to hand and cantherefore not only observe and reflect on the material in class, as per thetraditional lecture, but also actively experiment with the material of learning,as per the traditional laboratory.3 As opposed to the behaviourist process of repetition, or rote learning, in order toestablish a reflexive behaviour based on a given response Page 5 of 16
  6. 6. Darren Gash. Student ID: 07058076. MA Education Module: Applying Learning TechnologiesOne advantage for students having access to PD on their laptops during classis the possibility of presenting the curriculum in manageable chunks - animportant consideration given the level of complexity involved in sound designat this level. This means that the teacher can explain and demonstrate atheoretical concept or practical application over a short period of time relativeto the length of the lesson (the SDIA module lessons are two hours in length)with students then actively experimenting with the application either alone orin groups. The extent of the students’ understanding can subsequently beassessed through, for example, questioning by the teacher, group discussionand the presentation of work for peer review4 prior to further reiterations of thelearning cycle in class.Without computers students would be unable to engage with the technologyand thus assess their understanding until after the lecture, by which time theymay already be overloaded by the amount and level of knowledge delivered.Thus within the context of a lesson it would not be possible to complete awhole experiential cycle. The students’ limited attention span may also affecttheir ability to concentrate and remain attentive since, according to researchby Penner (1984, as cited in Gross Davis, 1993), a student’s attention variesbetween 10 and 20 minutes, the implication being that some variation offocus, for example between teacher and student centred activity, is requiredfor students to remain engaged. Students may have access to computerslater on but their readiness to learn may be diminished and they may not haveaccess to the support of the teacher.5 Having said that, as has already seen,4 The transfer of files to the teacher’s workstation for playback through theclassroom’s A/V facility is possible through SAE’s existing wifi network.5 Such an approach has been adopted in the past at SAE Institute for logisticalreasons and as an attempt to compensate for a lack of teacher support, studentswere given elaborate step-by-step instructions on a handout to use during their self-directed practice sessions. From experience this tended to foster a surface approachto learning, where students simply learn to carry out a procedure without acquiring Page 6 of 16
  7. 7. Darren Gash. Student ID: 07058076. MA Education Module: Applying Learning Technologieslaptops can also impact on attention to learning during class, a considerationwhen designing a strategy to manage them.4. MethodologyTo evaluate the use of laptops and their impact on learning during the SDIAclasses, data was collected from four perspectives:  the lecturer;  students (with a class size of 18 students);  video footage; and  myself.Although the SDIA module comprises 13 two-hour lessons, only the first fourlessons were evaluated due to time limitations.After each session the lecturer and I compared notes and maderecommendations for adjusting the teaching method for subsequent lectures.After the fourth and final session a semi-structured discussion with thestudents was held to ascertain their views about the use of laptops in thecontext of the SDIA module and in general. The video footage provideddocumentary evidence and enabled my own observations from the rear of theclassroom to be cross-referenced with the camera’s view from the front of theclassroom6.The aim of the observations was to determine when laptops appeared toenhance or hinder learning, their effect on student engagement, theirinfluence on the pace and direction of the lessons and the relationshipunderstanding of the underlying concepts and were thus unable to transfer theprocedural skill to other contexts.6 During my sessions I used a laptop running Ecove, a bespoke application forclassroom observations that time stamps any observations noted. This is useful forfinding the corresponding video footage. For further information visithttp://www.ecove.net Page 7 of 16
  8. 8. Darren Gash. Student ID: 07058076. MA Education Module: Applying Learning Technologiesbetween their use and teaching method. Recommendations for managing theuse of laptops to optimise learning are made on the basis of the datagathered.5. Observations and evaluations5.1 Session oneThe first session introduced the module, key concepts and basic functions ofPD to the class. Students were generally attentive throughout and their use oflaptops was self-regulated. From my perspective only one student wasobserved using the laptop for purposes outside the scope of the lecture,although this was intermittent and not in any way disruptive to the class.Since students had never used PD before it was decided to adopt a “step-by-step” approach, whereby students would follow along and repeat eachkeystroke and mouse click as the lecturer demonstrated how to build a simpletone generator. The pace of the lecture slowed down noticeably as somestudents were unable to keep up with the pace of instruction. Some asked thelecturer to repeat instructions, others took longer for each step as they werewriting down the instruction as well as carrying it out, others got lost as theyswitched their attention between their laptop screens and the lecturer’s screenprojected at the front of the classroom.Although all students eventually succeeded in producing their first sound, thescenario does illustrate potential disadvantages of the “step-by-step”approach for learning. Because students can take varying amounts of time toassimilate each step, and because all students must assimilate one stepbefore the lecturer can move onto the next one, the gaps between each stepcan widen to the extent that the connection between them may be lost.Consequently, students may have difficulty not only in reconstructing theprocedure but also achieving a deeper understanding of its wider context anduse. Page 8 of 16
  9. 9. Darren Gash. Student ID: 07058076. MA Education Module: Applying Learning Technologies5.2 Session twoIn contrast with the previous session, an “observe then experiment” methodwas adopted based on Kolb’s learning cycle. This meant that students wouldfirst observe the lecturer construct an application and explain the rationalebehind its construction. Students would then attempt to reconstruct it bythemselves, with the lecturer on hand to assist. In this way, students can seethe whole procedure uninterrupted and understand its context. In practice thissession was overly weighted towards the observation stage due to the timeneeded to cover the procedure to the desired depth of understanding, leavinginsufficient time for students to complete the task during the experimentationphase.Although it can be argued that such an approach is more likely to result indeep learning, the length and balance of the observation/experimentationcycle clearly needs careful consideration. There was clearly insufficient timeallocated to allow students to actively experiment with their laptops.Furthermore, the observation stage was too long with possible consequencesfor students’ attention span as discussed earlier.5.3 Session threeThe plan for this session was to revise concepts and procedures previouslycovered, introduce additional ones and demonstrate their learning by buildingan “arpeggiator” application7. To avoid the issues of the previous sessionstudents were provided with pre-configured PD components (modules),requiring less time to explain the individual components and build theapplication. To gain a deeper understanding at their own pace, students weregiven homework which required them to unpack and analyse the discreetcomponents of each block and modify the parameters.7 An application that produces a sequence of notes to repeatedly rise and fall at aspecified tempo. It comes from the musical term arpeggio which refers to the notes ofa chord played in succession. Page 9 of 16
  10. 10. Darren Gash. Student ID: 07058076. MA Education Module: Applying Learning TechnologiesThis strategy allowed more time for the students to engage inexperimentation, which resulted in a highly productive and student centredsession. Students worked by themselves or in pairs, with some pairssnowballing into groups as they exchanged ideas. The noise level in the roomgot progressively louder due to increased interaction and the sound of laptopscompleting their arpeggiators.The laptops had evidently facilitated student engagement and interaction in aproblem solving exercise. Unfortunately the time allowed for completion wasimpacted by technical problems at the beginning of the session that preventedsome students from logging onto the college’s server and downloading thefiles required for the task. To counteract this in future students would beinstructed to download files the day before the session.5.4 Session fourSession four’s task was to model the sound of fire. This involved analysing theacoustic characteristics of the three main components of fire (“crackle”, “hiss”and “roar”), building each component and combining them into a cohesiveworking model. Since the task was beyond the scope of the two-hour session,students were split into groups with each one allocated a component to build.Each group would then upload their component for others to download andcomplete the model. This both encouraged collaboration and also allowedtime for students to engage at a deeper level. Finally, students would have theopportunity to compare and contrast each others approach to constructing thecomponents.Although the elements of the fire could be built in parallel the concepts andprocedural knowledge required to create them had to be explained by thelecturer sequentially. Again, this left insufficient time for students to completeand evaluate the exercise in class, although since students have remoteaccess to the college server they were able to continue the exerciseafterwards. On reflection it was decided in future to break similar tasks downinto several smaller “observe then experiment” cycles during class. Page 10 of 16
  11. 11. Darren Gash. Student ID: 07058076. MA Education Module: Applying Learning Technologies6. Student perspectivesThe discussion held with the students after the fourth and final sessionsupported my own assumptions and conclusions so far. To begin with thestudents felt strongly that the laptops had made a significant contribution totheir learning of PD during class time since it allowed them, as one studentsaid, to “try things out during class and get feedback”.There was a mixed response regarding the perceived effectiveness orotherwise of the “step by step” and the "observe then experiment" approachesto teaching and learning the application. Students saw the advantages anddisadvantages of both. One student preferred the former since he found eachstep easier to assimilate by “doing each step actively before the next”.Another found it problematic since “[the lecturer] would show us somethingand I would try and do it ... by the time I lift my head up it’s like…where thehell are we?”Another student noted that the “observe then experiment” approach was morelikely to lead to deeper learning, since it required them to construct their ownunderstanding from what they had observed: “if you watch first [you] focus onthe big parts … you [then] gotta figure out your own way of doing things … it’smore difficult, but if you can do it this way, for sure you can do it again thenext day or the day after”. This method was also viewed as more conducive tocollaborative learning, since by first observing a procedure in full studentswere “engaged as a group; everyone is looking [towards the projector screen]… when using the laptops [i.e. during step-by-step] we are engagedindividually. Learning is better as a group as you are discussing how to dothings together”.Although the overall consensus was a preference for the “observe thenexperiment” approach, it was suggested that the single reiteration applied sofar be broken down into smaller and thus more frequentobservation/experimentation cycles during class.As one student put it: “a combination of both, doing step by step … step one,close your laptops, (then watch), OK 10 minutes, now open your laptops [and]do the practical". Such a view aligned with our own conclusions as a result of Page 11 of 16
  12. 12. Darren Gash. Student ID: 07058076. MA Education Module: Applying Learning Technologiesthe timing issues that occurred in the second and fourth sessions.Significantly, students saw no great advantage in bringing their laptops withthem to college unless they were to be used for some planned activity otherthan general note taking. As had been observed, although students hadlaptops with them the majority did not use them for taking notes. When askedwhy they appeared to prefer pen and paper they responded that it was “justquicker”, “easier to structure something”, “brainstorm stuff and put it intosomething visual” and “I think you remember things better if you physicallywrite them out”.One student also remarked that using a notepad enabled him to keep PD asthe active window on his laptop, rather than switching between a documenteditor and the application being learned. Although one student did see theadvantage for touch typists who could simultaneously take notes and keep aneye on the lecturer, he also remarked that with a pen “you can [also] draw anddo stuff” and if there is no use for the laptops in class beyond its function asan electronic notepad, he “might as well bring a little piece of paper”.7. ConclusionsThis research has shown that there are significant advantages to learning anapplication when students are able to actively experiment with the applicationin class. As Levine (2002, as cited in Granberg and Witte, 2005, p.53) states,the true benefit of laptop technology is its ability to create “two classrooms inone”, in this context a combination of lecture theatre and laboratory. Theopportunity to actively experiment can be seen to engage students, andlearning can be presented in more manageable chunks.That said, defining what constitutes a “manageable chunk” is problematic andrequires further research. Although the “step-by-step” approach hasadvantages in terms of immediacy of engagement and feedback with positiveconsequences for student motivation, the method has clear limitations. Itrequires students to remain in sync and in practice, students do not assimilatesteps at the same pace and interruptions can occur. This can lead to aprocedure being atomised to an extent that students focus on each individual Page 12 of 16
  13. 13. Darren Gash. Student ID: 07058076. MA Education Module: Applying Learning Technologiespart out of context of the whole. Such an approach can result in surfacelearning (Ramsden, 2003, p.44).Although the “observe and experiment” approach is more likely to result indeeper learning since it allows students to see each step in context andconstruct their own understanding through experimentation, the length of theobservation stage needs careful consideration.If the procedure to be learned is complex and takes too long to demonstrate,students are more likely to become demotivated and less attentive. Althoughnot an issue here, with other less mature students the laptops are more likelyto become a gateway to undesirable extra-curricular activities. In such asituation, it is recommended that learning be broken down into smaller andthus more manageable “observe then experiment” cycles.Another strategy is to divide a procedure into several smaller functions andallocate each one to a group. This not only encourages collaborative learningbut is also a more efficient use of time as sub tasks are achieved in parallel.The importance of making allowances for the inevitable technical problemsthat occur in a technology rich environment is also highlighted, and it isrecommended that whenever possible assets are made available to studentprior to classes.On the whole, the “observe and experiment” is recommended as the preferredlong term strategy as it appears more likely to result in collaborative andconstructivist learning that the students themselves recognised as beneficial8.The length of such cycles is, however, dynamic and depends on thecomplexity of the task and the ability of the students, meaning more research8 It is worth noting here that sound produced from laptops is relatively quiet andlocalised, enabling students to play sound through the laptops’ speakers rather thanthrough headphones, which allowed for group interaction. Page 13 of 16
  14. 14. Darren Gash. Student ID: 07058076. MA Education Module: Applying Learning Technologiesis required in this regard9.Finally, this research supports Fried and others’ assertion in this paper’sintroduction of the need to employ laptops in a structured way. As thestudents who took part in this research themselves recognised, laptops arenot intrinsically beneficial to their learning. They are valuable tools for learningas long as they are embedded in a managed and purposeful way in support ofclearly defined educational aims.Word count: 32499 Since then, the lecturer has continued to optimise the “observe then experiment”cycle and has reported that cycles of approximately half hour in duration, with 15minutes observation followed by 15 minutes experimentation, appear to work bestwith this particular class. This allows for several reiterations during the two-hourlesson format. Page 14 of 16
  15. 15. Darren Gash. Student ID: 07058076. MA Education Module: Applying Learning Technologies8. ReferencesBruner, J. (2003) The Process of Education. Harvard University Press,Cambridge.Davis, B.G. (1993) Tools for Teaching. Jossey-Bass, San Fransisco.Fried, C.B. (2008) In-class Laptop Use and its Effects on Student Learning.Computers and Education, 50, pp. 906-914.Granberg, E. & Witte, j. (2005) Teaching with Laptops for the First Time:Lessons from a Social Science Classroom. In Enhancing Learning withLaptops in the Classroom: Spring 2005 (JB TL Single Issue Teaching andLearning), (Eds, Nilson, L.B. & Weaver, B.E.) Jossey Bass, San Francisco,pp. 51-59.Kolb, D.A. (1984) Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source ofLearning and Development. Prentice Hall, New Jersey.Levin, A.R., Pargas, R.P. & Austin, J. (2005) Appreciating Music: An ActiveApproach. In Enhancing Learning with Laptops in the Classroom: Spring2005 (JB TL Single Issue Teaching and Learning), (Eds, Nilson, L.B. &Weaver, B.E.) Jossey Bass, San Francisco, pp. 27-35.Nilson, L.B. & Weaver, B.E. (2005) Laptops in Class: What Are They GoodFor? What Can You Do with Them?. In Enhancing Learning with Laptops inthe Classroom: Spring 2005 (JB TL Single Issue Teaching and Learning),(Eds, Nilson, L.B. & Weaver, B.E.) Jossey Bass, San Francisco, pp. 3-13.Ohland, M.W. & Stephan, E.A. (2005) Using Laptops in Engineering Coursesfor Real-Time Data Collection and Analysis. In Enhancing Learning withLaptops in the Classroom: Spring 2005 (JB TL Single Issue Teaching andLearning), (Eds, Nilson, L.B. & Weaver, B.E.) Jossey Bass, San Francisco,pp. 67-80.Ramsden, P. (2003) Learning to Teach in Higher Education.RoutledgeFalmer, London.Wurst, c., Smarkola, C. & Gaffney, M.A. (2008) Ubiquitous laptop usage inhigher education: Effects on student achievement, student satisfaction, andconstructivist measures in honors and traditional classrooms. Computers &Education, 51, pp. 1766-1783. Page 15 of 16
  16. 16. Darren Gash. Student ID: 07058076. MA Education Module: Applying Learning Technologies9. Appendix: Applying Learning Technologies Peer Assessment GradingSheet. Comments and grades for (name withheld) FormativePresentation of 4th December 2008After the demonstration by your colleague, did you understand fully the following? Objective/Criteria Performance Indicators Needs Meet Exceptional Improvement Expectations 1. What worked Well? (2 points) (3 points) (5 points) 2. What did not work so (2 points) (3 points) (5 points) well? 3. Was the experience (3 points) (5 points) (8 points) successful one for the learner, and why? 4. What challenges were (3 points) (8 points) (12 points) encountered? 5. How the presenter went (3 points) (10 points) (15 points) about resolving these challenges? 6. What the presenter will (3 points) (18 points) (25 points) do better and why? 7. How the presenter is (5 points) (22 points) (30 points) going to incorporate the lessons learned from the experience of implementing the technology in future practiceTotal Score: 42Comments: • As per my own presentation, criteria 6 and 7 score low since the intervention is still ongoing. • The presentation was approximately double the stipulated time allowed; therefore some fine-tuning is required. Theoretical perspectives in particular need summarising more briefly. A lot of theory presented was general, so I suggest focussing on two educational theories specifically relevant to dyslexia • I also suggest that the main body of the presentation be structured in a way which demonstrates how the student with dyslexia would solve a given problem using OneNote. This would help personalise the research and help the audience see the benefits of the application more clearly. Page 16 of 16