Improving student engagement and collaboration in a large class - a blended solution

Bohan, Eileen, Rita, Smith and Orla, Daly (2011) Improving student engagement and collaboration in a large class - a blended solution. [Conference Proceedings]


This paper which addresses two of the conference themes, namely engaging large classes and technology enhanced teaching, describes how the appropriate use of technology has enhanced active student engagement and collaboration in a large enrolment part-time graduate module. The level 9, fifteen credit module, delivered in a blended format, requires a high degree of theoretical and conceptual thinking. The motivation underlying the adopted pedagogical approach was to enhance student learning and engagement. New approaches are needed to optimise student learning in large group classes. Students were supported in developing the requisite skills to organise, manage, and collaborate effectively to successfully complete learning activities and assignments in an online environment. Research findings acknowledge that active learning in groups, peer relationships and social skills are important in engaging learners. A technology-based strategy was adopted that focused on developing student communication and social interaction in a supportive online learning environment. A number of scaffolded online discussion forums were put in place to facilitate student group preparation for summatively assessed in-class debates. Separate group discussion forums were used to create and complete group wikis. VLE (Blackboard) communication tools were used to provide prompt and useful feedback for the summative tasks i.e. the debates, and to ensure students were constantly made aware that instructors were easily contactable and readily available to support them. VLE Evaluation tools were used to monitor student participation in the forums and supported early intervention with those who did not appear to be participating. An analysis of the VLE forum statistics and review of group discussion forum posts reveal high levels of engagement, interaction and active collaboration amongst student groups preparing for both the in-class debates and group wiki projects. This paper will present and discuss this analysis. Student evaluations will also be presented to reiterate and authenticate the positive learning experience.

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