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Case Study Two

In document 1.1 The Focus of this Research (Page 130-133)

4.6 Sampling Procedures

4.6.4 Case Study Two

The learning activity under study was embedded within a paper offered at a large tertiary institution in a major New Zealand city. The institution offered academically-oriented papers across a wide range of subjects including the natural sciences, computer studies, education, and the social sciences. Students could enrol in a number of qualifications encompassing pre-degree, undergraduate, and postgraduate levels of study, and a significant number of EAL students were present.

The institution was an early leader in eLearning during the 1990s, displaying much innovation in developing online resources, and a learning management system (LMS) was designed and implemented across the campus. After this initial period of innovation, the LMS was commercialised by the university, core support personnel left the institution, and interest in the tool wavered. Eventually, the LMS became viewed as an end-of-life product which led to a lack of research and development, and various performance issues were evident such as system

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failures and slow running speeds. By 2007 (when this study was conducted), use of the tool was patchy across the institution and central support was scant.

The learning activity under study was located within a first year management paper with an enrolment of approximately 260 students – ten per cent of whom were EAL students. The 260 students were divided into groups of approximately 22 students and these groups consisted of the same students who attended the face-to-face workshops and interacted online each week. While a number of students took the paper out of interest, the paper was compulsory for many students who did not meet the School‘s entry requirements for English. The duration of the paper was approximately four months and was offered in both Semesters A (February to June) and B (July to November) in 2007. The overall aim of the paper was to improve the writing skills of students, and to this end, it addressed both business and academic writing. The course blended online and face-to-face components by including weekly lectures, weekly workshops, and online learning activities. Students were required to submit three main writing assignments – an argumentative essay, a critical review, and a report – for assessment purposes.

The actual learning activity was supported by an asynchronous online technology which allowed students to see their peers‘ work and then upload their response to the communal web page (similar to an online discussion). The objective of the online component was to require the students to create drafts of their writing and engage in giving and receiving formative feedback with their peers. The online component was worth 35 per cent of the total grade and was composed of a weekly writing task (worth 10 per cent), a peer feedback on the writing task (worth 15 per cent), and a journal activity (worth 10 per cent). The journal activity was not examined in this study. The peer feedback task was the focus of this study although the writing task has been included in the analysis as it

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provided the input for the response. There were seven weeks of online learning activities and each week represented one cycle – students uploaded their weekly writing task by Monday (for example, the introduction of an essay) and by Wednesday they chose another student‘s writing task and gave feedback in open forum. Through the use of explicit procedural instructions about how to give feedback and specific criteria to evaluate differing texts, the teacher created a tightly structured activity for the students where student activity was prescribed.

In terms of assessment, the tutors allocated three basic grades – a grade of 100 indicated the work was of a reasonably high standard; a grade of 50 indicated the work was an acceptable standard; and a grade of 0 was given for work of poor quality. Importantly, no written feedback was given by the teacher and instead it was given by the students.

The lead teacher/lecturer (referred to as the teacher) had a PhD in Business Communication and had convened the paper since its inception in 2002. She originally designed the learning activity and had used it, with only minor alterations, for five years. Historically, in addition to convening the paper and running the lectures, she had also taught a limited number of students. However, during this occurrence of the learning activity, she ceased these direct teaching duties and her primary responsibilities consisted of presenting the lectures, administering the paper, and assisting with the marking of student assignments.

The teacher had a background in English language teaching and business communication. As an end-user of technology, the teacher expressed little interest in the technical aspects of online learning and described herself as a

―technophobe‖ (Teacher One/Interview One) who avoided using the computer in her personal life.

In the running of the paper, the teacher was supported by four tutors who implemented the workshops, interacted with the students, and assessed student

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work. Two tutors participated in this study – Tutor One and Tutor Two. They had worked together previously for two semesters and both had postgraduate qualifications. In this study, Tutor One was a core participant who was responsible for the two online groups under study and was interviewed repeatedly throughout the paper. She had a background in English language teaching and had taught in the course for two semesters. In terms of technology, Tutor One used email and word processing applications, but she had little experience using computers to teach and recounted one negative experience as a student in an online paper. In addition to the teacher and Tutor One, Tutor Two functioned as a key informant in this study who was responsible for several groups of students and agreed to be interviewed once. She had extensive experience in teaching at secondary and tertiary level, had a PhD in Literature, and had worked as a tutor in the paper for two semesters. Prior to her involvement with the course, she had not encountered eLearning as a student or teacher. In addition key informant interviews with a learning technologist, an information technology (IT) project manager, and another EAL student (Student Four) combined with observations of ENL student activity offered useful perspectives.

Details of student participants are presented in tabular format in Appendix M.

In document 1.1 The Focus of this Research (Page 130-133)