Using three key learning principles as the framework, an
implementation strategy was proposed that would support the
development of learning environments based on these ideas:
- Authenticity - is promoted throughout the whole unit,
with students developing projects for real clients, as well
as portfolios they can use in the industry as well as for
their CVs. Their final products are hosted on an ECU
server, so students can show potential employers.
- Student-centred activities are promoted through the use
of contracts (individual and team) in teams that develop
a web site for a "real" client. Also, these teams
are required to create solutions to 10 problems which represent
the core materials in the unit.
- Reflection students are required to perform self
and peer assessment, task evaluation as well as reflective
An implementation strategy described by Oliver and Herrington
(2001) uses a design methodology centred on developing student-learning
activities as the main focus of the course design. These help
determine how learners engage with course materials and the
forms of knowledge construction that take place through the
purposeful selection of tasks, resources and supports. These
elements are defined as:
- Learning tasks pivotal elements in the design process
used to support knowledge construction and guide the design
process. These are chosen based on the intended learning
outcomes, resources and learning supports available. Typical
learning tasks include problem solving, investigations,
inquiries, projects and role play.
- Learning supports or scaffolding - needed to guide learners
and provide feedback on their progress. Can include tutor
support, library support or online facilities, and counselling.
- Learning resources these are often the most visible
components and include print materials, media and online
resources. These must support learners inquiry and
problem-solving activities and should allow students to
browse a range of alternative.
Oliver, R. & Herrington, J. (2001). Teaching and
learning online: A beginner’s guide to e-learning
and e-teaching in higher education. Edith Cowan University:
The design originates as part of my PhD thesis. It has been
implemented 4 times.
I keep refining the tools and syllabus to help make the delivery
more effective and efficient. Also, the software is being
re-written in PHP/MySQL.
The design has not been disseminated further yet, as it has
only just been developed. In 2003, other staff in the Faculty
are keen to use it in different discipline areas.
RESEARCH CONDUCTED ON THE DESIGN
The learning environment was designed and developed as part
of a PhD research study (Joe Luca), and was rigorously evaluated
over a period of 6 months inSemester 1, 2001. Both qualitative
and quantitative research techniques were implemented.
Techniques of qualitative data analysis were used to analyse
data collected from focus group interviews, one-to-one interviews
and comments made in students online reflective journals
and bulletin boards. The study concluded with:
"The findings of the study show that the authentic activities
were instrumental in motivating most students in this study.
Once motivated, these students actively engaged in self-directed
activities, and through reflective practice helped to construct
knowledge as well as promoting the development of their generic
skills. Being able to see the relevance of the activities,
and the rewards they would achieve from successfully completing
them, proved to be a key element in the design of this learning
These results showed that the authentic context provided
a motivational context for most students to actively practise
using their generic skills. Authentic activities provided
a clear link to reality, which embedded learning in a realistic
and relevant context that helped these students see significance
in what they were doing "beyond the corridors of the
academic institution", and motivated a range of skills
to be used such as problem solving, collaboration, communication
and peer assessment to complete the given tasks. Within this
context the self-regulated nature of the learning environment
allowed students to freely experiment with different implementation
strategies that suited their learning styles within the given
context. Reflection was then encouraged through a variety
of activities that provided students with feedback on their
performance from a variety of perspectives, which enabled
them to modify their behaviour through a continual process
of reflective practice.
Pre-test/post-test scores were analysed from two different
questionnaires (with fifty one students) that analysed generic
skills changes during the semester:
- Workplace Competencies Questionnaire (Miles & Grummon,
1996) was developed in the United States through a series
of national and state surveys of workplace skills, reviewed
to determine generic skill sets considered critical by employers
(Carnevale et al., 1991). The online instrument assessed
students generic skills across nine scales (taking
responsibility, working in teams, persisting, quality, life-long
learning, adapting to change, problem solving, information
processing and systems thinking), with six test items in
each scale. This data was analysed for significant differences
using SPSS (Paired-Samples t-test). The results showed a
significant increase across each of the nine-workplace competencies.
Statistically, the questionnaire clearly illustrated that
students exposed to the learning environment showed a significant
increase in each of the nine generic skills over the duration
of the semester.
- Generic Skills Comparison Questionnaire was given to three
focus teams (thirteen students) at the beginning and end
of the semester. The instrument was based on a five-point
Likert scale designed to measure differences in student
opinions about their self and peers generic skills
over the duration of the semester. An increase of 14% was
obtained in pre-test/post-test scores across all focus team
These results provide evidence that the learning environment
was effective in promoting the development of students
generic skills. The reasonable conclusion presented from the
quantitative research and analysis conducted in this study
reflected that, over the duration of the semester, students
within this course perceived their generic skills as significantly
DESIGN EFFECTIVENESS VERSUS INTENDED OUTCOMES
It appeared that the motivation created through the implementation
of authentic activities encouraged most students to actively
engage with the self-directed and reflective activities with
a view to enhance their skills and portfolio. This was reflected
by the large proportion of students who passed this unit.
From an original 85 students who started the unit, four students
withdrew from the course before academic penalties were incurred.
All but one of the 81 students passed. (See table below.)
||No. of Students
||(70 - 79%)
||(60 - 69%)
|( 0 - 49%)
Also, the course evaluation collected by the university was
high. The teaching effectiveness rating given by the students
was 4.91 (out of 5), compared to the Faculty average of 3.84.
UNEXPECTED LEARNING OUTCOMES
Many students have appreciated being made aware of the how
the industry operates and the skills required, and have actively
developed CVs based on the work done in this unit.
HOW LEARNER ENGAGEMENT IS SUPPORTED
As discussed in the design, students are required to engage
with the learning materials as a result of designing authentic,
self-regulated and reflective activities.
ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF LEARNING CONTEXT
The authentic activities are specifically related to the context.
Students are required to research information and problem
solve issues that are based in the learning context of the
subject being taught. The focus is on making these activities
authentic in nature, so that the students see their relevance
HOW THE LEARNING DESIGN CHALLENGES LEARNERS
Students have the opportunity to become expert in their chosen
team role. They embrace their responsibilities through a contract,
and commit to a number of deliverables within a period of
time. Within this setting, they continually reflect on their
performance, and also receive feedback from their peers, tutor
So, the students are challenged to build skills for the unit,
as well as preparing themselves for the industry by learning
extra skills needed to perform their roles at a satisfactory
OPPORTUNITIES FOR PRACTICE
A key feature of this learning environment is encouraging
students to continually practice skills, and receive continual
and varied feedback on their performance. This is achieved
by providing regular feedback, and the opportunity for students
to regulate their own learning in an authentic environment.