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Introduction to Action Research in Teaching and Learning DMX0830

Mark Rollins MSc. BSc. Cert Ed. MIfL

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INTRODUCTION

The purpose of the action research assignment is use of an Action Research approach in an exploration of the ways to increase students‟ engagement in the use of the Colleges Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), Moodle.

VLEs or virtual learning environments have been at the forefront of learning technology for much of the 21st century. Forming the back bone of institutional „Learning Management Systems‟ (LMS); with the commonly accepted driver of this move being the Dearing Report of 1997 and their increased use was encouraged in the Government's 2005 strategy paper Harnessing technology – transforming learning and children’s services. (Ofsted, 2009).

The rationale behind the research is the perceived decline in the use and student uptake of the VLE by AS Geography Sixth Form students and a national trend in the perceived negative views of VLEs.

Data from an initial survey taken from the College VLE Figure 1 shows a distinct decline in the use of the VLE during the period of 2008 to 2012, with almost a fifty percent decrease of “hits” during this period.

This decline in the use can be collaborated by a wider and growing perception of VLEs in a more negative light and its possible future role or indeed “survival” has been put into question. This was best illustrated by the ALT-C Conference (Clay, 2009) entitled “Is the VLE Dead?” during which some panel members argue that many VLEs are not fit

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for purpose. Going on to state VLEs give a negative experience and believe that the VLE is dead. (Clay, 2009)

"Hits" Per Month 2008 to 2012
8000 7000 6000 5000 4000 3000 2000 1000 0 July August Sept Feb Jan Individual Hits

2008 2009 2010 2011

March

April

May

June

Nov

Dec

Oct

Months

Figure 1 This decline in uptake within this particular College seems to be contradicted by the UCISA Report of 2012, with the results confirming Moodle‟s leading position with a slight increase in usage to 58% (Walker, et al., 2012, p. 20). In Stiles report (2008) he suggests that students now use a wider range of learning tools outside of the VLE and beyond the institutions control, “and we now have a generation of learners who can reject this control by staff and institutions”. (Stiles, et al., 2008). This could be seen as one possible reason behind the declining uptake by students outlined in this study.

Total

2012

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The research will apply an initial quantitative analysis of Moodle use by using the report facility built into Moodle. A staff questionnaire will be designed to quantitative assess staff use and method of usage of Moodle. This will be supplemented with a review of barriers that staff encounters in using Moodle. A second survey will be given to a group of AS Geography students, to assess their daily, weekly, monthly use of Moodle. Finally a series of preference based question on a given scenario of Moodle use. This survey will form the basis for a focus group discussion.  This research will attempt to understand the perceived “negative” view and subsequent decline in the utilisation of Moodle by students during the period of 2008 to 2012.  Secondly to assess the role teachers play in supporting and encouraging student use of Moodle. This is envisaged to help formulate pedagogically sound methods to increase student engagement and utilisation of Moodle in the Future.  The third part of the research will attempt to identify student frequency of use of the VLE, the tools used and factors that would encourage their use of the VLE.  The final stage will involve the re-design and modification of the College VLE utilisation to incorporate and consolidate the use of learning theories including Guerra Scale.

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1.1 SETTING
The research for this assignment will take place in a Further Education (FE) College in the North West of the UK. The College provides education to a total of 180-200 AS students and 100 A2 students aged 16-19. The catchment area for the College is one of the more deprived areas of the UK, with 69% of is wards, being in the top 10% of educationally deprivation areas in the UK (Wigan Council, 2004). The College has five dedicated ICT suits and a bank of ten computers in the Learning Resource Centre, three trolley based units with six laptops in each. All the computers are windows based and connected to the internet via cable or wireless routers. The uptake of a College VLE, Moodle was implemented in 2005/2006, initially as a pilot programme within the Earth Science department, confined to an internal severer using Moodle 1.8. Upgrading to Moodle 1.9 occurred in 2009. There have been no subsequent upgrades in the intervening years. The current stable version in general circulation is Moodle 2.4, with the adoption of Moodle 2.0 being the most common at present (Moodle Trust, 2013). My relationship to this research stems back to the initial pilot study in which I was one of the four or five areas that were asked to create pilot course using Moodle. At the end of the pilot period the VLE was rolled out across the whole of the college and I was designated a VLE Champion, a role I still maintain in the Colleges Sixth Form. This role also entails me providing staff development in the use of the VLE and learning technology in respect to Continued Professional Development,(CPD).

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2 LITERATURE REVIEW
2.1 VLES (VIRTUAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS)
The history of the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) can be traced back to the mid part of 20th century with examples of remote technology based teaching via the television in the USA in 1953; and the UK's Open University has been offering remote learning since the 1970s. (Ofsted, 2009). From the year 2000 VLE‟s have been in a more recognisable form with the trialling of Moodle initiated in 2001. To a certain extent the Dearing Report (1997) initiated their promotion to common place by recommending:

The use of new technologies for learning and teaching is still at a developmental stage but we expect that students will soon need their own portable computers to access information and for learning via a network. (Dearing 1997 para 68, recommendation 41). Later developments led by the government agency for Information and Communication Technology (BECTA ) specified the use of VLEs in schools by the beginning of the 2008/2009 academic year. This acted to consolidate the VLE as the preferred educational learning management system (LMS) within the e-learning environment. (Stiles, 2007). Arguments against the effectiveness and longevity of the VLE have been around almost since their incarnation; with Pierre Dillenbourg (2000) questioning whether

“Will VLEs improve education?” and going on to partly answers this question by suggesting “ Potentially yes but probably not”. In more recent times

however the VLE dominance and its possible future role or indeed “survival” has been
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put into question. This was best illustrated by the ALT-C Conference (2009) entitled “Is the VLE Dead?” during which some panel members arguing that many VLEs are not fit for purpose. VLEs give a negative experience and they believe the VLE is dead. (Clay, 2009).

2.2 PEDAGOGY
(Dougiamas, 2012), states “The design and development of Moodle is guided by ”social constructionist pedagogy". This also envelops the related concepts of constructivism, constructionism and social constructivism. Based on this idea I will look at the pedagogy behind each and how other pedagogic thoughts can be link in with the design of a more engaging VLE.

2.3 CONSTRUCTIVISM
The constructivism theory is described as a mainstream cognitive approach to learning, Mayes and de Freitas (2007) states: that understanding is gained through creating hypothesis and building new forms of understanding through activity. (Mayes & de Freitas, 2007, p. 17). Dougiamass states it is also about building on our experiences we construct our own learning. Here learners construct new knowledge based in their experiences, generating rules to help to make sense of their own experiences rather than teachers‟ providing the information that they think the learner needs to know.

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2.4

CONSTRUCTIONISM

Constructionism is a pedagogic approach which is about the creation of artefacts or other outputs. It is based on the ideas of Seymour Papert who applied to writing programmes which made a device (a turtle) move. Constructionism theory of learning is that when you construct something for others to experience you are more likely to integrate this into your knowledge and gain better understanding. This theory is based on cognitive learning and influenced by the works of Paiget, Kolb and Vygotsky. It is often seen as the foundations for hands on, experiential, collaborative and project based learning.

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SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIVISM

Social constructivism is the theory of constructivism extended into a social situation. Members of a group collaborate and create knowledge for one another and by “tinkering” create knowledge for themselves. T hey learn more by explaining what they have learned to others and by adopting a more subjective stance to the knowledge being created. (Chavan & Pavri, 2004) Dougiamass identifies social constructivism is defined by the social context in which the course sits and the interaction between the participants will govern the tools used. For example an assignment brief may lead to an automated forum discussion, within which constructivism is taking place and learners creating new ideas and building on an experience.

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2.6

GUERRA SCALE

Guerra‟s Scale attempts to structure online learning into a more engaging format by identifying different elements each with an increasing degree of interaction. The basic concept behind the Guerra‟s Scale is that the scale outlines the range of content that can be found and used online. It is a scale of one to ten with an increase level of online user experience. Each step up the scale “represents an increase in complexity, functionality, development time, demand on programming skill, demands for instructions design versatility, and demands for more patience and attention from subject matter experts. (Guerra & Heffernan, 2004). Guerra and Hefferman refer to a zone between GS4 (Guerra‟s Scale) and GS7 as the “MTV Culture”; studies indicate that to maintain learners level of engagement it was advisable to place activities and sub activities within this zone indicated in Figure 2

Figure 2 Guerra’s Scale http://learningworkshop.mindedge.com/2009/12/05/the-guerra-scalereflections/

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2.7 ENGAGEMENT AND MOTIVATION.
Keller‟s ARC Model of Motivation proposes ways in which to make learning an elearning a more positive experience. Motivation and engagement of students in the use of online or e-learning is one of the key principles of my research. Keller (2006) outlines “being engaged can be intrinsic, i.e. coming from the learner, or extrinsic, i.e. the need for grades, promotion, increased status, etc” ….and with motivation there are four basic strategies “Attention, Relevance, Confidence, and Satisfaction” (Keller, 2006, p. 7). There are a number of definitions for engagement, for example Bangert- Downs and Pyke, 2001 p. 215 say engagement is „the mobilization of cognitive, affective and motivational strategies for interpretive transactions with text‟. Jones, Valdez, Nowakowski and Rasmussen (1994) defined engaged learning as learners that are responsible for their own learning, explorers, producers of knowledge, finding excitement and pleasure in learning. Often formed by a core of community learning and collaborative elements. Assessment of engagement can be judge by presenting students with an authentic task, project, or investigation, and then observing, interviewing, and examining their presentations and artefacts to assess what they actually know and can do” (Jones, et al., 1994).

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3 ACTION RESEARCH PRINCIPALS
Action research is a form of enquiry carried out by professionals to investigate and evaluate their work. It is a practical approach to professional enquiry (Water-Adams, 2006) aimed to be a disciplined and systematic approach to research. Action research emerged from its beginning in the 1930‟s and 1940‟s (McNiff & Whitehead, 2006). At first however it was not connected directly with teaching but rather a social research (McNiff & Whitehead, 2006). Noffke states the term “Action

Research” appeared in a speech my Martin Luther King in 1961. Indeed action research arose in education in the 1950‟s (McNiff & Whitehead, 2006), but was applied to the development of teaching as its potential was identified (Water-Adams, 2006). Action research popularity waxed and waned during the late 1950‟s, but its position as a research tool took hold in Britain due to its working context with teaching, with Lawrence Stenouse having a particular influence (McNiff & Whitehead, 2006) (Water-Adams, 2006). The main exponents of action research are Jack Whitehead and Barret (1985) proposing an “Action Research Framework” focusing on “reflection” to promote change and enhance professional learning later modified by McNiff in 2002. McNiff (2002) transformed these points into a series of questions that form the basis of a generic action plan.   Take stock of what is going on Identify a concern
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   

Think of a possible way forward Try it out Monitor the action by gathering data to show what is happening Evaluate progress by establishing procedures for making judgements about what is happening

 

Test the validity of accounts of learning Modify practice in the light of the evaluation.

(McNIff & Whitehead, 2002, p. 8) As with all research methods there are advantages and disadvantages in using particular methods. The cyclic nature allows development of a theory and removes it away from a rigorous scientific approach and always follow a previously formulated theory approach it allows for continuous development (Koshy, 2005). Koshy himself also states that “action research is sometimes described as a soft option by some” possible pertaining to the notion that actions research may not be considered scientifically rigorous by the fact it is not carried out by academics but rather by teachers (Greenwood & Levin, 2007). Greenwood and Levin reject this idea as a “false” belief, however stating that it is critical for the action researcher ensures that the research is sound.

4 METHOD
There are two main methods to collect data; quantitative and qualitative. Brett Davies ( 2007) states “deciding which two methods to use .......is often determined by the ethos of a particular course”.
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To measure variables and enable statistical analysis, the collection of numerical data is required. This is quantitative data and the justification of its use being that “verifying existing theories requires quantitative data” (Whisker, 2001). However quantitative data is not the answer to beliefs and experience (Whisker, 2001). Quantitative data is often seen as less subjective, the collection of this data is still bound by the questions, thus allowing for subjectivity to enter the data. The benefits of using quantitative data are its ability to “provide summaries of data that support the generalisation of the phenomenon under study ...and allowing bias to be avoided”. (O'Neill, 2006) However quantitative data can remove the “reflective” element of qualitative research and leads to “structural bias” reflecting the view of the researcher rather than the participant. (O'Neill, 2006). Brett Davies (2007) qualifies qualitative research as a “situative activity that locates the observer in a real world... and a way to interpret, phenomena in terms of the meaning people bring to them. In this sense Brett Davies is conveying the idea of beliefs of the participants which may not be quantifiable in a numerical sense. This use of qualitative research can be seen as smaller scale, more manageable in a time frame and perceived as more human (Brett Davies, 2007, p. 11)

4.1

CHOSEN METHODOLOGY

Within my research I decided to use both qualitative and quantitative thus allowing me to have measurable data. Qualitative data enables me to gauge student ‟s experience, values and beliefs. Brett Davies (2007, page 11) supports the use of both methods in
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saying “the two routes are not mutually exclusive; mixed methods can be employed...however there are workload and time implications in such a choice” Design of the initial staff questionnaire was to gauge staff use and implementation of Moodle and barriers to implementation. The justification behind this was based on one of engagement. Student use of Moodle online course is dependent upon content, access and motivation. (Appendix 1) The student questionnaire consisted of a pilot survey to quantitatively evaluate student frequency of use of Moodle. To assess student beliefs a second set of questions was used; this was in the form of a likert scale consisting of “strongly agree to strongly disagree” formatting as outlined and justified in Oppenheim (1992). The third set of questions assesses the student‟s belief in the importance of learning activities embedded within Moodle. This survey was devised on the basis of the Guerra Scale outlined by Guerra & Heffernan (2004) in which they introduce the concept of “a scale of one to ten … increase in interactivity, in which one(1) involves the common experience of simply reading notes/text on screen and ten(10) which denotes total virtual reality.” (Appendix 2) Data from the two initial questionnaires and quantitative data results will form the basis of my focus group. Discussion will focus on the idea“how might Moodle be improved?” and “what activites/resources would encourage your use and participation of Moodle?” Whisker (2001) states “close scrutiny and lengthy discussion” are a vital part of group discussion. The discussion will be recorded to enable me to capture not only the

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discussion content but also people‟s responses and feelings a process encouraged by Whisker (2001).

4.2 RELIABILITY CREDIBILITY
Greenwood and Leven in their defence of action research identified that in order for it not to be looked upon as lesser quality, action research must ensure that there is sound research and the quality of this research is defined by its rigour. Greenwood and Levin refer to Melrose in defining rigour:Rigour is typically associated with the terms validity and reliability in quantitative studies referring to the accuracy of instruments, data, and research findings, and with accuracy, credibility, and dependability in qualitative studies. (Melrose, 2001 cited Greenwood and Levin 2007, p. 28) In order to produce a high level of reliability and rigor into the study “triangulation” and “Repetition of the cycle” of the data has been used. This involves every effect to cross check data using more than one method of data collecting. In the case of this research project this was completed by an initial data review, survey questionnaire and student interviews. This method of triangulation and repetition of cycle is support by researchers believing “Triangulation among different sources of data to enhance accuracy of their study” (Creswell 2008).

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4.3 ETHICS
Ethical approval and consent was obtained from School of Education and Professional the Development, University of Huddersfield. Ethical consideration is an integral to Action Research policy, the study was therefore carried out the under the guidance of:   BERA Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research (2011) BASR ethical guidelines for research Code of Ethics for Social Work and Social Care Research (2002).

The research group consisted of 18 AS Geography students, mixed male and females.(Ages 16 to 20) from a Sixth Form College, Greater Manchester. The risks involved are low risk activities, there are no vulnerable parties involved and the likelihood of potential harm is low. All students were fully informed of the purpose of the task and it was done on a voluntary basis. No names, emails or any other personal data was collected. Students were informed that the data collected would only be used in the context of this report. Due care will be taken in avoiding publishing any sensitive data in the context of the students and the college itself.

5 ANALYSIS/FINDINGS
The initial part of this Action Research projects was to assess the use and changes of use of the College VLE. This was restricted to AS and A2 level student between the years of 2008 to 2012. This was based on the data acquired from the “report” facility in Moodle. On running the report within Moodle the researcher was able to extract raw data in the form of “individual hits”, each hit representing a student of use Moodle

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content within the course. The raw data was then inputted into a spreadsheet and the total of hits per months collated the results are summarised in Figure 3 below.

"Hits" Per Month 2008 to 2012
8000 7000 6000

Individual Hits

5000 4000 3000 2000 1000 0 Jan Feb March April May June July August Sept Oct Nov Dec Total

Months
2008 Figure 3 2009 2010 2011 2012

This shows a distinct decline in the number of “hits” over the period of 2008 to 2012. This data was further subdivided to in to charts to show monthly and total difference between the peak usage in 2008 and each subsequent year. These are shown in Figures 4 to 7 in Appendix 4. The results indicated that there was almost a 54% decline in total “hits” between the peak usage in 2008 and the latest date of 2012. The second question the researcher set out to assess was the Staff Utilisation of College‟s VLE (Moodle) and their perceived “barriers” to use. This was completed by using an online survey using Google Documents, an example of the form used is included in Appendix 1. The results are shown in Figures 8 and 9 included in Appendix 4. These results are based on a survey sample of nine individual from a potential total of sixteen staff members from the Sixth Form.
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Creating Lesson 0% Use of Creating Lesson 0% Creating Journals 0% Creating Databases 0% Embedding multimedia (Audio) 3%

Staff use of Moodle
Other: 4% 4% Class Notes available for students. 25%

Simulations Use of 4% Games

Creating Quizzes 14%

Creating web links 21% Using forums 11%

Embedding multimedia (Video) 11% Using Chat 0% Using Wikis 3%
Figure 4

Analysis of Figure 8 “Staff Utilisation of Moodle” indicates that the main method of use is making notes available for students, contributing a quarter of staff utilisation, creating weblinks and quizzes contributing a fifth and just over tenth respectively. In the same survey, staff were asked to identify barriers to their use of Moodle (VLE).

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Barriers to Use
Im not really into I prefer to use using Moodle. 6% traditional methods. 0% My subject doesn't lend its self to these features. 19% Other: 6%

I find Moodle too hard to use. 6%

Takes too long to set up. 38% I've not had sufficient training. 25%

Figure 5

The results are outlined in Figure 9, the top three reasons identified were “takes too long to set up”, representing over a third of the views, “insufficient training” and the “subject doesn’t lend itself” representing a quarter and one fifth of the views respectively. The view of “time” being a barrier was also identified in Ofsted (2009) study in which they state “time taken by staff to produce material was seen as a major challenge in some providers.” (p.6). Ofsted (2009) also identified that concerns were

expressed…about the confidence and competence of their staff in working with computer systems. A finding that is restated in this research by staff believing they have “insufficient training” and “finding Moodle difficult to use”

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The third part of the research was to attempt to identify student frequency of use of the VLE, the tools used and factors that would encourage their use of the VLE. The results of Student Frequency of Use of the VLE are indicated in Figure 8, this was based on a paper based survey outlined in Appendix 2. This involved a total of eighteen student from an AS Geography class, who have been using the VLE since the beginning of term September 20012. The survey was completed in class time on the 7th February 2013 the results are indicated in Figure 10. All the student indicated that they had used the VLE, with the majority saying that they had used it once a week and only a small minority (Less than 8%) indicating that their use was less frequent. Almost 50% indicated use of between two and three times a week. This would seem to be a very good uptake and use of the VLE (Moodle) and may reflect on the encouragement from individual staff members.

How often would you say you use the Colleges VLE(Moodle)?
Less Frequently 8% Never 0%

Once a Month 15%

Once a Week 31%

Three or more times a week 23%

Twice a Week 23%

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Figure 6

Students were asked to identify which tools they had used within the VLE. This is indicated in Figure 11. The justification for this was to compare the student‟s experience of VLE use with Guerra Scale and therefore a more engaging format. The top three tools identified were the class notes, weblinks and quizzes respectively. This corresponds well with the tools that have been identified has the staff‟s preferred tools indicated in Figure 6 and is of little surprise. Furthermore this can be seen to fall short of what Guerra would consider an engaging format, for example the use of class notes and weblinks. Guerra‟s considers the use of quizzes a more enga ging activity, however overall the student‟s experience indicates a short fall in what Guerra considers total interactivity and engagement of level GS10 (Guerra & Heffernan, 2004). This data also shows a lack of the constructivism and social constructivism pedagogy that Dougiamass envisaged for Moodle, this is signposted by the lack of utilisation of forums, wikis and journals, both by staff and students alike (Dougiamas, 2012).

Which of the following tools have you use in the Colleges VLE?
14 12 10 8 6 4 2 0 Number of Responses

Figure 7

Class Notes Web links Forums Wikis Chat Survey Viewing multi-… Completing… Games Simulations Lesson within… Journals Virtual reality

Which of the following tools have you use in the Colleges Vle

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To assess student beliefs in factors that may encourage them to use the VLE a second set of questions was used; this was in the form of a likert scale consisting of “strongly agree (1) to strongly disagree (4)” as recommended by Oppenheim (1992). The basis for the wording was to assess students to whether they would be more likely to be engaged by Guerra‟s higher level activities i.e. GS 7 to 10 and Dougiamass‟s social constructivism elements of collaboration. (Guerra & Heffernan, 2004), (Dougiamas, 2012). Students were then asked question on their beliefs what would engage them in the use of the VLE (see Appendix 2). This was supplemented by students “Interviews”, a total of 4 students were interviewed. The discussion was based on key points originating from the initial survey. The questions asked are outlined in Appendix 3 along with the student‟s comments. The results are presented in Figures 11 to 15 included in Appendix 4. This question generally had a positive response, with most respondents “Agreeing” that using Moodle to access notes would encourage them to use Moodle (VLE) more. This would seem to go against Guerra‟s Scale of online experience. This being that Guerra‟s identifies PDF Class notes as being “GS1” on the scale i.e. a low engaging activity, classified as only “Good”. (Guerra & Heffernan, 2004). However the results of the next question shown in Figure 11 below seems to show correlation between the students belief and Guerra‟s scale in that “multimedia” would encourage them to use Moodle. The use of “multimedia” is given a score of “GS5” and classified as “good” with higher online experience. Guerra places “simulation” in the top three ways to increase online experience ; with simulations and simulations with coaching given Guerra‟s scale of GS8 and GS9
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respectively (Guerra & Heffernan, 2004). However this “best” level of experience seems to have split the students view. Figure 12 in Appendix 4 below shows for the first time a stronger disagreement and very much a contradiction to Guerra‟s idea. This maybe because students have not been subjected to online simulations or have indeed had experience and do not consider their value as a tool for engagement? The next question was to assess the student‟s belief in collaborative activities to encourage engagement. The results of this question are shown in Figure 13, Appendix 4. It would seem for the second time that there is very much a trend toward disagreeing that “wikis” and “forums” i.e. the collaborative side of learning would encourage the students to use Moodle (VLE ) more. Although this does not discredit the idea of social constructivism as a learning tool. It would seem to contradict one of the fundamental reasons that Dougiamass created Moodle. However this is probably more likely due to the student‟s lack of exposure of this tool as a teaching method. This would seem to be borne out in the Ofsted Report (2009, p 17,18) in which it list the “approximate order of frequency of use” however wikis, forums and collaborative use are not even mentioned. The final question put to the students was regarding the use of quizzes and feedback,. Again this seems to have a more positive view, with the majority “agreeing” with elements of strongly agreeing. This seems to correspond well with verbal feedback from students in the interview stage. A suggestion for this positive view probably stems from the interactive and maybe competitive elements a quiz provides and the gamification of learning. Verbal feedback from the student‟s interview group was they “liked the instant feedback a quiz gives you”, see Appendix 3.
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6 CONCLUSION
The aim of this research was to identify the cause for the decline in uptake of the Colleges VLE by AS levels students. To ascertain if student engagement and uptake could be improved by reviewing their current experience and to help formulate pedagogically sound methods to increase student engagement and utilisation of Moodle in the future. It can be seen from the data that there has been a distinct reduction in the utilisation and uptake of the colleges VLE during the period of 2008 to 2012. This is counter to national trend which seem to show an increase in the use of VLE in a college setting. This trend may be caused by several factors. Firstly, previous negative experience prior to coming to college, a general negativity of learning online and conflict and encroachment on what students believe to be their “space” i.e. online digital natives. However I believe the negative experience students are subjected to can evolve from “Staff” utilisation of the VLE. The results of the staff survey would seem to show that staff generally use the VLE as “dumping” ground and are not fully utilising the full social constructivism properties VLE was envisaged for. This is linked to the fact that most of the resources and activities on VLE being low on the Guerra‟s scale, for example “Class Notes” and “weblinks”. Evidence from the student survey and staff survey would indicate that student are mainly subjected to a VLE course consisting of Class Notes, Weblinks and occasional quizzes. This to a certain extent falls short of the engaging and rich online experience envisaged by Guerra. He states the use of multi-media, quizzes and simulation and ultimately virtual reality are the best tools for improving an online experience (Guerra & Heffernan, 2004). These conclusions are not isolated to
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this research but are concurrent with Ofsted‟s findings; from their study Virtual learning environments: an evaluation of their development in a sample of educational settings (Ofsted, 2009) they conclude “VLEs were least effective when they had little content or were just a dumping ground for rarely used files.” (p.5) and that provider “ensure that VLEs are designed to enhance learning and are not just a storage or communication facility” (p. 7). The role of staff is obviously important in the student’s engagement with the VLE, indeed increase use of the VLE from staff encouragement is vital, a statement reinforced by Ofsted “a significant increase in VLE usage was directly linked with formal tutor encouragement in the class-room “. Students were given the opportunity to suggest improvements and rank their experience of a variety of common resource and task found in the VLE. The comparison of their results versus Guerra’s Scale is shown Table 1 below.
Moodle Activities (Ranked by students) Quiz with feedback PDF Class documents Multi-media Simulations Simulations with coaching virtual reality page turner with links Motion Knowledge Repositories Work book
Table 1

RANK

Guerra Scale

Rank

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

PDF Class documents (GS1) page turner with links (GS2) Quiz with feedback (GS3) Motion (GS4) Multi-media (GS5) Work book (GS6) Knowledge Repositories (GS7) Simulations (GS8) Simulations with coaching (GS9) virtual reality (GS10)

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

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It is interesting and telling in that the tools the students perceive would engage them in the VLE are ranked lowest on the Guerra’s Scale in this case only achieving GS1. However students seem to have identified that quizzes with feedback, followed by the use of multi-media and simulations their preferred tools. This does not fully agree with the Guerra’s Scale, however it is deemed to be a better online experience falling in to what Guerra terms the “MTV culture” (Guerra & Heffernan, 2004). It is my conclusion that there are two main factors involved with creating an engaging online environment with a VLE. Firstly there is a need for a direct encourage from staff, early introduction and early up take in using the VLE is vital. This encouragement by staff raises the issues of staff confidence in using the VLE and the need for time for staff to develop their VLE course. This comes downs to the institute’s attitude to online learning and the need to move away from “individual” enthusiastic staff who tend to drive online learning. “Strong support from senior managers with good resources for development and maintenance” (Ofsted, 2009) and the move away from the more

variable managerial commitment to a more holistic incorporation of online learning. In terms of student experience, there needs to be a staged, good quality introduction, availability of “good” material and the utilisation of social constructivism tools such as forums and journals. These will help to supplement the more traditional activities and incorporate engaging aspects such as multi-media, quizzes and simulations.

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REFERENCES

Bangert-Downs, R. L. & Pyke, C., 2001. A taxonomy of student engagement with educational software: An exploration of literate thinking with electronic text.. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 24(3), pp. 213-234. Brett Davies, M., 2007. Doing a Successful Research Project. Using Qualitative or Quantitative Methods. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan. Chavan, A. & Pavri, S., 2004. Open-Source Learning Management with Moodle. s.l.:s.n. Clay, J. (., 2009. The VLE is dead . [Online Video].. [Online] Available at: http://elearningstuff.net/2009/09/09/the-vle-is-dead-the-movie/ [Accessed 5 October 2012]. Dougiamas, M., 2012. Moodle Pedagogy. [Online] Available at: http://docs.moodle.org/24/en/Pedagogy [Accessed 9 March 2013]. Greenwood, D. J. & Levin, M., 2007. Introduction to Action Research:- Social Research for Social Change. Second ed. s.l.:SAGE Publications, Inc. Guerra, T. & Heffernan, D., 2004. The Guerra Scale. [Online] Available at: http://www.learningcircuits.org/2004/mar2004/guerra.htm Jones, B., Valdez, G., Nowakowski, J. & Rasmussen, C., 1994. Designing Learning and Technology for Educational Reform, Oak Brook, IL: North Central Regional Educational Laboratory. Keller, J., 2006. What is Motivational Design?, s.l.: s.n. Koshy, V., 2005. Action Research for Improving Practice:- A Practical Guide. London: Paul Chapman Publishing. Mayes, T. & de Freitas, S., 2007. The Role of Theory. In: H. Beetham & R. Sharpe, eds. Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age. Abingdon: Routledge, p. 17. McNIff, J. & Whitehead, J., 2002. Action Research:Principle and Practice. 2nd ed. Abingdon: RoutledgeFalmer. McNiff, J. & Whitehead, J., 2006. All you need to know about Action Research. London: Sage Publications. Moodle Trust, 2013. Moodle Statisitics. [Online] Available at: https://moodle.org/stats/ [Accessed 4th March 2013]. Ofsted, 2009. Virtual learning environments: an evaluation of their development in a sample of educational settings, London: Ofsted.

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O'Neill, R., 2006. The Advantages and Disadvantages of Qualatative and Quantitative Research Methods. [Online] Available at: http:\\www.learnhigher.ac.uk/analysethis/mobile/quantitative1.htm [Accessed 4th March 2013]. Oppenheim, A. N., 1992. Questionnaire Design, Interviewing and Atitude Measurement. New Edition ed. London: Continuum. Stiles, M., Phipps , L. & Cormier, D., 2008. Reflecting on the virtual learning systems – extinction or evolution?. Educational Developments, Issue 9.2. Walker, R., Ahmed, J. & Voce, J., 2012. 2012 Survey of Technology Enhanced Learning for Higher Education in the uk., Oxford: UCISA. Water-Adams, S., 2006. Action Research in Education, Plymouth: Faculty of Education University of Plymouth. Whisker, G., 2001. The Postgraduate Research Handbook.Succeed with your MA, MPhil, EdD and PhD. Illustrated ed. s.l.:Palgrave Macmillan. Wigan Council, 2004. Mapping Poverty in Wigan-Report 4_Index of Deprivation 2004, s.l.: Wigan COuncil.

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APPENDIX 1 STAFF QUESTIONNAIRE

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APPENDIX 2

STUDENT SURVEY

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You are being invited to take part in my research project. This involves a short "Survey" intended to provide the research focus for my MSc in Multi-media and ELearning. It will attempt to evaluate the student‟s uses and engagement of the Colleges Vle (Moodle).I would be grateful if you could complete the following survey. All data collect will be anonymous and restricted to use within my write up. Please click on the link above, this will take you to an online form to submit your answers. Many thanks, Mark 1. How often would you say you use the Colleges Vle (Moodle). * One a week Twice a week Three or more times a week Once a month Less frequently Never 2. Which of the following tools have you use in the Colleges Vle (Moodle). Click all that are relevant. Class notes (Doc, PDF, Docx etc) Web links Forums Wikis Chat Surveys Viewing or listening multi-media (video/audio) Completing quizzes Games Simulations Lesson within Moodle (self-learning) Journals 31

Virtual Reality 3. Using Moodle to access class notes would encourage me to use Moodle more.... *agree or disagree 1 Strongly Agree 2 3 4 Strongly Disagree

4. Using Moodle with multi-media content would encourage me to use Moodle more.... * 1 Strongly Agree 2 3 4 Strongly Disagree

5. Moodle with games and simulation content would encourage me to use Moodle more.... * 1 Strongly Agree 2 3 4 Strongly Disagree

6. Moodle with collaborative work eg forums, wiki content would encourage me to use Moodle more.... * 1 Strongly Agree 2 3 4 Strongly Disagree

7. Moodle with online assessment (quiz) content would encourage me to use Moodle more.... * 1 Strongly Agree 2 3 4 Strongly Disagree

8. Of the following activities within Moodle (Vle) rank them 1 highest to 10 lowest which method you would prefer and would engage you more in using the Vle *Input the number in the check box, thank you. Multi-media Simulations PDF Class Documents Knowledge repository communities Quiz with feedback Virtual Reality 32

Page turner with links Motion Simulations with coaching Work Books

APPENDIX 3
STUDENT INTERVIEWS

How effective do you think the VLE is for learning? “ Quite good, it has everything you need, but not all the teachers use it and just put folders with class notes and resources in it”

In what ways could the VLE be made more engaging? “if it was the Matrix, eg more immersive and virtual like, for example like google goggles and second life.” “More activities, like drag and drop, more diagrams and stuff”

What would make them as students engage more with the VLE? “Being able to submit homework online; and do quizzes online and get feedback there and then”

What elements of traditional learning could be replaced by the VLE? “Nothing really, maybe the use of video of the lessons” “You could use this to supplement a teacher”. “You couldn’t ask a question there and then, so I wouldn’t like it”.

What elements of traditional learning could not be replaced by the VLE? “Copying off the board, I like to learn by copying down notes from the board” 33

“You couldn’t replace the question and answers element of a class” “I like the tactile element of pen and paper”

What makes you use the VLE? “Direction from the teacher”. If I need help with homework I can get it online easily”. “Having video and animations to look at.”

If you had to design a VLE module what would you include? “ Resources such as videos, hangman games, notes to print off, animations” “Activities including games, picture quizzes and quizzes, exam questions and mock exams and the ability to see how your friend is doing e.g. some competitive element.”

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APPENDIX 4
GRAPHICAL RESULTS

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Difference 2011-2012
Total Dec Nov Oct Sept August July June May April March Feb Jan -1400 -1200 -1000 -800 -600 -400 -200 0 200 400

Difference 2011-2012 Figure 8

Difference 2010-2012
Total Dec Nov Oct Sept August July June May April March Feb Jan -2500 -2000 -1500 -1000 Difference 2010-2012 Figure 9 -500 0 500

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Difference 2009-2012
Total Dec Nov Oct Sept August July June May April March Feb Jan -2000 -1500 -1000 -500 Difference 2009-2012 Figure 10 0 500 1000

Difference 2008-2012
Mar Apri Ma Jun Aug Sep Tot Jan Feb ch l y e July ust t Oct Nov Dec al 7056 264 889 1093 1503 10 0 12 271 205 225 290 286 0 500

-3500

-3000

-2500

-2000

-1500

-1000

-500

Difference 2008-2012 Figure 11

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Using Moodle to access notes would encourage me to use Moodle more
Strongly Agree 1 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0

Strongly Disagree 4

2

Using Moodle to access notes would encourage me to use Moodle more

3

Figure 12

Using Moodle with Multi-media content would encourage me to use Moodle more
Strongly Agree 1 10 8 6 4 2 0

Strongly Disagree 4

Agree

Using Moodle with Multi-media content would encourage me to use Moodle more

Disagree

Figure 13

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Moodle with games and simulation content would encourage me to use Moodle
Strongly Agree 1 5 4 3 2 1 0

Strongly Disagree 4

Agree

Moodle with games and simulation content would encourage me to use Moodle

Disagree

Figure 14

Moodle with collaborative work eg forum, wilki content would encourage me to use Moodle more
Strongly Agree 1 6 5 4 3 2 1 0

Strongly Disagree 4

Agree

Moodle with collaborative work eg forum, wilki content would encourage me to use Moodle more

Disagree

Figure 15
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Moodle with online assessment (quiz) content would encourage me to use Moodle more
Strongly Agree 1 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0

Strongly Disagree 4

Agree

Moodle with online assessment (quiz) content would encourage me to use Moodle more

Disagree

Figure 16

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