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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Bimodal

Bimodal camel An increasing tendency we seem to be seeing here in successive undergraduate cohorts is a bimodal mark distribution. Although I don't have any formal evidence, I have strong hunch that there is a correlation with disengagement in the lower part of the distribution. The question, as ever with correlations, is one of cause or effect. Are these disengaged learners beyond our reach, or have we done something to disenfranchise them? A new paper in ALT-J suggests we may have:

Virtual learning environments - help or hindrance for the 'disengaged' student? 2009 ALT-J 17: 49-62
The introduction of virtual learning environments (VLEs) has been regarded by some as a panacea for many of the problems in today's mass numbers modular higher education system. This paper demonstrates that VLEs can help or hinder student engagement and performance, and that they should be adapted to the different types of learner. A project is described that aimed to investigate whether the introduction of a VLE can assist 'disengaged' students, drawing on click count tracking data and student performance. The project took place in the context of two very large undergraduate modules (850 and 567 students) in a Business School of a new university in the UK. In an adaptation of a model of learner engagement in Web-enhanced environments, four distinct learner types have emerged: model, traditionalist, geek and disengaged. There was evidence that use of the VLE exacerbated, rather than moderated, the differences between these learner types.

Not conclusive evidence, but justification for my belief that we need to give learners more, not less, responsibility for and ownership of their own learning. And we're not going to do that by mandating one-size-fits-all institutional software, whether that be VLEs, ePortfolios or Microsloth Orifice.