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Student Responses to a Digital Textbook Continued

-by Dave Scott, Grade 8 Humanities

This post is part of a four-part series exploring the curricular potential of digital textbooks or what I am calling "Integrated Inquiry Resources." Read the first blog here for an introduction to the ideas that informed this project as well as the inquiry resource itself. And then a second blog for an outline of the inquiry tasks imbedded in the resource and accompanying student work.
This blog post is a continuation of a previous blog post that reports on findings from an anonymous student survey which sought to document the impact of a specific integrated digital inquiry resource on levels of student engagement and learning.
Of a total 50 students, 44 responded to the survey.
In the previous post I outlined some of the more positive responses to this inquiry resource. However, not all student responses were positive. Unlike the cheery picture here, some of the students comments point to a need to seriously reconsider both the organization and design of the resource along with the curricular model (why we teach a subject) and the pedagogical strategies (approaches to instruction) adopted within my digital textbook. What follows are findings associated with the questions in bold.

Finding 4: The clamation rendering of Plato's Allegory of the Cave was only moderately successful in bringing students into the world of Greek ideas and the rebirth of this learning during the Renaissance. As can be seen below, about 40% believed this was so and about an equal percent thought that these video links did this only moderately well. Notably about 18% felt that this animation failed in this regard.
DownloadCreate Chart7. The Plato Allegory of the Cave inquiry question was trying to bring you into the world of Greek ideas. To what extent did this question make you think deeply about the rebirth of Greek learning during the Renaissance?

answered question44

skipped question

Response PercentResponse Count
Extremely well
Very well
Not at all
Did this resource help make the study of the Renaissance more interesting and engaging for students?
Finding 5: Although the resource did help make the topic more engaging for students, especially among students in one class, there was a significant number of students who found some of the sections of this digital textbook and by extension learning in the classroom not very engaging. From the advantage point of someone who put so much work into creating this resource, this was a disappointing finding. However, as I will explore at the end there was some design flaws in how I went about creating the unit. Based on the survey here are a sampling of some of the student responses to the question.
With a focus on the video links, as can be seen below over 60% of students felt the resource made the study of the Renaissance more interesting.
5. Compared to a normal textbook, did you find the video links brought to life European history in way that was more interesting to you as a student?

answered question42

skipped question

Response PercentResponse Count
Very much so
Not really
Not at all
A sampling from the focus group and survey responses confirm this:
  • Three main advantages to the digital inquiry resource was that it was a resource always at hand and available, it went in-depth more so then our regular textbooks, it was easy to click the links and listen more about what we need to know.
  • The digital inquiry resource gave us a visual 2. It let us explore as far as we wanted into sertain topics 3. It let us use are laptops to its full capabilities
  • When reading a textbook there is a lot of information but the information is not always relevant to your specific question. Likewise, when you are using a digital inquiry resource you are able to find information that specifically relates to your specific question. This is because there are so many videos out there.
  • To me its the fact that writing everything out is long and tedious. Also I like it because I love technology and as a result this really helps. It was easy to access. Everything that we needed was there. Also is easier to go deeper into the topic by using video links.

  • We didn't just look at words, we got to see what some of these things might look like.

Finding 6a and 6b: Responses from both the survey and focus group sessions point to some structural problems with how this digital textbook, and by extension the overall inquiry unit in general, was designed. Here are a sampling of some of the responses that point to the limitations of this resource. I have grouped the responses in relation to limitations of: the design of the layout, the pedagogical strategies used to support this resource, along with the inquiry tasks themselves.
6a) Issues with the design and layout of this inquiry resource:
  • There is a limit on the pages and information and how much the creator put in.
  • Sometimes it was hard to read. Also it is harder to organized pictures and vids to make it more visually interesting.
  • Maybe make the page style more eye capturing to really drag the reader
  • People were getting easily distracted (Not me) =) Constantly needs charging
  • This text-book could have more visuals such as pictures and more types of links such as interactive sites, etc. It could also be more specific on dates for timelines and more so to the point rather then dragging on.
The points here were well taken, although Shashi Shergill helped me with some editing at the end to make my writing more grade 8 friendly, having created the resource almost completely on my own it was very text heavy as I did not have the time to create a magazine style layout. One of the things I hope digital textbooks will embrace are elements of design and stop trying to hit kids with reams of information. In this regard, links to sources behind the text can make the textual elements needed, less apparent. Despite the links to videos there was an absence of pictures or other design elements that would make the pages appealing to a reader.
The most prominent limitation to my digital textbook, as articulated in a focus group session was a lack of more interactive links within the resource. Although I had links to rubrics, maps, some sites showing the spread of the Black Death, and a very interesting site showing the different routes along the Silk Road, there was an absence of a number of elements I initially wanted to include. As this students suggests there were few interactive diagrams or sites, such as a web quest. I wanted to include Khan Academy style tutorials as well, but simply ran out of time to create this. As I will explore in the end, this points to a need for a more collective effort to create a resource like this. Moreover, it provides an opportunity for the resource itself to become a student project where students become knowledge creators rather than knowledge consumers.
6b Issues with the inquiry tasks along with the pedagogical strategies used to support this resource:
  • The teacher stops the video a lot, where as when you read, you can keep on reading until your done. 2. Easier to lose file / DVD]
  • The videos were long. Rather tedious.
  • Not carry on with Renaissance for so long
  • make more art based projects
  • Maybe make some more visual things like have us make a skit on one of the events leading to the Renaissance or trying to paint Renaissance art. Have more visuals and make the videos shorter so they don't lag on.
  • Have the kids making videos to the knowledge they know, so it would be fun project, and would prove that they know something about the Renaissance.
Here we see a number of limitations with this resource including the length of the unit and a lack of creative projects associated with the inquiry tasks. I think these comments raise two important insights that should inform any future digital textbooks. The first of these is length. After having done the Renaissance for three years now, I have launched some epic inquiry units around this topic. However, I now understand that longer is rarely better. The inquiry units students seem to most enjoy either run parallel to another unit, so they have some variety in what they are doing, or they are very short, focussed, and concise. I see now that some of the tasks were perceived as redundant and going over the same thing.
However, the most important point raised by these findings concerns the inquiry tasks themselves. All of the tasks, including preparation for the debate speech were very writing heavy and perhaps not as creative as they should have been. Students were largely representing understandings already found somewhere else, even the task on historical significance, although requiring a reasoned judgment, did not require a lot of creative thinking. Moreover, there was no authentic audience for students to present their work. Here, I think my problem was I dragged many elements of the old model of education into this new digital medium. Without opportunities for students to draw on their creative and imaginative capacities to create new knowledge and represent their findings in creative ways, the findings here point to the need to create digital resources that supports aspirations for a more creative and interactive forms of education, rather than positioning students as passive recipients of already settled knowledge.

1 comment:

Garry McKinnon said...

Dave, I appreciate how you have involved your students in a process of openly and frankly sharing feedback through the survey and focus groups relating to their learning experiences with the Integrated Inquiry Resources you have developed. You do a great job of providing a balanced interpretation of the findings and identifying design issues which you will address. You offer some significant insights relating to collaborating with colleagues in developing resources and making provision for students to become knowledge creators rather than knowledge consumers. I found your blog to be very informative and thought-provoking. Garry McKinnon

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